Ruth & I spent a Sunday afternoon in the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum and, half way through, judged it a 3 Compass experience. But then we toured the Museum’s other side and the rating soared to 5 due to rocks and racing cars. PBPM isn’t just about oil exploration.
Our tour began promisingly enough with a clever Fact/Fantasy Quiz. What’s a kelly? I guessed wrong. On an oil rig, it’s a tool for transmitting power to the drill. Were dinosaurs the main source of oil and gas? I got this one right. No, tiny marine organisms were. I liked the giant derrick spouting products made from oil.
I was surprised to see how much very traditional oil field art has been created (Tom Lovell!).
After a while the exhibits became a bit repetitive. How many pipe hauling wagons, blowout preventers, and magnetometers can a novice thrill to? PBPM tries to stir excitement with a graphic focus on well blowouts and fires but, again, viewers like Ruth & me can lose energy.
We wandered into the Hall of Fame, a board room filled with paintings of inductees. I focused on the few I knew, like George H. W. Bush, co-founder of Zapata Petroleum Corporation, and his son who formed Arbusto Energy before becoming 43rd President. Ahead of me, Ruth said, “Oh, I finally found one!” The one was a female hall-of-famer, Edith Whatley McKanna, organizer of Imperial Oil Company.
After a technical, detailed exhibit about how oil is located, we began to wonder if this Museum was stuck in the 70s and actively looked for exhibits on current energy issues like fracking. We found only a small exhibit on ethanol.
But then PBPM soared to a 5 when we entered the Judson Mineral Gallery which had opened less than a month before our visit. This Museum is moving forward! This Gallery is so new that there’s almost nothing about it on The Petroleum Museum’s own website. Edward Judson was, maybe, the world’s best collector of truly beautiful mineral specimens, and more than 90 of them are now on permanent display. Edward’s widow Marilyn and son Don, I assume, were instrumental in the Judson Collection finding its way to PBPM. It’s an eyeful!
Next door was the Chaparral Gallery. All but 2 of the innovative Chaparral racing cars are on display here, and there’s nothing enthusiasts can’t learn about their designers (Jim Hall!), drivers, etc. Midland is where Chaparrals were built and tested before changing racing forever.
We talked to the excellent staff and learned that the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum is near the end of a 3 year campaign to collect $15 million for an upgrade. $13.5 million has already been banked thanks to fund-raisers and donations.
It was such a cold day at 1500 I-20 West, Midland, Texas, exit 136, that we didn’t tour The Oil Patch, an outdoor exhibit of large oil field equipment that is certain to enchant oil industry historians.