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
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
Back on the highway we stopped for a late lunch and enjoyed the
comments of the bystanders such as ‘Do you think you will have
her running by night?’
When we got back to Goldthwaite we were followed to the shop by
several friends who had seen the Black Bear go through town. They
also came in handy for the unloading which was really more trouble
than the loading.
The engine is a 25 HP Black Bear, sideshaft, and tank cooled. It
was manufactured by Oil Well Supply Co., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It has and 11 inch bore and an 18 inch stroke. When I get it
running it should turn 180 RPM. The flywheels are 5 feet in
diameter. The engine weighs 6,675 pounds not including the skids.
Originally the engine ran on the natural gas produced by the well.
I will probably run it on L. P. gas.
I got this engine too late this year to get it running in time
for any engine shows, but with a little luck, and a great deal of
work, I plan to take it to the Texas Early Gas Engine show at
Speegleville, Texas, next August.
One could easily drive through Ranger, Texas and the surrounding
area without being aware of what took place there 68 years ago.
There are still some oil wells there, but the quiet running pump
jacks powered by an electric motor are a far cry from the engines
and pumping units that operated during the great oil boom.