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Ada Belle Oil Company; 1904

One could see the bump on the surface, the very low-relief "hill" at Spindletop, but you would have had to look pretty hard and use a lot of imagination. It would have helped to lay on your stomach in the sand fleas and thick mesquitoes. The otherwise flat, sandly land S.W. of Beaumont rose 5 feet-8 feet along the featureless coastal plain and at various locations at the top of the bump, stinky gas bubbled out of the ground. Under the suface anamoly was a salt dome and in 1901 the Texas oil industry was born with mighty thunder that shook the entire world.

Under the auspices of English Law and the Rule of Capture, Spindletop was drilled with hundreds of rigs and within a few short years after its discovery the field began showing signs of exhaustion. The Texas Company and Pattilo Higgins, their acreage fully developed and making salt water, wandered north of Beaumont to a similar looking bump with thick, black oil oozing out of a creek, near the village of Sour Lake, and found oil in late 1902.

Sour Lake was actually bigger than Spindletop, about the same depth, with the same 22 gravity oil and within a few months everybody and their dogs in Spindletop were flocking into Sour Lake with wagon trains full of drilling equipment.

Over 400 wells were drilled in Sour Lake in less than two years. Production went from 100,000 BOPD down to 10,000 BOPD and oceans of the hunt for more surface bumps and oil and gas seeps resumed. That field produced 90,000,000 barrels of t0 1995 and is still active. Barely.

Thirteen miles N.W. of Sour Lake, near the railroad station at Saratoga, two fellas with money they made down in Spindletop, named Bill Wiess and Steve Pipkin, found an area of sandly, loamy soil full of oily paraffin on the Pine Island Bayou, near the Baston post office. They formed Parrafine Oil Company and their first well was accidently drilled in just the right spot on the very top of another salt dome. Their first well came in flowing 600 BOPD from 730 feet in 1903. Guffey Petroleum, a predecessor to Gulf, and Patillio Higgins, both of Spindletop fame, bought land and minerals around the Parrafine discovery well and the race to drain THAT salt dome was on.

Guffey drilled the Brooks No. 1 well to 900 feet in 1904 and the well blew in at 17,000 BOPD. The top of the Batson salt dome then became so full of wooden rigs the legs touched each other and a hand couldn't take a leak off his rig floor without pissing on the neighbors.

Deep in the Big Thicket of East Texas, Batson was tough place before the oil boom hit. All hell broke loose when drilling started; whiskey, whores and scammers turned the one post office "village" into a den of crime. Once a oilfield hand rode into Batson there was a 50/50 chance he'd get murdered before he found a job. Initially called Ragtown, the village of Batson had to be moved because the high H2S gas from nearby wells was making the whores sick and they threatened to leave and go back to Houston. Within a week a brand new town was built a mile away and upwind from the stinky wells.

At one point in 1904, at the height of the boom, over 10,000 people lived in Batson. Today there are approximately 140 inhabitants.

Ada Belle Oil Company was incorporated in April of 1904. One of its founders, a man named Karnes, was said to have been courting two different women from Houston, one name Ada, the other named Belle, and wrote them the exact same letter from Batson every few months asking one or the other to marry him. Ada said yes, the story goes, and one of the company's fee tracts was named accordingly.

Ada Belle Oil Company drilled numerous wells on top of the salt and around the flanks of Batson over the years, bought fee land itself and farmed into old Guffey leases in the 1920's. It still produces a number of wells around Batson, even today, many of which only make a barrel of oil per day.

Until the late 1980's the Ada Belle Co. was believed to still be pumping a number of its very shallow wells via an eccentric wheel assembly, or "jerk-line" where a large, centralized bull wheel can make rods move out and back from the wheen to wells several hundred feet away, like spokes from hub.

Eccentric wheel, jerk lines can still be seen not infrequently in the Illinois Basin, from wells drilled there as 1905. Below, as the sucker rods travel back and forth horizontally, on blocks, it makes the piviot arm of this unit go up and down, stroking the down hole pump.

Some of Ade Belle's wells were also being produced into cypress wood tanks like the battery seen below. Ade Belle still has wells in Old Baston Field on the TRRC proration schedule but it is unknown if its leases have been upgraded to more modern methods, or if they remain historic landmarks to days gone by. I hope the latter.

Batson Salt Dome produced over 48,000,000 barrels of oil and is still active. In the late 1920's and 30's, and again in the 80's with the aid of three dimensional seismic, deeper Miocene pays were found pinched out against the walls of the salt dome at depths below 3,500 feet and the Texas Railroad Commission separted the field into two segments, Old Batson and New Batston Fields. Saratoga Dome was discovered just a few miles east of Batson in 1905.


[1] Lamar University

[2] Texas Portal To History

[3] APPG

[4] Jerk Line, So. IL


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