In 1967, Crucible Steel came to Zack Wallover with another problem. According to an article in the 1976 number four issue of Exxon’s Oilways magazine, the question was, “We’re cleaning up our water so we can put it back into the river…and we’ve got a problem – what do we do with the slop oil?” The publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring made this concern all the more topical. Companies were encountering increasing pressure to clean up their processes, something we’ll talk about more next week.
As it happened, Zack Wallover and Ted Mengel had already been thinking about ways to repurpose “slop” oil. In an ideal scenario, they figured that they could reduce the amount of waste being put into the environment while also saving their customers money by recycling product. According to George “Hub” Marquis, who became Vice-President of Wallover in 1987 and who is also Zack Wallover’s son-in-law, Mengel had had some experience with this process when he worked at Freedom Oil, so he brought that knowledge to Zack and together, they started working on ideas.
As was the case throughout so much of Wallover’s history, the process of discovery began with a lot of experimentation. According, again, to the article in Oilways, Wallover and Mengel found that if you applied enough heat to oil it would separate the denser and thinner liquids. Not surprisingly, based on our article last week about Zack Wallover’s relationship to fire, this process focused on steam heat. Obviously oil is flammable, so fire would not have been a good idea anyway. From that point, Zack tried a centrifuge to separate the oils, and that worked better.
What Mengel brought to the process was Freedom Oil’s methodology of using soil to filter the oil. After boiling off the oil and treating it chemically, the liquid was filtered through activated earth (something like Fuller’s earth or bauxite). The process was hard, laborious, and not cost-effective. As Zack Wallover explained to Oilways Magazine, “…it took two pounds of earth to properly filter a gallon of oil, and the earth sold for 15 cents a pound, so we invested 30 cents for that portion of the process alone. And with virgin oil selling for 20 cents a gallon, our economics weren’t too encouraging.”
Wallover eventually was able to start “laundering” oil, and it was a great service to offer. It also was yet another product and service that differentiated Wallover Oil Company from other players in the industry. However, Zack Wallover and Ted Mengel would spend the next several years tinkering with the process and thinking of ways to make the process less labor-intensive and more cost-effective for the company. We will talk about that more in the coming weeks.
For the next couple of weeks, however, we are going to talk about the 1960s. Obviously the decade was one of the most momentous in American history, so it is worthwhile to put Wallover’s story back into a big picture, historical perspective. Next week, as mentioned above, we will talk about how the dialogue regarding the environment began to change in the 1960s, something that would impact Wallover, the oil industry, the steel industry, and many other industries as well.