By Gilbert L. Robinson
Three types of transportation served the operators in the Healdton Field, but in the earliest days of the development of the field freight by wagon was the only service available. When the Oklahoma, New Mexico and Pacific Railroad had been built from Ardmore to a point southwest of Healdton, freight by rail became a possibility. When the Magnolia Petroleum Company became convinced of the potential importance of the field, they provided for transporting part of the crude oil produced at Healdton by building a six-inch pipe line from the field west to Addington, Oklahoma, then south to their main line which terminated at Fort Worth, Texas.
News of the bringing in of the Franklin number one was published August 10, 1913, just six days after the driving of the first spike in the Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Pacific Railway by Governor Lee Cruce and Mr. Jake Hamon. It is evident that all of the drilling equipment used in the early months of development had to be hauled by teams and wagons from Ardmore, about twenty-eight miles east on the Santa Fe railroad, or from Waurika, about the same distance west on the Rock Island railroad.
It would be well to deal with the various types of transportation in the order in which they appeared in the field. There are no records available on the number of teams used prior to January 11, 1914, on which date, however, in the records of the new railroad town of Wilson the first information on the subject appears: with a population of only eight hundred, the town served as drayage headquarters for the oil field and five hundred teams were quartered in or near the town. This new settlement was unusual in that it had more horses and mules than people. An oddity among these teams was that of four oxen pulling an eight horse load.1
The roads in the western part of the county were no worse than country roads in any other part of Oklahoma in 1913-14. They were poorly graded section line roads of clay and sand, and it takes little imagination to visualize how the hauling of hundreds of wagon loads of freight over these roads each day kept them cut up badly. These loads weighed more than a ton each and the oxen dray pulled loads as great as four or five tons. Recalling that these wagons had rather narrow-rimmed, steel-tired wheels, it can be seen further the havoc such heavy traffic played with the oil field roads.
The weather formed an important factor to consider in the development of transportation in this field. A drouth in August and September, 1913, was followed by heavy rains in November and December. Because of the muddy roads, the speed of extensive
drilling, tank building, and pipe line activities was delayed greatly. Four carloads of tank steel for the Magnolia Pipe Line Company's first fifty-five thousand barrel storage tank were unloaded in Wilson, December 9. This material was moved to its destination, seven miles northwest of Wilson, under the greatest of difficulty. There was a minimum of one hundred tons in this one shipment representing about sixty-five wagon loads.2
The distance to the field by road was shortened when the oil operators and citizens of Joiner City won their fight with Jake Hamon over establishing a "stop and siding" on the railroad at their town. Since Joiner City was (it no longer exists) located about four miles due south of the heart of the field, this meant a reduction of three miles in the distance of wagon trips to the railroad.3
Jealousy arose between Ringling (city) and Ardmore as to which place should receive date line credit for oil field news in the papers. Mr. A. McCrory of Ringling and Mr. Wirt Franklin of Ardmore carried on an amusing tilt over this matter. But underneath the surface, there was real concern in Ardmore for fear that Ringling, being the western terminal of the Ringling railroad, might secure a monopoly of the oil field trade. Since Ringling was about twenty-three miles nearer the field than Ardmore, it was natural for Ringling to get a great deal of the trade from the field workers in addition to becoming a sending and receiving point for a great amount of oil field freight. These fears led some citizens of Ardmore to circulate contribution papers for the up-keep of a subscription road in the oil fields. On May 22, 1914, a total of $250 a month had been subscribed.4 This money was entirely inadequate to take care of a main road over thirty miles long, in addition to many miles of section line roads surrounding the productive properties in the field.
By June, 1914, from forty to sixty freight cars daily were unloaded in Wilson and Ringling. These cars varied in size from thirty to fifty tons' capacity, but taking the minimum for an average, it would mean a total of eighteen hundred tons unloaded along this line daily. That would be about twelve hundred wagon loads of freight to be hauled each day.5 Wilson lost its position of serving as headquarters for the greatest number of teams to Ringling in 1915, but it still boasted a total of one hundred and fifty teams in August, 1915, when it was estimated that fifty teams daily hauled rig timbers and supplies to the field and that one hundred teams daily were hauling pipe and supplies south from Wilson for a new pipe line being built for the Producers
Refining Company of Gainesville, Texas.6 The demand for teams in Ringling was greater than the supply and the freight yards became badly congested. This town witnessed the spectacle of five hundred teams leaving early each morning, rushing as fast as possible, pulling their heavy loads, working frantically, trying to ease the jam of freight traffic in the Ringling yards. Much of the equipment, such as boilers, was so heavy that teams varying in size from four to twelve horses were required to pull one load. It can be conservatively estimated that twelve hundred teams were in service in the field during this boom period. Each new day brought a mad race between sweating, cursing, hard-driving teamsters to see who could set a new record for a round trip to the field. Just as the drillers raced one another to set speed records in drilling time, these teamsters took great pride in competing with each other for the honor of being the best teamster in the field.7 Team contractors received from five to six dollars daily for the services of the teams in addition to the pay which the teamsters received.
Because road conditions continued to be bad in 1916, Wirt Franklin, Sam Apple and Roy Johnson sought a charter for the purpose of building a toll road from Ardmore to the oil field. Immediately, one hundred and twenty thousand dollars was subscribed to stock in the proposed company but this plan did not materialize.8 A study of the map of Carter County shows that two-thirds of the population lived in the east third of the county. Due to a light commissioners vote in the oil field area, there never was a proper feeling of responsibility on the part of the county commissioners for the rough roads which the most valuable part of the county had to tolerate.
The oil field area was finally promised relief through the efforts of Frank McPhail, Jack Hyde, Jim Saverline, and Mayor W. S. Rimbey of Healdton, who appeared before the Board of County Commissioners early in January, 1920, and presented such a strong plea that the Commission finally voted to allot all Federal funds received in 1920, for the construction and maintenance of the oil field road.9 Bill Krohn expressed the general opinion of the oil field population as he wrote,
....But even at that Ardmore and Carter County have not advanced as they might have, and one of the Chief reasons for their failure to do so is the fact that, with few possible exceptions, the roads leading to the oil field districts are and have been for quite some time, in a deplorable condition....First consideration should be given members of the oil fraternity for it is to them that Carter County owes its worth....10
At the time of this editorial the horse and wagon era had passed, since motor trucks had firmly displaced the older, slower method of hauling freight.
On January 8, 1913, the Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Pacific Railway received a charter from the state of Oklahoma capitalizing the company at $2,400,000 and granting them the right to build a standard gauge railroad from Ardmore to Lawton via Waurika. The company was controlled by John Ringling through ownership of all outstanding shares except directors' qualifying shares.11 The original purpose for building this line was to provide an east to west railway service for the people of southern Oklahoma, particularly the farmers, between Ardmore and Lawton.
The officials of the line never anticipated that an oil field would be drilled less than five miles north of their line about twenty-eight miles west of Ardmore.12 The building of the line was to be a conservative business deal from which the officials, by careful and patient management, hoped eventually to recover their money. This is a typical example of the part which fate, or luck, often plays in the business world.
Construction of the Ringling road began about May 1, 1913, and was completed, as far as Ringling, the first week in January, 1914.13 The road bed grade was finished about August 1, with the remaining five months spent in laying the track. The building time of eight months was rather short, but it can be attributed chiefly to two causes. John Ringling had entered into a contract with the citizens of Ardmore to build a railroad from Ardmore to some point on the Rock Island line and have his line in operation before January 1, 1915, provided these citizens would guarantee a twenty thousand dollar bonus and a right of way through Ardmore. It was further agreed that when twenty-five miles of the line was completed and operating, Mr. Ringling would receive one-half of the bonus.14 The second reason was the desire to start shipping oil field freight as soon as possible.
As the right of way was being surveyed, Jake Hamon (Mr. Ringling's business agent for the railroad) drove the best possible land bargains with the villages located along the proposed right of way. Hamon placed a rather high valuation on the privilege of having a depot located in a town. Although the road was built through the edge of Lone Grove, a town of about three hundred people located eight miles west of Ardmore, Mr. Hamon made it plain that it would be just as convenient to locate the station one mile farther west. The community leaders subscribed
a two thousand dollar cash bonus in addition to giving the railroad fifty town lots upon which to build the depot.15
When the town of Hewitt, located on a hill nine miles west of Lone Grove, was approached on the subject of a depot, they proved their eagerness for such a concession by making a final offer of two thousand, five hundred dollars cash and two hundred town lots. But Mr. Hamon must have thought since Hewitt had about one hundred more people than Lone Grove had, that a depot should be worth more to them than the bonus they offered. So, on September 22, 1913, Mr. Hamon announced that New Wilson, located one mile south and one mile west of Hewitt, would get a depot instead of Hewitt.16 New Wilson was only a townsite laid out on the bare prairie, and it was purely a commercial venture on the part of the railroad. The inhabitants of Hewitt became angered over this turn of events and employed Judge J. M. Dickerson to force the railroad, by law, to build a depot in their town. This effort to have the Corporation Commission coerce the railroad failed, however, when George Henshaw, chairman of the Corporation Commission ruled that it was the privilege of the railroad to place depots wherever it pleased.17
Continuing westward, the railroad passed through Joiner City (a small village of less than one hundred people) toward Cornish, a village in Jefferson County. This town was approximately twenty-nine miles west of Ardmore and was considered a good cattle town. Several good native stone buildings were located along the main street and there was a conservative air of permanency about the place. But when negotiations between Mr. Hamon and Cornish had ended, an announcement was made that another new townsite, Ringling, would be built on the railroad, with construction to begin in May, 1914. The new townsite was one-half mile east and one mile north of Cornish and its nearness ruined Cornish. It is obvious that Ringling was named for the famous show man, John Ringling, but it is not so generally known that Wilson was named for Mr. Ringling's personal secretary, Charles Wilson, instead of Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States at that time.18
The Ringling Railroad prospered at the beginning, but a group of Ardmore business men threatened to interfere with the monopoly which the Ringling road enjoyed. Mr. F. B. McElroy and associates organized the "Ardmore Western Interurban Railway" and announced plans for an eight mile line beginning in the heart of the oil field and joining the Ringling line at some point south of the field. They further stated that the right of way had been secured, the finances were available, and that work would begin
when the Bonding Company engineer had approved the project.19 The other threats of competition for oil field freight traffic caused Mr. Ringling to announce that he would be in Ardmore not later than October 10, 1916, to plan a branch line from the oil field to join the main line at either Ringling or Wilson. The people of Ardmore were predicting that the Santa Fe Railroad would build a new line through to the north edge of the field, and a new firm, The Ardmore Railway Company, started a survey to determine the cost of building a traction line from Ardmore to the field.20
Ardmore became genuinely alarmed upon discovering that the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad had sent engineers to Lindsay, Oklahoma, with instructions to make a survey south of the town of Fox, which was located eight miles north of Healdton. It was apparent that the Santa Fe intended to connect the oil field with its main line at Pauls Valley, via Lindsay, and a great protest was raised in Ardmore immediately. On Monday, October 16, 1916, the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce declared it was necessary that a railroad be built from Ardmore to Fox (where oil had also been struck) and that if others would not relieve the situation, they (the Chamber of Commerce) would. A committee, composed of Judge S. M. Davis, I. M. Putnam, and B. A. Simpson, was selected to confer with President Ripley, of the Santa Fe, about the new road.21
John Ringling and Jake Hamon had been busy during this time, however. On November 23, 1916, a charter was granted by the Corporation Commission to the Ringling and Oil Field Railway Company, capitalized at $600,000.22 The Board of Directors was composed of Jake Hamon, John Ringling, Charles C. Wilson, H. A. Coomer, P. C. Dings, and C. L. Anderson. The charter provided for the line to begin at a point on the Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Pacific, near Ringling and proceed north to Oklahoma City eventually.23 The first town on this new line was to be located in the west half of section two, four south, three west, one mile west of Healdton and two miles east of Wirt.
In less than a month, work was begun on this new townsite designated as New Healdton. Over fifty tents were staked near the location and a large crew of men, with one hundred and fifteen teams, was rushing construction of the road bed and line. By January 2, 1917, two miles of track was completed, and freight was sent up the line from Joiner City, the point selected as the southern end of the Ringling and Oil Field road. Mr. Jack Langston, a business associate of Mr. Hamon's, had established head-
quarters at the townsite and was supervising the planning of the proposed town.24 Town lots sold rapidly, for on January 9, the first day of the sale, over three hundred and fifty lots were sold, and by February 19, three new banks were established in New Healdton and the post office at (old) Healdton had been moved to New Healdton. The Post Office Department authorized that New Healdton become just Healdton, and Jake Hamon ordered the name of the town to correspond with that of the post office. An unofficial census of Healdton on March 18, placed the population at two thousand people and the business district at about fifty establishments. Thirteen days later, the last spike in the Ringling and Oil Field road was driven and by April 26 a total of two hundred freight cars had been shipped to Healdton over the new line, regular freight service having been established April 15, and a passenger schedule announced one week later.25
Healdton was built at a very favorable time, since the price of oil had started advancing steadily. The field was "booming" and the payroll was heavy, due to higher wages and new men finding employment. Then, too, Healdton held an advantage over Wirt since the latter was not a railroad town. Healdton rapidly, but surely, became the trade center for the oil field people and it has held that distinction continuously ever since.
It is apparent that the Ringling railroads played an important part in developing the Healdton field, but it is just as obvious that the railroads benefitted equally in a financial way. An idea of how profitable this undertaking proved to be can be obtained from the following figures: the cost of building the 29.981 miles of line from Ardmore to Ringling was $908,800 and the cost of the 5.193 miles of spur track to Healdton was $132,327. The net income, on an investment of $1,041,127 for the period from October 1, 1913, to December 31, 1917, was $335,844.64.26 There is no doubt but that some other enterprise would have built a railroad into the Healdton field if John Ringling had not, and to prove the desirability of such a line, The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway leased the Ringling line in July, 1925. The line was then sub-leased to the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe and this lease was approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission July 23, 1926.27 About a year later, the Santa Fe bought the Ringling road, paying a little over one million dollars for the line. The name was changed to the Healdton and Santa Fe Railway and the value was listed at $1,189,222.28
Shipping oil from the field was a greater problem to the producers than bringing drilling rigs and supplies into the field. By
28Annual Report of Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company to Oklahoma State Corporation Commission, year ending December 31, 1927.
the end of 1915 the daily potential of the field was one hundred and eighteen thousand barrels and it was September, 1917, before the production dropped to sixty-five thousand barrels daily and the pipe line capacity of the field became sixty-six thousand barrels daily. Pipe line running of the oil was the only practical way to care for the production. Shipping one hundred and eighteen thousand barrels of oil each day by train was too expensive, too slow, and very nearly impossible. Tank cars range in size from one hundred and forty-five barrels to two hundred and thirty-eight barrels each, which would have meant that ten trains of sixty-two tanks cars would have been necessary to handle this huge traffic daily.
The Magnolia Pipe Line Company, the first to enter the field, finished its six-inch line from the field on March 7, 1914. The line capacity was ten thousand barrels daily, while the potential production was only six thousand, five hundred barrels.29 This favorable ratio was reversed by March 23, however, when the production had increased to ten thousand barrels daily, but the Magnolia Pipe Line Company gave oral notice that their daily runs would be cut to four thousand barrels. This announcement coupled with a cut price of oil to fifty cents a barrel by April 20, caused an angry protest from the militant independent operators.30 This condition also caused these operators to look for new purchasers and carriers for their production.
Many Healdton producers attended an organization meeting of the independent operators, in Oklahoma City, April 23, 1914, and there elected C. F. Colcord, President; M. C. Brown, Secretary; and E. E. Brown, Wirt Franklin, and Robert Galbreath, the Board of Directors. Everyone enjoyed the speeches fired at the "Standard Oil and its henchmen," and finally the group agreed to name the organization The Independent Development League. Following the organization of the meeting, resolutions were adopted, beginning
Resolved, that we urge upon the President and Congress of the United States the pressing necessity and importance of immediate legislation to protect the oil industry from the monopoly which now controls prices to both the consumer and the producer, and we suggest and recommend the following legislation.
Sections one and two are unimportant here, but section three bears evidence of a new deal spirit influencing these men in 1914. Section three reads:
That the Government construct and own a pipe line from some point in Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico for the purpose:
a. Of procuring oil at reasonable prices for the use of the Government;
b. Of enabling the Indian wards of the Government to dispose of their oil at reasonable prices;
c. Of competing with and thereby compelling the monopolistic pipe line companies to carry and transport oil at reasonable prices.31
30Department of Commerce; Bureau of Corporations; Conditions in the Healdton Oil Field, March 15, 1915.
Other recommendations followed but this was the most extreme suggestion in the resolutions. A Government pipe line never materialized, of course, but the meeting accomplished much good insofar as informing the public and building sentiment in favor of the Independents was concerned.
The second large outlet for Healdton production was assured when the Producers Refining Company announced plans for an eight-inch pipe line from Healdton to Gainesville, Texas, where they were to build a ten thousand barrel refinery. This pipe line was capable of running thirty-five thousand barrels a day, if necessary, providing sufficient storage tanks were available in Gainesville.32 It must be remembered that this refinery was still to be built, and the potential for the field at that date, April 21, 1915, was more than fifty thousand barrels daily. At the same time, pipe line service was unable to run as much as fifteen thousand barrels daily from the field. By February 25, 1917, this condition was remedied when a total of six pipe lines with a combined capacity of seventy-three thousand barrels daily was serving the field which now had a potential of about sixty thousand barrels daily.33 From that date, ample carrier facilities were assured for the Healdton operators and the problem of receiving a fair price for their oil was solved.