Magnolia and Waynesburg Convert to Natural Gas

The Columbia Gas System was trying to expand its industrial customer base and agreed to lay a pipeline to the Magnolia plant, if we would pipe up the kilns and use the gas. We hired a contractor, Bill Staub, who hired certified welders from the gas companies to work weekends and in a few months, the 18 kilns were piped and converted from coal to gas. JB was skeptical, “You don’t know anything about gas firing and will blow yourselves up.” However, he let us go forward. The gas firing was more uniform then coal and produced a higher yield of good ware. Labor cost decreased, with no hand firing of coal or hand removal of the ashes. The following summer, we converted the Waynesburg plant from coal to gas. JB was right about the explosion potential. A decade later, I was at the main office when there was a large blast and the whole building shook. I knew what had happened immediately and with shaking hands, called the plant. A kiln had filled with gas before it was lit and exploded on lighting. Fortunately, no one was badly injured. The fireman who lit the kiln was near the kiln wall and the brick, which were blown outside the perimeter of the kiln, were blown beyond him.

During the 1950s, another windfall came to WG with the development of the Magnolia-East Canton oil field. Most Whitacre-Greer property was in this field and people wanting to lease besieged us. We took our time and held out for the right to buy the gas from the wells for 30 cents per thousand cubic feet (Mcf). As all gas from the wells in this field at the time was being flared, we were able to make the deal with Belden & Blake. After some years, we persuaded some investors to build pipelines, collect the gas and deliver the gas into our plants. The Morges Gas System came into being and supplied our plants with gas at an Mcf cost to us substantially below the Columbia gas prices. Additionally, the local gas contained 1,200 British thermal units (Btu) per cubic foot, compared with 1,000 Btu per cubic foot for the Columbia gas. Fewer cubic feet were required to burn each kiln. The natural gas find extended the life of the Magnolia and Waynesburg plants.