April 2011

The McKee Station: A Gimpse Into the Past

By Paul Harvey

This month The Flywheel will feature the museumís McKee Station. This structure is actually a reconstructed National Transit pump station that was removed from the original site and re-erected on the museum grounds. History reveals that the first station was built in 1898 and the present structure was completed in 1939. It came to life again in Coolspring in 1984. There is no information about the original 1898 station.

McKee was located south of Clintonville, PA and considered an intermediate gathering station of crude oil. This name means that there were several small ďlocalĒ stations that pumped the oil from the producers into the tanks at McKee. There it was measured or gauged and the individual producers were paid for their crude oil. McKee then transferred this oil on to Kennerdell Station which was a main line station pumping to the refineries. In the early part of the twentieth century there was a vast network owned by National Transit that gathered the oil from the producers and eventually got it to the final destination, the refinery, where many different products were made. Hence, the name of gathering stations. There were also trunk line stations owned by Transit that moved vast quantities of oil to the markets of Oil City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York.

In the early days, there were many small pipe line companies all in the business of collecting crude oil and sending it somewhere, usually a railhead. They were gradually consolidated into the United Pipe Line which improved shipping greatly. Then in 1881, Standard Oil, which controlled most of the production and refining, formed the National Transit by merging United with several other smaller pipelines and holding tank facilities. The name and charter came from National Storage, a huge tank facility on the coast. This merger completed Standardís monopoly of the entire oil industry. 

National Transit prospered and in 1890 built a magnificent four story, red brick structure in Oil City to house its operations. The structure still stands and is now beautifully restored as an art gallery. At this time, Standard Oil controlled 95% of all the oil in this country; all the way from the well to the consumer. It continued to do so until 1911 when it was forced to break up the monopoly. National Transit continued as an independent pipe line until 1964 when the declining production forced its sale to Bradford Transit. A few years later the vast pipeline system was gone. 

Soon after its creation, National Transit erected huge manufacturing and maintenance shops at a site in Oil City beside the Allegheny River. Part of these shops still stand and are used by the Electralloy Corp. At this time, Transit built all its own engines and pumps, as well as associated pipeline tools, and did not sell any to the general market. Their line of equipment was vast and massive since they did not have to compete for a market place. The chief engineer, John Klein, designed a line of gas engines that powered most all of the gathering stations. These engines were massive, well built, and designed for continuous operation. The museum has many fine examples of Klein engines that run so well. In 1911, with the breakup of Standard Oil, the Transit shops became a separate entity, National Transit Pump and Machine Company and by 1915 the products were available to the general market although they still maintained their high quality. The shops were finally acquired by Worthington Corp.

The engines and pumps in the museum's McKee Station now represent what the station might have been like in the early 1900s. All are operational and run for the museumís shows. There is a 10 hp Model 2 Klein engine belted to the suction pump which would help bring in oil to the stationís tanks. This operation required a smaller engine and lighter pump than was required to move the oil on. The 20 hp Model 3 Klein drives the usual high pressure discharge pump. This pump transferred the oil about 25 miles to the Kennerdell Station. The pumps are Transit vertical triplex models that were noted as VTPP, vertical triplex power pump. Also represented is the usual Crocker-Wheeler dynamo, now powered by a separate engine, that supplied the electricity for lighting when the station ran continuously.

Photo 1 shows McKee Station as it appears at the museum today. It is a simple building with flat steel siding typical of all Transit stations. Photo 2 shows the 20 hp Model 3 Klein engine and the pump can be seen in the background. It was built in 1902. Klein engines were made in three sizes; 10 hp, 20 hp and 40 hp. There were only about 50 Model 3ís built and the museum is fortunate to have two of them. Photo 3 shows the usual discharge pump, a 3 Ĺ inch bore by 8 inch stroke vertical triplex power pump (VTPP). Being built by Transit, they were exceptionally heavy to withstand continuous duty. They were matched to all three sizes of the Klein engines, using different pulley sizes to run at an appropriate speed for the engineís power. These pumps could easily maintain 2,000 psi continuous duty.    

Photo 4 shows the 10 hp Model 2 Klein engine which was built about 1898. Note the disk shaped crankshaft which denotes early construction. This engine was the smallest Klein built and was the mainstay of many stations. Production totaled about 250 engines. It drives, as shown in Photo 5, the suction pump. It is 4 inch bore by 6 inch stroke and made on a lighter frame. As the name implies, it provided a vacuum on the input lines to help draw the oil to the station. Intermediate stations such as McKee always provided both suction to its tanks and high pressure discharge to the next facility. McKee originally used one engine to drive both, clutching to whichever pump was appropriate.  

Photo 6 shows the National Transit building in Oil City, PA as it appears today. The buff brick structure next to it is the Transit Annex and was completed in 1895. It contains an interesting water powered elevator. These buildings are open to the public five days a week and are well worth a visit.

It is my wish that the reader has enjoyed McKee Station and the brief history of National Transit. Please attend one our shows or open weekends to see this fascinating reconstruction of oil history. For more information, call 814-849-6883. See you then!

Photo 1: McKee Station as it appears at the museum today

Photo 2: 20 hp Model 3 Klein engine

Photo 3: 3Ĺ inch bore by 8 inch stroke VTPP discharge pump

Photo 4: 10 hp Model 2 Klein Engine

Photo 5: 4 inch bore by 6 inch stroke suction pump

Photo 6: National Transit Building in Oil City, PA



Copyright © 2019 by Coolspring Power Museum