Oil color

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2,688
Location
Elderly County, Florida
So, the other night, I was re-reading "The Grapes of Wrath." At one point in the story, the Joad family stops at a service station and, among other things, purchase two one one half gallons of "cheap, black motor oil." This kinda stuck with me. I've never seen black new motor oil in my life. I'm wondering. Since this novel was written in the 30's, was oil less refined in those days and therefore, black? Would it have contained at least trace amounts of gasoline, diesel, kerosene etc, since it was less refined? Did they simply pump it out of the ground and into cans and sell it cheap? When did they stop selling this kind of oil and when did they start dying oil in the various shades and hues we see today? Inquiring minds want to know.
 
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6,367
Location
Midwest
In the 40's and 50's we had a fuel/oil supplier for the farm. When he'd stop out we'd fill glass oil bottles from the bulk oil drum on his truck, and it was always black. We had 3, maybe 4 wire baskets that held 8 bottles each. I have no idea what brand or grade it may have been. Never had an oil related issue that I can remember, but then a lot of the equipment was overhauled every 3-4 years anyway. Since he was there to fill the fuel barrels, the oil was free. Back then nobody recycled their oil at all-it was always dumped on weeds or into a ditch.
 
Messages
2,219
Location
CA
I'm guessing Steinbeck never changed his own oil. When looking for a literary device he checked his own car and went with it. A lot of oil cans back then had black as one prominent color. Maybe he thought virgin oil was black too; certainly all the oil that leaked from cars and trucks was black.
 
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