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The Pioneer Cafe was built in 1936 and serviced the Permian Basin oilfield with chicken fried steaks and cream gravy for over 80 years. It's located on Farm to Market Rd. 181, due West of Goldsmith, in N.W. Ector County on the Central Platform, between the Midland and Delaware Basins of West Texas.

If you don't know where Goldsmith is, its Northeast of Notrees. If you don't know where THAT is you must not be from Texas and I can't help you much, except to remind you of a song Lyle Lovett sings... "You're not from Texas but Texas loves you anyway."

Unless you are from California.

And to be perfectly clear, Ector County has a few oil wells in it, for sure, including very prolific conventional wells in the San Andreas, Clearfork, Queen and Devonian formations. XTO, for instance, is injecting CO2 into the Goldsmith San Andreas Unit; lots of this shallow stuff is under IOR on the Central Platform and declines one, one thousandths the rate that HZ Wolfcamp shit does.

Ector County is a piece of the foundation in which the Permian Basin became great and made the US a worldwide economic powerhouse.

This Pioneer Cafe is a joint I actually ate in numerous times as a young roughneck working in West Texas back in the early 1970's. It had a piece of chocolate creme pie you dreamed about on a rig floor.

After my tower I'd haul ass to this place, order a cold beer and a piece of pie before I had two cheeseburger's and fries, then a cold beer and another piece of pie, after. It took one more discreet long neck to drive back to the motel in West Odessa where by then a luke warm shower and a lumpy bed was beckoning with open arms.

If you blew by this joint in your pickup you'd a thought, man, what a dump...but this place was actually pretty famous and nobody blew by it. The food was always good, the beer always cold.

Frank Reeves, Photographer;

1943 Ector County.

Courtesy University of Texas, Arlington Digital Library

Most people mistakenly believe the first oil discovered in the Permian Basin was the famous Texon, Santa Rita No. 1 in Regan County, near Big Lake, in 1923. In truth the first commercial oil well was the Abrams No. 1 well in Mitchell County spud in 1919.

But fairly shallow (2,000-6,000 feet TVD) fields were being discovered at break-neck speed all over the Central Platform after 1925. After Cowden Field was found in 1930, Ector County became the 2nd largest producing county in the State.

Judkins Oil discovered San Andreas oil in Ector County S.E. of Odessa on the Cosden-Connell Ranch in 1926. The Connell 1-A well did not raise a lot of eyebrows at 35 BOPD but an ensuing Clearfork discovery between Notrees and Penwell, in Penn Field in 1929 made 565 BOPD... and did. Above is a 1930 photo taken by the famous, Jack Nolan of Odessa, showing development underway in Penn Field and below, far left, is Bob Penn himself on location of the 1929 discovery.

The topography of West Ector County is very sandy and gets sandier further west towards Kermit, Wink and Monahans. In a strong norther, most of Ector County gets picked up and re-deposited down in Crane County and points south; I remember sand storms rolling down the horozon in that country where all you could do was take a knee and coverup. Now days they mine all that sand and shove it down horizontal Lower Spraberry wells.

Ector County has produced roughly 2.83 G BO since 1929 (thru 2019) from some 16,000 total wells. It had a flurry of HZ activity into shallow Wolfcamp zones in 2014 that were not very successful. The County is believed to still be producing some 15,000,000 BO every year from Permian aged, vertical wells. The average depth of wells in the county is 5,600 feet and they make approximately 121 BOEPD each.

A woman named Maw Turnbaugh opened the Pioneer Cafe in 1936 and when she died in 1969 one of her waitresses, a woman named, Shawna Gossett, took it over and then ultimately bought the cafe.

She struggled making ends meet over the years as the horizonatal shale play swallowed up almost all the old Permian Basin and well paid hands sought more expensive meals in Odessa. Before she was forced to close the joint in 2016 she often did all the cooking, serving and dishwasing herself.

Left, a 2007 photo of the the Pioneer Cafe and its bar.

The joint relied heavily on oilfield traffic, of course.

Abandoned Pioneer Cafe, 2020; Ector County, Texas. Dan Winter, Photographer; Courtesy Texas Monthly Magazine


The book, The Iron Orchard, by Tom Pendleton, is a great read about the old Permian Basin of the 1930's and 40's and one I recommend. Much of the book would have taken place in Ector County, I should think.

I have not seen the movie as it is only 4-5 years old and never received a lot of media attention. I am sure it is on Netflix and places like that.

The trailer, below, appears far more "glamerous" than the book. There is a blowout scene in the (book) film I was hoping to help with it, but didn't, which I have seen and did not turn out like I would have wanted. Otherwise the film is historically very accurate. Some of the old cable tool scenes in the movie were shot replicating rigs found at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, where I use to have a fire photo of Kuwait on display.

Period pieces like this film are wonderful and my heart is filled when anybody understands better the oil business the way it use to be. It was hard back then, hard to raise money and when you did you better deliver results, or you were a gonner. It wasn't the bean counter stuff of today. It was where real men did real work.


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