The Early Days of Sweeny/Old Ocean Oil Companies

The Early Days of Sweeny/Old Ocean Oil Companies

Abercrombie to Hilcorp

J. S. “Jim” Abercrombie (1891-1975) started out in the oil industry in his teens working for a cousin as a roustabout and roughneck. In 1910 he was hired by Crown Petroleum Company and began making a name for himself as a driller. While working for Crown and with their consent he bought his own drilling rig and put it to work up on the Texas and Oklahoma border. By 1920 he had saved enough money to buy three more rigs and start the J. S. Abercrombie Company bringing with him brothers Joe, Milo and John.AbercrombieJim Abercrombie (From Book "Mr. Jim")

In 1920 after seeing a need to have exclusive access to a machine shop to repair his drilling equipment Jim Abercrombie partnered with Harry Cameron and five others and started Cameron Iron Works with Abercrombie being majority owner.

Monarch Oil and Refining contracted JSA Co. to work over wells in Liberty County in a field that was infamous for well blow outs due to high pressures. Sure enough JSA had a blowout so Jim brought in two of his top drillers having experience with high pressure problems on other wells. Neither of them had any solid new advise on preventing the problem. After two more blowouts, failure of current blow out preventers and losing his best rig, 1922BlowoutPreven1922 Blowout Preventer (From Book "Mr. Jim")Jim during a sleepless night comes up with an idea that just might work, opposing rams that when closed would crimp the drill stem and stop the flow. Harry Cameron took the idea, designed and modified it some and then made it. After testing, improving and more testing it was patented and remains the basic design of blow out preventers used today.

In 1929 Dan Harrison, an attorney-oilman specializing in buying oil leases, and Jim Abercrombie entered a joint interest agreement where JSA Co. would drill two wells for Harrison Oil in Liberty County. Both wells were successful and this began a relationship where the two companies would share a floor in a Houston office building and in the near future jointly share, as two different companies, in an oil adventure down in Brazoria County.

harrisonDan Harrison (From Book "Mr. Jim")The discovery of the Old Ocean Field began around 1929 when William H “Hod” Hodnett and Everette DeGolyer formed the Atlatl Royalty Company. Both were convinced that oil lay beneath the swamp lands around Sweeny. Mineral lease broker, Bill Minchen was also convinced and had accumulated around 10,000 acres of mineral lease. With a nose for new prospects, Dan Harrison alerted Abercrombie of the potential for a major find. In 1934 a deal was made to buy the 10,000 acre lease that resulted in Harrison and Abercrombie companies splitting 50% ownership, Atlatl Royalty Company 25% and J. C. Karcher 25%. Karcher was a geophysicist with the latest seismographic information needed to pinpoint drilling locations.

Soon after the deal Abercrombie with drillers Red Early, John Bass and Sam Cantrell were on a carefully selected site and ready to drill the # 1 Bernard River Land Development test well.Pop2 With the heaviest blow out preventer ever made along with other specialty equipment to combat the nearly 4,000 psi bottom hole pressure. The test well was completed Nov. 8, 1934. (see first production report  here) During this time H&A Companies were silently buying up more leases and surface acreage including land that would later become the site of a refinery. The well tested at 240 bbls/day potential but also had a very high gas to oil ratio. This was followed by deeper and successful wells proving the reservoir was actually 4 reservoirs stretching approximately 9-11 miles long by 4 miles wide.wells With the size of the field, depths, pressures and high ratio of gas, H&A Companies found themselves in uncharted water. Bringing in more talent like engineer Stanley Gill a concept of striping the hydrocarbons and injecting the gas back in the reservoir to maintain pressure and extend the life of the field was developed and soon in place. The Old Ocean Field and Harrison and Abercrombie Companies Plant were up and running by 1939.

Harrison sells his interest in the venture to Magnolia Oil in 1942. With Magnolias agreement J S Abercrombie Company continues to operate the plant. In 1946 Jim Abercrombie sells his interest in the venture with the exception of 6% in the plant and the rights to operating it to newly formed Old Ocean Oil Company. Abercrombie’s operating rights ended in 1954 when Stanolind buys out Magnolia.

 Following the names of the companies. 

  • Abercrombie becomes Stanolind in 1954 when Old Ocean Oil sells their interest to Stanolind 
  • 1957 name change from Stanolind to Pan American 
  • 1971 name change from Pan American to Amoco 
  • 1998 Amoco sells to Hilcorp


We previously posted Mattie Lee Jordan’s 1961 Story on Pan American. It is well worth another read. See below.


Mattie Lee Jordan's 1961 Pan American Story






Plancor 880 to Phillips66/Chevron Phillips Complex


·In March of 1942 President Roosevelt calls Jim Abercrombie to the White House and challenges him to build and operate a high octane avgas plant at Old Ocean ASAP. Stanley Gill had a MIT classmate who was an expert on refinery construction and an official with J. F. Prichard Company. With J. F. Prichard Company as consultant and operator Defense Plant Corporation Plancor 880, a 18,000 bbl/day refinery with terminals on the Bernard River and at Freeport, was up and running in early 1943 becoming the only plant built from ground up by the United States Government during World War II. The plant was mouth balled in 1945.

The following article provided by Charlene Finley continues the history of Phillips.




Following the names of the companies.

Plancor 880 sells to Alamo/Phillips joint venture in 1947. Plant is known as Alamo Refining Company with W. W. “Bill” Keeler as Vice President.

Alamo liquidates and sells to Phillips in 1949.

Chevron Phillips created with a merging of both Phillips and Chevron chemical operations in 2000. Phillips retains ownership of refinery.

ConocoPhillips created through the merger of Conoco Inc. and the Phillips Petroleum Co. in 2002

In 2012, ConocoPhillips' spins off its downstream assets, including Sweeny refinery, as a new and separate company, Phillips 66.

Company Housing

Both Abercrombie and Alamo/Phillips provided rent houses to their employees in the early days. The yellow brick houses and camp houses are touched on in Old Ocean Fades into History. The yellow houses were built during the Plancor 880 days and the 100 camp houses were built by Alamo/Phillips in the 1947-1948 time period. There was also a bunk house on plant property utilized by Alamo/Phillips to house company workers while the camp houses were being built.

Abercrombie also had 11 camp houses near its plant. When Stanolind took over in 1954, those living in the houses were giving the option to buy.

Fifteen duplex houses were built during the Plancor 880 days across the highway from the yellow brick houses. In 1947 the "Federal Public Housing Authority" sold these houses, complete with 30,000 BTU space heaters, 4-burner gas ranges, 50# ice boxes and 20 gallon water heaters, to the "Old Ocean Sweeny Veterans Housing Association" for $75,600. The O.O.S.V.H.A., with J R Wait Jr. President and Melvin A "Buck" Manley Secretary, was established to provide affordable housing for Abercrombie returning war veterans. The Abercrombie group platted and donated the land. Thus the beginning of the Harab Subdivision and Abson Drive. (see O.O.S.V.H.A. constitution and bylaws)





Abercrombie Pictures


First Chenault Well 1937 (Image Courtesy of Barzoria County Historical Museum) 

BRLD1BRLD #1 (Image Courtesy of Brazoria County Historical Museum))


Abercrombie1941Abercrombie 1941 (Image Courtesy of Brazoria County Historical Museum)


 Drillingrig19212Identified as 1921 Well Near Sweeny by BCHM. (Image Courtesy of Brazoria County Historical Museum)





PanAmericanPlantUndated Pan American (Image Courtesy of Brazoria County Historical Museum)



Front Row: Mitchell Collier, Rod Martin, Weldon Bailey, Pete Fisher

Second Row: Bill Hagner, Bill Long, Krook Adams, Iver Bowles, Ted Lytle, Jesse Hargis, Fred Railsback

Third Row: Yokum Linn, Ray Ward, Fred Doolen, Jim Collens, Bill Hudson, Bob Burkett, Wayne Eversole, Taylor Kemp

Fourth Row: Harry Elliott, Slick Wallace, Slim Reeves, Charlie Burney 






Phillips Pictures



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Pictures from Phillips 50th. Anniversary