The following is an unedited version of the original work by LeRoy S. Kuhn.
The Pipe Line Picnic
LeRoy S. Kuhn
I remember exactly, I was scraping the paint on the house next door to where I now live. I was working on the kitchen end. I had done the overhang and eves and was half way to the bottom. My mother came out of the house and said, “You had better quit or you will be too tired to enjoy the Pipe Line Picnic tomorrow.” I had well recovered from a long polio operation that forced me to go the entire school year on crutches. My mother checked on me often as my parents worried that with such a serious and unusual operation, I might be more lame than ever as predicted by the polio parents who had refused to try something so new. But, I was fine; for the first time I could do a man’s work. It was so great to be completely worn out, to lie on the cool grass and after a bit, jump up like a new person. This early effort to help polio children is now Easter Seals serving those with special needs of all ages.
We had moved into the house next door so we could build a new home on the same location as the old. Instead of tearing down the old house, my dad decided to move it wholesale to the other end of town to a vacant lot he owned. A crew of men arrived Monday morning, jacked up the house and nailed heavy timbers under it on all four edges. Planks were placed on the ground and with wooden rollers, the house could be moved in any direction.
The rollers were five feet in length and about six inches in diameter. The ends were indented so that the head man who had lost an arm could lift them with his specially designed hook. There were no horses, trucks or machinery of any kind used. A pinch or crowbar was jammed into the edge of the house, and when pushed down, moved the house inch by inch. It was no trouble rolling it out to the street and from there it was a level stretch to the other end of town; Route 38 had not been cut down as it is today. When a roller came out the back, it was picked up and quickly placed in the front; slow as the progress was, it moved continually inch by inch.
The house faced north, but in its new location, it would face south so it had to be turned half way around. Where the street crossed over the highway was the ideal place, no trees and plenty of room. At least it seemed the best place, but when half way turned, a telephone pole was in the way. The men said, jokingly, that it had moved during the night.
The house had to be straightened up and stared up the street but still facing south. Most of two days were wasted and the journey was only half completed. Working every minute of daylight, they got the house up the street far enough to be pushed into its new location when suddenly, it got dark Saturday evening. There was nothing to do but let it sit in the middle of the road until Monday morning as no one ever thought of working on Sunday. The little bit of traffic that used the road crossed over the sidewalk, went through a vacant lot, and back on to the street.
A young fellow getting home from a date on Saturday night told his mother about driving around a house in the middle of the road. Immediately, she accused him of being drunk and stared to call people in Hooker to get the true story.
On Monday morning the house was turned and rolled onto its new foundation that was ready and waiting. Everything had been measured exactly; the girders that were fastened under the house so it could be moved fitted snuggly against the inside walls on all four sides. The entire job had been done so smoothly that many of the gas mantles were intact and could still be used. Generally, the least touch or bump of a burned mantle caused it to fall to the floor in ashes.
I had talked all summer of going to the Pipe Line Picnic, and my mother so wanted me to go and be able to enjoy the day. No one else in the family went. It was the last trip of a great tradition or a one-time revival of a reknown(sic) holiday for the oil men that had started in 1887.
The Western Allegheny Railroad that went through Hooker ran from Kaylor to Queen Junction to New Castle, and had no facilities for such a big affair. They had only two coaches on the passenger run – one for the general public and the other equally divided, half as a baggage car and half as “The Smoker” for men only.
For this big affair, the Bessemer Railroad backed seven coaches into Kaylor and they picked passengers up at every station and all along the way where anyone flagged them down. At Hooker, 35 to 40 of us boarded the train and found scattered seats. By the time we reached Queen Junction and crossed over to the Bessemer tracks, every seat was taken, no more stops were made until we arrived at Conneaut Exposition ark. It was a most exiting day for a boy of 12 from the very minute he boarded the train.
Never before were we allowed to walk the coaches, going from one to another was a scary experience. As you opened the door, a blast of air took your breath away and an upward draft almost knocked you down. As you stepped on the shifting steel plate between the coaches, you felt the strain on the great coupler holding the cars together as they continually strained to break apart.
To the rear of every coach was a drinking fountain and above the spigot, there was a slot holding envelopes that unfolded into a drinking cup, holding one gulp of lukewarm water. The toilet was beside it, and we always went in to look down the closet hole to watch the railroad ties flash by, a hundred a minute. It gave the feeling of traveling at a terrific speed. The toilets were to be used only when the train was moving. If stopped for any length of the [sic] time, the conductor locked the doors.
The older boys matched pennies with the odd man winning. Two boys would agree by certain signs to either throw heads or tails, but always in that combination so the sucker had no chance of ever being odd man always lost. They moved about the train always finding some fool anxious to make some easy pennies.
Most families carried big picnic baskets as few had the money to buy a complete meal at the eating stands; anyhow it seemed like a waste of money.
The park officials were smart. They had arranged this big affair to come on a slow day when little else was going on. It seemed we had the whole place to ourselves.
I had never seen a roller coaster and went there the first thing. It was such a thrill speeding around the curves, going up small humps, when suddenly the car was hooked to a chain taking us higher and higher. We paused there a moment to see th danger ahead and when we were not watching, the bottom dropped out of everything and in seconds, we were back on ground level. It took my breath away, and I must have passed out. The car had stopped and my buddies hollered, “It’s all over.” I was sure it was.
There was always a long line waiting at the Tunnel of Love. A boat built just for two floated on this narrow canal pushed by rapid waves. The last part of the ride went into this dark tunnel, and as the couples came out into daylight everyone hollered and yelled. In the lastafternoon, we boys went back and took a ride. There was nothing to it, not a bit spooky.
On the train ride home, we sat in our seats like little angels, completely worn out. It had been a great day, never to be forgotten, never ever to happen again. It was the last holiday to honor the oil men – The Pipe Line Picnic.
[LeRoy ends his personal reflections here and then launches into the background of the picnic. I have moved his original concluding paragraph to the following paragraph in order to provide proper attribution.]
The July 1913 issue of The Oil and Gas Magazine gives us this [following] early history and proudly relates that in the first 27 years, a quarter of a million people had attended the Pipe Line Picnic without an accident.
The first picnic was planned on a moment’s notice. Mr. C.A. Hite, superintendent of the National Transit Co. was sitting in the office of C. H. Wattson of the Oil and Gas Men’s Association at Petrolia, and noticed in the paper that the railroad was opening a new park at Kiester, to be called Slippery Rock Park, a place were [sic] picnics could be held by Sunday schools and other organizations. In a few minutes, a suggested plan was drawn up and on June 28, 1887, that same year, the first Pipe Line Picnic was held, a holiday honoring the oil men. The excursion started at Foxburg on the old Shenanago [sic] Railroad.
“It was the most grotesque looking combination of cars that was possibly ever hooked together. The track was narrow gauge and the engine and cars were miniature in size. The railroad company could only spare one passenger coach from its regular service, so the remainder had to be improvised from the flat and box cars. Seats were provided for by the use of boards laid cross-wise. When the steep grades were met, the little engine was unable to pull the weight; so everybody climbed out to lighten the burden and incidentally, to help by pushing. In the course of several hours, Butler was reached (30 miles) where the excursionists were transferred to the cars of the Pittsburgh Shenango and Lake Erie Railroad (regulation-wide tracks). As their cars were already well filled, most had to stand up.All were good natured and enjoyed the trip and the day on the grounds to the fullest extent.”
There were no amusements or eating stands at this first picnic. These hardy, robust men dressed in dark Sunday, three-piece suits and straw hats; enjoyed talking and exchanging stories of the oil field on a hot summer day in June. The picture of the first picnic shows more than a 100 in attendance.
He small Slippery Rock Park at Kiester could not accommodate the increasing popularity of the oil men’s Pipe Line Picnic, and with great fanfare, on June 28, 1892, they opened the new Exposition Park at Conneaut Lake with a crowd of 3000 people.