C. G. Hamill Interview - C. G. Hamill Interview [part 3 of 5]

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  • PIONEERS IN TEXAS OIL Topic: The Lucas Gusher, Spindletop. Name: Hamill, Curt G. Interviewer: Owens, William A. Place: Kerrville, Texas. Tape No.: 17 Date: 7-17-52 Restrictions: No material to be published without written permission.
  • O.- Were you present when Mr. Galey arrived?
  • H.- Yes, I was on the job when Mr, Galey come out with Captain Lucas.
  • O.- What did he have to say about the well?
  • H.- Well, he was very much pleased with the well, very much
  • elated over the-- this new wildcat find. He commented and complimented each and every man on the job as well as Captain Lucas. He estimated the well to be flowing from 80 to 85,000 barrels a day and said it might go as high as 100,000 barrels a day.
  • O.- But all this was waste oil still?
  • H.- The oil went-- all went into the flat lands in that section and during this time, while the well was flowing, it was also some heavy rains and the oil was washed away with water, a great deal of it.
  • We had-- railroad had shipped several car-loads of sand or clay into a culvert, a bridge, that was on the downside of the country, with hopes of holding the oil.
  • And the oil-- that place filled up. That whole section of the country filled up and held the oil till this big rain come. And then finally run over the railroad track up to Gladys City and was caught fire by a locomotive at that point.
  • O.- Did you see that fire?
  • H.- Yes, sir. I was right there.
  • O.- I'd like to get-- have you give a good description of it.
  • H.- Well, this was possibly 20 to 30 days after the completion of the Lucas Well that the fire-- because I had moved my drilling rig which had drilled the Lucas Well over onto Gladys No. 1, and was drilling on that.
  • And I disremember [sic] just how deep I was when the fire came. But it was an awful bad fire. It was-- while it wasn't a destructive fire because it was burn-
  • ing up waste oil that we had no place to put. And that finished the lake of oil which was the worst fire that I've ever seen up till now.
  • O.- How did it get started?
  • H.- It caught fire from the locomotive.
  • O.- Well, how did it burn then?
  • H. - Well, it burned mighty fast. But it-- it caught fire along in the middle of the day, we'll say, from this locomotive and it burned until about four o'clock in the evening and had got clear across that end of the lake.
  • It was possibly three-quarters of a mile up to the other end of the lake. So they thought best to get rid of the oil so they set a fire at the other end of the lake so it would burn up quicker.
  • And when these two fires met, it created a great explosion. The fire would rush in-- when the fire would meet, it would throw hundreds of barrels of oil up in the air and it'd explode up in the air and plumb down to the ground.
  • And just jarred the whole country just terrible. Well, that would throw that oil back maybe a hundred yards and it'd rush right back up and pick up a hundred--
  • a few hundred barrels more in the air and explode again. So it just played back and forth there for three or four hours thataway [sic].
  • And people all over that country was [sic] scared to death. And during that time, there was a shower of rain, and the smoke had gone over Beaumont and as far as Orange. In all directions of the country it was just so dense a smoke that you couldn't see anywhere. So
  • the rain coming through this black smoke ruined the paint on most of the houses in Beaumont, possibly all of them, and some damage was done at Orange I was told. But-- it wasn't a destructive fire for the reason it was burning up waste oil.
  • O.- And no one injured?
  • H.- As far as I know, there was no one injured in that particular fire.
  • O.- Well, tell me about your work with the Gladys No. 1. Was that the well?
  • H.- Well, Gladys No. 1, I was the only driller on-- only day driller on that well. I had full charge as far as drilling was concerned and made that well fairly quick. I had no trouble because I knew about the mud and we used mud from the start.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- And we made that well in about, I'd say, thirty days, and brought in an awful good oil well. I've been told that that well made over three million barrels.
  • O.- Is that right?
  • H.- During its lifetime. And that well belonged to Guffey and Galey just the same as the Lucas well did.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Did you have trouble capping it? Did it blow out or....
  • H.- No. No, we put our gate valves on that well before it come in. We set our casing. At that time, we had made this little wooden back-pressure valve on the Lucas Well and by the time we
  • got over onto that well, they was making back-pressure valves out of brass and also out of cast iron. And I set the casing in that well with a back-pressure valve in it, the six-inch pipe, with a six-inch back-pressure valve so that it couldn't blow out unless I busted that valve.
  • Then we would bail the water off the top of the valve after we-- when we was ready to bring the well in, we'd go in and bail the water and mud out of the hole and then we'd bust the--
  • when we got the water out--down through that back-pressure valve, we'd bust the back-pressure valve and the well'd come right in.
  • That well come in with a roar. Blew the bailer out of the hole. Went out the top of the derrick. And I was censured by Mr. Forney, the superintendent, for wanting to set casing in that hole when it was set.
  • I had quite an argument with him because I knew that we was in the cap rock and I didn't want the well to blow out before I got the casing in it. So he-- he said that he knew the well wouldn't come in. It wouldn't be a well because I wasn't setting the casing deep enough.
  • But I out-talked him and we did set the casing. And when I bailed down to this back-pressure valve, why, he was just worried to death. He just says, "I just know that that thing's a failure."
  • "Well," I says, "Mr. Forney, it isn't over 50 feet down to that pressure valve from my fluid. Suppose I go in and break the back-pressure valve." And he wouldn't even let me tie my pipe down, the side
  • line that we'd put out at the edge of the derrick for the oil to go out instead of going up.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- He wouldn't let me tie that. Said, "No use tying that down," cause it wouldn't come in. So I went down and I broke-- broke the back-pressure valve and blew the bailer out of the hole,
  • went clear out the top of the derrick and before we could get the sideline tied down, it was just flopping around just like nobody's business with all that pressure and oil, you know.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- And it was just as big a well as the Lucas Well. Apparently.
  • O.- And more valuable because the oil was saved.
  • H.- The oil was saved. It was a finished well.
  • O.- That was drilled for the-- while you were still with Hamill Brothers.
  • H.- That was drilled-- I drilled that, I was working for Hamill Brothers on the Gladys 1 Well which was being drilled for Guffey and Galey.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Did you continue to work with them?
  • H. - No. When that well had been completed-- was completed, I went to work for another company and was given a $300 a month salary for twelve months.
  • O.- What company was that?
  • H.- That was-- I recommend [sic] that as being the El Beaumont. Believe that was the name.
  • O.- Yes, sir. And how long aid you continue to work on Spindletop then?
  • H.- Well, I worked all of 1901 and worked and stayed on-- I did wells there on Spindletop until the Sour Lake Field had gotten to going good.
  • O. - Yes, sir.
  • H.- I imagine I was on Spindletop about 18 months.
  • O.- About 18 months. And during that time you lived at Spindletop in this same house.
  • H.- Part of that time. I had moved, well, it was about 18 months I lived there in the same house. Then we moved into Beaumont and stayed for a while.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Well, you were there enough to see the changes come into the Spindletop area.
  • H.- Oh, yes. Yes.
  • O.- I'd like you to tell me about the number of houses that were built, and how rapidly they went up.
  • H.- Well, of course, all kinds and classes of people come into Beaumont on this Beaumont boom, and there were no houses in town for the people.
  • I don't recall just how the houses went up in the town of Beaumont, but out in the oil field, in the beginning, it was tents.
  • There was worlds of tents went up, and then lumber was cheap at that time and they built little shacks scattered round over the-- the country there for two or three miles.
  • Go out in the woods and find where someone had throwed [sic] up a little shack out there-- and in less than a year's time, the country was full of those little houses, you know. Later, why, they begin [sic] to build better houses up in the town of Beaumont.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- I mean, in the town of Beaumont.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Now, what about stores in Spindletop? Did they bring in stores as well?
  • H.- Yes. There was different kinds of stores come in there. The first outfit that come in there was a couple of Jew [sic] boys. They put up a little-- a little-- very small shack and sold handkerchiefs and socks and suspenders. And finally added work clothes, just in a small way.
  • O.- Yes, sir. H.- In fact, there was three of those boys to start with, and one of those boys, something went wrong with him, and the other two give him a whipping. They started him out of the field there, and whipped him with a wet rope.
  • O.- Did you see that happen?
  • H.- I didn't see it, but it happened. I heard it. From where I was, I couldn't see it. But there was an awful yell went up with different crews of men.
  • That boy run end they was both of them after him, and every time they could get to him, they'd hit him with that rope.
  • And he fell down three or four times, and so we never did hear of that boy afterwards. There was just two in that firm after that day.
  • O.- You never knew what happened, why they got into that fight?
  • H.- I never heard what happened to him.
  • O.- Well, was that fight typical of what was going on in Spindletop? Was there a great deal of fighting?
  • H.- Well, there was lots of-- lots of fights there, yes, fist-fights. There wasn't no serious fights. There was no, as far as I can recall, in the beginning, I don't remember of anybody killing anyone there.
  • But they'd fall out over different things and have fistfights. And after the pipeliners come in there--course, the saloons come in there.
  • They sold beer and liquors of all kinds there. Beer was a dollar a bottle. And so on. And there was lots of it drank.
  • And those pipeliners, why, was more of an Irish people, I'd guess you might say, and they were a fighting people. And they would get tight and scrap amongst themselves, you know, and get up and shake hands and go on.
  • O.- But no killings then?
  • H.- No killings was-- happened as far as I know.
  • O.- How many saloons do you suppose they had at Spindletop? At the height of....
  • H.- Well, there was two or three there. The principal saloon there, I've forgotten the name of it, was quite a-- a bar and it was a big poolroom as well.
  • They gathered there to play pool. Quite a few women gathered there in the evenings as well. And there-- and in the vicinity of that joint, rooms maybe.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- Anyhow, it was a kind of a playhouse and recreation people [sic] for all the oil fellows that wanted to go there.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Rather disreputable.
  • H.- Well, it wasn't too reputable. [laughter]
  • O.- Well, what about other amusements? Were there dance halls and things like that or....
  • H. - I'll tell you. I don't remember too much about the dance halls because I was working 12 hours a day, and the time I walked to and from my work and spent 12 hours, I had no time to pay any attention to dance halls.
  • O.- I can understand that.
  • H.- And I couldn't tell you too much about the dance halls.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- But I know there was some in the vicinity, and they was plenty of recreation there for people in the line that they wanted to have it.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Of course, you were living at home.
  • H.- I was living at home.
  • O.- With your family. You showed me a washpot full of flowers yesterday. I'd like for you to tell me the story of them.
  • H.- Well, that washpot was bought in the early days of our marriage and it washed the clothes of our children all through Spindletop. But it was the pot that boiled the water--
  • Mrs. Hamill used that pot to boil water to wash the oil off the boys during the days that we was putting the gate valve on the well.
  • We still have that old washpot here and we value it very highly while it's quite a wreck. But it's the only relic of the Lucas
  • Well that I suppose a person could swear was used on the Lucas Well. While it was not used on the well, but it was used at our house to heat the water to--
  • for us to bathe in after we had the oil off us with towsacks. We first rubbed the rough oil off with sacks or cloth of different kinds because you couldn't wash it off.
  • And we would rub that oil off of us. And then, after we'd rubbed it off, we would bathe in warm water, or hot water as we could stand it.
  • And the old washpot and two or three other vessels was [sic] used to do that. Mrs. Hamill was the one that boiled the water.
  • O.- Using a woods-- a wood fire.
  • H.- Wood fire out in the yard.
  • O.- Was she cooking on a wood stove at that time?
  • H.- Oh, yes. Yes, everything was wood then.
  • O.- Yes, sir. You had brought your household goods from Corsicana with you then?
  • H.- Yes, sir.
  • O.- How was the life for the woman [sic] around the fields in those days?
  • H.- Well, it wasn't too safe for respectable women. It wasn't safe for them to go around these different places in Spindletop, and in parts of Beaumont even, after the bulk of people got there, working people and different -- that follow such a thing.
  • It wasn't safe for a woman to be out by herself hardly at all. All kinds of vulgar remarks would be made and cast at her and so on and so forth.
  • O.- How did your living conditions compare with those on the field itself?
  • H.- Well, our living conditions, we had a very nice little country house to live in. We was off to ourselves in as far as the oil workers were concerned. We had a neighbor just across the road from us who was a florist, a German family. They were very nice people.
  • O.- Do you remember their names?
  • H.- Kaltenbeck was his name. Then there was another man lived up about 300 yards from us. His name was Herst. And they were nice people.
  • And then there was people down on the road, P.G. Road, that was old timers. They were farmers and very fine people. There was three or four grown children in that family, a couple of girls. And they were very fine people.
  • So we were blessed with fine neighbors while we lived in this particular house.
  • O.- You could separate yourselves, then, from the oil field except when you were working there?
  • H.- Yes. Yes. Yes, if we-- we didn't have to go into the--to the dark alleys, you might say, at all.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- We did our shopping mostly in Beaumont. We had a conveyance after we drilled the first well, the Gladys Well. Why, we got us a horse and a buggy and we did the most of our shopping that way. Up until that time, why, the groceries was delivered at
  • our house.
  • O.- Where did you go to church then?
  • H. - Well, we had no church in Spindletop and we did very little going to church while we lived in that particular place. Of course, after we moved to Beaumont, we had the good churches to go to.
  • O.- Yes, sir. At what time did you become a contractor?
  • H.- After I'd finished my Gladys City well for Hamill Brothers and went to work for the El Beaumont people. I agreed to work for them for twelve months for $300 a month.
  • After I'd left Hamill Brothers and gone to these people, Jim and Walter Sharp offered me $500 a month if I would go to work for them. I told Mr. Sharp that I had agreed to stay with these people, while I hadn't signed a letter to that effect,
  • but I couldn't afford to quit them on account of additional money. Finally, Mr. Sharp offered me $1000 a month, Mr. Walter Sharp did, if I would go to Jennings, Louisiana, and I turned that down for the same reason.
  • After I'd completed my year with these people, I went to contracting myself. But I first drilled a well for myself which turned out badly, and left me kind of threadbare financially.
  • So while I was-- and I went to work for Bright and Bradley, and they only was paying their men $5.00 a day at that time. The wells had quit flowing.
  • That's how come me to lose on my well. I had a good well; wouldn't flow so the people wouldn't take it. So at this time, while I was working for Bright and Bradley, one
  • of the supply men come through my derrick and says, "Why don't you get you a drilling rig and go to contracting? You got no business working here for a salary."
  • And I says, "Well, I have to feed my family and I lost all I had over on that well, and I just couldn't afford to buy machinery. In fact, I don't have that kind of credit."
  • "Well," he says, "that's what I come out here for. I come out here to offer you credit. We'll furnish you machinery, all the machinery you need, and go over here and get you some contracts."
  • Two or three days later, possibly the next day, Joe McCue came through my derrick and he says, "We're gonna make three wells over here offsetting the Lucas Well."
  • He says, "Why don't you go get-- we'd rather you drill it than anybody else. Why don't you get you a drilling rig and we'll give you the contract to drill those three wells."
  • So the next day, I went into Beaumont and talked to this supply company. And they says, "Why, sure." Says, "Your contract's laying over there on the Gulf's desk now. Go over and sign it and your machinery will go out."
  • I signed the machine-- the contract and brought it back to this company and the derrick had already been built.
  • They sent the machinery out to me and the thirteenth day, drilling time, I completed my first well. And when I had completed my three wells, I didn't owe the supply company a cent. They had never
  • advanced me a cent. And I didn't owe anybody a dime in the world. And that's the way I started in contracting at that time. And I been contracting ever since.
  • O.- Then when did you leave Beaumont?
  • H.- I left Beaumont some time, possibly, early in 1903. Moved to Sour Lake. Moved the same machinery that I used in the-- in the-- at Spindletop drilling these three wells.
  • I moved on to Sour Lake and did work there. My first well there, my machinery caught fire and burned up. And I built that machinery up and started to drilling again and possibly drilled two wells and the machinery caught fire and burned up again.
  • So during my experience in fires through Sour Lake and Batson Prairie, and Humble, I've lost and-- and Markham, I've lost thirteen drilling rigs by fire and blowouts.
  • The fires were practically a total loss, but the blowouts, sometimes I lost everything but the boiler. But machinery was cheap during those days alongside of today and I managed to stand-- weather the storm and come through.
  • O.- Did you have any insurance?
  • H.- No. No insurance.
  • O.- I suppose companies wouldn't underwrite....
  • H.- Not those days. There was no insurance in those days. Or if they did-- if there was, I didn't hear of it. So we just had -- when we had our hard luck, we just had to bow our neck and go at it again, which we di.
  • O.- Did you take your family with you to Sour Lake immediately?
  • H.- It was some little time, possibly 90 days, before I moved my family after I moved my machinery there. I lived-- I stayed in Sour Lake myself, went back and forth weekends maybe, until we could find a place to live.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Where did you stay In Sour Lake?
  • H.- Oh, I stayed at the Sour Lake Hotel part of the time. Part of the time, I stayed at the boarding house.
  • O.- Yes, sir. Accommodations were hard to get.
  • H.- Good accommodations was hard to get. But our oil field was good, good wholesome meats of all kinds [sic]. Of course, in those early days, flies were awful bad; mosquitoes were awful bad.
  • It was hard to eat for the flies in many places. We had these both at Spindletop and Sour Lake.
  • O.- Were you able to get a house then in Sour Lake?
  • H.- No. I had to wait for a house to be built. After they'd-- we'd moved into our house there-- there was just three rooms. It was just a little straight building and three rooms all the same size, the kitchen, the dining room and two bedrooms.
  • O.- Did they call them shotgun houses there?
  • H.- No. A shotgun house hadn't developed right at that time, but it come in later.
  • O. - Yes, sir. Some people have told me that Sour Lake was much rougher than Spindletop ever was. What is your opinion?
  • H. - Yes, Sour Lake got awful rough for the reason that people had gotten educated to that roughness to some extent, and there
  • was more people that had drifted into that channel. And there was more whiskey sold and more gambling at Sour Lake than there was at Spindletop for that reason.
  • O.- More dance halls?
  • H.- More dance halls and more gambling. There was lots of that.
  • O.- They practically over-ran the community that had been there before, is that right?
  • H.- Oh, yes. The old timers around Sour Lake, and around Spindle-top and around Batson Prairie were nice, respectable farm owners and they was--
  • reared their families just the same as people did in other parts of the country, but it was the rough element that come from the cities or other places that didn't belong in that section that created and carried on the roughness.
  • O.- What about the law enforcing in Sour Lake?
  • H. - Well, they had a fairly good law in Sour Lake. The-- the -- hardly--
  • I hardly know how to answer that other than just that they arrested people and sent them, in the early days, they sent most of them over to Beaumont for the reason that they didn't have a jail to amount to very much at the very beginning.
  • But later on-- and I've seen people chained to trees there as well as at Batson Prairie. Had no place to put them really and they just put a chain around them and chained them to a tree.
  • O.- How many did you see chained to trees?
  • H.- Well, I've seen several.
  • O.- Women as well?
  • H.- I don't think I ever-- don't recall ever seeing a woman chained to a tree.
  • O.- Do you recall how many wells you drilled in Sour Lake?
  • H.- No. I possibly drilled eight or ten wells there, I lost two drilling rigs there by fire.
  • O.- Uh-huh.
  • H.- And when I moved on to Batson Prairie from the number of wells I drilled there, I went to drilling there for the Buffalo Oil Company and-- and the United Mine Oil Company.
  • And I had two drilling rigs at that time and Peck Byrd was taken in with me as a partner. We was partners in the Batson Prairie works. There we built our-- we lost two drilling rigs by fire and we burnt these--
  • we repaired these two drilling rigs and before we finished the well they burnt again making four drilling rigs that we lost in the pile which wasn't too easy on us.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- During this last fire we lost a man, He was up in the derrick and the fire caught-- while it was our well that blew out, the fire caught from a boiler possibly a thousand feet away
  • and this man was up in the derrick and we didn't know whether he fell out or jumped out but he was burnt to death and that wasn't easy to take either.
  • O.- No. H.- But that's one of the saddest scenes I've had, was the burning of that man. Seeing him lay out there-- burn, boil in the oil when we couldn't get to him at all.
  • O.- Had he worked for you long?
  • H.- He'd been with me about three or four or five months.
  • O.- You knew him well then?
  • H.- Well, knew him fairly well.
  • O.- Was he a single man?
  • H.- No, He had a wife and two children but he was separated from his children-- from the wife.
  • O.- Yes, sir.
  • H.- And he was caring for the little children. And I had to take care of those children for some little time and later a friend of mine, who was a barkeeper in the Humble Oil Field,
  • knew his parents in some other state and he told me that he could take $500 and go to the grandparents and he was sure that they would be glad to take those children.
  • And I told him to do what he could about it. So he did. He took the $500 and went to these old people and they was glad to take the children.
  • They said they'd be glad to have the children without the $500. And this man, however, would never take anything for his compensation, not even his railroad fare and stuff up to this country.
  • O.- Now, you were responsible for the married men and the single men in certain ways?
  • H.- In those days, we had to be responsible for the single men's board, and we also had to be responsible for the married people's grocery bill. It seemed that the-- the class of people that was working right then drank and gambled a great deal and they
  • squandered their money and just didn't have-- didn't save money to pay for their bills, so we had to hold out their salaries, money to pay their expenses.
  • And many of those people-- their wives was taking in washing to pay for their groceries and so on. It was really a bad condition at that time.
  • O.- You were telling me a story about a fight.
  • H.- Well, yes, we had some fights over there and had some killings In Batson Prairie. We had a pretty rough time over there in the beginning of that field.
  • It was nothing to see a man chained to a tree in Batson Prairie, moreso than any of the other fields, and, of course, after they got a jail built or a calaboose where they could take care of them--
  • why, sometimes it was full, people that was tight and people that was-- done different things to be arrested for. It was really rough. I witnessed one thing one night--