White Bear Oil Company – The Early Years

In 1917 Adlore Vadnais, while still working for the Northern Pacific Railroad at night, (he had started with them in 1909) went to work for Standard Oil delivering kerosene to be used in lamps and cook stoves.1  At first he used a horse drawn 500-gallon tank wagon and later a 300-gallon Model T Ford truck was purchased.  In a 1965 interview, Adlore said, “I’d fill customers’ barrels with a 5-gallon bucket, from 10 to 50 gallons a drop.”2  Deliveries were made to Hugo, Centerville, Withrow, Scandia, Marine, Mahtomedi, and Willernie as well as the White Bear area.  Standard Oil owned the trucks and carried the accounts, but in the early 1920s, when they changed their policies, Standard Oil requested that Vadnais, along with his co-worker and future business partner Louis Crawford, purchase their own trucks and carry their own accounts.  It was then that Vadnais and Crawford, decided to go into business for themselves.3  On Oct 22, 1923, using an old car as a trade-in, they bought a 1923 Ford truck for $422.58 and with the “old car” they traded-in, the price was reduced to $272.58.4  Adlore later commented about the truck purchase saying that, “I picked up a one-ton truck in 1923, but the horses still pulled better on the sand roads around White Bear Lake.”5

October 22, 1923 White Bear Motor Sales receipt for 1st White Bear Oil Company truck

The partners purchased bulk oil tanks from Carl Nelson and Ernie Jackson, bar owners in St. Paul, as well as owners of the Standard Oil filling station on the northeast corner of Highway 61 and Lake Avenue in White Bear Lake.   A gas pump was also purchased.  The pump was installed at the Crawford residence on the north side of Fifth Street between Division and Bloom Avenues.  White Bear Oil Company, the first fuel oil delivery company in White Bear, had opened.6

Standard Oil and White Bear Oil Company bulk tanks initial location alongside the railroad tracks north of 4th Street on Division Avenue
Early 1920s – from left to right: Louis Crawford, his three children (George, Ruth and Martin) and Adlore Vadnais
Notice downtown White Bear in the background on the right.
Close-up of Adlore Vadnais with delivery truck at bulk tanks
Circa 1925 – Louis Crawford home and the “gas station” – located on the north side of 5th Street between Bloom and Division Avenues 
(I was told that Louis always had a bag of candy on hand for the children.)
1926 White Bear Press Ad for White Bear Oil Company7

Much of Adlore’s daytime hours were devoted to growing White Bear Oil Company.  However, Adlore continued to work nights as a yard clerk for the Northern Pacific Railroad (NPRR) throughout the 1920s.8  Yard clerks traditionally verified numbers on cars in the yard, and recorded them in a journal. These would be used to prepare “switch lists” for yard switchers to marshal trains. Once the trains were marshaled, yard clerks would prepare a “train list” or manifest for the conductor on the train, and also advise of any cars to be picked up or set out by that train.  A yard clerk would also create “waybills”, bills of lading, which traveled with the train for each loaded car.  Another duty was to record information submitted by conductors at the end of the run, where cars were set off, delays and payroll information.9  His job with the railroad paid about $4.94 per day.10

In 1928, Crawford decided to leave the oil business and Adlore bought him out.  A notice of dissolution of the partnership was printed in the White Bear Press.11

The partners signed a formal agreement on September 5, 1928.12  In it Adlore agreed to pay $1,000 for the business and in consideration he would get all of the personal property used by White Bear Oil Company.  Additionally Louis Crawford was to receive all funds from the accounts receivable owed to the company at the time of the sale.  A 5-year non-compete clause was written into the contract.  Finally Adlore agreed to pay the existing bills which included: State of Minnesota Gasoline Tax ($150), George Clark Oil Company ($113), Tri-State Telephone Company ($5.50), Northern States Power Company ($3.00), Insurance on truck ($4.00), First National Bank of White Bear Lake promissory note ($200) and First National Bank of White Bear Lake promissory note ($400).  With these bills added to the initial $1,000, the total he paid for White Bear Oil Company was about $1,875 with the amount of the accounts receivable unknown.

Personal property transferred to Adlore when he bought out Louis Crawford
1971 – Adlore Vadnais with the first hand pump that he and Louis Crawford purchased

Upon purchasing the oil company from Crawford, Adlore took a 90-day leave of absence (9/15-12/15 1928), from his job at the railroad.13  The gas pump located at Crawford’s home along with other company property was moved to Adlore’s home at 1309 Fourth Street.  Adlore delivered the fuel while my grandmother Ellen, Adlore’s wife, answered the phone, raised the children and pumped gas for customers from the 1-gallon pump.  Adlore’s and Ellen’s older boys were broke-in to the business by changing oil in customers’ cars.  The whole family participated in making the company a success. 

Adlore and Ellen Vadnais home at 1309 4th Street – the location of White Bear Oil Company from 1928-1932

On November 20, 1928, not long after the business was moved to their home, Adlore and Ellen’s eleventh child, Gordon Francis, was born.14  According to the local newspaper, “It is told how Mrs. Vadnais was out pumping gas the day before she delivered one of her sons, Gordon, and the day after the baby was born, she was back out at the pumps.”15

The garage, outhouse and White Bear Oil Company delivery truck at 1309 4th Street

During the day Adlore and Ellen would remove the fuel tank from the truck and Adlore would use the truck to move people to and from St. Paul and to haul cattle to South St. Paul.  Afterwards the tank would be put back onto the truck so that fuel could be delivered as needed.

Sometime in 1928 Adlore purchased the northwest corner of 4th Street and Bald Eagle Avenue.  It would eventually become the home of White Bear Oil Company.

Looking west down 4th Street from the Vadnais home/White Bear Oil Company
White Bear Oil Company sign out front of the Vadnais home on 4th Street
The child is either Gordy or Anna Mae, one of the 2 youngest of the Vadnais children.

Gordy in a 1971 newspaper article told of how John Dillinger, infamous prohibition gangster, use to come to the station everyday to buy fresh bread that his mother Ellen would have baked.16 (It is extremely unlikely that it was Dillinger.  It is more probable that it was a lesser known gangster.  There were quite a few that frequented White Bear.)

The 1930 census enumerated Adlore (40 years old), Ellen (41 years old) and their 10 surviving children living at their home on 4th Street.  Adlore is listed as being in the oil company industry.  The children are: George (20 years old), Charles (18 years old), Florence (12 years old), Richard (10 years old), Mona (8 years old), Leona (6 years old), Jack (5 years old), Marguerite (3 years old), Gordy (1 year old) and Anna Mae (13 days old).  The oldest son George is shown as being in the oil company industry as a truck driver.17  I assume he was delivering fuel for White Bear Oil Company.

Later in 1930 Adlore took his last leave of absence (July 7 –October 9) from his railroad job.18  Afterward he returned to work only to resign from his job on October 18, 1930.19  He had worked for the railroad for 21 years.  White Bear Oil Company now had enough business that Adlore could give it his full attention.  He had plans for its growth.   


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