WOOSTER, Ohio — He has dozens of restored Oliver tractors, scores of antique implements and countless hand-tools and farm-related collectibles.
Each year, his collection continues to grow, as he and his wife travel the country for that special antique — usually something from the Oliver family of farm equipment, or from the oil or gas industry.
But of the hundreds of pieces he has, Ron Grosjean of Columbus Road south of Wooster, has just added his biggest. At 90 feet tall and bearing a cross at the top, his prized find is one of the area’s few restored oil well drilling derricks.
That’s correct. It’s the framework that towers over a well hole, used for boring, and for hoisting and lowering.
The metal structure is a standout for hundreds of feet in any direction, and has been painted a bright silver color by a local contractor. It was first built in 1926 near Killbuck, to drill a well that produced about a barrel of oil a day, Grosjean said.
At its new home, outside Grosjean’s private antique museum, the derrick is not operable. But it’s been restored to look about as close as possible to how it looked more than 80 years ago.
That includes the 90-foot frame of original angle iron, the large bull wheel, clutch and engine, and a 12-inch well pipe. The lower part of the derrick is enclosed by a metal shanty, made to look like it would have in the ’20s.
Disassembling, restoring and reassembling the apparatus has been quite the project, as Grosjean and his helpers confirm.
“It’s always interesting and fun when Ronny calls,” said Bryan Eick of Eick’s Building Service. “I’ve moved houses and different types of buildings, but this is my first oil derrick.”
Of all the things people collect, this is no doubt different. It’s shear size is the biggest standout, compounded with the challenge of disassembling the many pieces of metal, transporting them, re-finishing and rebuilding.
Eick wire-brushed and painted the metal parts, including original bolts, with some quality Sherwin Williams paints he hopes will preserve the derrick for years to come.
Chris Baker, of Timbertime Tree Service, helped rebuild the derrick, which required use of a crane and large aerial boom lift.
The entire structure could have made a lot of scrap metal, but scrapping it was the last thing on Grosjean’s mind, who has farmed on a small scale, and worked for the locally owned oil company, Ken Miller Supply, the last 40 years.
“I’ve become kind of an historian on some stuff and I decided it shouldn’t be junked,” Grosjean said. “I decided to try and save it.”
The derrick was originally owned by a company called Baker Brothers, and would later be bought in 1985 by Ken Miller of Ken Miller Supply.
It ran on a one-cylinder gas engine, which Grosjean bought for $500. He doubts if he will make the rig and its engine operable, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility.
Whether it actually runs — or not — it’s a life-size testament to the history of oil wells and hard work.
“I feel that kids today don’t know about hard work,” Grosjean said.
The rugged metal frame, the large bull wheel and engine speak of work in every way — work that was laborsome and at times dangerous.
Grosjean said it’s also important history for Wayne County, and something he hopes people will enjoy seeing. At the time this was built, he estimates there would have been hundreds of derricks in use in the county.
His tractor collection includes nearly every model of Oliver tractor ever made, with many fine restorations. But this antique is special, because everyone who drives down the road will see it.
And, they’ll see the lighted cross at the top, an important symbol of faith and of the legacy and tradition of America’s oil-well boom.
“Kenny (Miller) felt the Lord blessed us real well,” Grosjean said on his decision to put the cross on top. “I just feel honored that I’ve been blessed to get this stuff and collect it.”
This slide collection shows original shots, when the derrick was disassembled: