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Wustner’s Oil


On this date in 1909, Joe Wustner of Ryder proved it wasn't impossible to turn water into oil. Actually, oil had been in Wustner's 28-foot water well for more than two years before people started to pay attention. Wustner knew it was there, so he only used the water for livestock, and he burned the oil in his lamp. However, in early 1909, more oil began to leach into the water, and soon even the horses refused it.

People began to grow more interested in Wustner's miraculous well, and bottled samples of the oil for testing. One such sample ended up in Minot, with O. S. Johnson, general manager of the Great Northern Oil, Gas and Pipe Line Company. Johnson first said the oil was almost perfect. He said it resembled a product that had already come through a refinery, and was the finest oil he had ever seen from a well – if it was natural.

It was a question others also asked. It was reported that a 100-barrel oil tank was situated 75 feet from the well, at the rear of a grocery store, and some wondered if a leak from this tank was the actual source of the oil in Wustner's well. Some also wondered if Wustner had been pouring oil into the well himself, or if someone was playing a joke on him.

However, reports from many citizens of Ryder, who were busy checking their own wells, supported Wustner. Many came to the well with pails and jugs to carry some oil home for their own use. A tub of the oil was set in the middle of the street and lighted; it burned for a long time, with a clear blaze.

Everyone said the oil was a fine product. It burned with a clear light, and had the distinct taste and smell of kerosene. Within a few weeks, Wustner had taken several barrels from his well and was awaiting developments. One citizen reported that fifty gallons of oil were taken from the well over several days.

Within a few months, it was official, and the Bismarck Tribune reported that O. S. Johnson received word that “drillers struck oil at a depth of twenty-five feet” proving "conclusively that the Wustner well had not been doped and that the oil discoveries at Ryder are the real thing."

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


The Ward County Independent, March 25, 1909, p14; April 1, 1909, p1 and 16

The Bismarck Tribune, May 4, 1909, p1