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Tracing Tracy Territory

Memories flow from the Shell pipeline

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Marlene Tisher Jones says she was called “a Shell Brat.”

Charles Neilsen remembers that Loren Wade was “the master steam mechanic on the pipeline.”

Marie Embery Grove recalls there were 11 company houses at the station “and Willie McGuire’s mother ran the boarding house.”

They are all talking about their memories of growing up at the original Shell Oil Co. pumping station, which from 1914 to 1969 was located at Valpico and Lammers roads southwest of town.

The station, identified as “Corral” by the company because of its proximity to Corral Hollow Canyon, was closed in 1969, but another Shell oil pipeline is still in operation at a higher elevation on the edge of the Altamont Hills. Like its predecessor, it pumps crude oil from Kern County north to the Shell refinery in Martinez.

And there is a Tracy Station (not Corral this time) on that pipeline off of Patterson Pass Road. But it won’t be Shell for long. Sometime this month, sale of Shell’s California pipelines to a pipeline outfit named Crimson Midstream LLC will be completed, and the name Shell will be gone from Tracy a second, and no doubt last, time.

But memories of the original Shell pipeline station still cling to those who were children living there in years gone by.

I reported the pending sale in last week’s column and received several comments about living at the original Tracy station, which was headquarters for the pipeline and the pumping stations along the way.

Marlene Tisher Jones, emailed from Reno: “My dad, Malcolm Tisher, worked for Shell at Coalinga and then returned to the Tracy station where we were raised. Growing up at the station was so much fun,” she wrote.

Her mother, Florence Steinmetz, was born in Banta — a member of a pioneer Banta family.

“I loved to say my father ‘was in oil,’”  Marlene said, “but the guys in the shop called us — OK, maybe only me —  ‘Shell Brats.’ Thanks again for waking up all those memories.”

Charles Neilsen recently moved from Tracy to the Sierra foothills. He took special memories of Loren Wade’s unique role as an expert in steam engines at the Shell pipeline with him.

“His home (after the station was closed) was on Corral Hollow Road with a shop beside it. Loren had a steam roller that he built in the shop, and the lights in the shop were powered by a steam generator. Nothing happened in the shop until Loren ‘got up steam’ for the lights,” he recalled

Of course, as many Tracyites will recall, Loren’s wife, Alice, was a longtime teacher at Senior Elementary and Clover schools, and the Wades had two daughters, Linda and Susan, who were friends of Chuck’s.

Marie Embery Grove lived at the Shell pipeline station from 1941 to 1946. Her father’s family came to Tracy in 1917 when the senior John Embery went to work at the new Southern Pacific roundhouse. Her dad, John “Jack” Embery Jr., joined Shell at the Tracy pumping station in 1930 and retired in 1969 after 39 years with Shell.

“Growing up at the Shell station was a cloistered life,” she reported. “We were five miles from town, and the kids played together, at the playground and in each other’s houses.”

She recalls Walter and Bruce Davies, Ann and Carol Dodsworth, and Johnny McCusker as friends.

After the pumping station was closed in 1969, the Emberys moved to town.

No word yet from Willie McGuire, whose mother ran the boarding house at the pumping plant, but knowing Willie, a retired defense depot employee and now a resident of southern Oregon, he will have something to report.

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at

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