Spud the Rig

Medicine Hat News - - LIFESTYLES - Mal­colm Sis­sons

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.

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