| December/January 1985

  • Charles Garrettan ad
    From the collection of Charles Garrettan ad from September 28, 1908 Railroad Age Gazette.
  • Ranger oil boom

  • Charles Garrettan ad
  • Ranger oil boom

Goldthwaite Texas 76844

Not many people know about the fantastic oil boom that occurred in Ranger, Texas in 1917. This is somewhat surprising considering the size of this oil find and the worldwide financial impact that this oil field had.

Prior to 1917 the experts were predicting an acute oil shortage (sound familiar?). However, when W. K. Gordon's well, McClosky No. 1, blew in October 17, 1917, no more was heard about an oil shortage for 60 years. In those days all oil wells were 'gushers'. McClosky No. 1 flowed over the top of the rigging for four weeks before it could be brought under control. In short order literally hundreds of oil wells were drilled. Thirty-four gushers were drilled on one 750 acre tract of land. Wells producing 5,000 to 10,000 barrels of oil per day were common place. Dirt farmers became millionaires overnight. The village of Ranger grew in population from 750 to 30,000 inhabitants within a year. To illustrate the wealth of this oil find, consider this: The entire output of gold in California in 1849 was 10 million dollars while a circle with a radius of forty miles including the Ranger area, in 1919 produced 90 million dollars worth of oil and well in excess of 100 million dollars the following year. There was no market for the natural gas that the wells produced. A small amount of it was used to fuel the pump engines but almost all of it was burned in the open air.

Luckily, I now own a relic of the Ranger oil boom. A man who recently moved to Goldthwaite from near Ranger told me about a big old engine he had seen in a pasture about 10 miles south of Ranger. After much inquiry and many telephone calls I finally located the owner of the engine. He said it was a Black Bear and was rated at 25 horsepower. We agreed on a price and I bought it sight unseen over the telephone.

Finally, the Saturday morning arrived when I had planned to go get the engine. Jesse Hammond, Stanley Bessent, and I formed a small procession in front of my shop in the early morning. We took a winch truck with trailer behind and a pickup truck with another trailer. After a long ride on the highway and a very rough ride over a long pasture road we finally saw it sitting silent and abandoned near a clump of trees. We spent about an hour admiring it and trying to figure out how it all worked. It had been belted to a walking beam pump jack. The beam of the pump jack was almost as impressive as the engine. It was one huge timber two feet square and 24 feet long. It had probably been lying on the ground 40 years and yet had rotted very little due to the oil that had soaked into it. This had to be quite a sizable oil well to rate an engine and pump-jack that size. We found out later that this well was drilled in 1920 and has been in production ever since. It is 3,200 feet deep. It still produces gas, but the oil ran out several years ago. Nearby was a wooden spool ten feet in diameter and filled with large cable. A few yards away was the engine and pump-jack that had replaced this old Black Bear, a modern Fairbanks-Morse flywheel engine, not half as big, but probably every bit as powerful as the old one.

After sight seeing, we went to work to move the engine. It was mounted on very large timbers which were sunk into the ground. I cut the bolts with a torch and raised the front end off the ground with the winch truck and rolled it on pipes into the trailer. The large clutch pulley was removed and put in the other trailer. We had no hair-raising adventures on this trip, nobody got crushed or even came close to it. It just took about three hours of good steady work.


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