By Dave Hext
As published in the Independent
As the Bradley family were ready to turn in for the night, they could see the reflection of the lights still on at the Fitzgerald Rig. What a guy our dad, he must have oil pumping through those
veins of his. It was many a night Murray Bradley would burn the midnight oil working on his rig, the Fitzgerald Rig. Burning the midnight oil might be the wrong words for the Fitzgerald Rig, as in the 1920’s suffered a terrible fire. One of the series
of wheels was lost including the boiler. Originally, the rigs were run with steam, but later the power was switched to a gasoline engine and today a 10 Horsepower electric motor for convenience.
Getting back to the namesake of the rig, which is
Frederick Ardell Fitzgerald. He was originally a businessman from London Ontario and started his oil career in the mid to late 1860’s. Frederick was better known as the builder of the London Water Works. He had also dabbled in groceries, furniture, liquor,
and oil. Fitzgerald along with another fifteen refiners, one most notably Jacob Englehart, started Imperial Oil. The need here was to stave off American ownership. Standard Oil had already bought up one local refinery and had been eyeing up the Petrolia area
for feedstock for their mammoth organization of refineries. The Imperial Oil idea could not endure the test of time for in 1895 cash flow necessitated that they take Standard Oils offer to buy their shares. This new deal allowed them to control Standard Oils
Canadian assets, but the move to Sarnia was inevitable. The only Petrolia asset left was a pipeline that led to the Sarnia Imperial Oil Refinery, and the Petrolia refinery was closed. This was a heavy blow to Petrolia’s economy, but all the major oil
people did their best to right the ship and start other business ventures, and Frederick Ardell Fitzgerald was one of them.
The Fitzgerald rig was erected and ready for production in 1903. The importance of this rig was it was going to be the largest
in the world, but it was built for efficiency. This rig could drive up to 300 wells and miles of jerker lines, and boasted a 23 foot wheel. This was necessary to make it profitable to be competitive with Standard Oil. To beat Standard at their own game seemed
to be the driving force behind this rig. This it was not a popular move that Standard Oil moved production to Sarnia. It is said that the brains of the jerker system used here was the brain child of Mckee & Marwick according to the 1893 Globe newspaper
out of Toronto. They fitted many an engine to run all the major producers in Petrolia area, Jacob Englehart, Mutual Oil, McMillan Estate, J. Ward & Company, Fitzgerald and Company, Frank Smith, A.C. Edward, Frank Ward and many others. Mckee & Marwick
were located in the Blind Line area.
In the fire of 1920, half the rig was lost, but the Fitzgerald Rig still runs up to six wells. According to “Petrolia Discovery” the rig has run continually since 1903. Murray Bradley was the last owner
of the rig before it was passed on to Petrolia Discovery. The rig was completely refurbished in 2013 and is still the pride of the Petrolia Discovery Foundation. On June 21 & 22 when you visit Petrolia Discovery during Doors Open Lambton County,
you can witness the site of one of the largest rigs in the world. Remember Petrolia built, Petrolia proud!