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The son of a miner, Frank McMahon was born in Moyie, British Columbia, in 1902. After three years of university he travelled to San Francisco where he worked as a diamond driller for $7 a day.
He spent the next few years working for drilling firms in Canada, the United States and Mexico, including an oil and gas well drilling venture along the U.S. - Canadian border south of Vancouver.
Finding nothing of commercial value, Frank moved east to Alberta's Turner Valley, where he and his younger brothers George and John started a small company called West Turner Petroleums.
For four years, West Turner brought in nothing but dirt. Then, in 1939, using his last $100 in cash to obtain a land option and borrowing $20,000 more, Frank resumed drilling and struck it rich.
He bought two small companies, merged them with West Turner and formed a holding company, Pacific Petroleums. Pacific's first opportunity came in 1947 after the historic Imperial Oil strike at Leduc, Alberta.
One of the first men in on the land boom that followed, Mr. McMahon began drilling in the same area. The first two wells came in normally but the third, Atlantic No. 3, was a rogue.
The oil spewed out at such tremendous pressure that the drill crew was unable to control it.
Then an oilrig toppled into the soft mass of oil and earth. As it fell, broken electrical wires emitted a shower of sparks that ignited the oil. Soon the whole lake of oil was a mass of flame and smoke, the most spectacular well fire in Canadian history. It took 56 hours to bring the spouting well under control.
The well publicized blaze was a stroke of luck for Mr. McMahon. It proved he had oil. Investors poured money into Pacific Pete and the company hit the bigtime in 1948.