Legendary King of the Texas Oil Booms
August 1, 2014
OH, NO, SAY IT AIN’T SO. My Uncle Mort, who usually doesn’t stay on a single subject long enough to muster a significant “peeve,” is speaking to me again. He’s mighty disappointed that I didn’t mention–“privately or in print”—his July 4 birthday.
“The date has passed and the whole blamed month is gone, too,” he added, whimpering lamely that he’s “trying to get over it.” (I’ve heard he’s been accusing me of “routinely writing of lesser things” than his 102nd birthday, and that whether he’s a “real” person—or a figment of my imagination—“really shouldn’t matter.”)
I mumbled apologetically, biting my tongue to avoid speaking of a “real” friend whose age is closer to 104 than 103. His name: H. Bryan Poff, who still makes oil and gas deals daily from his modest home in east Fort Worth.
Mr. Poff gave up driving a decade or so ago, but drilling? He’s still at it, now in his ninth decade of petroleum exploration. He’s known for his unshakable faith, bright mind, keen memory and rich first-hand experiences in Texas’ major oil fields—save one. He missed out on Spindletop–the forerunner of state-wide drilling that blew in between Beaumont and Port Arthur in 1901—one decade before the old wildcatter was born.
With a hearty laugh, quick-triggered smile and incurable optimism, Poff is forever bold, and the Holy Bible would be home plate if his Christian pilgrimage were a game. He claims “mother’s knee” teachings–many from Philippians–and his ongoing daily Bible study—often in Proverbs—to be foundational.
He’s experienced all of the “ups and downs” of exploration. “I’m happy for my share of dry holes, because they make ‘hits’ even sweeter,” Poff claims.
He’s a “living encyclopedia” of Texas’ petroleum history, citing “chapters and verses” of major events—and some not so major. Files, documents, clippings and photographs surround his big recliner, where he now spends most days. A telephone–usually warm– is within arm’s reach.
Poff is now perusing mounds of material—some yellowed with age—begging to be passed along…or tossed.
“I’m sending you some items you might like,” he mentioned as casually as a Texas tourist might describe Gibraltar as “a good-sized” rock.
Sure enough, the mail soon brought an old clipping from the Fort Worth News-Tribune. In vivid detail, it recounted newspaper coverage of a remarkable 1920 Fort Worth funeral attended by more than 50,000 people when the city’s population was only 103,000.
Perhaps no Texas funeral has ever piqued more interest. It honored the life of Ormer Locklear, who dreamed big dreams of becoming a daring aviator and flying in World War I’s Army Aviation branch. He built gliders–this young mechanic who was well known for his daring aerial stunts. Locklear performed one stunt in tandem with fabled escape artist Harry Houdini and enjoyed a brief Hollywood career. At age 29, a failed aerial stunt for a film did him in.
The late Delbert Willis’ column– written 63 years after the fact–cites superlatives, including phrases like “never to be equaled, longest procession, biggest crowd, most mourners, most lavish floral tributes and most bandsmen.” Well-known military and Hollywood figures attended the funeral—first ever to include aerial photographs made from circling planes. Wow.
A few days later came a 1931 Shell Oil Co. telegram, explaining to Poff’s bunch that pay for crude run from the Tippett Lease in Yates Shallow District is a “flat price of six cents per barrel.” It claimed the crude to have a “refining value of only three cents per barrel.”
Hope was expressed that this position was “only temporary.”
Yep, oil is more valuable now. Poff said recent sales netted $99.80 per barrel.
Friends sometimes gather at his home for lunch to hear stories spun by the colorful charter member of the Fort Worth Petroleum Club. They share his favorite fare—tamales, extra spicy, with liberal dollops of chili.
He says meals are “extra larrapin’” when they include fried onion rings—a full order, since a “half-order doesn’t quite get it done.”
His friends, all with ages in two digits, opt for mild tamales, with a hint of chili. And onions? Okay, but sautéed, please, not fried.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: email@example.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury
Please click the book cover image to read more about the humorous and inspirational stories of Don Newbury in When the Porch Light’s On.