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“The mission of Ranger College is to transform lives and give students the skills to be a positive influence in their communities.”



Black Gold: A History of Texas Oil Boomtowns

The home of our traveling oil exhibit

Black Gold:  A History of Texas Oil Boomtowns

 

Texas has a long history in the oil industry.  Though the first oil discovery in Texas was not in Ranger, one of the most significant booms in our state’s history occurred here in 1917.  The Ranger Oil Boom was important because the time and place made it possible for so many other things to happen. 

World War I was in high gear, but Russia had just pulled out due to its own revolution.  That left the Allies with no source of oil.  At just the right time, the Ranger Boom came along, producing enough oil to carry the Allies to victory then provide employment for returning soldiers. 

The boom was also in the first real era of easy transportation across the country.  With privately owned cars and plenty of cross-country railroads, anyone could pick up their entire family and travel to where opportunity seemed better.  For the first time, a mineral boom had to support families as well as workers. 

The result of this was the quick arrival of tens of thousands of people.  To give it a little perspective, at least 50,000 men, and as many as 300,000, rushed to California, the entire state, in the 1849 gold rush.  That same number rushed to Eastland County, Texas in early 1918.  Then add numbers for their families, and you can imagine the crisis of crowding and sanitation as well as the food and housing shortages. 

Fortunately, perhaps, they were quickly followed by the businesses necessary to sustain those families – furniture and clothing shops, grocery and toy stores, lumber yards and car dealerships.  Lots to build homes on sold for prices higher than any ever seen before, but the oil work paid so well that no one paused to question whether or not it was a good idea.  The area grew as fast as the carpenters could get their hands on wood to build.

As Ranger and the surrounding area struggled to adapt to the new population, the oil industry struggled with managing the unprecedented quantity of oil.  A lot of hard lessons in oil management were learned in Ranger.  Initially, there was no way to transport the oil to refineries along the Texas coast.  Pipelines and roads strong enough to handle tanker trucks could not be built fast enough.

The volume of oil in Ranger was greater than any ever seen before and there were no existing regulations to control how much was taken and from where.  The existing Rule of Capture led to property owners extracting as much as they could so they would not have to share with their neighbors.  The extracted oil was often just poured into pits on the ground until a way could be found to process it.

Another area in which lessons were learned was natural gas.  Oil fields usually have a layer of natural gas that has to be pushed through to get to the oil.  There were few uses for natural gas at the time so it was allowed to dissipate into the air.

As the boom ended, there were other lessons to learn about managing a city when the population vanished.  During the boom, prospectors had searched for oil in other places and it did not take long until they were rewarded.  Just in time for the Ranger oil to stop flowing, discoveries were made from Mexia to Big Lake.  That massive flow of people picked up and moved, taking their houses and grocery stores with them.  Following the money is also a Texas tradition.

In what was to become a cycle of boom and bust, cities grew and collapsed almost overnight.  Counting on high income from property taxes to develop infrastructure, many were left with unpaid bills for road construction, sewage installation, and even street lighting. 

This exhibit tells the story of these boomtowns, life in the oil patch, and the people who made it work.  It tells about the criminals and the heroes and the technologies.  It explores what oil means to Texas and how oil booms are portrayed to the world.  This is the story of Texas oil and the people who made it happen.

Check out the calendar to see where it is currently being exhibited or to see when it is available for your venue.  Check our reservations link to see how to get it for free.

Please contact us at 254-647-1414 or library@rangercollege.edu.