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Geoscience Center and Museum News - January 2024


Photo Albums from the 1920's

German Photo Albums

One of the more interesting items in our Museum Collection is a set of two photo albums from the 1920’s. They were owned by Gene Trowbridge and donated by his family after his death. The photos illustrate exploration with both Torsion Balances and the Mintrop seismic system during the 1920’s in Texas and Europe. These photos were taken by Dr. John Schander, who was chosen by Ludgar Mintrop to be the Vice President and General Manager of the North American Exploration Company.


The NAMEX office in the 1920's
The North American Exploration company office in the 1920's

Dr. Schander had the responsibility of managing the NAMEX Torsion Balance and Magnetic crews, and visited the Mintrop Seismos seismic refraction crews. Some of the album photos portray the difficulty of using torsion balances, designed for a laboratory environment, in the field. The delicate instruments were carried in a large wooden and metal case and set up inside a portable wooden hut, then stabilized before taking readings. They could only occupy and record data at about 6 stations each day. Despite such difficulties, many salt domes were identified. The Nash salt dome in Fort Bend County was discovered in 1924 and oil production began in early 1926. This was the first discovery based on geophysical methods in the United States.


Torsion Balance in a portable wooden hut
A delicate torsion balance set up in a portable wooden hut.

Also in 1924, a Seismos refraction seismic crew working for Gulf Oil made the discovery of a salt dome, Moore’s Orchard Field, which was the first discovery using the refraction seismic method in the United States. This refraction method was used extensively for the next few years until it was replaced by reflection seismic. The major limitation of the Mintrop system was that it used a relatively insensitive mechanical geophone and required a large dynamite explosion as a seismic source. Americans like O. Scott Petty, Frank Rieber and others soon realized that a geophone’s signal could be electronically amplified - allowing a great decrease in the power of the source - and the development of a variety of more sensitive amplifiers followed.


In all systems at this time a radio was necessary to communicate with the shooter as well as transmit a time break signal. In fact, the radio system was often larger than the seismic system.


A typical radio system from the 1920's
A typical radio system from the 1920's

Dr. Shander visited many exploration and drilling activities in the Gulf Coast including Spindletop and fields in south Louisiana. There are also pictures of Houston, Galveston and towns in west Texas that he visited and recorded his travels with photographs. One of the albums includes mostly photos of people and equipment involved with field or drilling operations. The other album contains mostly photos of travels around the United States including New York in the later 1920’s. Some of the descriptions with the photos are in German.


Gary Servos and Ovation Data Services scanned some of the photos from the albums that were relevant to items in the GSH museum inventory. We have used some of these photos in some of our museum displays. These photos have helped us understand how some of our museum artifacts were used in field operations in the 1920’s.

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