It was a very good year: Vintage McCamey

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“Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.” – Pope John XXIII

“Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil.” – J. Paul Getty

“A good year” is a phrase wine growers use to describe a potentially successful season. This is a year that presents the ideal conditions, for those who know how, to create the best that can be produced. Circumstances must be just right and it takes skill, courage, speculation and a lot of luck. Just so for something else that goes in a barrel!

It was a fantastic year for A.S. Burleson (you may recognize the name), then Postmaster General of the United States. Just a few years previous, Burleson bought 14,000 acres of land in the area, and it was suddenly worth a great deal. The first two lots sold became the city center, at the corner of what is now 5th and McKinney.

Thousands of workers who had been laid off from manufacturing, farming or ranch jobs were desperate to find paid work. This new settlement where Mr. McCamey had just recently “hung his shingle” on the side of a railroad car was the place for many recently uprooted to get a “fresh start”.

Conditions were very rough, at first. There were few houses, most lived in rented tents ($1.00 a day), cots rented at the First Baptist Church (75 cents a night) or oilfield workers shacks (if they were lucky). Lack of housing forced some to return every night, after working all day, to Big Lake and other surrounding cities, by rail.

There were no paved roads, until 1927 compacted soil was smoothed and oiled to keep down the dust. McCamey’s few streets were described as “resembling the shell-pitted fields of France in miniature” by the El Paso Herald. Water had to be brought in to the area, at $1.00 a barrel, it was used and recycled as many times as possible for cooking, bathing, cleaning, watering animals and irrigation, as you could imagine.

Between the incessant wind, heat, occasional downpour and the lack of running water, sewer or electricity, one could only imagine what it must have been like. Bob Barger, who came to McCamey in June of 1925 said, “…there were mud, board walks, horses stuck in the muddy streets and being pulled out with chains. It was hard going.” There were some automobiles, but the roads were sometimes impossible to drive.

Upland had received mail since 1906. This post office operated until 1916, when mail was then specially delivered to the area from nearby Crossett. It would be twenty years before McCamey received its own post office.

The first businesses included honkytonks, hotels, grocery and general stores and restaurants. There were no saloons due to Prohibition, but bootleggers kept the area supplied and there was known to be an area where there hung a “red light”.

By this time, there were THREE newspapers operating out of McCamey. The Tri-County Record and Daily Telegram (W.D. Riser) and McCamey Leader (R.A. Hall) ran until they were bought out and consolidated into the McCamey News in 1929.

By 1927 the intrepid investors, oil companies and citizens had built a waterworks and sewer system and a school for over 500 pupils, and installed limited electric light and telephones. There were many churches and four theaters.

Even then, so much money was being made in the oil fields that investors who cashed checks for a fee could not keep up with demand on paydays. Workers still had to travel to Rankin (or further) to redeem their paychecks. Security Bank would not be founded in McCamey until 1928.

Only 90 and three days years after the State declared its Independence from Mexico, McCamey was incorporated. This year saw the birth of our City. Upland had sprouted and then withered in 1916 and Crossett all but dried up and blew away in the ‘40s, but McCamey remained.

No matter how far residents were forced to “prune back” in boom or bust, McCamey continues to grow and produce new citizens, organizations and businesses from its well-established roots. The busy rail line and two intersecting highways built through town in the years following incorporation made McCamey the shipping, oilfield service and travel hub it is today.

By all accounts, 1925 to 1926 was what we all would call “a good year”. Closing in on the 90th anniversary of the first barrels (of oil) being produced in our city, you could say that it has aged well, too.


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