Silas Newton was the main informant (or misinformant) concerning the supposed saucer crash at Aztec, New Mexico in 1948, made famous by Frank Scully in his book Behind the Flying Saucers (1950). Thoroughly debunked by J.P. Cahn in a 1952 article in True magazine, followed by a second article in 1956, interest in the supposed Aztec crash all but disappeared. However, in recent years interest has been building up again, largely because of Scott and Susanne Ramseys' The Aztec UFO Incident (2012, revised 2016, http://www.theaztecincident.com/ ). I have previously published a review of the 2012 edition of that book.
The FBI's website describes Newton as "a wealthy oil producer and con-man who claimed that he had a gadget that could detect minerals and oil."
The following is a guest post by Dan Plazak, a Denver geologist who has been studying the career of Silas Newton. Dan says his main interest in the story is not the saucers, but instead the “doodlebug” that Newton claims to have invented using crashed saucer technology [beating a similar claim by Col. Philip J. Corso by almost fifty years!]
Guest Post by Dan Plazak
Aztec crash aficionados describe Silas Newton as a multimillionaire geophysicist, who famously rediscovered the Rangely oil field in Colorado. But the Silas Newton in the skeptical literature is a completely different person: a professional con man without scientific credentials, who made up the Aztec crash story for one of his con games. Which Silas Newton is the real one?
The Aztec UFO Incident (2016 edition) presents a highly fictionalized Silas Newton:
“Newton was famous for finding oil.” (page 75)
A search of newspaper reports and oil-industry literature can find no such fame, and, after all, a person cannot be secretly famous.
“Newton’s great success in finding oil,” (page 105);
“wildly successful in finding oil.” (page 115)
Quite the contrary, Silas Newton drilled one dry hole after another, until he was broke and in debt. I’m still researching his drilling records, but the following is what I know so far, for the period starting in 1937. For his lack of success at Rangely field in Colorado, see below. In Kansas, Newton drilled one dry hole and at least one producer; his FBI file from 1941 mentions “three small producing wells” in Kansas, giving him about $200 per month. In California, Newton drilled 6 dry holes, and no producers. In Wyoming, he drilled 7 dry holes, and no producers. In Arizona, he drilled 6 dry holes and no producers. It’s no shame to drill a dry hole on a wildcat location, if you have good reason to think there might be oil there, but Newton was the opposite of “wildly successful”.
“Oil companies that had abandoned oil fields were quick to lease unproductive fields to him, only to reap embarrassment when Silas Newton returned the fields to profitability after finding deep reserves.” (page 247)
Frank Scully started this nonsense when he passed along Newton’s bragging that he had “rediscovered” the Rangely Oil Field in Colorado. Newton did no such thing, and Rangely appears to have been a financial debacle for him. Now The Aztec UFO Incident shows how myths grow in the retelling, by changing the single Rangely Field into the plural “fields.” Of course, the book does not name these additional oil fields where Newton supposedly worked his magic.
|Silas Newton was convicted of fraud, but escaped going to jail.|
Of Silas Newton in the late 1940s: “The oilman was so wealthy that he had no need to swindle anyone, and simple logic must intrude.” (page 115)
The authors support this with a newspaper article from 1930, about 20 years previous to the period in question. And it may have been true in 1930 (although Newton’s finances appear to have started to unravel in 1929, with the crash), but by the late 1940s, Newton was being dunned by creditors, and in 1952 could not afford his $5,000 bail. Page 100 of The Aztec UFO Incident even shows an article from a Denver daily newspaper, Oct. 19, 1952, discussing Newton’s inability to pay his bail.
Did Silas Newton “Rediscover” the Rangely Oil Field?
Silas Newton’s most touted alleged accomplishment is the rediscovery of the Rangely oil field in Colorado.
“He hunted for oil with instruments which had cost a fortune and were a closely guarded secret. With them he had rediscovered the Rangely oil field, years after the major oil companies had written it off as a failure.”- Frank Scully, Behind the Flying Saucers (1950)
You see much the same thing repeated throughout the Aztec UFO-crash literature. Always paraphrasing Scully: Silas Newton, the geophysical genius, the famous oil-finder, “rediscovered” the Rangely oil field in Colorado by using a secret geophysical device. But is it true?
To anyone familiar with the history of oil in the Rocky Mountains, or who bothers to do even minimal literature search on the history of Rangely, the answer is obvious: Silas Newton did not discover, or “rediscover,” anything at Rangely field – not one thing. Let’s review the history of Rangely oil field.
The Real History of Rangely Oil Field
Oil at Rangely was first discovered in 1902, in the shallow Mancos shale. Despite the low production – most wells pumped only 5 to 7 barrels per day – and the remote location in Northwest Colorado, many shallow oil wells between 400 to 700 feet deep were drilled by small independent oil men in the years up to World War I. But Rangely oil was handicapped by having to be trucked many miles down dirt roads to a refinery. The road was often made impassible by snow or mud.[i]
In 1932, the California Company (the corporate ancestor of Chevron) drilled the Raven #1A well at Rangely to explore deeper that anyone had before. The location was chosen not by any geophysical device, but because it was on top of the Rangely anticline, an obvious and well-mapped geologic structure known to be favorable for finding oil. In June 1933, the California Company announced that it had discovered a massive oil deposit: a 600-foot thickness of oil-saturated Weber sandstone, and the industry bible Oil & Gas Journal headlined across the top of a page: “Rangely Dome Discovery of Major Importance; First Oil Producer in the Weber Formation.”[ii]
The deep Weber oil pool would later catapult Rangely into the most productive oil field in Colorado, but at the depression oil prices of 1933, the oil flow from the deep well at Rangely was not enough to pay for the cost of deep drilling and trucking from the remote location. No more deep wells were drilled at Rangely for the next ten years, but oil men remembered the California Company’s discovery. And far-thinking major oil companies bought up the oil rights over the Rangely anticline, betting that oil would not always be cheap.
World War II required prodigious amounts of oil for the war effort, and the well-known but previously uneconomic deep Rangely oil was suddenly a potential bonanza. The California company began producing its ten-year-old deep Weber well in September 1943, and the Oil & Gas Journal commented that the event marked “the beginning of a new era” for the oil field. With a major supply of oil assured, the road to Rangely was paved, the landscape became dotted with oil rigs, and companies began building pipelines to Rangely. The big winners were a handful of major oil companies which had bought almost all the oil rights over the Rangely oil field, in anticipation of this moment.[iii]
Silas Newton at Rangely Oil Field
So, where does Newton’s “rediscovery” fit in? What was Newton’s contribution to discovering or rediscovering the oil at Rangely? Absolutely none. No doodlebug was used to discover Rangely, and none was needed; it was drilled because such anticlines were obvious places to drill for oil. Newton never even saw Rangely until nine years after the deep Weber discovery. He was just one of the many latecomers who flocked to Rangely to see if they could find some oil that the others had overlooked.
By his own account, Newton visited Rangely for the first time in 1942, and tried to find some oil leases. Unfortunately for Newton, the best part of the field was already owned by three majors: the California Company, the Texas Company (Texaco), and Stanolind (Amoco). They all knew that they were sitting on a bonanza, and were not interested in selling. But Newton found John Bockhold, a small-time oil man from Kansas who had leased about 3,000 acres along the south edge of the Rangely anticline, but needed to sell his lease to pay some debts. Newton gambled that the deep Rangely field would cover a much larger area, and he bought the 3,000 acres of oil leases for $250,000, a high price at the time. But Newton talked his way into paying only a small sum up front, with the rest to be paid from future oil production. Now he had a sizeable oil lease; but did any of it have oil?
The Weber sandstone at Rangely is a classic structural oil field: it is shaped like an elongate inverted bowl. The oil floats on top of the water, so that if you drill the top of the bowl, you find oil; if you drill too far down the sides, you find only water. Only no one yet knew exactly how much of the bowl was filled with oil. Newton’s lease included part of the south flank of the structure, so with a bit of luck, he would find oil in the northernmost part of the lease. With a lot of luck, he would find oil under a significant part of the lease.
After drilling a shallow well to the Mancos shale in late 1943, Newton began drilling his first Weber well at Rangely in April 1944, about the same time that the California Company started drilling their second deep well.[iv] The California Company’s new well started producing oil from the Weber sandstone in September 1944. But Newton had drilling problems, and in September 1945, 17 months after he started drilling, Newton finally gave up without reaching the Weber sandstone.[v]
Newton’s first partial ownership in a successful deep well at Rangely was the Wasatch Oil Gentry #2-D, which started drilling in February 1945. When the well was tested in September 1945, Silas Newton proved himself a master of public relations. The Steamboat Pilot in nearby Steamboat Springs printed the headline “Newton Oil Co. Strikes Gusher at Rangely.” Beyond the fact that a couple of hundred barrels per day is far below the “gusher” class, the Pilot article neglected to even mention that it was the Wasatch Oil Company that actually struck oil, because the well was a joint venture between Newton and Wasatch: For ease of drilling, Newton drilled the shallow part of the hole with his cable-tool drilling rig, then Wasatch Oil moved on with rotary drilling equipment, drilled the deep part of the hole, and completed it as an oil producer. But even though he owned only a partial interest in the well, Newton tried to take all the credit.
In August 1945, the Newton Oil Company started drilling its second operated deep well at Rangely. He stopped drilling at a depth of 1,838 feet. Although Newton completed the well as a gas producer, there was no gas pipeline out of Rangely, so that the only use for gas was a small amount used by drilling and production equipment. The well was essentially a dry hole.[vi]
In October 1945, the Newton Company started drilling its third deep well, and in June 1946 announced that it was a dry hole. Up to that time, oil companies had drilled 71 wells to the Weber, and every one of those wells had found oil. Newton’s was the first well at Rangely to penetrate the Weber and find only water. The Associated Press picked up the story, and newspapers across the country publicized Newton Oil as the company that drilled the first dry hole at Rangely, breaking the string of 71 successful oil wells in a row.[vii]
So by June 1946, after more than two years of drilling, Newton had drilled three dry holes, and owned partial interests in one oil well completed by another company. This was a very bad record for a development drilling project, which should have carried minimal risk. And it was now clear, although Newton did his best to deny it, that, at best, only the very northern edge of his large lease was prospective for oil.
Newton then drilled four oil wells to the Weber. Each of these produced oil, but two of them produced only at low rates. Typical Rangely oil wells were making from 100 to 600 barrels per day, but the Associated #1A and #1B started off making only 45 and 23 barrels per day. In addition, all four Associated wells were at the very edge of the field, so they had thinner sections of oil pay. The field had a partial water drive, and these wells would be the first wells to go to water as the oil was withdrawn, and the oil-water contact moved upward.[viii]
For reasons difficult to explain, Newton also drilled a well that he knew, or should have known by then, was too far south to be in the oil pay: the Newton Oil Government #14F. Newton said that he had drilled the well based on geophysics, and loudly insisted that the Government #14F had found oil in a new oil pay, the Dakota sandstone, although many in the oil industry doubted him. After a lot of typical Silas Newton overblown publicity, the well was finally put on production – and produced no oil, only a small amount of natural gas. Essentially, this was another dry hole. In 1947, Newton sold the productive part of his Rangely lease to Stanolind for an undisclosed sum.
The creditors of the original leaseholder, John Buckhold, sued Silas Newton, saying that the $67,000 that Newton had received for selling part of the lease should have been paid to them as part of the $250,000 purchase price. Their lawsuit was a legal success, in the sense that the court ordered Newton to pay, but a financial failure, because Newton had apparently already spent the money.[ix]
Newton’s record of drilling deep Weber wells at Rangely was: four oil wells, all marginal, and all would water out quickly, plus a partial interest in one somewhat less marginal oil well. He also drilled four dry holes, although some of them were apparently completed in the shallow Mancos shale, and produced small amounts of oil.
This is not a good record for a development project of this type. If Newton had acted prudently, at least two of the dry holes would have been avoided. Adding up Newton’s expenditures and income from the project, he probably lost something more than a million dollars at Rangely. That he lost money at Rangely is supported by fact that he never fully paid the $250,000 for the lease, and the Buckhold creditors were still suing him for payment in 1952. Perhaps not coincidentally, signs of Newton’s financial distress started in the late 1940s, followed shortly by accusations of fraud.
Conclusions on the Rangely field
1) Silas Newton did not in any way discover or rediscover Rangely Field, or any of the major oil-bearing zones at Rangely. The history of Rangely oil field is too well-documented to admit of any doubt on this point.
2) Nor was the Rangely field discovered through the use of any geophysical device; it was found through basic geology and the willingness of Chevron to take a chance on drilling a deep hole.
3) Newton not only didn’t rediscover Rangely, but also probably lost a lot of money there. He drilled too many dry holes, and completed a few marginal producers. Five years after he sold out, he was still being sued for money he owed for buying the oil lease.
Silas Newton’s falsehood that he had rediscovered the Rangely oil field is easily disproven. It was believed only because his audience – originally Frank Scully, was gullible, and also unlikely to do any minimal literature search, which would have exposed Newton’s nonsense. Today, Newton’s bragging imposes on the gullibility of a much larger audience.
Did Newton find oil with a Magnetic Detection Device?
One of the theses in The Aztec UFO Incident is that Silas Newton found oil by using a top-secret magnetic detection device developed during World War II to find enemy submarines. The Ramseys ask:
“How did Scully know this [magnetic submarine detection] in 1949 when he was writing the book, which was published in 1950, a time when all of these secret programs were still in place?” (page 250)
Short answer: by reading Life magazine (Nov. 14, 1949: “Scientific weapons and a future war”) First, by Scully’s own account, he began writing the book in 1950, not 1949. Second, a cursory literature search shows that the magnetic detection of submarines during the war was public knowledge well before Scully started writing his book. The MAD program was publicized in such not-quite-top-secret documents as daily newspapers, Life magazine, Flying (Jan. 1947: “The MAD cats”), Science News Letter (Aug. 14, 1948: “Doodlebug hunts oil”), and Popular Science (Mar. 1950: “How good is our anti-submarine defense”). The Aztec UFO Incident creates a false dilemma by fudging Scully’s writing back one year, and by pretending that the existence of the magnetic submarine detection program was kept secret at least four years longer than it really was.
Scully’s knowledge of the program was sketchy at best, as shown by his wildly exaggerated statement (page 37 of Behind the Flying Saucers) that, using the magnetic detection, “we were able to knock out as many as 17 Jap subs in one day.” In fact, during the entire war, no more than two Japanese submarines ever sank, from all causes combined, in a single day.[x] The real question is not how Scully knew of the program, which was well known at the time, but which grossly unreliable source told him that magnetic detection had resulted in 17 submarines sunk in a single day?
The Ramseys' book also makes a complete hash of the history of magnetic research during World War II. Although peripheral to the Aztec crash, these glaring errors reflect poorly on the supposed 28 years of research that went into the book. The book states:
1) The anti-submarine magnetic anomaly detection device, or MADD, was invented by the principals of GSI.
Fact: the MADD was invented by scientists at Gulf Research, most notably Victor Vacquier,[xi],[xii] and it is a shame for Ramsey et al to deprive him of the credit he is due. GSI (now Texas Instruments) was contracted during the war only to manufacture the device.[xiii] According to Texas Instruments’ own website, their defense contracts did not include any of their own inventions until the mid-1950s. (see: http://www.ti.com/corp/docs/company/history/timeline/popup.htm under Defense: Overview)
2) The MADD is known today as the Magnetron.
Fact: the MADD and the magnetron are entirely separate things. The MADD did not use a magnetron tube; it instead used the fluxgate magnetometer. GSI did not invent the magnetron, either. The original magnetron was invented by General Electric engineer Albert Hull in 1920,[xiv] and the cavity magnetron, which was used in World War II as a source of radar waves, was invented by British scientists J. T. Randall and H. A. Boot.[xv]
3) The MADD was kept secret into the 1950s, delaying its use in oil exploration.
Fact: Gulf Research was in the business of selling geophysical services, and soon after the war they were promoting their airborne fluxgate magnetometer, in essence the MADD, to oil and mineral exploration. The wartime program and its application to oil exploration was described in technical detail in Geophysics (issues of July 1946 and April 1948), including a schematic of the fluxgate magnetometer.
Geophysics, by the way, was mailed to each member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, in 1950 the membership was 2,566 scientists working in the field of finding oil and gas with geophysics. If you want to be a top scientist, you join such professional organizations to keep up with cutting-edge developments. Of course, Leo GeBauer and Silas Newton do not appear in the published membership lists of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (I searched the lists from 1937 through 1950). Neither were GeBauer or Newton listed as members of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists; nor of the American Geophysical Union. Some top scientists.
Conclusions on Newton and magnetic oil detectors
If Silas Newton was using a MADD-derived magnetic device to find oil, he was just one of many, because the technology was available to anyone. But whatever he was using, it obviously didn’t do him much good, based on his overwhelming lack of success in finding oil.
The Aztec UFO Incident asserts that there is a genuine mystery behind the Aztec UFO crash. But the real mystery posed by the book is this: how can three authors, one of whom repeatedly brags about his 28 years of research on the topic, produce a book with so many careless errors of fact and logic?
Dan Plazak is a geologist in Denver, and author of a history of swindling in the mining industry: A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top (University of Utah Press, 2007), see www.miningswindles.com. He is currently working on a book about doodlebugs and other unscientific ways to search for oil and minerals.
[i] W. Y. Pickering and C. L. Dorn, “Rangely oil field, Rio Blanco County, Colorado,” in J V. Howell (ed.) Structure of Typical American Oil Fields, v.3, (Tulsa: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1948) 132-152.
[ii] Tolbert R. Ingram, “Rangely dome discovery of major importance; first oil producer in the Weber formation,” Oil & Gas Journal, 22 June 1933, p.119. Graham S. Campbell, “Weber pool of Rangely field, Colorado,” in Guidebook to the Geology of Northwest Colorado (Salt Lake: Intermountain Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1955) 99-100.
[iii] “Old Rangely well opened after 10-year shutdown,” Oil & Gas Journal, 7 Oct. 1943, p103. C. R. Thomas, “Rangely, one-time shallow field, now Rocky Mountains’ most active area,” Oil & Gas Journal, 24 Nov. 1945, p.90-96.
[iv] “Rangely field promises to become an active area,” Oil & Gas Journal, 30 Mar. 1944, p.132.
[v] Oil Reporter (Denver) 25 Aug. 1945, p4.
[vi] Oil Reporter (Denver), 25 Oct. 1945.
[vii] Rangely oil field of Colorado has first failure,” Pampa (TX) Daily News, 14 June, p.6 c.4. “Rangely gets first dry hole in Weber,” Oil & Gas Journal, 29 June 1946, p.149.
[viii] Oil Reporter (Denver), 25 Mar. 1947, p.6, 29 July 1947, p.10, 26 Aug. 1947, p.10.
[ix] Charles Roos, “Newton oil firm due to answer contempt action,” Denver Post, 16 Oct. 1952.
Capt. S. W. Roskill’s multivolume The War at Sea lists every Japanese submarine that sank during World War II, including dates, locations, and identification numbers. (London: HM Stationary Office, 1960, 1961) v.3 part 1 p.373-374, part 2 p.470-471.
[xi] M. N. Nabighian and others, “The historical development of the magnetic method in exploration,” Geophysics, Nov.-Dec. 2005, v.70 n.6 p.37ND.
[xii] M S. Reford and J. S. Sumner, “Aeromagnetics,” Geophysics, Aug. 1964, v. 29 n.4 p.483.
[xiii] Caleb Pirtle III, Engineering the World: Stories from the First 75 Years of Texas Instruments (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2005) 28-30.
[xiv] Albert W. Hull, “The magnetron,” Journal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Sept. 1921, v.40 n.9 p.715-723.
[xv] S. S. Swords, Technical History of the Beginnings of RADAR (Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1986) 258.