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Gusher Inn, Bloomingdale, Michigan; 1939. Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Central Michigan University, Clarke Historical Library and University of Michigan Digital Archives

This is a covey of oilfield hands outside the Gusher Café in Bloomingdale, Michigan; 1939. They are without grime so are either out of work, waiting for day labor, or on days off. Note the pumping units in the background. This joint is centrally located in the nearby oilfield; in the thick of things.

I've never seen the menu from this place but I assure you, the Blue Plate Special rotates back and forth from meatloaf, to beef stew to chicken and dumplings and back again. I'll bet you can drink a few cold ones in this place, in the three weeks of summer, or otherwise drink 5 gallon buckets of steaming hot coffee when its freezing ass cold the other 49 weeks of the year.

I had a pair of lace up boots like that once and thought they were really cool, then Daniel Day Lewis wore them in There Will Be Blood and I pitched them in the dumpster.

Michigan is very oily country; not too many folks probably realize that. Since 1923 and its first discovery it has produced over 1.3 billion barrels of oil. It's still covered with stripper oil wells. Within the Michigan Basin there is Devonian age carbonates at shallow depths that had to be shot with torpedoes to produce. Around the outside of most of the Basin is a really cool reef (Niagara) system that has pinnacles in it with almost vugular porosity. Wells that stumbled onto that stuff were awesome.

The Muskegon Oil Field was discovered in Western Michigan in 1927, with a 330 BOPD well, and opened up a large, very productive area, and idea, for much of the rest of the central part of the Michigan Basin. That field made 3.3 MM BOPD before poopin' out. Then in 1928 another big field was discovered in Mt. Pleasant in Midland County where a 3,500 BOPD well was made! That got Pure Oil Company's attention and they hightailed it to Central Michigan and leased up hundreds of thousands of acres.

The Antrim shale in the north part of the peninsula was discovered in 1940 but in 1981 it started getting more and more attention at depths of 2,200 feet and the onslaught of frac'ing. Since 1981 the Antrim has produced close to 3 TCF of dry gas from over 9,800 wells. In 2019 the Antrim still produced something like 140 BCF of gas, all from very low pressure, low volume wells. Today there are still 15,000 oil wells and about the same number of gas wells still producing in Michigan.

There are some pretty good trout in Michigan and it use to be one of Papa Hemingway's favorite places to fish. I played tennis once in Kalamazoo, 14's; Jimmy Connors was 13, in my side of the draw, playing up an age bracket. He won the whole thing. I went home on a bus after the first round. B&C went on a Antrim blowout for Shell in 1992; they dewatered those wells on PU's. This mama-jama was blowing 150 feet up thru the stuffing box.

Van Buren County

As early as 1925 folks were drilling shallow Traverse and Trenton limestone wells in Van Buren County ranging in depth from 600 feet to 2,300. Many dry holes were drilled and some marginal wells were made in fractured carbonates of the Traverse that did not hold up.

Then in August of 1938 a well being drilled on the Wiggins Farm just outside the little town of Bloomingdale came in blowing 100 BOPD all over the place. It caused quite a stir and within months the town grew from 500 to over 1,200. Bloomingdale, just west of Kalamazoo, by the way, was just close enough to Detroit to get city folks out on the bus needing work, or wanting to invest. The area boomed, just like other places in America.

The closer wells were drilled to downtown Bloomingdale, the better they got and by the end of 1938 there were 90 some odd wells drilled on empty lots, next to houses, behind chicken coops, markets, clothing stores;, everywhere there was room to put a rig, they did, and drilled 10o BOPD wells or better.

Bloomingdale Field ultimately had over 400 wells drilled in it between 1938 and 1943. The field produced over 11 MM barrels of oil until 1948. Two refineries were built within the Bloomingdale township limits, both capable of absorbing 1,500 BOPD each. Both made gasoline and much of the gasoline was put on rail cars on a major railway that ran directly thru the middle of town.

By 1949 the entire field was depleted and pretty much abandoned. Both refineries were torn down.

Some wells within the town limits, on a particularly crowded town lot, blew in over rig crowns before they could be shut in and on windy days these wells covered peoples homes with crude oil. Residents tried the best they could to scrub this stuff off their houses, then ultimately fussed enough to get a new paint job. Personal recordings of the history of the era I listened to briefly suggest that the entire village of Bloomingdale essentially got repainted every year for the first three years the field was being developed. Some less porous wells in the township had to be shot with glycerin to jump start them and those wells always covered peoples homes with oil. If the chickens got rained on they were simply left to fend for their speckled selves.

Bloomingdale, Michigan, right, 2018. A park in the railroad right of way honors the communities oil history.


Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was born in Illinois. His family spent their summers in Central Michigan and up on Saginaw. This is a photo of Hemingway when he was 8 years old, in Michigan. Later Hemingway wrote often of his summers in Michigan, and of trout fishing there later in his life, and in the 1950's he donated a lot of his notes, drafts, manuscripts and photographs to Central Michigan University.


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