Recap of Standard Oil terminal history
Glimpses of Yesteryear
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 9:30 AM
The men's "coffee club" has been discussing earlier businesses and asked for a history of the Standard Oil pipeline terminal.
Looking west at the Standard Oil pipeline terminal in its heyday. Highway l6 is at upper right; the tank car loading docks and MStP&P railroad tracks are out of sight to the left.
This column has been written weekly since 2004, the year before our sesquicentennial. That year one week was devoted to the terminal story. However, here is a recap.
In 1946, the Standard Oil Company purchased land from the former George Gilbert farm one and a half miles east of Spring Valley along Highway 16. It was reported that 100 men were employed while construction of the terminal was completed. The pipeline, which was laid in 1946-47, brought product from the company refinery at Whiting, Ind., to Moorhead, Minn., and later between Sugar Creek, Mo., and Mandan, N.D.
Large storage tanks were erected to hold three grades of fuel oil and two grades of gasoline, with a total capacity of 200,000 barrels - 42 gallons to the barrel. The Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad tracks ran east/west just south of the property, and a spur was laid to tank car loading docks. In the yard, loading docks were built to accommodate six transport trucks. Shipments began in December 1947 to 170 bulk plants located in southern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa.
The terminal provided employment for over 25 people, including superintendent Bert Williams, stock distributor Johnny Johnsen, chief clerk Norris Johnson, plus office staff and round-the-clock operators, loaders and maintenance men.
The company's district office was situated here as well, with several men in and out on a daily basis, like Bennie Upton. The terminal men maintained the buildings, grounds, docks, lines, valves, mowed grass, plowed snow and loaded tank cars, as many as 12 a day. The large terminal building housed offices, a laboratory, locker room, restrooms, garages and workspaces.
It was my privilege to work there for over 30 years as a "casual employee," which meant working in the office during vacation times while the other employees shifted job assignments as necessary. For most of those years, I was the only female employee, helping to meet the company's mandate for "minority" employees. Dick Washburn, 1953 graduate of Spring Valley, reminded us that the company also employed young high school graduates to patrol the miles of pipeline, checking for any problems. He said it was a plum summer job for college kids - good pay, excellent benefits, meals, sleeping accommodations, etc.
About 30 men were employed by Ruan Transport Corp. out of Des Moines, Iowa, which set up its own headquarters just down the road. They hauled product in their 7,000 to 8,500 gallon transports to bulk plants, service stations and customers; all those drivers were "the good guys" and I cherish great memories of those fine gents.
Ruan Transport furnished 11 rigs, plus seven other trucks, which kept about 25 drivers on the road almost around the clock. Stockberger Transfer & Storage out of Mason City, Iowa, used seven units. At one time a few drivers owned their own trucks and leased to Ruan. In 1962, a student interviewed the stock distributor who reported the terminal shipped 1,200 tank cars and 18,000 transport truckloads a year.
As years passed, operations became more and more mechanized as we went from the required handwritten or typed reports (sent daily to seven spots, including company offices and the Minnesota revenue department) to the use of computers.
The railroad service was discontinued in 1970 and the tank car docks removed. Drivers were trained to load their own product using coded cards that accessed the gate, the docks, and the billing system. Incoming product was remotely controlled from distant points, and as men retired or moved on, they were not replaced.
I worked under two managers - Bert Williams and Leonard Plaehn. When I left there was only one employee, soon-to-be replaced with the present staff of two full-time and one part-time persons. Ruan Transport next door eventually closed down and shipments became much less.
The company changed hands and logos over the years - Standard Oil Company became Amoco, then the present bp (British Petroleum.) After 9/11 great changes were mandated by federal and state regulations including security and pollution control measures. The terminal building was modernized and refurbished, docks now have "bottom loading" to reduce fumes, and many changes make it an efficient, but less visible, presence in our midst. Frank Olivarri is the present terminal manager.
Names that float by in my fading memory include other office personnel: Neal Mathers, Keith Cooper, Bernie Tobin, Don Bublitz, Russ Mulholland, Addison Jacobson, Dick Richardson, Ruth Lemke, Elna Olson and more.
Longtime Ruan drivers were Don Larson, Les Hyland, Milford Thompson, Curt Simonson, Don Reiland, Howard Turbenson and Dave Casey; also George Wagner, Frank Miller, Rhieny Oeltjen, Charlie Toft, Bob Lingenfelter, Russ Erickson, Roger Copeman, Clarence Holt, Ivan Hintz, Louie Ward and others, too. Many locals valued their employment thanks to the pipeline terminal industry that came to Spring Valley 66 years ago.