GREASING BEARINGS A pumper has climbed up the pump jack of a prodt r Icing well to grease the bearings. At right is the “horse’s head,” which lifts a few thousand feet of sucker rods to pump oil from the ground. Early oilfield workers got the notion that the pump sucked oil from the well; thus the term “sucker rods.” Actually, the oil flows into the well and is lifted out. A small gas engine runs the well. In the background is a tank battery, where oil is accumulated from wells such as this one and measured before being sold and released to the pipeline company. stranger, finding he didn’t have the price of a haircut on him, tossed the barber a document for “a piece of a town-lot well,” which he admitted might not even be drilled. Small change, so to speak, in the oil game. The barber collected $700 on that piece of paper. So it goes. A rancher named Robertson owned a sand bar just off Mustang Island in Corpus Christi Bay. Had it for years. Absolutely worthless, everybody told him. But he held it, and they started drilling wells several miles west of there, out in the bay. Successive wells were located closer and closer. Two companies paid him nice rentals to build tank batteries and a dock on his spit of sand. Later he had an offer for the mineral rights; then another. Then some real feverish bidding took place for his oil rights. He turned them all down, but he managed to get some in writing, through the mail. These offers he took to the bank, along with deeds to the good farm and ranch property he owned on the mainland. Offshore operations run into money, but after mortgaging everything he was able to hire a drilling contractor to come out and drill the first well. It was a nice producer. On that shelly, sandy spit of mosquito-infested salt flat where nothing but briars and salt cedars would grow, he then brought in two more good wells. Three birdnests on the ground, as they say when the same man owns the land and mineral rights and the operating and production of the wells. XII Then there was old man Lipscomb, who had a farm near Gladewater and loved to farm, though he never made any money at it. I knew Mr. Lipscomb. He watched with dismay as the oil craze swept through Smith and Gregg counties. Storekeepers and good, sensible people recklessly plunged their life savings in this wild venture and that fast-promoted company. A drunken, gambling, foulspoken hoodlum element poured into the area and took over town and countryside. The oil well always came in before they got the wooden or steel tanks erected, so earthen levees were thrown up \(often ands of barrels of oil would be poured out to evaporate and soak in and catch fire and permanently poison the land with salt and black pitch. When the rains came, water plunging down the ravine soon filled the pits, washing holes in the dikes, floating the black oil and its salty water for miles downstream. An abomination, the oil and brackish water polluted and killed fish and lowland vegetation and blackened the shores, even killing livestock which drank from scum-covered pools. A curse was upon the land. Oil was hell to Mr. Lipscomb. At last, property on all sides of him had wells. When he finally gave in he leased at a better price than any of his neighbors had. The crews moved in, ripping up his fences right off, trampling his corn, raiding his watermelon patch, what was left of it. His chickens didn’t have a chance with 6 The Texas Observer those scoundrels on the premises day and night. He guarded his two cows with a shotgun. What with the greater nuisances keeping him occupied, the weeds soon choked out his pea patch and his tomaters. Lipscomb endured his fate and put his oil money in the bank. After the bonanza, the flush production, had run for three years and the flow was leveling off, he looked around for a buyer. He sold his farm for more money than he had ever dreamed of having. But he loved to farm. He picked up and headed ‘way out to the High Plains of West Texas. He bought two and a half sections of good flat farmland, though rather dry, near Levelland. The water problem was solved ten years later when he started drilling irrigation wells. Among oil people \(or anybody else out is the punch line, but the uninitiated need to know that in 1945 they brought in the Levelland Oil Field, and it just grew and grew until it took in nearly all of Hockley County, including the Lipscomb farm. Old man Lipscomb flies around the country these days in his own airplane. Now, that there is a first-rate Texas hard luck story. XIII Down at Sinton, Texas, there were two brothers, ranchers on the coastal plain who didn’t love each other and in money matters distrusted one another. They had never found a way they could agree on to , operating as two ranches rather than4one, so they were partners. When oil was discovered in the area 30-odd years ago, they signed a lease stipulating that the royalties would be paid as two separate checks, each one-sixteenth of the total value of the oil and gas, in place of the usual check for one-eighth. The story goes that their oil money made them both quite prosperous, and it was a local expression for a while that “a Tyson sixteenth” was a pretty good deal. \(We will assume their name was was better than a bale of cotton to the acre on 240 acres, or like marrying a girl who is pretty and sweet and has cattle out west in the bargain. Anyhow, this tall tale is not about the Tyson boys but about a more ignorant landowner on up in the mesquite brush, had been teasing along with the old boy for several days and couldn’t seem to close a deal. He had started out at $7 an acre and had talked himself up to $28, at which point his office had balked and was calling the land man a fool. He should be able to buy the land for that figure, they said. Still the old rancher played it cagey and wouldn’t sign. In the oil game there is a standard printed lease which calls for so much down and one-eighth of all minerals produced and sold. The per-acre money is open to bickering, but the 12 1A % is inviolate for any ordinary mortal. Only a highpowered lawyer representing the government or
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