Monthly Archives: March 2016

Kilgore and Oil


I just looked at the current biggest employers in Kilgore, Texas, and of the top ten only 2, including Halliburton, have anything to do with the oil industry. This was not true during The Great Depression when Kilgore was Boomtown USA.  In 1930, the greatest oil field in the world was discovered when the Daisy Bradford No 3 well here hit oil at 3,536 feet.  Soon there were 75 students in a Kilgore 6th grade class. By 1939, when Hitler attacked Poland, there were close to 1,200 oil derricks in Kilgore’s city limits, and the greatest concentration of wells on the planet was on one of its downtown blocks called The World’s Richest Acre.


I learned a lot about the East Texas Oil Field and its impact on Kilgore in the East Texas Oil Museum on the campus of Kilgore College. The AAA awards it a gem, but I suspect that this happened a long time ago.  Today, this 36-year-old-museum is something of a fading gem that became a fascinating experience for me because of Richard.

Oil derricks, the equipment needed to extract oil, and 1930s radios are not inherently interesting to people today.  If Richard hadn’t been in the East Texas Oil Museum the day Ruth & I visited, I would have been in and out of it in half an hour. Richard was, however, a master docent able to make what happened in Kilgore come alive.  Richard’s stories about the 20 minute history-based film in the Boom Town Cinema made it worth watching. His museum’s displays need serious upgrading, and the silly ride simulating the descent to oil needs to be permanently removed. It’s a problem for older museums to keep events from long ago interesting in the Apple Era.

Here are some historical facts that made my two hours with Richard richer. The East Texas Oil Field (ETOF) that was discovered when the Daisy Bradford blew became the world’s largest.  In fact, the 6 largest oil fields at the time of its finding would have fit into it.  If it hadn’t been for the East Texas Oil Field, the United States and its allies might have lost World War II.  300,000 barrels of Texas oil were pumped to the East Coast every day for the war effort after a pipeline was completed in 13 months.

Still producing in the age of fracking, the ETOF has, over time, yielded 6 billion barrels of oil from 32,000 wells on 144,000 acres under 3 states.  Less than 500 of them were dry. However, the current price of a barrel of oil is hurting. According to Richard and the law, a producing well must pump one day a year to remain operable.

My favorite story in the entire museum had a human dimension.  In 1937 an electrical spark ignited natural gas in the London School in nearby Overton, Texas, and 311 children and adults died in the resulting explosion.  Odor is artificially added to natural gas today as a result of this tragedy. Ruth, a dedicated teacher, insisted that we drive to Overton to see the memorial and pay our respects.


A Town Named Goodsprings


I get hits on a blog called “Towns Named Aberdeen” almost every day and don’t know why.  Perhaps it’s simply because people are fascinated by how places get named.

Joseph Good was a miner who also ran some cattle in a valley near the Spring Mountains, which were apparently named for a spring used by travelers heading to California from New Mexico in the 19th century.  A mining town sprang up in that valley. It was named Goods Springs and once had a population of around 3,000. In 1899 the post office renamed it Goodsprings. Today it’s largely a ghost town haunted by cable TV shows that explore the spirit world.  Goodsprings has one thriving original business, the Pioneer Saloon, and a few ghosts.  One of them is said to be the spirit of a famous Hollywood actress who died tragically on Mount Potosi.

Christian tends bar in The Pioneer, the remaining historic business.  At one time it was one of 7 “watering holes” in Goodsprings. Christian’s from Brooklyn, New York.  Shortly after he started working in Goodsprings, he decided to tour it.   He told me that it took him 3 minutes on his bike to accomplish this.  There are only about 200 people living there now, and several of the buildings are near collapse, but it’s a fun place to visit because of that sole original business and all of the stories you hear in it.

George Fayle built The Pioneer after he bought some prefabricated kits.  Its walls and ceilings are pressed tin, and the building is holding up pretty well. George also built a hotel and general store before dying in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Today the Pioneer Saloon is actually 2 bars, a cafe, a place for live music, a museum, etc.  A lot of patrons arrive on Harleys and other bikes and look like repeat customers. Christian told me that on a nice day as many as 1,400 people show up to drink and chat in the Pioneer.  Its tin walls sport some bullet holes, and two of its dining tables are over 100 years old. According to local lore, a hard-drinking miner named Paul Coski was caught cheating at cards in 1915, and not all of the bullets fired entered his body. Some went through the tin walls.  Paul is one of the frequently seen ghosts.

The actress was on TWA Flight 3, which was on its way to Burbank from Las Vegas when it crashed on Mount Potosi.   A list of the 22 passengers who died, including the actress’ mother, is on a wall in The Pioneer.  The actress, who was on a mission to sell war bonds was the highest paid star in the movie business in the late 1930s.  Her name was Carole Lombard.  She was married to Clark Gable, recent star of Gone With the Wind at the time of his wife’s demise. He drank in The Pioneer while awaiting word of her fate, and it is said that he never got over her death.

Goodsprings is one of those places where, like Christian, I plan to spend about 3 minutes exploring.  Several hours later I leave with great memories.








TripAdvisor’s Best 2016


This week I finally received an email I have been anticipating since January. “ANNOUNCING THE BEST DESTINATIONS IN THE WORLD…See the Winners,” TripAdvisor blared.   I spent the next several minutes comparing its 2016 BEST list to 2015’s.

Four destinations dropped off the list:   Zermatt, Switzerland, Goreme, Turkey, Athens, Greece, and Queenstown, New Zealand. They were replaced by Lisbon, Tokyo, Amsterdam, and Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  I was especially delighted to see Lisbon enter the list.  This is an underrated city that can certainly use tourist dollars, euros, etc. and has lots to see and do, a distinctive culture, fun trams, and interesting cuisine.  That Portugal was once the center of a colonial empire is reflected in its museums.  When Ruth & I were planning to visit Tokyo 2 years ago, a Japanese friend told us to go to Kyoto instead.  We changed our plans, so I don’t know if Tokyo deserves TripAdvisor’s praise. Amsterdam is definitely a city to visit and repeat.  Playa del Carmen?  We haven’t been there, but we’re going to Mexico City in May because The New York Times rated it the #1 destination in the world at the end of 2015. Playa del Carmen is south of Cancún on the Riviera Maya.

Marrakech, Morocco, was #1 on TripAdvisor’s 2015 list.   2016’s #1 is London, England, which was #6 last year.   Marrakech is now #3. Istanbul still ranks very high despite the fact that it has become a trouble spot.  In January a suicide bomber killed 10 people, 8 of them tourists, in the popular Sultanahmet district near the Blue Mosque, and this month another suicide bomber killed 4 more in a busy shopping street frequented by tourists.  Of course, this can happen anywhere in the world now.  Paris was #9 in 2015 and moved up to #4 in 2016 despite its troubles.   Istanbul, a terrific destination, was #3 last year and is #2 on the 2016 list.

Ruth and I have been to 14 of the 25 places on TripAdvisor’s 2016 list.  Our favorites are Sydney, Australia, and Budapest, Hungary.   And now welcome to Lisbon, where Ruth loved Pastéis de Belém’s pastel de nata, way delicious custard tarts that look like miniature pies.




The 5 Compass Blackhawk


The Blackhawk Museum pontificates, “the automobile is the single most influential technological and social development of the 20th century” and calls itself “one of the World’s Greatest Car Museums.”  I thought these were bold exaggerations until I visited it and found that both claims are relatively true. The Blackhawk Automotive Museum simply bedazzled me, my brother Jim, and Ruth.

In a perfectly balanced, architecturally grand dusty pink building of reflective cubes in Danville, the Blackhawk Automotive Museum immediately presents an emotional challenge to each visitor.  Choose your ultimate dream machine. The high-style cars on display from the 1920s to the 1960s are polished to perfection and seemingly lit from below, above, and each side.

Danville is near Mount Diablo on the east side of San Francisco Bay between Walnut Creek and Dublin.  It opened in 1988 and regularly has more than 50 “historically significant, artistically inspired and mostly one-of-a-kind automobiles” on view.  90% of the cars are from private collectors, and I was told that only a few change on a somewhat regular basis.  One Zephyr’s gleaming red finish set the tone for me when it was described as Cinnamon Candy Flake.

The Blackhawk Museums at the same location include the new Spirit of the West, which is up a spiral staircase that would impress Scarlett O’Hara.  Spirit opened in February, 2015, and, in addition to containing impressive historical artifacts, it has the most gasp-inducing diorama I have ever laid eyes on along its back wall.  A 140 feet long “topographic table”, it attempts to and largely succeeds in showing virtually every memorable scene from the settlement of The American West.   Down a 1st floor hallway are gas pump and jukebox collections.   A natural history exhibition is on its way in yet another building under renovation.

If you’re a fanatical car enthusiast, you might want to visit Blackhawk on the first Sunday of any month when, like materialistic money-changers in the temple, car enthusiasts get together on its parking lot to show off their vehicles.  Called Cars & Coffee, these gatherings are said to attract as many as 600, sometimes even 800, cars. Their owners clearly show up on Sundays to incite envy in others.

My favorite car was this way-ostentatious pink and purple 1948 Cadillac Series 62 Cabriolet.



Lincoln’s Hearse Again


At Bike Week in Daytona, Florida, in 2001, Jack Feather had a brilliant idea.  In his line of vision were a horse drawn hearse and a number of motorcycles.   Might the 2 be combined into a new type of funeral conveyance?   Indeed, they could.

But why?  There are, according to Jack’s business website (, 9 million veterans over the age of 65, more than 11 million cycle owners, and 2 million police and fire fighters.  Isn’t it possible that they, their families, or some forward-looking funeral directors would be interested in using a new type of vehicle for an individualized funeral?   Indeed, it is.

I called Jack when Ruth & I were in Arizona earlier this month, and he graciously invited us to his place to see his new business, Tombstone Hearse & Trike.  We knew about Jack thanks to to our involvement in the rebuilding of a 19th century hearse for the 150th commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s burial in Springfield, Illinois, in May, 2015.   I’ve done 3 blogs about this project.

The hearse was constructed at Blue Ox Mill School for Veterans in Eureka, California, and Jack was in charge of completing this historic hearse, which included painting it.  I wondered how he got involved and now I know.  P. J. Staab, the funeral director in Springfield who oversaw all and now owns this hearse, bought a motorcycle hearse from Jack and is successfully using it for local funerals.

At an age when most men are beginning to look forward to retirement, Jack was reinventing funerals.  In Pennsylvania.  He reinvented himself too by moving to Tombstone and starting a novel new business, Tombstone Hearse and Trike.  It has been very successful.  He has sold and built almost 100 see-into hearses that can be attached to a motorcycle for a personalized funeral cortege.  The next one he will build goes to England. I asked Jack if he is happy in his new home, and he pointed to the landscape surrounding his new business.  “I wake up to this every morning,” he said, completely satisfied.


I asked him if he had regrets about becoming involved in The Lincoln Project, and he said he thought about it almost every day and that it had been difficult but satisfying, in retrospect.  I looked around his interesting office and asked what he would save if the place caught on fire.  He thought this over for a minute and said, “That portrait of General George Patton.”  I turned slightly to see Michael Gnatek’s framed Patton at Bastogne.  Jack didn’t explain why it was so important to him.  I asked him if he had any news about Lincoln’s hearse. Ruth & I hadn’t seen it since last July when P.J. insisted that we climb aboard so he could take our picture.   Jack told us that it might be headed to The Smithsonian and put on permanent display.  Indeed, it should be.