Boom Town: The night oil fell around them like rain

Back Side of a Blue Moon and the Boom Town saga is the story of an oil strike in a fictional East Texas town much like my home towns of Kilgore and Henderson.

The night the gusher spewed oil across the landscape of my home country was not unlike the night Doc Bannister struck oil in Back Side of a Blue Moon. This is the true story.

The rig cast a web of frantic shadows in the late afternoon sun.  Men were ripping the tires from their trucks and throwing them into flames that were flickering and dying away in the boilers, and the pipes groaned wearily as the crew worked into the night amidst smoke and the stench of burning rubber.

Torches flickered expectantly in the darkness, and the hole was as black as the night.

The ground obviously had no intention of giving up its oil without a fight.

The crowd grew smaller as many gave up and headed home.

They had been disappointed before.

They feared they would be again.

But Laster kept the drill bit turning, probing an abyss that the hands of desperate men had dug into woodbine sand, and suddenly, he heard a rumble growling down deep in the ground.

Douglas I. Lloyd, son of the geologist Doc Lloyd, recalled, “The boys on the rig had been bailing out for some time when finally enough mud had been lifted to turn the wildcat loose. There was a muffled roar, followed by a rushing sound that rent the air like the hiss of lightning. The next few moments were like some fantastical dream. A huge fountain of oil was rising into the sky splashing through the crown block like ‘Old Faithful,’ the geyser. I had worked upon the drilling rig and seen a well blowing up a fountain of oil thirty or forty feet into the air, but nothing like a hundred or more.

“The crowd, mostly farmers who had wandered up to the rig out of the piney woods at the sound of the boilers early that morning, went wild with screams of joy. Doubtless, many of them thought that such great wealth would immediately lift the nation out of the strangling grip of the Depression that was now upon the country.

“As the great gusher roared its challenge to men of adventure and fortune, the crowd closed into a semi-circle and started rushing up to the derrick floor, shouting hysterically as though they intended to take a bath in the fountain of ‘black gold’ as a token of their great joy. Many of them were holding lighted cigarettes. The danger of fire around an oil well is an age-old tragedy.”

The shouts were loud and on the edge of panic: “Put out the fires.  Put out the cigarettes.”

“Luckily an alert deputy sheriff stepped out in front of the on-rushing spectators,” D. I. Lloyd wrote, “and fired several shots over their heads.

This sudden action brought the wild crowd under moderate control.”

The ground trembled and threatened to rip the rig apart.

The derrick rattled.

It shook and shuddered and almost shattered with a pillar of oil belching its way out of the abyss of a deep pit, showering the pines and painting the bright sky the color of ebony.

Mike Marwil remembered, “First, you felt the earth tremble and shake, then you saw black oil shooting as high as the derrick. People were beside themselves. They wallowed in the oil. They swam in it. They rubbed it all over themselves. They had to be told to put out their cigarettes for fear they would blow us all up.”

Some said the roar sounded like a locomotive rushing madly down the tracks.

Miss Daisy Bradford, who owned the land, danced alone, her face freckled with oil and mud.

Walter Tucker said a prayer in case the Good Lord or anyone else of importance was listening.

A nine-year-old girl, Helen Morris, lay asleep in the backseat of her family’s car.

The day had lasted far too long for her.

Amidst the cacophony of strange voices and the erratic clamor of complaining boilers that threatened to fall apart at the seams, she was suddenly awakened by her father, Ned Bradford Morris, who held out a stained Stetson hat, filled virtually to the brim with oil.  “Dip your hand in this, and taste it,” he said.

A sleepy Helen Morris did as she was told.

“See,” her father said softly, “there’s no salt in it.”

Dad Joiner leaned his weary shoulders against the derrick and spoke for all of East Texas when he said, “I always dreamed it.  I never believed it.”

And oil fell like a warm, gentle rain upon the ground around him, touching the shoulders of the just and the unjust, the sinners and the repentant, alike.

Please click HERE to find Back Side of a Blue Moon on Amazon.

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