The Lost Legend
by Marc Hartwell
A long time ago, in what seems like an ancient dream, existed a sleepy country town positioned between Fort Worth and Abilene, Texas. Ranger claimed a humble spot in the history books until a fateful day transformed the city into an oil metropolis. Seemingly overnight, many oil companies populated the area which in turn created a black gold rush. Of the many oil businesses involved with Ranger, one lasted longer than many of the others. Premier Oil Company, half a century since the giant’s demise, still remained a fond memory in the minds of a few elderly Ranger citizens. The institution became a special part of their lives.
Jack Allen lives a comfortable life on the shores of Lake Leon while performing the duties of Athletic Director at Ranger College, but once upon a time he worked the oil fields. During an interview, Allen went back in time to his teenage years. According to the Athletic Director, everyone including himself had to go through Supervisor Pickrell to work at the company. He worked for the company by going out with a gang to repair pipelines. Allen recalled a story about one of the times he received a call for a repair mission.
He and a bunch of guys drove out to Stephens County in a gang truck to fix an oil leak. The famer living there greeted all of them very graciously, shaking everybody’s hands and welcoming them like family. Allen said “in all honesty, we weren’t real careful about what we did. We drove straight through the cornfield. We fixed the leak and headed back. We got to the gate and it was locked. The guy came out with a shotgun (staring us down). We demanded that he open the gate, [but] he said not a chance until he received a check for the damages from the last time we had driven through the cornfield. Someone started to get out of the truck and the man yelled ‘stay in the truck!’ I remember saying to myself ‘this is not good!’” After a check arrived, everyone smiled and felt happy when the whole ordeal ended and no one got hurt or shot (Jack Allen September 9, 2010).
Back when small towns created the vertebrae of America, companies sponsored baseball teams that the employees could play on. While Coach Allen worked on repairing broken oil lines, he also played for the Premier Oil Company baseball team. At the time of his participation, Allen studied for classes during his freshman and sophomore years in high school. The semipro team competed in a summer league like most other towns at that point in history. Sadly, the legacy of semipro company teams passed away as time continued.
Oddly enough, Jack Allen does not know what happened to Premier Oil. Years after his employment, the company seemingly disappeared.
Another fine citizen of Ranger, Charles David Wolford, worked for Premier during 1960, 1961, and part of 1962. As a young kid, Wolford enjoyed the job of working as a dispatcher. He remembered Premier as a gasoline company before oil took over the operation. After they stopped selling gas, the company began to market beer, sodas, and snacks.
Fortunately, during the interview Wolford provided some clues to the downfall of Premier Oil Company. The highway used to run through downtown Ranger, but when I-20 moved, the town became a lost legend. The transition caused the company to lose business and resulted in having to lay off people. After a while, Premier lost so much business that they had to shut down until someone bought them, but the buyer remained a mystery (Charles David Wolford).
Wolford left Ranger for thirty years after his time with Premier, but returned to the town to find a peaceful home. Now a content Ranger citizen, Charles Wolford runs the local funeral home.
David Pickrell remains the go-to person for information about Premier Oil Company due to his father’s position as supervisor. Mr. Pickrell worked as an attorney before his friend encouraged him to move from Houston to Ranger to take a job with Premier. Pickrell began working for the company in 1941 and worked over one hundred and twenty five people. His duties specifically covered the transfer and transportation of collected crude from Ranger to Fort Worth. The crude would travel over a couple hundred miles of pipeline. Mr. Pickrell concluded his time at Premier Oil Company in 1963.
David Pickrell recalled the infamous history of how when the Ranger oil fields boomed, danger ran rampant in the city. The business that oil brought caused Ranger to go from a small town to a metropolis of 30,000 people. Hotels were so full that they began renting out chairs in the lobby by the hour. People would come in from out of town on the rail cars with no place to go or stay just looking for work. The expansion also brought crime with harm peaking when a person would get murdered everyday in Ranger. Mr. Pickrell remembered this with great interest, but he revealed that “99% of people that would know anything about Premier Oil Company (or the legend of the company in Ranger) are dead” (David Pickrell September 4, 2010).
Allen, Wolford, and Pickrell all recalled their memories of the oil company with great fondness. Coach Allen expressed with gayety that “Premier Oil was a great company to work for. They were good for Ranger and Eastland. I wish they were still here. Premier was very supportive of activities and schools within the Ranger city limits and they were good people to work with.” When interviewed, all three expressed gratitude for the impact the company made on their lives (Jack Allen September 9, 2010).
Premier Oil Company and many other oil companies flooded into Ranger after the largest oil well hit in 1917. The chaos that followed became known as the “boom.” The expansion brought a great economic upturn which included people, money, and new businesses, but also crime.
Premier Oil possesses a rich history in Ranger, Texas. The company enriched the town a little over fifty years. The oil giant provided numerous jobs to the families located in the boomtown.
The name of Premier Oil Company holds a pleasant memory in everyone’s mind that remembers. In downtown Ranger exists a family hardware and grocery store by the name of Adams Grocery that opened for business four generations back from the current owner. Camilla Adams’ face lit up when asked if she could recall the name Premier Oil Company. The name brought back a sound of the past almost forgotten. Unfortunately, Adams could not recall much information due to her young age at the time of the company’s emergence. Another merchant in Ranger, Waymond Greenwood, did not have extensive knowledge of the company, but he remembered the oil giant as a great enterprise (Camilla Adams and Waymond Greenwood October 7, 2010).
After the highway moved and the company began to lose business drastically, another enterprise decided Premier would enrich their business. “In 1956, City Products bought Premier Oil Refining Company of Texas for $3.5 million. At the time, Premier operated refineries at Fort Worth, Longview, and Baird, Texas, and owned a 750-mile pipeline system connecting those refineries with crude oil supplies in East Texas and Ranger fields. [Premier] also had a part-ownership in fifty-seven producing wells” (www.library.hbs.edu). The mystery of Premier’s disappearance could now lay to rest.
After the buy-out, Premier disappeared quickly from Ranger. Most of the remnants remained for just under two decades after the sale. Even though the company began to leave, Premier would always lay claim to participating in the largest oil boom in America.
Premier Oil Company continued to influence the citizens of Ranger. Workers for Premier enjoyed a lifestyle of hard work with rewards and lasting memories. The pleasures incorporated with Premier also extended to land owners who owned oil. Just like with other oil companies, oil owners within Premier received wealth for their “Texas T.” This famed wealth caused many people to travel to Ranger looking for work in the oil fields.
Although Ranger at one time experienced a great economic expansion, Premier Oil could not stay once the town began its descent. While City Products worked on the logistics of overtaking a company, the city lost money as other businesses decided to move on to seek new ventures and customers. Once the oil left, most of Ranger’s citizens followed suit. America repeated the pattern once again that just like how people moved around to find new water and food so do unemployed people move around to find new jobs. Though the company may not bring in thousands of workers and vast amounts of money to Ranger any longer, oil still remains in the town for City Products to send to Fort Worth. Premier Oil Company created a family out of would-be fortune seekers and left a legend in the hearts of wonderful Ranger citizens.