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.

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