Flying A: History
Tidewater Oil was founded in New York State in 1887 and for years was known for its world famous motor oil brand "Veedol". Tidewater entered the gasoline market in about 1915 and by 1920 was marketing all along the Eastern Seaboard under the Tydol brand.
As Tidewater was becoming a major player in the petroleum industry on the East Coast, in 1901 on the West Coast, an enterprising pipe salesman by the name of W.S. Porter persuaded a group of San Joaquin Valley independent oil producers to form an operating group in hopes of selling them pipe for a line that would carry their crude oil from the Kern River fields of Bakersfield north to the San Francisco Bay. In October of that same year, the group incorporated as the Associated Oil Company with Porter as General Manager. Both the Southern Pacific Company and the Standard Oil Company of California acquired an interest in the Associated Oil Company. Like the San Joaquin Valley independent oil producers, Standard Oil of California needed to transport its crude oil production to the Bay Area where it could be marketed. Similarly, the Southern Pacific Company needed fuel for its railroad steam engines.
In 1905, the Associated Oil Company acquired the oil related projects of Matson's Pacific Oil and Transportation Company. These included the Coalinga-Monterey pipeline, a refinery at Gavoita, and the related marine facilities.
A subsidiary of the Associated Oil Company was formed in 1907, called the Associated Pipe Line Company (APL). With the Southern Pacific Company providing property along its railroad tracks, construction began on an eight-inch Pipeline made of specially designed rifled pipe, which ran from the Bakersfield Kern river oil fields to Port Costa. The fuel oil pumped to Port Costa was used by Southern Pacific to power their steam engines, and it was also shipped to China and other parts of the world. In 1909, the Southern Pacific Company acquired 51 percent of the Associated Oil Company's stock.
By 1912, there was a new and growing market in the West for petroleum distillates as well as crude oil. The higher gravity crude oils from the San Joaquin Valley required some sort of refining to make fuel oil with a flash point of at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit (at this point gasoline was merely an undesirable by-product of distilling crude oil). This guaranteed the fuel oil could be safely handled for locomotives and ship burners. These two conditions prompted the Associated Oil Company to construct a topping plant in January of 1913. The plant was called the Avon Refinery because it was located within the Avon section of Southern Pacific Railroad's track system. The site for the refinery was chosen for its proximity to the Southern Pacific Railroad Lines and the dependable deep-water port reached by the Southern Pacific Pipe Line.
The original refinery at Avon consisted of two steam batch stills (for producing gasoline, kerosene, and fuel oil), a boiler house, several storage tanks, a cooling water system, and shipping facilities that included the first Avon Wharf. This construction cost $706,600. Until 1913, the Associated Oil Company had produced and marketed fuel oils almost exclusively. With the completion of the Avon Refinery, the Company launched into the manufacture of gasoline and kerosene. Efforts began on marketing these and other petroleum products all over the West Coast and throughout the Orient.
Poor road conditions and unreliable train schedules made it difficult for employees to commute to work at the Avon Refinery. This prompted the Associated Oil Company to build a company town in 1913. It was called the Avon Village and consisted of 13 four-room cottages. In 1916, a one-room schoolhouse was built (this structure eventually became the home of the Avon Refinery Federal Credit Union). Twenty-four additional cottages were built in 1920 and soon after, twenty-eight more were added. The village also included a shift worker's bunkhouse, a dining hall, and a clubhouse. The clubhouse, which had an indoor swimming pool, auditorium, and two-lane bowling alley, still stands today and serves as the Refinery Museum. The rents in the Avon Village were as high as $35.00 per month. Rent included free fuel, utilities, and garbage service. A branch of the U.S. Post Office was established at the Avon Refinery and called the Associated Post Office.
In December of 1920, the Pacific Oil Company was formed by the Southern Pacific Company for the purpose of separating the oil business from its railroad business. All operation and control of the Associated Oil Company's assets, including the Avon Refinery, were now the Pacific Oil Company's responsibility.
Associated Oil Company purchased the Amoroco Terminal in 1923 at a cost of $304,000 from the American-Oriental Refining Company (AMORCO). It consisted of a topping plant, three 30,000 barrel tanks, a wharf, pipelines, and pumping equipment. In 1924, six additional tanks were constructed adding approximately 400,000 barrels of capacity.
Also in 1924, a clarifying plant and an Edeleanu liquid sulfur dioxide plant were constructed. Built at a cost of $219,557, the clarifying plant stabilized gasoline color. The Edeleanu liquid sulfur dioxide plant (the first of its kind in the United States) was built at the Avon Refinery at a cost of $500,804. The plant was originally designed and built in Germany. It was disassembled, shipped to Avon, and reassembled at the area now occupied by the wastewater rotating biological contractors. The plant, using a solvent refining process with sulfur dioxide as the solvent, enabled production of high quality kerosene. Further additions to the plant costing $500,000 increased its capacity and enabled the processing of oils and solvents. The quality of the oils treated by the Edlueanu Plant was excellent. This prompted the U.S. Navy to purchase these lubricants exclusively from the Avon Refinery for many years.
In 1925, Avon Refinery became the first West Coast refinery to produce gasoline with tetraethyl lead additive. On the raw material side of the business, the first crude receipt by tanker (S.S. McKittrick) occurred on February 15, 1926 at the Amorco Wharf. In 1929, 59 acres of the Amorco Terminal were sold to the Southern Pacific Company to make way for an approach to the new railroad drawbridge to be constructed in 1930.
By the early 1930's, the demand for gasoline on the West Coast started its relentless climb, and it became necessary for refiners to increase the gasoline yield per barrel of crude oil. Avon Refinery responded to the increasing demand by building a thermal cracking plant in 1931.
Meanwhile, in the same year on the East Coast, Tidewater Oil purchased the Northwestern Oil Company of Superior, Wisconsin and began expanding into the Midwest markets. As the 1930's progressed, control of Tidewater Oil fell into the hands of Standard Oil of New Jersey, who set up the Mission Corporation as a subsidiary to manage the Tidewater operation.
In March of 1932, the Associated Oil Company, now owned by J. Paul Getty of San Francisco, introduced the Flying A brand for its premium grade gasoline. All of the Associated Oil Company's stock was acquired from the Pacific Oil Company. The oil producing properties that Pacific Oil Company owned were sold to the Standard Oil Company of California.
That same year, the Avon Wharf was virtually destroyed when the tanker "Alden Anderson" caught fire and burned while tied up at the wharf. The replacement wharf was built much larger than the original to handle increased product shipments by vessel, and the approach to the wharf was widened to accommodate larger vessels. The Port Costa Terminal was purchased in 1934 from the Associated Pipe Line Company. The property consisted of 33 acres of land, 12 large storage tanks, pipelines, and a wharf. The Port Costa Terminal functioned as a bulk terminal for receipts and shipments of black fuels for the Avon Refinery.
In 1937, Getty purchased control of the Mission Corporation and merged Tidewater with his Associated Oil enterprise. With the creation of the Tidewater-Associated Oil Company, service stations in the West became Associated Flying A stations while marketing in the East was via Tydol Flying A stations. Over time, the Tydol and Associated designations faded and became simply Flying A. J. Paul Getty managed this gigantic petroleum distribution network through a system of company consignees located in small towns throughout the nation.
By 1946, the Avon Refinery had over 1700 employees. The labor-intensive tasks preformed to produce lube oil and grease contributed greatly to this number. By 1951, the Avon Refinery was producing a wide variety of petroleum products with 700 specialty products available including 165 different grades of lubricating oils, 90 different grades of grease, a multitude of solvents, transformer oils, lube oils, and even an odorless paint thinner. The Port Costa wharf shipped the majority of Avon's residual fuel oil products. Blending and pumping fuel oil to Port Costa was a single operation. The tankage at the terminal was ideally situated above the Bay so that loading vessels could be done by gravity at the vessel's maximum receiving rate. From 1951 to 1966, the Avon Refinery and Flying A network was in its heyday producing at the highest capacity with the greatest number of refined products.
In 1966, the Phillips Petroleum Company purchased Tidewater Oil Company's West Coast assets. Almost from the beginning of Phillips Petroleum's entry into the West Coast market, it had been subject to a government anti-trust action. Finally, the anti-trust activity forced Phillips Petroleum to divest its West Coast distribution systems. While sale of the retail service stations and refining assets was relative straightforward, divesting the commercial fuel distribution system proved more problematic. Phillips finally made arrangements with a number of local consignees to take over the company's commercial accounts. By that process, several independent distribution companies, or jobberships, were formed. North of the Golden Gate Bridge in Sonoma and Marin Counties, three consignees joined forces to create the Royal Petroleum Company in 1975. Since the Flying A logo was no longer in use at the time, the three former Flying A consignees registered the trademark for Royal Petroleum's use.
Since its inception, the Royal Petroleum Company has remained in the family of the original founders. We take pride in our Northern California roots and heritage.
Royal Petroleum is committed to supporting our community and our customers...the agricultural, construction, and commercial communities that make Sonoma and Marin Counties a great place to live.