I just looked at the current biggest employers in Kilgore, Texas, and of the top ten only 2, including Halliburton, have anything to do with the oil industry. This was not true during The Great Depression when Kilgore was Boomtown USA. In 1930, the greatest oil field in the world was discovered when the Daisy Bradford No 3 well here hit oil at 3,536 feet. Soon there were 75 students in a Kilgore 6th grade class. By 1939, when Hitler attacked Poland, there were close to 1,200 oil derricks in Kilgore’s city limits, and the greatest concentration of wells on the planet was on one of its downtown blocks called The World’s Richest Acre.
I learned a lot about the East Texas Oil Field and its impact on Kilgore in the East Texas Oil Museum on the campus of Kilgore College. The AAA awards it a gem, but I suspect that this happened a long time ago. Today, this 36-year-old-museum is something of a fading gem that became a fascinating experience for me because of Richard.
Oil derricks, the equipment needed to extract oil, and 1930s radios are not inherently interesting to people today. If Richard hadn’t been in the East Texas Oil Museum the day Ruth & I visited, I would have been in and out of it in half an hour. Richard was, however, a master docent able to make what happened in Kilgore come alive. Richard’s stories about the 20 minute history-based film in the Boom Town Cinema made it worth watching. His museum’s displays need serious upgrading, and the silly ride simulating the descent to oil needs to be permanently removed. It’s a problem for older museums to keep events from long ago interesting in the Apple Era.
Here are some historical facts that made my two hours with Richard richer. The East Texas Oil Field (ETOF) that was discovered when the Daisy Bradford blew became the world’s largest. In fact, the 6 largest oil fields at the time of its finding would have fit into it. If it hadn’t been for the East Texas Oil Field, the United States and its allies might have lost World War II. 300,000 barrels of Texas oil were pumped to the East Coast every day for the war effort after a pipeline was completed in 13 months.
Still producing in the age of fracking, the ETOF has, over time, yielded 6 billion barrels of oil from 32,000 wells on 144,000 acres under 3 states. Less than 500 of them were dry. However, the current price of a barrel of oil is hurting. According to Richard and the law, a producing well must pump one day a year to remain operable.
My favorite story in the entire museum had a human dimension. In 1937 an electrical spark ignited natural gas in the London School in nearby Overton, Texas, and 311 children and adults died in the resulting explosion. Odor is artificially added to natural gas today as a result of this tragedy. Ruth, a dedicated teacher, insisted that we drive to Overton to see the memorial and pay our respects.