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Electra, located in Northern Texas near Wichita
Falls, is one of the most important
oil producers in The United States. Auto manufacturers and dealers such as
Santander Consumer USA depend on a constant flow of oil from towns like
Electra. The oil that flows out of the Pump Jacks in Electra helps fill our nation's oil
reserves and helps keep costs of gas and oil at the pump low. The below article is a
brief history of this town. Santander Consumer would like to thank the town of
Electra for being a vital piece of the automotive industry.
Dallas Morning News 09/23/2001
By BERNADETTE PRUITT / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
ELECTRA, Texas At every turn on
this sun-scorched plain, oil well
pump jacks peck at the earth like Jurassic birds.
This is the "Pump Jack Capital of Texas"
Electra, a northwest Texas town of 3,100
near Wichita Falls, lays
claim to approximately 5,000 pump jacks within a 10-mile radius.
Its pump jack title was awarded in May by the Legislature.
"The pump jacks are monuments of
perpetual motion, monuments to our
heritage," said Carolyn Adams, whose efforts led to the designation.
"We're classic Texas cattle, crude and combines
but oil is what put Electra in the history books."
Oil was discovered in the area in 1900,
but it was the Clayco gusher
in 1911 that sent Electra's fortunes skyward and set off the North Texas oil
boom. The boom is history, but Wichita County still maintains a respectable
showing in crude oil production. In 2000, it was 36th among the state's 254
counties, according to the Oil and Gas Division of the Railroad Commission
of Texas. Wilbarger County, also included in the radius, ranked 94th.
Like mesquite trees, the jacks are such
landscape fixtures that most
Electrans pay little attention to them. But tourists do. Out-of-staters
stopping at the convenience store that Mrs. Adams and her husband,
Herbie, once owned often asked about them.
"They'd move their hands up and down and say, 'What's that out there?' "
She would explain that the jacks pump oil
out of the ground and
transfer it to storage tanks through pipelines. She would tell the
story of pioneer rancher W.T. Waggoner, who was frustrated because
he wanted water for his cattle but kept striking oil instead. She would
tell of Clayco No. 1 and how it changed the town.
That experience, along with a tourism
workshop she attended
as a board member of Electra's Main Street Project, led to
an epiphany: The answer to the question of how to promote
Electra had been creaking in the oil patch all along.
Mrs. Adams tallied active well numbers
with the help of the
Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Railroad Commission of Texas
and major oil companies. With the backing of residents and city officials,
she contacted state Sen. Tom Haywood and Rep. Rick Hardcastle, who
pushed the "Pump Jack Capital" resolution through the Legislature.
"I think the designation is very
proper," said Tom Miller, a retired
oil field supplier who furnished many of Electra's pump jacks.
"I don't know if there's a place in the world where there are more
Mr. Miller, 78, is one of the old-timers
who make up the
Do Nothing Club, which meets daily at the local Dairy Queen.
Many are retired from oil-related jobs.
"The town deserves the honor,"
said Henry Bellah, 81,
who set pump jacks on many of the leases.
Dink Robb, 92, the self-proclaimed CEO of
the Do Nothing Club,
never experienced a time when Electra didn't mean oil. He was a
toddler when the Clayco blew in on April 1, 1911. His mother,
a telephone operator, was the first to break the news of the
gusher to downtown merchants.
"They thought she was joking because
it was April Fool's Day,"
said the former telephone company owner.
The resulting boom gave Electrans a solid
appreciation for the black ooze that
they once considered a nuisance, Mr. Robb said.
"At first, there weren't any cars,
and about the only thing oil was good for
was to help repel chickenhouse mites," he said.
The area owes its high concentration of pump jacks to at least two factors.
Ralph Waggoner, a Wichita Falls geologist
and a descendant of
W.T. Waggoner, said the wide distribution of sands from the
Red River uplift make the area especially favorable to oil production.
In addition, many of the wells are
shallow, he said. The shallower
the wells, the less space there has to be between them, according to
Railroad Commission spacing rules.
As the pump jacks have bobbed up and down,
so have Electra's
prospects. In 1946, there were five gasoline plants, 12 oil field
supply houses and a refinery. The last really good years were in the
late '70s and early '80s, said Mr. Miller, a former pump jack supplier.
Electra's tree-lined, frontier-style
business district is speckled with
empty storefronts. Its population is little more than half of what
it once was. The W.T. Waggoner Refinery is now a heap of rusty
scrap metal. Translation: The recent uptick in the oil industry probably
won't be felt much in Electra, said City Administrator Corrin McGrath.
"That money may be earned here, but
it's going to be spent elsewhere
probably in Wichita Falls," he said.
On the upside, there are 14 oil field
companies still operating in
the area. Electra's largest employer, Natco, continues to build oil tanks.
Eighty percent of area wells are producing, he said.
One of the oldest wells, drilled in 1911
after the Clayco gusher,
is still pumping, leasing records show.
Electra may be past its heyday, but
there's still reason to celebrate,
Mrs. Adams contends. She hopes to parlay the town's pump jack
designation into an annual festival, starting in April. She'd like to
allow tourists a close-up look at a pump jack, which some consider
ugly in a prehistoric-beast sort of way.
"To me, they're pretty," said
Mr. Miller, who still likes to drive around
with his wife, Odessa, and watch them. "They made me a living."
Bernadette Pruitt is a Wichita Falls-based free-lance writer.
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Information on this page is a reprint from The Dallas Morning News.