Roaring Ranger Oil Boom Museum celebrates 100 years of well
RANGER, Texas (AP) – Here’s to mud in your eye – and in your ear, and in your shoes, your tail pipe and just about everywhere else.
The Abilene Reporter-News reports when you visit the Roaring Ranger Oil Boom Museum, the mud is on prominent display.
Not actual mud, of course. These are pictures of mud from a century ago when this community exploded overnight from a sleepy hamlet of barely 1,000 to a rowdy, hell-bent-for-leather, oil town topping 30,000 people.
Oct. 17 marked exactly 100 years since the J.H. McCleskey No. 1 oil well roared in from 3,342 feet below ground. W.K. Gordon, who owned the Texas and Pacific Coal Co. in Thurber, had financed the operation. Coal was on its way out as a fuel for locomotives and Gordon was anxious to keep his fortune.
His bet paid off. According to American Oil & Gas Historical Society, within 20 months of the McCleskey well, the stock in Gordon’s company went from $30 a share to $1,250. That’s 40 times the original price.
That’s an impressive leap by any measure. But to fully grasp it, depending on which online calculator you use, $30 in 1919 roughly translates to $438 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.
And $1,250? Hold on to your hats – it comes in at a whopping $17,000-$18,000 per share.
By 1919, Gordon’s company had sunk 22 wells into the ground and eight refineries were either built or in the works. More freight was being shipped to Ranger than anywhere else along the Texas & Pacific Railway line.
Gordon’s weren’t the only derricks in the county, of course. Other companies were making their own strikes and workers were swarming to meet the opportunity.
Most of the new population were men and that brought its own problems. When the jails couldn’t hold any more people, cops would handcuff offenders to the telephone poles.
The town grew so fast that what infrastructure there was had no hope of keeping up.
In Ranger, that that was especially true downtown.
A man named Shorty Woods, who lived in Ranger in 1918 and 1919, is quoted in a story written by Boyce House on display in the museum. A terrible drought had preceded the oil boom, leaving the surrounding countryside “a mass of burning desert and dust one-foot deep” along Ranger’s main drag.
The day after Woods arrived in town, it began raining and hardly stopped for 18 months. Nearly a foot and a half of mud covered the street, but it was the holes where it really became treacherous.
“This sounds impossible,” Woods said, “But I saw a big mule drown on the main street of Ranger in three feet of solid, wet mud.”
Mud has its own wall in the museum. It’s divided into sections; animals and mud, cars and mud, people and mud.
“The streets weren’t all like what you see in the pictures,” said Kakki Pittman. A member of the Chamber of Commerce board, Pittman was opening the museum for local school children to visit that day.
“But it’s like any other time it rains,” she continued. “You can drive around and some of your streets will be fine and some of them you might not want to drive down.”
Boyce wrote that teamsters used to charge drivers $5 to pull their cars out of the mud. If business was slow, a nudge to an unsuspecting Model T into the right hole might do the trick.
“We had a lady come in not long ago, she was looking for a specific picture,” Pittman recalled. “She asked, ‘Can you help me find a picture of a man in a white coat? Horses are pulling him on a sled.’”
Pittman directed the woman to a large photograph hanging on the wall. It showed her great-grandfather, who likely made a pretty good living providing a unique public service.
He stands on a crude wooden sled harnessed to a horse, while behind him three men hang on as best they can. For five-cents, a passenger could get a (relatively) clean one-way ride across the street.
“That 5 cents probably added up pretty fast,” Pittman said. “How long would it take to get your horse across the street and back?”
Fears about a nationwide shortage of oil were allayed, thanks to the boom. Folks in Ranger will proudly tell you their product helped win World War I. But by 1921, the inevitable bust was upon them.
Wells dried, banks failed, and oil prospectors moved elsewhere in search of their black gold. Just a short walk from the start of it all, a new park was dedicated last week. Over the entrance, a steel sign names the pasture as J.H. McCleskey Park. Below the name, another moniker: “The Wonder Field.”
“Somebody read an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram calling this area the ‘Wonder field’,” said Jeane Pruett, president of the Ranger Historical Preservation Society. “We just thought that was appropriate, so we added it.”
Most of the mesquite and cedar trees have been cleared, thanks to a volunteer. Parts of oil derricks and other machinery from the era can be seen in the middle of the field, along with the plaque which used to sit by the original well site which Pruett said is now unreachable.
“Eventually, I hope for this to be something that the whole community can be proud of,” she said.
Pruett’s vision for the park is a cultural one. She’d like to see a building where musical performances or plays could be held.
“Ranger, Texas, is a good little town and we have a lot to offer,” she said. “It could be one of the biggest tourist spots in this whole state, if people just knew what they’ve got.”
She paused for a moment, then smiled.
“And I’d be willing to talk to anybody who wants to talk,” she said, a twinkle in her eye.