East Texas Oil Museum
1100 Broadway Boulevard (Highway 259 at Ross Street)
Texas oil. There wouldn’t have been any scandalous TV Ewing family without it. Or any sexy Jett Rink for James Dean to portray in the movie Giant. Maybe not even an Allied victory in World War II. (Texas fields gave the Allies a guaranteed petroleum reserve.)
And when the Dad and Doc team -- wildcatter “Dad” Joiner and geologist “Doc” Lloyd -- brought in a gusher on their third time’s the charm well in the tiny East Texas town of Kilgore, they had tapped the biggest oil field in the continental United States. And started a black gold rush in a country reeling from the Great Depression.
Life is more civilized now in Kilgore than in the weeks after the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well (named for the widow on whose farm it was located) roared over the top of its derrick on the evening of October 3, 1930. The town has a college, perhaps best known for its Rangerette drill team. It has a Shakespeare festival. And it has the East Texas Oil Museum.
But inside that museum, Kilgore is always the town where as many as a thousand oil derricks crowded to make its downtown “the world’s richest acre.” It’s always the town where Texas Ranger Manuel Trazazas “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas (sometimes spelled Gonzales) showed up alone to quell a riot. When townspeople expressed dismay that the state had sent only one Ranger to keep order, the slightly-built Gonzaullas is said to have quipped, “There’s only one riot.”
Within the museum, affable docents guide you past the photographs and dioramas of life in Depression-era Texas, to the recreation of a boomtown with cars and mule-drawn wagons mired in the mud of unpaved streets. Kids may want to pet the mules (but please don’t). Adults may laugh, or sigh, at the shops with their period merchandise and 1930’s prices.
In the reconstructed movie theater, a twenty-minute film alternates footage of actors in period costume with black and white newsreel footage of the period. I found the period footage the most amazing, and the film ends with special effects I’m sworn not to reveal.
If the newsreel gets a little long for younger kids, take them on the eight-minute simulated elevator ride to the center of the Earth, with puppet narration.
The East Texas Oil Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. (until 5 p.m. April through September), and Sunday from 2-5 p.m. For holiday schedules and admission fees, see www.easttexasoilmuseum.com/.