Friday, July 21, 2017

Double Take: Re-Opening the Thurber Mines

By Lea Hart
Historical interviews serve as a window into a past most of us will most likely never be able to fathom. Thurber interviews detail smaller bits of history not everyone thinks of: daily life. Some detail their favorite teacher with her long black skirt, white shirt with lace down the front, and hair in a bun on the top of her head (apparently a popular hair style in Thurber); others of the boy down the street who they would fight with about climbing a tree before later becoming best friends. A few interviews offer clues that lead historians on a hunt for buried history. On June 10, 2000, interviewer Curtis Tunnel sat down with a former Thurber resident Billy Gene McGinnis, during which McGinnis shared a tantalizing bit of information about the short- term reopening of the mines after Thurber closed. 
After the mines closed, steel, copper, and miners tools were left
behind, useful for later salvaging efforts.
Mine Number 1
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library

Mr. McGinnis recalled that during his high school years, around World War II, a company re-opened the mines to salvage copper wire and steel left when the mines closed in 1920s.  McGinnis added that only one or two of the mines were opened and that this was done for military purposes. This retrieval process only went on for one or two years as a few people died due to the black damp (a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other gasses) which suffocates those who inhale it. This was one of the first times some of the Gordon Center staff had heard of the reopening of the mines, sparking our interest.

An article from The Dublin Progress, of Dublin, Texas, published on January 14, 1938, sheds some light on this matter. The article, written prior to World War II, tells us that the Ab-Tex Equipment Company went into a few of the mines in order to salvage the mass amount of equipment, copper wire and other miscellaneous materials and tools left onsite when the miners left for the last time in 1923. The article lists Gomer Gower as head of the operation, as well as seven other former Thurber miners. After the mention of Gomer Gower we were able to piece just a bit more of this puzzle together with our own collections.
Gomer Gower, a former Texas and Pacific Coal
Company employee later worked for Ab-Tex to
salvage materials from the mines.
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library 
In a letter to Mary Jane Gentry, Mr. Gower writes that Ab-Tex employed him from November 25 to December 31, 1937, to salvage the material left inside the mines by the Texas Pacific Coal Company; specifically in mines number 1, 3, and 10. Gower’s differences in opinion with Ab-Tex safety policies cut short his time with the company. Shortly after three deaths involving the black damp Ab-Tex packed up. He also writes that later the government took over and placed the job in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Mines.

If this is the case then not only was Mr. McGinnis correct about the opening of the mines during WWII to help with the war effort, but also that the mines were opened during the Great Depression to help provide more tools to other miners, across the nation, when needing mining  materials were at an all-time low. All this means that this long dead coal mining town was brought back to life, not once, but twice, if only for a short time. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Forgotten Traditions

By Katie Gaudette
Once upon a time, weddings were simple affairs laden with tradition that gave them great meaning. Today weddings are a multi-billion dollar industry. Every bride is convinced that she needs to spend thousands of dollars on this special event. In the rush to get every detail right, many have forgotten old wedding traditions that were once precious and meaningful. All of this comes to mind when stumbling upon a treasure in our collections vault.

Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress in Gordon Center collections
Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress, 1914.
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
This treasure is a dress that was once ivory colored. The detail is incredible, especially knowing that the wearer made it herself. Most of the dress is covered in tulle embroidery style lace. The hem catches the eye as the intricacy of embroidery lace increases. Venice lace in a Queen Anne pattern adorns cut outs all around the dress in a cascading circle pattern. The beauty of the dress is striking even with the discoloration caused by 103 years of storage. With the dress is a handkerchief that has a large “E” embroidered on one corner. This was carried by the bride on the day of her wedding.
Detailed view of wedding dress lace pattern
Detailed view of Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center

The bride wore this beautiful dress in 1914, at sixteen years old; her name was Veronica Sue Galik, one of nine children. Born in Canada she was the product of an Austrian Polish father and a German Polish mother. Her father, Jacob Galik, worked as a coal miner for the Texas Pacific Coal Company. Most likely the family lived on Polander Hill in Thurber. Veronica’s groom was a coal miner named Frank Bida, a Polish immigrant. Bida spoke only Polish. One wonders how the pair spoke to each other considering Veronica most likely spoke English while Bida spoke only Polish, unless Veronica spoke two languages. This also begs the question of how well the two knew each other at the time of their marriage.

One of the things that the wedding industry has caused us to lose from our weddings are the traditions that were once the focus of these gatherings. Because of the recent immigration of Bida and the Galik’s, Veronica and Frank more than likely observed these traditions like the blessings of salted bread and wine and the ozepiny. In the blessing of salted bread and wine, each of the parents of both bride and groom give the couple a blessing followed by the couple biting into salted bread, taking a drink of wine, then smashing the glass for good luck. The bread represents prosperity. The salt represents the difficult times the couple will face, and the wine symbolizes that the couple will never thirst again.
Frank Bida and Veronica Sue Galik on their wedding day
Frank Bida and Veronica Sue Galik
on their wedding day, 1917
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center

The ozepiny is a ritual in which single women stand in a circle around the bride, then one of the single women takes the veil off the bride. Finally a married woman pins a hat on the brides head as the circle around her becomes a circle of married women to signal the bride’s transition into a married woman. These are just a few of the many Polish wedding traditions that Veronica Galik and Frank Bida observed at their wedding.

Veronica and Frank more than likely had a simple wedding full of meaningful tradition, while most American weddings are now more about the decoration and the catered meal than the meaning of the wedding. This loss of heritage specific traditions speeds up as immigrant families assimilate into American culture with little more than their last name as a link to their family heritage. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

America’s Game on the Texas Plain

By Cameron Mitchell

As America’s favorite pastime, millions welcome baseball into their homes every season. Over the years, Thurber showed a love for the sport equal to modern-day spectators. Hershel Gibson, a former Thurber resident, once said that a woman’s hose would be sewn together to make a ball if a rubber one couldn't be found in the dry goods store for a nickel. The town boasted talented players through the generations and many experienced professional success.

      Thurber Tiger team photo. Ca. 1908-1910. Cooney Collection, W. K. Gordon Center.

Although many players earned a name for themselves, one stood out above the rest: Joe McKinnon. Thurber was excited to hear McKinnon was recruited onto the minor league Fort Worth Cats baseball team, but instead, he decided to remain working as a coal miner. Although deciding not to pursue a career in baseball, McKinnon didn't give up the sport and continued to play recreationally where his roots lay in Thurber.

When looking for experienced players in the 1920s, Thurber found one in Roswell ‘Little Hig’ Higginbotham. Before playing during the summers for Thurber, he played second base for the St Louis Cardinals. While a talented fielder, he became known for his speed as a base runner. When looking at the statistics, you could guarantee his name would be at the top for stealing bases every single year. In 1922, he held a batting average of .315 and reached 165 bases from 96 games.

Johnny Lucadello's baseball card during his time as an infielder for the St. Louis Browns. W. K. Gordon Center research files.

When it comes to big names in the area, the two Lucadello brothers - Johnny and Tony - made Thurber particularly proud of their achievements after the family left for opportunities in Chicago, Illinois. Johnny’s professional career led him to a second base position for the New York Yankees and St Louis Browns. Tony also found success in baseball, albeit as a scout rather than a player. During his time with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, Tony Lucadello was responsible for securing some of the biggest names in the game, including Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Ferguson Jenkins. Together, the Lucadello brothers spent several decades involved in the game and certainly left behind a legacy.

Thurber’s baseball stars would not be complete without mentioning Tony Venzon who worked as an umpire in Major League Baseball between 1957 and 1971. Not only was he an umpire, but he was also a successful one, leading the line in the World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1970. With many All-Star events under his belt, Venzon certainly made his own mark on Thurber’s baseball history.

From small beginnings to professional heights, these men provided a sense of pride for Thurberites! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Was the Brother of the Company President Poisoned?

By Lindsey Light
In December of 1902, A. B. “Bert” Marston arrived at the Stilwell Hotel in Pittsburg, Kansas, to gather African American workers to go with him to Thurber, Texas, to mine coal. Marston was the assistant storekeeper of the Texas Pacific Mercantile and Manufacturing Company (TPM&M). TPM&M was a subsidiary of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company led by President Edgar L. Marston, A. B. Marston’s older brother.

Postcard of Hotel Stilwell as it appeared about the time of Marston’s stay. Photo contributed by Mark Hill

On December 8, while playing billiards at the hotel, Marston fell to the floor with convulsions. Though men carried him to his room and a doctor arrived quickly, nothing could be done. He began to vomit and froth at the mouth and then died. Soon after, a panel of doctors started investigating the cause of death. In Marston’s room there was a bottle of mineral water found with a small amount of liquid left in it and business paper work. There were no signs of suicide.

Marston fell ill in the billiard room at the Hotel Stilwell. Built in 1890, it featured a well-appointed lobby and ballroom. Teddy Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, Susan B. Anthony and others chose to make speeches from the balcony above the entrance when passing through Pittsburg. The hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and it is now used as apartments and commercial space. Photograph and information on the hotel courtesy

The panel of investigators retained statements from the people who last had contact with Marston. Richard Hayden, a black man, accompanied Marston on the trip specifically to recruit black men from surrounding coal camps. Hayden told the panel that Marston purchased a bottle of Manitou mineral water like the one found in the hotel room, in South McAlester, Oklahoma, which was at the time Indian Territory. Unfortunately, there was no way to prove that the bottles were in fact one in the same since that brand was also available in Pittsburg. Also, the panel talked to A.L. Scott, a local lumberman, who chatted with Marston the night before he died. He reported that Marston knew that many people opposed him bringing in outside workers. Considering the eye-witness accounts and his symptoms, Coroner Boaz came to the conclusion that Marston died from deliberate poisoning.

On December 9th the Dallas Morning News reported the death of A. B. Marston. Though Marston was actually the assistant storekeeper for the mercantile subsidiary, many newspapers nationwide promoted him to assistant general manager of the coal company.

Because the panel of doctors suspected that arsenic caused Marston’s death, they conducted a post-mortem examination. All of Marston’s main organs appeared to be in a healthy condition, but his stomach indicated the presence of arsenic. They sent samples to a lab in Kansas City, Missouri to test for toxins in his system. When the contents of Marston’s stomach were tested, however, no evidence of poison was found. The investigation ended at this point and no one was accused of murder. His remains were taken to Greenville, Illinois, to be buried at Montrose Cemetery.

Company officials at Thurber shared the tragic news of Marston with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Locals who knew the family did not feel that suicide or murder were reasonable explanations for the death. Instead, they claimed that Marston suffered from kidney problems, or “Bright’s Disease,” which might have brought on the attack.

The death of A. B. Marston remains mysterious. Though the final coroner’s report indicated he died from natural causes, no immediate illness was ever identified. Later Thurber historians failed to record the event altogether, in spite of the fact it was sensationalized in newspapers across the nation. Certainly there were persons who were uncomfortable because he was bringing outsiders to work in Thurber, but were they capable of getting away with murder? Ultimately, the circumstances surrounding Marston’s death were suspicious, but the remaining questions about what A. B. Marston succumbed to that day in Pittsburg may never be answered.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Part 2 of the Coal Mines of Palo Pinto County: The Obel Family

By Matt Stephenson

The Obel family moved to Palo Pinto County, from Montgomery County, Alabama, in the early 1880s. Phillip Wilhelm Obel purchased farm land at Mingus and went to work as a butcher in Thurber located two miles south. His two sons, John Phillip (J.P.) and William (Will) Reinhold Obel, worked on the family farm and hired out as carpenters. Five more children were born into the Obel family between 1884 and 1898, including George Henry Obel (Henry) in 1896. After their father’s death in 1898, J.P. and Will continued to work as carpenters and farmers until around 1920.

Obel family photographed in Mingus, Texas, circa 1935. J. P. Obel is top left while his brother Henry appears top right. Ursula Obel, wife of P. W. Obel is seated in the front to the left.

That year Will and Henry opened a coal mine on the family property while J.P. went to work for the Texas & Pacific Coal Company (T&P), in Thurber, as a coal miner. According to oral tradition Will and Henry sold coal from a horse-drawn cart door-to-door in Mingus and also to the Strawn Coal Company. Sometime in the early 1930s Will fell ill and was unable to continue his role as co-owner of the mine with Henry. By this time coal mining operations had ceased in Thurber, so J.P. went to work for the Strawn Coal Company and assumed Will’s duties as owner/partner of the mine with Henry. The Obels no longer sold coal door-to-door due to the emergence of the petroleum industry and the availability of fuel oil. However, the Obel family mine continued to conduct business with the Strawn Coal Company until 1946.

Will Obel appears to the left of this photograph with an unidentified companion, circa 1930s.

J.P. and Henry Obel remained in the southwestern Palo Pinto County area until their deaths. Will Obel passed away in Wichita Falls in 1963. Descendants of the Obel brothers reside throughout the state of Texas and maintain a strong interest in their Palo Pinto County roots. Like the other coal mining operations in Palo Pinto County, the Obel family outlived its Thurber counterpart by more than a decade.

Envelope and pay stub addressed to John P. Obel from 1946 and 1944.

The Strawn Coal Company and Obel family mines did not expand into the oil and gas business. As a result, the smaller, specialized operations slowly became obsolete. Though their names are less familiar than T & P and Thurber, coal operations at Mingus, Strawn, and Lyra remain a significant part of Palo Pinto County history.

Approximate location of the Obel Family Mine.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Coal Mines in Palo Pinto County: T&P Wasn’t the Only Game in Town

By Matt Stephenson

Northern Erath and southern Palo Pinto Counties were the largest coal producing areas in the state of Texas from the late 1880s until 1946. In the region, the coal industry centered on the Texas & Pacific Coal Company (T&P) mines. In fact, in the mid-1890s T&P conducted underground mining operations in fifteen sites located throughout the hills surrounding Thurber. During peak years, approximately one thousand to fifteen hundred men mined fifteen hundred to two thousand tons of coal per day in the Thurber area. However, not every chunk of coal yielded from the bituminous-rich terrain originated in T&P mines. Nearby, workers at the Strawn Coal Company and other small family-owned operations, such as the Obel Mine in Mingus, produced a significant coal supply.

Approximate Locations of Strawn Coal Company Mines.

Coal mining arrived in Strawn around 1900 when brothers William and Harvey Johnson started the Mount Marion Coal Company. They originally settled in the area in 1878, and operated a successful feed, lumber, and grain company. By 1886 the profits they yielded from selling wooden cross ties to the Texas and Pacific Railroad gained them the necessary capital to open the first coal shafts near what would later become the town of Thurber in Erath County. The Johnson’s first coal mining venture resulted in failure and in 1888 they reluctantly sold their interests to parties in Fort Worth. The next few years they operated their retail/supply businesses in Strawn.

Photograph of a Strawn Coal Company Mine taken in 1927.

The Johnsons knew that there was tremendous earning potential in coal mining and never abandoned the idea. Quite possibly, they were encouraged with the growth of Thurber that had occurred since T&P purchased their operations in 1888. After nearly going bankrupt with their first venture, they learned that it required a tremendous amount of capital to operate a coal company, while it took only a small amount to find the coal and sink the shaft. Almost immediately after creating the Mount Marion Coal Company, the Johnsons sold their shares to a group of Fort Worth investors, including W. Burton, Paul Waples, L.H. McKee, John L. Johnson and A. Deffenbach, for a large profit. In 1904 the new owners merged the Mount Marion mine with the Bennett Coal Company in Lyra and in 1914 renamed it the Strawn Coal Company, Inc.

Strawn Coal Company tokens and scrip tickets used to purchase goods at the Company Store.

By 1920 the payroll of the Strawn Coal Company equaled $75,000 per month and had produced 1.6 million tons of coal since the merger. Railroad companies were the primary consumers of Palo Pinto County coal. When they converted their locomotives to diesel fuel, production and profits at Lyra plummeted and the company terminated operations. The original mine at Mount Marion, however, survived until 1946, approximately sixteen years after mining at Thurber ceased.

Next Month: Part 2 of the Coal Mines of Palo Pinto County

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fill Your Tank with TP Gasoline!

By Lindsey Light

In 1928 the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company opened its first TP Aero Brand filling station in present day downtown Fort Worth, Texas in the middle of the wide intersection at West Seventh Street and Camp Bowie Boulevard. It was designed in a unique octagonal shape and constructed of brick and ceramic tile. As time went by, the city reworked the hectic crossing and the station was destroyed. Between 1928 and 1938 the company had service stations in approximately eighty five towns across West Texas and the Panhandle. Eventually, Texas and Pacific supplied over five hundred service stations in Texas and Oklahoma.

The first Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company filling station at West Seventh Street and Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth, Texas. Reproduced from a Texas Pacific highway map courtesy Pete Charlton.

As automobiles gained popularity, owners required fuel to be accessible at more regular intervals. Early on, blacksmith shops, hardware stores, and grocery stores first provided the necessary local access to fuel supplies. Because moving and storing the gasoline was dangerous, however, these locations began delivering fuel by barrel to the consumer’s home. Ultimately, filling stations built specifically for the purpose created a safe and convenient outlet for the consumer.

TP gasoline and motor oil ink blotter featuring the Teepee advertising theme.

In 1929, the W.P. Boyd service station opened in Thurber, Texas, the birthplace of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil. The brick and tile building featured a herringbone pattern driveway, and is noted for its beautiful detail. The company installed four pumps at the Thurber location. To place the station in the middle of town square, workers moved the band stand to the south end of the square.

J. R. Foster grocery and feed store in Lake Worth, Texas, which proudly sold TP products.

In order to maintain and restock individual service stations, many owners purchased supplies from bulk stations. Located near refineries operated by Texas Pacific, bulk outlets provided product and equipment such as signage, storage tanks, pump globes, and push pumps to service stations in the surrounding area. Storage tanks at the stations were generally placed underground and contained the station’s fuel. Globes were placed on top of the pump to advertise the brand and display the TP logo. Push pumps moved the gas from the underground tank into a cylinder at the top of the fuel dispenser where it was measured. Afterward, it flowed by gravity into the customer’s gas container or automobile tank. Not only did these bulk stations deliver to the company-owned outlets and individually-owned stations, they also distributed gasoline and oil to many of the company departments and subsidiaries and other businesses including dairies, parks, ranches, and farms.

Original lens from a TP pump globe.

These service stations helped transform the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company into one of the most profitable businesses throughout Texas. With the significant number of service stations in the state, it helped smooth over the transformation for Texans coming into the automobile age.