May 2019 will mark the 75th anniversary of the Northern California Geological Society (NCGS), and 42 years since Ottmar Kotick, a Los Altos, California, consulting geologist, wrote “A Short History of the Northern California Geological Society” in the June 1976 (Vol. 60, No. 6, pp. 988-992) American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Bulletin. So, how did NCGS come to be?
It all started in May 1944, at Foster’s Bar in Rio Vista. A group of mudmen, roughnecks, and geologists were “whooping it up” at this popular establishment which provided an assortment of the fine spirits that were in short supply during the War Years. Foster’s, it seems, was deemed by most to be the best watering hole in the Sacramento Valley. And it was here that charter members such as John Thomas, Erwin Clark, G.C. Beckman, and Al Solari of Standard Oil; Don Pinnell of Amerada; Eddie Simpson of Superior; Lowell Redwine and Bill Beatty of Honolulu; and Milton Loy of Schlumberger founded the Northern California Geological Society. Frank Bell was elected the first Chairman and a basic organizational policy was drawn up.
Initially, NCGS meetings were held in Sacramento at the Little Theater-College from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m., or occasionally in Lodi and Rio Vista. The membership list from this era showed 56 members, but only about twenty regularly attended meetings. The going was tough at first, and minutes from the October 19, 1945, meeting questioned whether the NCGS should continue. Al Solari the 1945 Chairman, tried repeatedly to get the NCGS affiliated with the Pacific Section AAPG, but was so unsuccessful that he eventually appealed to the AAPG President, also to no avail.
In spite of this dour situation, NCGS membership grew to 74 by February, 1946. The society’s first big event was a field trip to the north slope of Mt. Diablo in the late 1940’s, accompanied by a field guide prepared by Earl Dillon, Cliff Church, Charlie Cross, and Al Solari. In the late 1940’s most geologists had left for the Cuyama and San Ardo oil fields, and the NCGS moved its headquarters to San Francisco. Charlie Cross’s reminiscences from this period (circa 1949) indicate monthly meetings were held at the Engineer’s Club in San Francisco. There was still no formal organization or affiliation with the Pacific Section AAPG. Meeting notices were mailed to members in Sacramento, Berkeley, Stanford, and other Northern California cities that harbored interested geologists. This format was replaced by Monday luncheon meetings with the telephone duties falling on members’ secretaries. Christmas gifts to those hard-working secretaries showed appreciation for their role in keeping the NCGS alive. There would be occasional dinner meetings when outstanding speakers were available, and AAPG Distinguished Lecturers were invited to address the society on a regular basis.
During 1949, 1950, and 1951 Daniel Pickrell was Secretary-Treasurer. No one filled the President or Vice President positions at this time. Pickrell served as Vice President in 1952 and 1953, and was finally voted Chairman in 1954, an office he proudly held that year. He was followed in 1955 by the first NCGS President, the late Gordon Oakeshott (who later spoke at the society’s 50th anniversary dinner celebration in December, 1994). In the spring of 1954, the NCGS hosted an enormous overnight field trip to the Rumsey Hills in Yolo County. Fifty (!) automobiles transporting 225 persons were escorted to points of interest by the California Highway Patrol. Brown Drilling Company and Schlumberger provided a truckload of beer and soft drinks, and the guidebook sold well for many years thereafter.
Through January 1955, the NCGS had no affiliation with AAPG because it lacked a constitution and formal by-laws. Using the Coast Society by-laws and the San Joaquin Society constitution guidelines, these documents were drafted and accepted by members on February 1, 1955. The Pacific Section agreed to affiliation, and on April 5, 1955, set up a “G” mailing list to notify NCGS members of meetings at a cost of 3¢ a postcard. By November 1955, luncheon meetings were being held at Gino’s restaurant, Front and Clay Streets, in San Francisco for $1.75 with tip. The Pacific Section dues at this time were $2.50 per year. At this time two publications were being offered for sale: the 1950 field trip guidebook “North Mt. Diablo Monocline, Contra Costa County, California” for $1.50, and the 1954 guidebook “Capay Valley-Wilbur Springs, Westside Sacramento Valley” at $2.50 a copy. Most NCGS business was focused on the cost of Distinguished Lecturers, publication sales, and keeping track of member addresses (not much has changed over the years!). By September 1961, membership had reached 115.
In 1963, the NCGS began working with the newly-founded American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) to introduce this organization to the San Francisco and Sacramento areas. A key issue that year was California State Senate Bill No. 1349, proposing registration of geologists. However, the bill had been drafted in a fashion considered counterproductive to the interests of the profession and was strongly opposed by the NCGS, which otherwise favored some form of state geological registration. The NCGS wrote the current Pacific Section AAPG President, John Kilkenny, stating that the bill did not recognize the role of geologists as earth scientists, did not serve the interests of petroleum geologists, and essentially confined the practice of geology to a legislated title. Most geologists at that time wanted registration by a self-regulatory mechanism.
Earthquake hazards were the main thrust of the society in 1965. An NCGS Committee on Geologic and Earthquake Hazards, Bay Area was established and chaired by Elmo Adams. Its report was instrumental in the development of statewide legislation contained in the Alquist-Priolo Geologic Hazard Zones Act of 1972. The Act was published in the August 1974, issue of the California Real Estate Magazine.
The late 1960’s were lean years in membership and attendance. A bright spot, however, was the overwhelmingly successful Geological Seminar on the North Slope of Alaska held February 2-3, 1970, in Palo Alto. This function was presented by the USGS under the joint leadership of the Pacific Section AAPG and the NCGS. It drew 678 participants from 22 states, Washington D.C., and five foreign nations. The NCGS edited the proceedings for publication, and received a fifty-fifty split of the $10 per copy proceeds with the Pacific Section. This was followed by an NCGS-prepared bibliography of San Joaquin Valley geologic literature in another even split of profits with the Pacific Section. The revitalized NCGS grew to about 200 members by 1974, and to 274 by April 1975.
No formal chronicle of NCGS activities has been written since Kotick’s 1976 Geologic Note in the AAPG Bulletin. In recent years the society membership has undergone a major shift in professional affiliation from petroleum geology to the environmental field. One thing, however, has not changed, and that is the unanimous interest of its members in the geosciences, both pure and applied. NCGS strongly supports earth science education by awarding multiple scholarships to collegiate and graduate students working on projects that support Northern California geological knowledge, and by participating in the AAPG’s Teacher of the Year award program. Field trips were and still are a key focal point of the organization. Recently, the organization has added an annual dinner meeting, reduced membership and meeting rates for students, and an invitation to Bay Area earth science teachers to join us in exploring Northern California’s geologic treasures.