HISTORY CHANNEL Actor from area portrays man who drilled first oil well
'This Week in History' will air Monday night at 8.
By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
TITUSVILLE, Pa. - Bob Archer is doing his part to keep a 19th-century figure and event alive and well remembered.
He also plays and looks the figure's part.
"It spooks people when I get into costume," said Archer, referring to his resemblance to Col. Edwin L. Drake, a former train conductor and hotel clerk who settled in Venango County in the 1800s and drilled the world's first oil well.
For four years, Archer, formerly of Warren, has portrayed Drake at the Drake Well Museum in this northwestern Pennsylvania town.
Archer, the museum and the Aug. 27, 1859, drilling of the first successful commercial well have received national attention and will be shown on the History Channel in a segment of "This Week in History. The show airs Monday night at 8.
A television crew from the cable channel spent three days in June compiling footage at Drake Well Park, about seven minutes of which will be shown. Monday's broadcast will mark the 142nd anniversary of the event.
Drilling saltwells: Archer, who also volunteers as a tour guide for the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad, explained that before the 1859 discovery, area merchants drilled for saltwells, evaporating water for its salt content. Drake later realized oil had market value and that the same process could be used to extract the commodity, Archer said.
Excerpts of Drake's writings will be shown on the hourlong program. They include his account of why well casing, boring into the ground to bring oil up through a pipe, is effective. The pipe also prevents the ground from caving in, a problem that was common along creekbeds and in other damp areas.
Other writings include a letter Drake wrote to a friend in 1866. Drake spent his later years destitute and in poor health before dying in 1880, Archer said.
"If he patented his idea, he would probably have died a very rich man," Archer explained.
Employee's e-mail: Archer said a museum employee who regularly watches the History Channel's program e-mailed the show, mentioning the story behind the Drake Well. Shortly afterward, someone from the cable channel expressed an interest and a crew was sent from Los Angeles.
Archer said he gives talks in local schools about the significance of Drake's discovery and that pupils like to talk about their family members, many of whom work in the oil industry. Most kids also express an interest in the area's history, he added.
Archer owned the Korner restaurant in North Jackson for 17 years before selling it in 1995. That year, he began volunteering as a tour guide and said he enjoys taking people past sites he remembered as a child.
Archer said he initially rejected the idea of playing Drake, but that his resemblance to the colonel caused Archer to change his mind.