<small><i>GTR Oil Series, Part 21:</i></small> Tulsa’s Energy Based Economy Spawns Niche Companies
By CHARLES CANTRELL
OLD STYLE PIPELAYER: Sideboom operator Armon Bost pioneered hydraulic actuated sidebooms replacing the more inefficient mechanical wench-driven sideboom with safer and more precisely controllable machines. The innovation significantly changed the pipeline construction industry and launched one of Tulsa’s most successful niche market energy related companies, Midwestern Manufacturing.
Courtesy Midwestern Manufacturing Co.
Editor’s Note: This is the final article in a multi-part series about the past, present and future of the oil industry in greater Tulsa and throughout the region. The series began in Mid-June 2005 and has been published monthly since. The next GTR Newspapers series will look at the development of the aviation industry in greater Tulsa and will begin in the Mid-March issues.
Originally, Tulsa’s energy-based economy was built by risk takers, entrepreneurs and visionaries who were willing to bet it all on petroleum as the country’s energy source of the future. They were rewarded for their foresight as the need and value of petroleum energy and products rose with America’s rapid industrialization during the first half of the 20th century. The resulting engineering and technological requirements of the growing industry provided many resourceful Tulsans with ample opportunities to build companies around innovative products and services addressing specific needs in the energy industry. It would be impossible to accurately measure the cumulative affect these niche-market, business to business companies have had on Tulsa economic well being. Suffice it to say it has been and continues to be enormous.
A typical example of a Tulsa based niche-market petroleum related company is Midwestern Manufacturing Company, a second generation, family owned manufacturer of hydraulic actuated sidebooms for the pipeline construction industry. The early days of pipeline construction was a dangerous proposition due primarily to the cranes or sidebooms used on pipelayers to lower strings of heavy steel pipe into waiting trenches. Controlled by mechanical wenches, they were subject to slippage and even failure during operation exposing pipeline workers to injury and sometimes death. In addition, the mechanical wenches of the sidebooms were inherently lacking in the precise control needed for the exact alignment necessary for welding together pipe strings.
In 1953, a sideboom operator named Armon H. Bost developed a product to serve as an alternative to the complicated, unreliable mechanical pipelayers being used at the time. Controlled by hydraulics, it rendered the old mechanical equipment obsolete by proving to be an infinitely safer and more precisely controllable sideboom. It launched Midwestern Manufacturing and ushered in a new era for the natural gas pipeline industry. Today the company is hard at work developing bigger and better sidebooms kits for markets around the world
Tulsa’s Nutter Engineering found its niche in the petroleum industry in the refining stage of the market chain by inventing and patenting a more efficient fractionation tray for refinery stacks. Back in the early 1960s it was a momentary inspiration that came to company founder Earl Nutter to modify the vents of certain types of trays found in refinery tower packings to facilitate hydrocarbon separation. It was a significant enough improvement to make immediate inroads into the downstream refinery market and launch the company’s future in hydrocarbon process engineering and refinery design.
Evidence of recent immigrant status was apparent in the thick Scottish brogue he exhibited when, in 1947, Allan Edwards founded a Tulsa company and named it after himself. Edwards began brokering products for other petroleum industry manufacturers, but it didn’t take long for him to identify a need in the industry and fill it with a patentable product for the natural gas pipeline construction industry. Originally called river weights, they were heavy pre-cast concrete anchors designed to counter the buoyancy of gas pipelines crossing under bodies of water to hold them from floating up. Today they are called buoyancy control weights and can be found on land and offshore pipelines around the world. Allan Edwards has diversified its pre-cast concrete product lines to include items not always related to the petroleum industry.
Throughout the years as the oil industry in Tulsa matured, innovators and entrepreneurs have stepped up to expand the scope of possibilities for energy resource development. The story of niche market petroleum industry companies in Tulsa is one of countless engineering breakthroughs, brilliant ideas, innovative insights and marketplace epiphanies matched up with salesmanship, dogged perseverance and business acumen providing a potent recipe for many of the city’s most successful companies, those that have provided quality jobs and contributed substantially to Tulsa’s economic base and quality of life.