By the standards of the petroleum industry, the C & H Refinery is tiny, but placed in the light of history, that small enterprise illustrates the enormous transformation of the oil business. In the late nineteenth century, a multitude of small oil refineries with limited capital and simple technology sprang up near oil fields across the nation. Those refineries distilled the crude and separated its various components into different storage tanks when they turned into steam at their sequential boiling points. That process, however, like small refineries themselves, was replaced in the early 1910s and 1920s when the refining business was controlled by a small number of companies and when refineries adopted a sophisticated technology that caused a molecular change in the petroleum. Both changes meant that almost all of the older, smaller, refineries vanished from the landscape.
But not all of them. In 1933, two Ohio Oil Company employees, Roy Chamberlain and James Robin, opened their own refinery in Lusk. The C & H Refinery acquired obsolete, but functional, equipment from a refinery in Casper that had been closed earlier and, with two stills manufactured in the late nineteenth century, began to refine petroleum, separating the crude into water, naphtha, kerosene, and diesel. The antique machinery and small output were manually
controlled and monitored, the work force modest, and the refinery capable of producing only 190 barrels a day. But it survived, continuing to operate and sell home heating oil to the Lusk community until 1978 when it closed.
When the stills were cleaned and fired up again in 2000 by its new owner to demonstrate that the refinery could still operate, a technology and a small business energy many believed to be buried deep in the past came suddenly back to life.