Brief History of Oil Development in Towsley Canyon

This topo map shows all the known well sites in Towsley Canyon. The first well in the upper right is Lassale 1. The next well to the left (west) is Lassale 2. The star is the nature center. The red dot is the location of Chevron-Towsley 1, the last well drilled in the canyon (1992). The next well is the Patric-Pet-Towsley Canyon 1. Then you reach the narrows. Past the narrows are the Towsley and Temple claim wells. This is where the majority of the wells were located. Far out on the left is the St. Bernard Oil Company Well No. 1.

Reconstructing the early oil history of Towsley Canyon is difficult due to a lack of records and conflicting stories. Many, if not most, of the wells had multiple owners over the years. Some of the wells were drilled and abandoned with no records.

The Indians were probably the first humans to use the oil in Towsley Canyon. It is possible that petroleum was discovered (by white men) in Towsley Canyon before Pico Canyon. The first steam engine in the Newhall district was used in Towsley Canyon in 1874.

Darius A. Towsley and M.E. Everts filed the first placer claim in the canyon in 1865. There is no documentation at all about what work they did, or didn't do, in the canyon. In fact, Peckham visited Towsley Canyon in the middle of 1866 and reported that the Wiley Springs Oil Company had been operating there since August of 1865, so it is likely that Towsley and Everts may just have sold their claim to Wiley without doing anything.

Originally from Western (Copp's) Land Owner, Volume 1, No. 12, March 1875, p. 179. Also shown in the Seventh Annual Report of the State Mineralogist for the Year Ending October 1, 1887, California State Mining Bureau, W. Irelan, Sacramento, 1888, p. 49. There is no way 500 gallons a day was being produced. The "et al" included at least M.E. Everts and maybe no one else. Here is where we get the "A" as Towsley's middle initial.

This sketch map of April 28, 1865, at the Huntington Library shows that Touseley Gulch already existed

On June 24, 1865, Towsley's claim was confirmed by the San Fernando Petroleum District. In May of 1866, Stephen F. Peckham visited Towsley Canyon (see the 1866 Oil Description webpage) and reported that the Wiley Springs Oil Company had been operating both the Wiley Springs and Towsley claims since August of 1865 (and Wiley was spelled Wylie in the original document). That means that Darius Towsley must have sold his claim to that company.

Some have speculated that Towsley sold his claim to the Pacific Coast Oil Company but that is incorrect. White's history of the Standard Oil Company and its Predecessors (1962 - see sources) covered this time period and makes no mention of PCO having claims in Towsley Canyon. Also, California Division of Oil and Gas (DOG) records show that PCO (and later Standard and Chevron) never drilled a well in Towsley Canyon (see the table of wells below). If they had a claim, they would have drilled a well, like they did on every claim in the Newhall Oil Field they ever had. Standard did eventually obtain land in the canyon, but it was north of the Narrows (see landowner map below).

Peckham also reported that there was one well with a depth of 163 feet. It was producing 3 1/2 barrels of oil per day. There was also a 40-foot tunnel yielding thick oil that was not being collected. The superintendent's name was Mr. Rushmore.

The Temple Oil Placer claim was filed before 1875 by F.P.F. Temple (the majority owner, a banker, and president of the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company), Charles Cabot and others. It was located west of the Towsley claim and showed a previously drilled oil well ("Climax" 1) on the claim.

White (1962) reports that the first steam engine was used beginning in July of 1874 on the Temple claim. A 50-foot derrick and a portable steam rig were used to drill a 470-foot well by early 1875. The well superintendent was William H. Spangler, a Pennsylvanian oil veteran. The well produced little oil and was plagued by cave-ins. This use of a steam engine is before the first use of a steam engine in the Pico Canyon. The steam engine and equipment for the rig was purchased from Thomas R. Bard, future co-founder of Union Oil Company. Bard visited the well and reported to John P. Green (from Hutchinson 1965):
"The man in charge [Spangler] frankly admits that the difficulties to bore in this country compared with those in Pennsylvania are insuperable. But like all of us he is impressed with the idea that there's lots of oil somewhere below him. The well is properly located in my opinion and if they can get it down to any considerable depth ought to test the question pretty thoroughly. Salisbury [Albert J. Salisbury - a driller for Bard] was with me and we both are of the opinion that...their machinery, engine power and size of hole are all inadequate for sinking to a greater depth than 600 feet."
The Los Angeles Herald of 6/3/1873 reports that:
"The Oil Company shipped their engine and boring machinery to San Francisco yesterday. They will soon commence operations on the Temple claim near that place, drilling for the petroleum which is supposed to be there."
LA Herald of 6/28/1873:
"There can be no doubt but that the supply of crude petroleum is almost inexhaustible. One boring company with steam power and tools and all the modern improvements, under the supervision of an experienced well-borer from Pennsylvania (Mr. Spangler), is now sinking a well."
LA Herald of 8/2/1874:
"The well on the Temple claim is down between 70 and 80 feet. The machinery is in perfect order and works like a thing of life. The workmen are drilling from seven to ten feet per day. At present they are in shale formation with considerable oil and gas coming in. The oil has changed to a green color in the last ten feet, which is very favorable for a good quality. Mr. Spangler, who is boring this well, has had considerable experience in Pennsylvania, and he says that the indications are favorable for a flowing well in less than 200 feet, but he intends to sink it 800, if the flow of oil does not prevent."
LA Herald of 8/6/1874:
"The San Fernando OIl-well Boring Company had a meeting yesterday in this city. The Secretary's report showed an expenditure, up to the present time, of seventeen hundred dollars. Mr. Spangler, the Superintendent of the well, was present and reported that the well was ninety-four feet deep, with considerable oil running into it; that they drilled seven to nine feet per day; and that everything was in perfect order, and working like a charm. When we consider the work that has been done, and the material on hand, we must commend this Company for economy. Fifteen hundred dollars, the amount paid for an engine and set of tools is said to be very cheap. This does not include the derrick, freight, and labor of putting the machines up. Success to the Well-boring Company; may they strike it big!"
LA Herald of 10/21/1874:
"This well is now 160 feet, and the oil rises to within four feet of the surface. They are still boring, however, expecting to strike a stronger vein within a short distance."
LA Herald of 3/28/1875:
"The boring apparatus of the Temple well comprises a derrick of about fifty feet high, a little portable engine, covered by a shed, and a small shanty to the operatives. Everything about the place has a sort of mourning aspect, the drills, tackles, machinery and structures being bespattered and coated with the black, oily petroleum. As it was Sunday, the men were not at work, and we found only the cook of the party at home."
The Towsley Petroleum Mine claim was filed on December 14, 1876 by S. B. Caswell, J. F. Ellis and H. C. Wiley. Samual B. Caswell (1828-1898) and John F. Ellis (1843-1877) were business partners. The paperwork included a sketch that showed two wells, an oil tank, and an old house already on the claim. This was probably from the first Towsley claim filed by Darius Towsley in 1865 and then owned by the Wiley Springs Oil Company. The Towsley Petroleum Mine claim was later patented on August 20, 1879. See a PDF file of the original claim document here (copied by the DOG for their well records).

Patent record for the Towsley claim (see BLM/GLO land patent search page for patent records)

Article from the Los Angeles Herald of 1/12/1889 reporting an 1878 application for a patent on the Wiley and Towsley claims by Wiley, Caswell, and Mary Ellis (J.F. Ellis' widow). The Towsley claim was originally by Darius Tousley and M.E. Evarts. Myron E. Evarts was born in New York around 1819 and came to Los Angeles in 1858. He was made a member of the Pioneers of Los Angeles County in 1898. I don't know why an 1878 patent application was in an 1889 newspaper.

Plat map with the claim enclosed in yellow (see the GeoCommunicator page for plat maps)

Topo map with the Towsley claim in the yellow rectangle just below "the Narrows."

Map of the two claims and wells in 1934 (from Walling)

Landowner map probably from the early 1940's. Standard's land is enclosed in yellow. They owned no land in Towsley Canyon south of "the Narrows" where the original two claims were. There is no doubt that Darius Towsley's claim was south of the Narrows because that's where all oil seeps were (and are) and where all the producing oil wells were. No oil was ever found north of the Narrows in Towsley Canyon. Note the Standard owned all of Wiley Canyon.

The first really significant well was drilled in 1929 by the Consolidated Oil Company. The "Hammon" 1 well reached a depth of 3270 feet. Between 1937 and 1939, Towsley Canyon Oil Company and J.H. O'Donnell deepened it to 5225 feet. For almost the whole depth of the well the dips (or slopes) were greater than 70 degrees showing how steep the anticline is. The well produced a significant amount of oil.

In 1941-42, the "Limbocker" 1 well was jointly drilled to a depth of 7056 feet by the Barnsdall-Bandini-Ambassador Companies. It was started in the south flank of the anticline and apparently finished in the north flank. It was abandoned after reaching the 7056 feet with a few showings of oil. This was on a claim owned by Alice Limbocker. (See at bottom of page for photo of well.)

In 1950, the Santa Paula Drilling and Development Company drilled well "Foster" 1 to a depth of about 3515 feet. It was producing 12 bpd in 1966.

By 1966, about 30 wells had been drilled in Towsley Canyon. 18 produced oil at one time or another, and 9 were still producing.

The last two leases in Towsley Canyon were the Hammon lease (on the Temple claim) and the Security Bank lease. See Bailey's geologic map on the Geology page for their locations.

In 1985 Celeron Oil & Gas Company drilled an exploratory well to 15,816 feet. They wanted to evaluate the deeper zones of the anticline. Inconclusive results were obtained and the well was abandoned in 1987. In 1992, the last attempt at finding oil in Towsley Canyon was started. A petroleum consortium of small, mainly Canadian, energy companies (Riva Petoleum 30%, Ossa Resources 30%, Loumic Resources 20%, Tusk Resources 7%, Layfield Resources 5%, and Samedan Oil Corporation 8%), set up a massive 170 foot tall electrically powered rig northeast of the Narrows next to the road and began exploratory drilling by using the original Celeron well. At about 11,000 feet, they planned to use a slant drilling technique to sidetrack about 6000 feet south of the actual drilling rig. They planned to eventually drill about 16,500 feet underground. The rig was assembled by two 100-ton cranes from 70 tractor-trailer loads of parts.

The consortium hoped to find an oil reserve they believed could contain up to 625 million barrels of oil worth $12 billion at the 1992 price of $20 per barrel. The land was owned by Chevron, but they gave the consortium the mineral rights, with Chevron getting a percentage of the profits. Chevron believed that the search was highly speculative and declined to invest or participate in any way.

By August of 1992, they reportedly reached 16,000 feet and had found natural gas. An official of Ossa stated that they knew something was down there, but no one will actually know if the gas can be commercially produced until the area is tested. The president of Riva said that they could have a major gas field. After the possible gas discovery was made, stock prices of all the smaller companies involved doubled.

By January of 1993 the rig was gone. They had reached a maximum depth of 16,114 feet. They found oil but it was mixed with too much water to be of any value. The consortium spent nearly all of their capital of $7 million. Riva Petroleum said it will try to persuade the others to drill again. Samedan believes there is something down there, but a new well will have to be drilled. They now believe that the well will not result in the billions of dollars that was first speculated. The others said no to drilling.

In April of 1994, the Divisin of Oil and Gas received a letter from the United States Securites and Exchange Commission requesting copies of the original Celeron proposal and permit to drill the well and the Samedan proposal and permit to drill the well. The SEC stated that they are conducting a formal investigation into whether common stock of Riva Petroleum had been offered or sold in violation of federal securities laws. I have not found any results of this investigation were, so I have to conclude that probably nothing could be proved.

In 1995, Chevron sold the last of its holdings in Towsley Canyon (and other canyons) to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. It would become the heart of the proposed Santa Clarita Woodlands Park.

In 1996, the last eight wells were plugged and abandoned by the DOG.

The best year for Towsley Canyon was 1955 when production was 3,349 barrels of oil.

Table of the wells drilled in Towsley Canyon

(From Walling, 1934, and DOGGR records)
Well No. Operator Year 1st Drilled Total depth(ft) Remarks
Temple 1 Temple Oil Co. Before 1893 1079 Same as Climax 1. No records.
Temple 2 Temple Oil Co. Before 1893 ? Same as Climax 2. No records.
Washington 1 Washington Oil Co. 1893-94 200 Some heavy black oil
Washington 2 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1893-94 400 May be Guaranty # 1
Washington 3 SWC Resources 1893-1894 608 12th report of state mineralogist (1894) says that a dark green oil was found and that the company employed 6 men. Rig burned and company (Washington Oil Co) went bankrupt
1 Clark-Sherman & Co. 1896 900? No records
1 Boyle & Thompson 1897 900-1600? Passed through 6 streaks of oil
1 Towsley Canyon Oil Co. 1902 ? Crooked hole - a little oil found
1 St. Bernard Oil Co. 1903 2100 Oil at several levels but no production
1 Consolidated Midway Chief Oil Co. 1913 600 Passed through several oil streaks
Towsley 1 (old) Towsley Canyon Oil Co. 1915 1000? No records
Buick 1 Buick Oil Co. 1918 1126 Abandoned 1918
Buick 2 Buick Oil Co. 1918 1485 Abandoned 1919
G.P. Towsley 7 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1920 1293 Abandoned 1921. Originally drilled by General Petroleum Corp
Andrews 8 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1922 135 Crooked hole - Owned by Ed Mayhew et al in 1934. Originally drilled by Andrews Oil Co.
Mayhugh 1 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1925 556 Cement never drilled out of casing - Owned by Pico-Nevada Oil Co. in 1934
Hammon 1 SWC Resources 1929 5225 First drilled by Consolidated Oil Co
Well No. 1 Consolidated Midway Oil Co. 1929-31 3270 Owned by Community Oil Co. of Nevada in 1934
Guaranty 2 SWC Resources 1930 675 Producing as of 1934 - Originally drilled by Guaranty Oil Co
Caswell-Ellis 3 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1932? 177 Abandoned 1957. Drilled by Saratoga Oil Co
6 Saratoga Oil Co. 1933-34 584? Drilling as of 1934
Caswell-Ellis 4 Estate of Welburn Mayock 193? 552 Drilled by Saratoga Oil Co
Caswell-Ellis 6 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1934-35 683 Drilled by Saratoga Oil Co
Limbocker 1 Oryx Energy Co 1941-42 7071 Abandoned 1942. Original owner Barnsdall Oil Co
H&E 1 International Oil & Mining 1944 954 H&E - After Oliver Haws and Joseph Ellsworth the original owners
Brown 1 Parton Transportation Co 1949-50 756 Abandoned 1950
Foster 1 International Oil & Mining 1950 3535 Drilled by Santa Paula Drilling & Development Co
Hammon 2 SWC Resources 1950 4956 Abandoned
Hammon 3 SWC Resources 1952 2525 First drilled by Keystone Oil Development Co
Brown 1 M.R. Peck & Sons 1955 796 Abandoned 1956
Hammon 4 SWC Resources 1955-56 889 1957 converted to waste water disposal well
Lassale 1 Sun Drilling Co 1959 8025 No oil or gas found. Abandoned in 1959
Lassale 2 Sun Drilling Co 1959 10858 Did not produce. Abandoned in 1959
Hammon 5 SWC Resources 1960 650 First drilled by Rennick-Corwin Associates
Hammon 6 SWC Resources 1962 1488 First drilled by Tri-state Petroleum, Inc
Mayock 1 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1962 1008 Abandoned
Mayock 2 Estate of Welburn Mayock 1964 287 Abandoned
Hammon 7 SWC Resources 1965 698 Wilburn Mayock operator
Hammon 8 SWC Resources After 1965 280 First drilled by International Oil & Mining Co
Bailey 11 DCR Bailey 1966 ? Abandoned
Patric-Pet-Towsley Canyon 1 Montara Petroleum Co 1974 8510 Abandoned 1974
Chevron-Towsley 1 Celeron Oil & Gas Co 1985 15816 Inconclusive results. Abandoned 1987
Chevron-Towsley 1 Samedan Oil Corp 1992 16114 First drilled by Celeron Oil Co in 1985. In 1992 hole deeped by Samedan

Map of the Towsley wells in 1966 with some geology from the "Towsley Canyon Area of Newhall Oil Field, Los Angeles County, California", J.L. Zulberti, Summary of Operations of the State Oil and Gas Supervisor, California Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas, Vol. 52 No. 1, 1966, p. 53-65.

Plug and abandonment operations underway on "Old Towsley" 1 in 1996 (from the 1996 Annual Report of the State Oil & Gas Supervisor published by the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources - DOGGR)

About the same view in January of 2010

1992 SEC Letter to the DOG

Chevron-Towsley 1 in 1992 - last well drilled in Towsley Canyon (from Oil & Gas Journal April 20, 1992)

About the same view in 8/2008. This site is about 100 yards west of the crib dam. Going west, the road takes a sharp turn to the left just past the crib dam (and crosses over the creek) and then takes a sharp turn to the right. A short distance past the right turn you will see a large flat area on the left. This is the site.

Here is the large flat area to the west of the road (view toward the southeast). The derrick would have been right in the middle of the photo.

Not far into the canyon past the Chevron_Towsley 1 well site is this flat area above the height of the road. This is the site of the Patric-Pet-Towsley Canyon 1 well drilled and abandoned in 1974 (view toward the east).

Limbocker 1 from 1941. The Charles Oliver Haws, Sr. house is in the upper right of the picture.

This image is NOT in the public domain and is used with permission of the Sonia Thompson Nature Center in Towsley Canyon. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Limbocker 1 site today (10-11-2008)

Hammon 1 from 1926

This image is NOT in the public domain and is used with permission of the Sonia Thompson Nature Center in Towsley Canyon. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.