Harry H. Breene


Harry H. Breene. The real oil man is a cosmopolite. He feels a special loyalty for his current home city and locality, but also feels the ties of home and interests in every district where oil is produced. He is a man practical, resourceful, self-reliant, bold; adapting himself easily to diverse circumstances and conditions; meeting with equal cheerfulness of confidence and completeness of capability all the risks and hazards of fortune; experienced in trouble and adversity, he is sympathetic and generous, and is always ready to share his good fortune with those who were once his comrades in hardship. He is a big man in his adequacy to meet all the issues of life as they come, and for that reason whether he commands large capital or only his individual resources is a most valuable man for any community or state. It is also likely, from his long association with the mysterious forces of the universe, that he should feel and express some of the poetry and mysticism of existence, and out of his experience usually develops a wholesome philosophy which serves him well in his contact either with men or affairs.
It is a matter of good fortune that this publication has been furnished with an autobiographical article on the individual experiences of one of the best known oil men of Oklahoma. Harry Breene has been prominent in Bartlesville oil fields for the past thirteen years, and is now chief deputy oil and gas inspector under the state department of the chief mine inspector. By special request Mr. Breene has written for publication an account of his own early experiences and associations with oil industry and his estimate of the old and modern conditions. What he says will have a generous appreciation not only from old time oil men but also from the general reader.
He writes: “I came into the oil country the day that I was born, which event happened in Franklin, Pennsylvania. I feel certain that one of the first things that my eyes rested upon must have been an oil derrick. My youth I presume was spent in the usual way. I remember the copper toed boot period, which began late in the fall, usually after all the frosts and might even be delayed until after the first snow fall. The barefoot epoch began with the trailing arbutus. This was followed by the stone bruise and chapped feet time, this soon to be forgotten in the Ne Plus Ultra of all boyhood joys–the dear old swimming pool in French Creek, just opposite the old Galena oil works. In the autumn that I was nineteen years old I chartered a thirty four-foot car that had been delayed in transit on the switch of the above oil works. It was my original intention to be very exclusive, but I did invite one friend to accompany me, so we, like the ‘march of empire’ set our good wide backs to the East and ‘westward took our sway,’ and after devious windings and no few indignities at the hands of several uncouth train crews, we arrived in Cygnet, Ohio, then the new Ohio oil fields. My friend and I had one very unpleasant experience on this trip at Leavittsburg, Ohio, on account of discourteous treatment at the hands of a train crew, as a result of which we decided to take another train. This change of cars, if I remember correctly, took place about 4 A. M., and as the train we were aboard made no stops at the Harvey houses we were compelled to ride until about 8 P. M. that evening to Ashland, Ohio, without breakfast or luncheon. We had some money between us, I believe in all about fifteen dollars. We straightway hunted up a restaurant, determined to eat the fifteen dollars worth if they would cook it for us. We found a restaurant and had our feet under the table at once, and before the waiter took our order we ate up all the crackers, celery and pickles which formed a part of the table decorations. I am quite sure that had there been a vase of American Beauties on that table we would have eaten them too. Before our order was served the girl filled up the cracker, pickle, cheese, etc., plates and my friend promptly ate them up again. This friend is now quite prominent in the oil country and if his eyes chance to fall upon this he will certainly agree with me that that was some meal, or at any rate some appetite.
“After arriving in Cygnet an inventory of our worldly possessions spelled immediate financial panic, to avert which we at once set out in earnest quest of labor of any kind. We were informed that we might obtain work on the iron tanks under construction four miles down the Toledo & Ohio Central Railroad at a place called Oil Center. We decided to walk down there and see, and anybody that remembers the T. & O. C. Railroad at that time will agree with me that if you were in a hurry this was the wise thing to do, besides much easier. We secured work, not a job, on the iron tanks. We got board at Haley’s. ‘Oh for some new malediction to wish upon Haley.’ I can’t see how there are many alive who boarded with him. To get into society among the tankies we had to fight ‘Fatty,’ ‘Slim,’ ‘Slivers,’ ‘Toad’ and ‘Big Mike.’ I don’t know how many more were on the list, but I decided to quit while I was able to draw my money instead of an accident policy, so we soon found our way back to Cygnet, where my friend and I found more congenial employment working on oil wells with, and among, the biggest hearted fellows that ever lived. After a quarter of a century of association with these workmen the above conviction has become a fixture getting reminiscent. I can think of a number of these good fellows that have made a fortune in the oil business, but the same simple eulogy still applies to them. Enough for these men. ‘Some men stick to the bush–I have followed the band wagon.’ I don’t know which is the best. I never tried staying where I started.
“The oil country, too, has its history and its romance. I was back in the old Pennsylvania oil fields last year. I stood upon ground now deserted that in the early ’60s and ’70s were towns, some with a city’s population, seething with life, mud and oil, just as now is our dishing, Oklahoma. Scenes have shifted, but human hearts remain the same. It is the same old struggle, a few for fame, fewer for love and the balance for oil–always oil. Looking over these old spots that once in an oil excitement encompassed thousands you see nothing to indicate that once this place represented the best of manhood and the limit in vice and debauchery. The oil excitement has long since passed away on old Oil Creek, but it’s the same old stream, murmuring along in the same old way, and if we could but understand its babble what talcs it could tell of fifty years ago, of hope and tragedy, love and romance, of struggle and disappointment, now almost forgotten by another generation of oil men. The assassin of President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, was in the oil business in Franklin, Pennsylvania, just prior to the commission of that national crime. The writer when a boy has often played about the old wells on French Creek in which he was interested. Washington passed through what is now Franklin during the period of the French and Indian war. Old Fort Venango on the banks of French Creek marked the advance guard of civilization, at the confluence of this stream and the Allegheny River, where Franklin ‘the nursery of great men’ now stands. An old military road built in those days went around the narrows over the hills in the third ward. The writer remembers many old abandoned wells built on this route, as the grade made a favorable location for a rig on the steep hillside. The oil industry has kept apace with everything else. The crude method of drilling and operating wells in the early days has gradually worked up to what I consider the last word in oil operations in the Cushing, Oklahoma, field. I have always been thankful for two things: For being Irish, and for a raise in the price of oil, but like a Dutchman I am going to preface this at the wrong end. If the publishers print this, I feel assured that those of my present and old friends that may chance to read it will believe in the heart that is in this little effort, claiming no ability and making no attempt at well maneuvered language, as I am just writing as I would talk with you of old times, if you came into my office for an hour’s chat. A few leave the latchstring on the outside, I haven’t any. When you hit Bartlesville, Oklahoma, you have found a place fit to stop in–come in.”
In the way of a formal sketch it may be said that Harry H. Breene was born in Franklin, Pennsylvania, June 3, 1870, a son of Morris and Catherine (Baker) Breene, his father a native of Ireland and his mother of Eastern Pennsylvania. His father died in Pennsylvania October 3, 1892, at the age of fifty-six, and his mother on March 6, 1896. Morris Breene was a shoemaker, and in the early oil days of Western Pennsylvania made a specialty of manufacturing boots for drillers. Some of these boots had soles two inches thick and with broad extensions half to three-quarters of an inch around the foot proper. Harry Breene was one of a family of five sons and three daughters: William J., who is an attorney in Oil City, Pennsylvania; John L., who built up and for many years conducted an exclusive ice business at Oil City, and died there in 1914; Anna, wife of M. A. Moak of Mercer County, Pennsylvania; Maggie, who died at the age of eighteen; Harry H.; Frank M., who is one of the oil men of Bartlesville; Theresa, who is a physician by profession and is the wife of Harold Baum, principal of the public schools in Oil City; and Edward, who is an attorney associated with his brother William J., and recently a candidate for judge in the district where he was born and reared.
Before Harry Breene entered upon the excursion to Ohio oil fields above described he had attended the public schools and finished the high school course in Franklin. After several years he returned and spent one year reading law, but soon found the fascination of oil fields too strong and spent practically all his active life in that industry. For a number of years he and his brother Frank M. have operated in the same field, though not always as partners. Mr. Breene in addition to his experience in the Ohio fields has been in those of West Virginia, and spent three years in Canada, where he had to build his own rigs. He was again in Ohio and West Virginia, and in July, 1902, arrived in Kansas, spent a short time at Independence, and since the fall of 1902 has been at Bartlesville. He has worked as an extensive contractor and also as an independent oil producer.
Mr. Breene has been a democrat all his life. At the solicitation of oil men who appreciated his expert knowledge of all phases of the oil industry, Mr. Breene was appointed chief deputy oil and gas inspector soon after statehood and has been the only man to fill that position in the State of Oklahoma. He was appointed by Ed Boyle, who is chief mine inspector, and has general jurisdiction over the department including the oil and gas division. This service is directly in line with his lifelong business, and it should be stated that Mr. Breene is in no sense a politician. Mr. Breene owns a model farm in Montgomery County, Kansas, near Independence, and conducts it for farming and stock raising with the most improved facilities and equipment. Mr. Breene is a thirty-second degree Mason, a member of the Mystic Shrine and also of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. In 1891 he married Blanche M. Gray, who was born in Pennsylvania. Their four children are named Harold, Murdean, Frank and Grace.