Petrolia Discovery’s big rig ready to roll again

Don Clark and Richard Poore work on the Fitzgerald Rig at Petrolia Discovery.

The Fitzgerald Rig at Petrolia Discovery is on the verge of returning to service.

Volunteers spent 16 months working at the site, in the last few months paying special attention to the 118-year-old machinery used to propel oil drilling throughout the site.

“Back in February 2019 we had an issue with the main bearing of the wheel, so it needed to be repaired,” says Richard Poore. The team noticed there was actually a lot more that needed to be done on the rig.

“The most immediate problem on the big wheel was the main shaft bearing,” said Doug Clark, who works as a volunteer at the site. He explained that a bearing had completely given away on one side of the wheel. “So we lift the whole wheel up out of the housing, clean it up completely, and re-pour the (bearing).”

No small task for a wheel with a circumference of 22 feet that drops 14 feet under the ground.

“Using entirely volunteer work, we went about restoring the wheel,” Poore says. “A totally brand new outer rim of red cedar, as well we needed to replace about a third of the spokes.”

The work was far from over though. “While we had it stopped to make that repair….we took the time to take a look at the entire rig and realize it was in need of a great deal more restoration,” Poore says. 

The team set about rebuilding the intermediate wheel, which had suffered from wood deterioration and dry rot. In addition, the inside and outside field wheels had both broken out of their housing.

Poore says – things are just about ready to go. Final touch-ups to the intermediate wheel are taking place this week, and Poore thinks by next week the rig will be able to run around the clock. He mentioned that going forward the rig may be shut down during some of the more frigid winter months for preservation. 

As for public viewing of the rig, Poore is hoping that Petrolia Discovery will still be able to conduct a few tours this year, including their annual Canada Day open house.

“We’ll obviously have to honor the restrictions in regard to physical distancing and so on, but yes we hope to be having some open house days, or by appointment to come and view the rig and view the site,” Poore said.