Dakota Datebook

Oil Exploration

Monday, October 15, 2012


With all the oil activity and exploration in the state, perhaps Harold Hamm and the boys at Continental Resources and other companies might give a listen to a much easier way to locate the oil, or at least one method being used on this date in 1936.

According to the Killdeer Herald, “Drilling machines, oil outfits, muckers, swampers, pumping stations, gushers and all the stuff … in a rip-roaring wild cat oil field, hang over the town of Killdeer.” It seems that Ole Berg and Halvor Rolsrud from northeast of Watford City had an easy and foolproof way to locate the liquid gold that lay beneath the streets of Killdeer. In a method, distantly similar to water-witching, Ole used what he called a “doddlebug” method. He learned this from a man named Henry, who used the same approach for Standard Oil until Henry joined up with A. C. Townley in North Dakota. Townley, Ole claimed, was more interested in exploiting investors than he was in exploring for oil.

Ole carried an eight ounce bottle of crude oil, which he obtained at Shelby, Montana. A round wick about a quarter of an inch in diameter ran down into the oil and was soldered to the top of the bottle to keep it in place. This is how it worked. Ole held the bottle with the oil and wick in his right hand and drove over the territory suspected of containing oil. If there was any oil under the surface, the hand holding the bottle began to shake violently until the car had passed beyond it. So the editor decided to give it a test and the three men started driving up main street. As they passed the Killdeer Drug Store, the hand began shaking violently and remained shaking for the next two miles going north of town. Ole was sure there was oil below. Ole claimed some success at locating oil, but said he was cheated out of his share once the discovery came in. For any future “doddlebugging” he was going to demand royalties in advance.

As far as becoming involved in it himself, the editor of the Killdeer Herald stated that was something he would mull over during the long winter evenings while he sat on a cracker barrel and spit sunflower seeds at the knot holes in the floor.

Now in hindsight, Ole had claimed there was plenty of oil in McKenzie and Dunn Counties, so perhaps an eight ounce bottle, a wick and a little Shelby Crude could save these modern oil boys a bundle.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Killdeer Herald October 22, 1936


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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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