Oil field ‘torpedo truck’ restored for Parkersburg museum

Denny Marcinko, left, and Paul Hoblitzell stand in front of the 1949 Murdy-Bickel “torpedo truck” inside Denny’s Classic restoration and collision automotive body shop in Wood County. (Photo by Paul LaPann)

PARKERSBURG — A piece of the Mid-Ohio Valley’s oil and gas history has been restored to mint condition.

Work to restore a 1949 Murdy-Bickel “torpedo truck,” a Ford F4 flatbed, began on Feb. 4, 2019.

The truck’s restoration for the Oil, Gas and Industrial Association Inc. in Parkersburg is almost complete, said Denny Marcinko, owner of Denny’s Classic restoration and collision automotive body shop in Wood County. Marcinko estimates he has spent 600-800 hours restoring the “torpedo truck.” It is also referred to as a “shooters truck.”

The torpedo refers to the iron container packed with nitroglycerin that was used to fracture rock in an oil well, allowing the oil to flow.

“Torpedo trucks” such as the 1949 Murdy-Bickel were used to transport the iron containers and explosives to the oil drilling site. The torpedoes were lowered into the well and detonated by the “shooters” (oil field workers) to release the flow of oil.

The oil field truck before its restoration. (Photos Provided)

Jack Cunningham of Cairo, one of the founding directors of the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, donated the Murdy-Bickel truck to the Oil, Gas and Industrial Association in the late 1990s. The association owns the Oil and Gas Museum, the Burning Springs Museum in Wirt County and Henderson Hall in Boaz.

The dual-wheeled truck was purchased by Cunningham’s father, Charles, in the summer of 1948. Charles Cunningham was a “well shooter” and had purchased the Murdy-Bickel Torpedo Company Inc. in the mid-1940s, according to a letter written by Jack Cunningham and provided to the Oil and Gas Museum.

Jack Cunningham, who passed away on March 14, 2017 at the age of 91, worked in the oil and gas business for Murdy-Bickel Torpedo Company with his father and was a Ritchie County commissioner.

The Cunninghams would travel to many states and into Canada in their Ford F4 flatbed to shoot oil wells for people, according to the letter from Jack Cunningham. They transported the “highly volatile explosives” to these well sites.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” supplanted the explosives shooting method as a way of obtaining oil and gas from underground. This involves injecting water and sand into the bedrock.

Boxes on the truck bed for transporting nitroglycerin to the well site. (Photo by Paul LaPann)

Jack Cunningham entered the truck in several parades and won the Top Wildcatter’s prize at the Sistersville Oil and Gas Festival in 1990, according to Cunningham’s letter.

The “torpedo truck” was still running when it was donated to the Oil and Gas Museum. It was displayed outside at the museum, 119 Third St. in Parkersburg, and participated in parades.

The sun and age eventually required a restoration of the oil field truck.

The Murdy-Bickel truck has been painted Arizona red, close to the same color the vehicle once had. The restoration included new motor parts, brakes, lights, mirrors, truck bed, lettering and other items. The seats were reupholstered.

The truck was recently taken for a short test drive.

The 1949 Murdy-Bickel truck when it arrived at Denny’s Classic restoration and collision automotive body shop on Feb. 4, 2019. (Photos Provided)

It “purrs like a kitten,” Marcinko said.

“It has been fun working to restore the truck,” Marcinko said. The truck has been brought back to the way Murdy-Bickel had it, he said.

This is one of the few trucks of its type still running in the region, Paul Hoblitzell, president of the Oil, Gas and Industrial Association Inc., said.

The truck will be stored and exhibited in a building at the Oil and Gas Museum, Hoblitzell said.

The truck will be ready for the Oil and Gas Museum’s 30th anniversary celebration in April, Hoblitzell said.

The back of the restored Murdy-Bickel “torpedo truck.” (Photo by Paul LaPann)

“Denny had a passion for the (truck) project,” Hoblitzell said. “He did good work.”

The truck’s restoration was made possible by Denny’s Classic restoration and collision, Matheny Motors, Carl and Judy Heinrich and Jack Cunningham, Hoblitzell said.

Contact Paul LaPann at plapann@newsandsentinel.com

The front of the restored oil field truck. (Photo by Paul LaPann)

The oil field truck, around 2014 or 2015, before its restoration. (Photos Provided)

The Murdy-Bickel truck recently outside the automotive body shop in Wood County. (Photos Provided)

The front of the restored oil field truck. (Photo by Paul LaPann)

The Murdy-Bickel truck in a parade in the 1990s. (Photos Provided)