Spud the Rig
The dilapidated pile of wood and metal sitting in front of the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile manufacturing building is actually a cable tool drilling (“spudder”) rig making a return visit.
Collector Gino Iannattone, with the help of Don Lefever, rescued the old rig in August 2000 with a crane and a flatbed from a field out by the Dauntless cement factory where it had been abandoned, possibly after its last job, many many years ago. Don had previously rescued the steam engine that powered the rig and eventually sold it to Gino, suggesting he might want the rig to go with it.
The rig was likely made by Star Drilling Machine Co. of Akron, Ohio, probably in the late 1890s. It works by raising and dropping a shaped bit, letting gravity do the heavy work, pounding its way down.
From 1886 when the first kiln of brick was fired in Medicine Hat until 1900, coal was the only possible fuel source, unlike Edmonton where cordwood was an alternative. However, in 1900, the Purmal Brick Company (owned and operated by immigrant Latvian stonemasons Charles and Jacob Purmal) embarked on a modernization and drilled for natural gas using a derrick. Pretty hard to miss and soon they had a well going that fuelled the kilns for a century.
In 1930, the well needed re-working and a spudder rig was brought in. From photographic analysis, it appears to be this very rig, now much the worse for years spent in the elements.
Thanks to the generosity of Gino Iannattone, this rig has been donated to the Friends of Medalta and is now parked in virtually the same location, 87 years later, with a tentative plan for restoration. This is an important artifact in the history of both the natural gas industry and the brick industry of Medicine Hat.
You can see this rig and tour the entire brick plant, now a Provincial Historic Resource, at the “Filthy Hands Festival” today starting at 2 p.m.
Get the details at www.medalta.org. (hint, if you make a brick the old fashioned way, you might see the connection to the festival name!)
Malcolm Sissons is the Chair of the Heritage Resources Committee of the City of Medicine Hat.
The spudder drilling rig being used to re-work the same gas well in 1930 at the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile. Esplanade Archives
The site of the Purmal Brick Company in 1900 with a natural gas drilling derrick in operation.