How Do Oil Wells Get Their Names?

Out here in the wild and remote west we have many types of oil wells and a history of many more dating back to the 1940s. Home on the Range (ly) - a journal of historic and contemporary life in the wild and remote west knows that without the oil industry, we wouldn't be here. So we wanted to share with you some of the fun little quirks that make up our oil well history. 

How Oil Well Names Work

L.B. Walbridge No. 1  Picture by Ken Bailey

L.B. Walbridge No. 1

Picture by Ken Bailey

The Rangely oil field is divided up into leases. Each lease is named for the owner of the land upon which the wells are drilled, as far as I know. Some are very large, and may have dozens of wells ... some have but one. Each lease starts with "Well No. 1," but each well also has a name.

Some names are companies "UPRR No. 23", short for "Union Pacific Railroad." "Calco No. 7" -- short for "California Company", today called "Chevron", the brand name for their gasoline that was eventually adopted as their company name as well.

Most names are after people.

People's Names

Meet "L.B. Walbridge No. 1." This is the name of the well this pump is working in this 1972 photo; it is located north of the old Bestway store. It is likely that "L. B. Walbridge" is a person, perhaps a Rangely pioneer.

As I have poured over maps of the original 486 Rangely deep wells, many names have appeared connected to wells that most likely came from people. Some of them, pulled just from memory:

Purdy, Larson, White, Carney, Hefley, McLaughlin, Guiberson, Gray, Hagood, Levison -- to name a few.

In the early days, the entire person's name may have appeared on the sign identifying the well: "Mary E. Hefley #4." Later, the first name may have been shortened to just initials: "M.E. Hefley #4." In later years, just the last name might appear on the sign for this same well -- "HEFLEY 4".

Who were they?

Not being a Rangely native, I used to ponder the people whose names graced the oil pumps I was photographing. Who was Mary E. Hefley? Who was Georgianna White? Who was Henry W. Gray? Who was Mr. Guiberson?

An oil derrick with a sign that said, "Georgianna White No.l" seemed interesting, mysterious -- I could picture in my mind's eye as a kid this "Ms. White" working away at a ranch in a pre-oil Rangely, not dreaming a shining steel tower (two of them, actually) would someday bear her name...

Today, the well just says "White No. 1." Sounds rather blah and bland compared to the old way. But.... all part of the experience of this small western town named "Rangely."