Museum Musings


As I’ve said before, the June 3, 1954, Meteor was a special edition in honor of Madison County’s centennial celebration.  It contained essays and information from many of our county’s older citizens, one of them which I have included in its entirety and word-for-word below.  The words are his entirely, until you get to my heading, “The rest of the story….”

Early Day Wildcatting in Madison County

By George H. Crank

During the summer of 1921, the eastern part of Madison County was explored by E.L. Lancaster, an oil operator of Dallas and Wichita Falls, who at that time was drilling a wildcat well south of the Mexia oil field.  He had engaged George A. Reynolds, consulting geologist of Bakersfield, Calif., who had spent the greater portion of his life with the Standard Oil Company. 

Mr. Lancaster and Dr. Reynolds spent many weeks walking up and down hills, in the creek bottoms and through the brush following trails here and there examining and taking samples for surface formations. 

After considerable exploring, they decided upon locating their first test well on the Emmagene Barrett land, which is in the southeast corner of the county and in a section known as “The Island.”

With the untiring efforts, optimism and help of Victor Wakefield, options and leases were secured on several thousand acres in that vicinity. 

At that time, I was in the well drilling business and had just completed a wildcat in Southwestern Arkansas.  Mr. Lancaster, together with J. Fred Smith, an oil operator of Dallas and Wichita Falls, and W.T. Dick, another oil operator of Houston, contracted with me to drill this test. 

First Heavy Machinery to Come in Here

The drilling rig and outfit was shipped to Madisonville on the railroad. It was the first machinery of its kind ever to move into this vicinity and naturally caused a lot of excitement and interest; even the old railroad agent, my old friend E.H. Smith, was enthused and was kept busy for quite a while as we had a lot of telegraph and freight business with his station. This was in January 1922 and about the time our rig reached Madisonville the rains started and we had downpours for several weeks.  

The big task, of course, was getting this heavy machinery moved to the location over wagon road full of ruts and mud holes – not a foot of gravel or paved road in the county; nothing but dirt roads and they were next to impassable. In wet weather, we found it impossible to go the direct route by Luther Hensarling’s through Connor, so had to take the route via Midway and down the Ferguson Farm road to the location. 

Rat Park and His Oxen

We engaged the one and only Rat Park to move the outfit with his oxen and it was a sight the present generation will never witness – to see these wagons heavily loaded with well drilling machinery and pipe drawn by four and five yoke of oxen to the wagon driven by the command of one man without halters or reins. 

Compare today’s methods of hauling oil well machinery to locations over paved roads or specially made roads direct to the location in large rubber tired trucks. 

Timbers for Derrick Sawed at Robbin’s Mill

A 96-foot wooden derrick was erected on the site. Timbers and lumber for this derrick was a special order and as sawed by the Robbins Saw Mill which was then located on the old Madisonville-Huntsville dirt road about 15 miles north of Huntsville.  This lumber was hauled over the pine hills from the saw mill to the location over a trail or made road through the virgin pin forest. Incidentally, not a large or virgin pine tree is to be seen in that section today. 

I had the unusual experience of shooting a squirrel off the gin pole atop this derrick, which is something few oil well workers can boast of. 

Cord Wood For Boilers

We finally got everything on the ground and assembled and spudded in Feb. 11, 1922, and on hand was plenty of spectators and sightseers.  Fuel for the boilers was cord wood which was brought from then Negro farmers in that community who cut, hauled, and ricked the wood next to the boilers for $1.50 and $2 a cord. These old timers still remember me and often speak of the extra money they made during that period.

A Deep Well of 3,000 Feet

I was contracted to drill a “deep well” or to 3,000 feet.  This was considered a deep well in those days as the big production in which Mr. Lancaster and Mr. Smith had been interested in was found at 1,500 feet, 1,800 feet and 2,600 feet. 

Of course at present time with modern and heavy machinery, a 3,000 foot hole would only (be) a starter for a deep well. 

My two drillers were C.D. (Doc) Gutherie and T.B. Storey, both of Wichita County. 

Used Prison Machine Shop

During the course of our drilling, shop and machine work was necessary and the only large machine shop in this part of the country was at the Huntsville Prison.  J.A. Herring, (Captain Jake) who was head of the prison system at that time, extended us every courtesy and help we needed for keeping our machinery repaired.  On one occasion, we had to have a boilermaker; I rushed to Huntsville in my model “T” where Mr. Herring furnished us with two boilermakers out of the “Walls” and before we could get back to the location, the Bedias Creek had gotten on a rampage; water had covered the road and bridge, so we had to stop and build a row boat and paddle our way across the creek to the rig. 

After many weeks of drilling, coreing, testing and expecting, we encountered a sand at 1968 feet which was 38 feet thick and had a little showing of oil and the continued action of the gas pressure. Dr. Reynolds, the geologist, was much pleased with the showings and recommended that casing be set and a complete test be made.  This was done, but after trying and testing, a paying well could not be brought in.  However, the gas from this well is to this day still strong, and who knows – some day a deep well may prove that the geological opinion of Dr. Reynolds was correct, but we didn’t drill deep enough. 

A Second Test

We drilled a second test well on the Fred Seay land about two miles west of the Barrett well, but the strong showing was not found in the Seay well. 

The greatest oil field ever discovered, The East Texas Field, was found at 3600 feet by Dad Joiner in his third try in the same vicinity (not in Madison County!)  – who knows, if we had drilled our third well, I might have found more than a wife in Madison County.  Those who financed our Madison County venture have often spoken of their losses in money and state that I was the only one who profited since, instead of oil, I found a little brunette (Louise Wakefield) who agreed to share my losses on down the line. 


The rest of the story …

George Crank, born in 1887 in Denison, Texas, was the author of the 1954 article I shared above.  He married Louise Wakefield Crank, born in 1901 near Midway.  

Louise was born on the Wakefield homestead that her parents had settled in Midway in the late 1880's.  Her parents were Albert L. Wakefield (1860-1948) and Julia Lewis Robinson Wakefield (1863-1949), both born in the Midway area.

Louise was the youngest of six children and grew up surrounded by relatives.  The Wakefield and Robinson families were large and early settlers of Madison County.

After George and Louise married, they resided in Midway a bit, then moved, and lived in Dallas and elsewhere for about 20 years.  In 1948, they returned to Midway and built a home on the Wakefield home place just east of Midway, where Louise was born.  

The Cranks raised four sons, George, Jr., John Wakefield, Vernon Carroll, and Albert Benjamin.  George Jr., and Vernon are both deceased, but John now lives in Austin and Albert in Lumberton.  Those two meet in Madisonville for golf occasionally, and Albert always attends the Midway school reunions. He recently stated that Midway would always be home to him.

Louise was an accomplished pianist and taught many young people to play the piano. She also possessed great culinary skills and baked specialty cakes for weddings, birthdays, and such.  She made Carolyn and Jimmy Farris’s wedding cake, and all of their sons’ birthday cakes. Davie Carter Westmoreland recently said, “She made all the cakes and cookies for every celebration anyone had for years. I remember the apricot dainties!”

George always had a good garden, kept a few milk cows, and raised some beef cattle.  He passed away in 1975.  Louise continued residing in their home where she had lived for over fifty years, until she fell and broke her hip.  Because of that, she ended her years in Riverwood Care Center, in 2002. 

In the museum we now have a new and interesting piece that is related to the oil industry, and we are working on an exhibit about such.  Some of you might also have things related to oil for us, I hope.  You can loan or donate, we’d appreciate either.  I also will be working on an essay or more about local involvement in oil, and I hope some of you have things to tell me. 

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX, is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Museum curator Jane Day Reynolds would welcome your visit.  Call 936.348.5230 and make arrangements to meet with me to share your own stories, or e-mail them to