One of the missions of the trust is to preserve the legacy of the Lloyd family. In fact, their story is one of the most classic examples of a pioneer family achieving success through their will, smarts and a little bit of luck. The land where the trust now sits was a part of the Lloyd Ranch. The Lloyd family begins with Lewis Marshall Lloyd who moved his family from Missouri to Ventura during the 1880’s. The former Confederate officer purchased 12,000 acres in the Ventura hillsides in order to start a ranching operation under the name Ventura Land and Water Company in 1887 (West County, 2000). Although the Lloyds were expert land stewards, the initial operation was not profitable; the Lloyd fortunes would change dramatically as what lied underneath the land led to their financial success.
Oil was known to exist in Ventura County for thousands of years. The Chumash had used it to seal their canoes and the Portola expedition took note of the natural seeps that welled up when they passed through (Portola). The mid 1800’s marked a time of oil exploration in the area and By the 1880’s there was an oil rush in the area. The Ojai Valley and neighboring Sulfur Mountain were home to the first successful oil well and commercial oil operations in the state. George “Shootbridge” Gilbert drilled the first wells at neighboring Sulfur Mountain in 1861 and used home-made stills refine 300-400 gallons of oil per week (Ventura County General Plan). In 1865 Thomas Bard exceedingly important figure in Ventura County history and oil pioneer, discovered the first continuingly producing “gusher” oil well in the upper Ojai Valley (GeoCraig, 2008).
The quest for oil was on, and the Lloyds were no exception. Lewis M. Lloyd had partnered with oilfield Investor Joseph B. Dabney in an attempt to drill for oil in the Simi Valley Area. The venture was not successful. In 1903, Lewis Lloyd sold off a 4,500 acre portion of the land to a local sheep rancher. Little did he know it, but Lewis may have accidentally discovered the presence oil under his very property years prior. According to legend:
One day, while out on his land, Lloyd espied a brush fire. As he approached, he noticed a torch of fire billowing out of a fissure in the ground. While marveling at this strange sight the wind suddenly shifted and the flames from the surrounding grass roared menacingly at him at him at a speed neither he nor his horse could outrun. His horse was killed instantly with Lloyd barely escaping a similar fate by quickly leaping down a precipice into an adjoining canyon. It was as clear an indication as any that oil lay under the ground of the Lloyd ranch (Vaught, 2012).
Although today, we recognize natural gas as a clear sign of the presence of hydrocarbons this was not common knowledge at the time and was ignored. Luckily his son Ralph B. Lloyd, who is considered “The Father of the Ventura Oil Field” had surveyed and discovered what he thought was a very large amount of oil under the family ranch. Fortunately for the Lloyds, Ralph persuaded his father to retain the mineral rights of the property before it was sold to a sheep rancher in 1903.
That good fortune and Ralph’s geologic knowledge would turn out to be the discovery of the “Ventura anticline” (Schmitt et al, 2002).” This feature was a large 16 mile ridge shaped bulge that crested right under the area where the Ventura Oilfield now sits and extended eastward to the area that the Lloyd Ranch occupied. The Lloyd family was essentially on top of a very large proverbial “black” gold mine. Ralph Lloyd took over his father’s company in 1911 and shifted its focus to oil exploration. From 1911 to 1914 Ralph Lloyd to partnered once more with oil man Joseph Dabney and leased property on both sides of the Ventura Avenue area and most of the Ventura Foothills.
In 1915 Lloyd and Dabney formed State Consolidated Oil Company and drilled several wells. The first well “Lloyd No. 1” stuck oil at a depth of 2558ft but blew out and was destroyed due to very high gas pressures (VC Planning). An account of the Ventura oil field described it as exceedingly difficult to drill with extremely rough terrain with rapid changes in elevation; in 1928 it was considered to have the deepest commercial oil well in the world at 2,210 ft (AA PG, 1928). The oil was also very hot due to the depth. Because of these difficulties, Dabney and Lloyd turned to Royal Dutch Shell, and later Associated Oil Company because they had the both the financial resources and technical capability to safely drill the Ventura Avenue Field (Schmitt et al., 2002).
By 1928 the Ventura Avenue Oilfield was producing over 57,000 barrels per day (AAPG, 1928). The invention of affordable gasoline powered automobile engines, oil powered trains, and natural gas heating etc all increased demand exponentially. Dabney and Lloyd earned large amount of royalties from the fields. Lloyd also acted as a liaison between oil companies and land owners. He very skillfully profited off the dealing of leases between the different oil companies. Needless to say he became fabulously wealthy. Lloyd went on to found the Lloyd Corporation and operated independently. From 1927–34, the firm had net earnings of $4.07 million from commercial real estate and oil properties. Net earnings for Ventura Land and Water Company, of which Lloyd Corporation owned 30 percent, totaled $8.3 million for the same period”(Schmitt et. al). Adjusted for inflation, (even during the Great Depression) this dollar amount was equivalent to over one-hundred million dollars.
Over time an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil have been pumped out of the field. At its height in the mid-1950s, it ranked as the 12th most productive in the nation and seventh largest in California (California Oil and Gas Statistics, 2007).Over time the oilfields thousands of new workers, investment and oil related businesses to Ventura. One source claims five families a day were relocating to Ventura during the mid-1920’s (Galvin Preservation Associates, 2011). The once sleepy farming town turned into a prosperous, vibrant and wealthy almost overnight with a large amount of credit going to Ralph B. Lloyd. The Ventura Oilfield, including the active fields just north of the Trust remains productive to this day.