THE LAND THAT WILL ALWAYS BE WATER
Humble Oil & Refining Company (now Exxon-Mobil)
The State of Texas, Pure Oil Company & Sun Oil Company
During the period 1947-48 Humble Oil (now part of Exxon-Mobil) filed suit against the State of Texas, Pure Oil Company, and Sun Oil Company declaring certain state designated water tracts were originally land that belonged to the Armstrong Ranch that Humble Oil had under oil and gas lease in Kennedy County, Texas.
Humble’s position was that the land eroded away by virtue of high and low tides over a period of many years. The area in question is, today, that portion of the ranch shoreline and Laguna Madre approximately 13 miles long and 5 miles wide lying due east of the town of Armstrong. The area is in the shape of a rectangle approximately 50 miles South of Corpus Christi via the Intercoastal Canal.
The Sun & Pure Oil companies had leased the State tracts from the State of Texas and drilled several wells as limited producers. The field was called Mesquite-Rincon.
Bill Dougherty in Corpus Christi was the District Manager for Humble. He was hiring crews to conduct surface core drilling in this contested area to prove that the land under water was a part of Armstrong Ranch. I joined the work force which was already in progress in the summer of 1948.
Dougherty told me Fred Jacobs would come by and pick me up the next day. It had been raining for several days and when we arrived at the gate off of Highway 77 just south of the town of Armstrong, we reached about 2 miles toward camp. We came to the sand dunes and gulleys between them with water 2-4 feet deep. It was pitch dark by this time. We left our gear and started walking and wading. He said it will take us about 4 hours. When we get to the top of the sand dunes be careful because the rattle snakes always go to high ground to avoid the water. He said you go ahead and lead because the snakes usually strike the second person. I said, “No, you go first, Fred, since you know the way and I’ll just have to take my chances.”
We finally reached camp about 2 a.m. and hit the bunks. The next morning at breakfast, we sat down to eat. Someone was helping my plate with scrambled eggs and what looked like sausage. Then they began passing around bacon, more sausage, etc. It became quite and as I looked up everyone was looking at me and grinning. Finally, it dawned on me that it was not sausage on my plate. It was mountain oysters. My initiation and welcome to the camp.
The equipment consisted of open hull self driven tractors called “snow weasels.” They were light weight and worked very well in the shallow waters which varied from 6 inches to 2 feet deep. The camp was constructed of tents with bunks for about 30 people, a cook’s shack, and an office building. Ben Stanley was the boss, assisted by Ted McFarland in the office, and Hank Wyenken who was known as a tough field boss. Hank did art work for the Corpus Christi Geological Society Bulletin at one time. His well-known sketching of the sand dunes and wild grasses was used for several years.
Humble employed a man by the name of Louis Rawalt. This man was most unusual in that he was an inventor and beachcomber. The tools we used were 8-foot long, 2-inch clear plastic tubes. As one end of the tube was placed in the water, Rawalt rigged up the compression on the snow weasel’s motor and as the tube was forced downward through the soft mud and sand it would slowly suck the core up the tube. After the core tube was full it was pulled up and the compression was reversed and a neat core was pushed out on boards, cut in half and logged.
Later on, Ted McFarland asked if I would like to help him in the office by drawing cross-sections of the formations. I readily accepted, although I was going to miss the rest of the guys who were a lot of fun to be with. I guess you could say this cross-section work was the beginning of my career in geology.
One afternoon after Hank, our boss, had gone back to camp, we ran up on a large school of 10-15 pound bull redfish. The fish had been caught in shallow water during low tide and were trying to find deeper water. We were driving our weasels at around 5-7 miles an hour chasing those redfish, leaning over the side with our 16 inch Stilson wrenches, clubbing the fish to stun them. The weasel behind would stop and pick up the stunned fish. Well, as it turns out, Hank coming back from camp to check on us, saw what we were doing. He made us work 2 hours longer that day. After I started working on cross sections in the office, the guys told me Hank became even tougher. I think some of the guys deserved it because they got a little lazy on the job.
While I was working on this project, Humble flew daily flights over the area taking aerial photographs attempting to prove there were intermittent periods of dry land and water. Though I was with the work crew only a short time, I never saw any dry land as it was continuously under water. At the end of summer 1948, I left to go back to college. I learned later that the Judge ruled in favor of the State of Texas etal. Also that Humble had spent nearly $4 million dollars on the project, a handsome sum of money in those days.
Barnard P. Dietz – 3/8/08