I recently read a wonderful, quirky picture book called Historic Photos of Texas Oil by Mike Cox. It is a collection of photos of the early oil boom in Texas, which may not sound fascinating but trust me, it is. There is something strangely effecting about the photos – the pictures of skinny workers having ice cream, the iconic pictures of Spindle Top spurting black gold into the air, tiny towns over run with oil rigs in every back yard.
All my life, I wanted to live somewhere ‘special’. People in Los Angeles, or Paris or New York know they are living somewhere kind of interesting; it is part of their culture. Living in Houston, the only interesting thing I ever saw was the Enron building. But after reading the book, I had a new appreciation for this silly little state. There is some romance here, maybe, if you look hard enough. I found myself thrilled by the old Texaco signs. I loved the pictures of trains carrying these huge barrels of oil across vast expanses of flat, empty land. They evoke inexplicable loneliness, which I suppose connects us to the loneliness of the workers who came from far away for a chance to work in the oil patch.
Others who got rich often did so quite accidentally, deciding to plunk a well down and see what happened. Most of the time, not much happened. But once in a while, the Texas hardpan earth was generous, and oil was found, and quickly monetized.
Being from Texas, I suppose it is easy to look out at the oil derricks and overlook the complexity of them. They become background. I remember once when I was very young (four or five, I suppose) my father was driving us from Corpus Christi to Houston. I remember thinking the oil derricks looked like dinosaurs. For some reason my father stopped on the side of the road, and I opened the back door and ran as fast as my tiny legs would carry me to the giant rusted “dinosaur”. My father chased me and caught me but not before I ran into the mud, losing my shoes, and hugged the dinosaur.
I just thought they were interesting. I wanted to see what they were all about.
After reading the book, I know.
Anyone who is interested in Texas history or the oil business should own this book. It gives context to both – and makes you feel pretty special for living in Texas.