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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Two Photos Along Oyster Creek

Here are two photos of areas along Oyster Creek that have changed considerably over the years. This first one shows Dam #2, or Coburn's Dam, as we always called it. At first, I was unsure where this picture was taken. It had to be one of three dams on Oyster Creek: Dam #1 (also known as Cook's Dam), Coburn's Dam, or Dam #3 (also known as Blair's Dam) further down-stream south of the Sugar Creek subdivision.

The houses on the left fooled me because I never saw houses in that location in my day. However, the water channel passing to the right is Brooks Lake, or the body of water surrounding Fluor. Consequently, this has to be Coburn's Dam. Roy & Betty Cordes live on the corner of the creekbank on the left of this photo. (The camera is pointed eastward.)

(Update) I was fooled by this picture. My brother Bruce gave me this info: "The first pic is not a dam but a wooden bridge that crossed the channel connecting Oyster Creek and Cleveland lake where Main Street bridge is today. The houses on the left are houses on First Street; you can also see the last schoolroom at the end of the houses, the one where you had 3rd grade. The cement-domed sediment tank between the old power plant and the creek had not been built yet. The Main Street bridge we know today was built in the mid 1920s. So the pic was taken from the refinery looking east."

There's a Kelly family story about this bridge. My father was born in the early morning of April 16, 1925 at my grandparent's home at 506 Imperial Boulevard on the west side of Sugar Land. They had no phone, so my grandfather ran across town to The Hill to get a doctor (Deathredge or Slaughter, I don't know which). He had to cross this bridge - not the cement bridge now spanning Cleveland Lake.

This next photo shows Oyster Creek Drive back in 1968 as Cordes Cleaners was under construction. The site is now the location of Baldwin Cleaners & other businesses. The Shell station sits eastward across Oyster Creek Drive, which is now Bayview. Notice the gardens further down the road. The east bank of Oyster Creek was a popular gardening spot. I remember one of the Binford brothers & August Chernosky had gardens there. That site is now the location of Buddy Wheeler's old dentist office.

Power Plant in The Imperial Sugar Refinery

I was searching the Web site, The Portal to Texas History, for an old photo of Imperial Boulevard. I came across these pictures of the Power Plant in the Imperial Sugar Refinery. I worked there as a summer hire in the late '60s & early '70s while I was in college. I recognized these locations right away.

In fact, I went through the Power Plant several months ago as Johnson Development demolished much of the refinery complex. It's funny how much still looked like it does in these pictures. If you've driven down Highway 90A recently, you'll notice that nothing now remains of the Power Plant except two smoke stacks for the old boilers.

These undated photos come from the Fort Bend County Museum Collection. I've included a link to the site so you can see other photos they've posted.

Link to The Portal to Texas History Web Site

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Humble Camp Update

My aunt, Mayme Rachuig Hause, sent me a couple more items about the Humble Camp. The first is a layout of the camp as she remembers it. The second is her short memoir of growing up out there. I enjoyed reading it.

You'll see that I was incorrect last week, when I said there were no stores out at the Camp. My aunt mentions the Erlichs, who ran the small store until 1940. Wayburn Hall (SLHS '43) told me his family moved out to the camp & ran it from 1940 to '42. Sugarland Industries operated the store rather than Humble Oil Company. Here's what Mr. Hall said:
"Chuck, my Family lived at the Humble Camp from about 1940 to 1942 in a house owned by Sugarland Industries. It was the first house on the left upon entering the Humble Camp. One of the pictures in your blog has a small building with a front porch in the front. I believe this was next to the house we lived in. Sugar Land Industries did operate some kind of a store there. The store had long been closed before we moved there. I knew all the people in the Humble Camp in the early 1940s."
I know the Industries allowed some Humble people to occupy houses in Sugar Land. My grandparents lived for a few months in the last small, brick house on Brooks Street when they first moved to Sugar Land in 1932. As soon as their house at the Camp was built, they moved out there.

Notice that Gulf Oil Company had an office at the camp. The field required co-operation between various companies, so Humble wasn't the only company working that field.

Link to diagram of Humble Camp

Link to memoir of life in the Humble Camp

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sugar Land's Humble Camp

The Humble Camp was a small community run by the Humble Oil Company. It had production & pipeline units. I always thought the production unit was very small because there weren't many wells on the Sugar Land side of the Brazos River, but based on photos I've found, I could be wrong.

The pipeline connected with sizable fields on Thompson's side of the Brazos & transported the collected oil northeastward toward the Baytown refinery complex.

Virtually all large, vertically-integrated oil companies in Texas had camps dotting their pipelines & oil fields. They were small company towns in many cases. The Sugar Land camp didn't have commercial enterprises (I believe I'm right about that), so it wasn't exactly a company town like Sugar Land, but it was a tight-knit community sustained & managed by Humble Oil Company.

My maternal grandfather, H. A. Rachuig, was head of the pipeline section of the camp, so my mother & her sister grew up out there. I've had a little difficulty in pinpointing its exact location in what is now First Colony. Oil Field Road ran from Highway 6 to the Camp in the old days. Now it's just a short street in First Colony. My best guess is that the camp sat somewhere near Manor Road. My brother has found the exact spot & taken pictures of it, which I've included in the photo album below.

(Update) My aunt, Mayme Rachuig Hause, took the modern pictures that appear in the online album. Bruce sent me this map which shows the location of the Camp in present-day First Colony.

Some of the pictures are low-resolution & a little blurry, but they'll give you an idea of life out at the Humble Camp. You'll see family snapshots of the Camp, plus photos I've found of the Sugar Land Oil Field taken in the late 1920s.

Unfortunately, the Web site where I found these photos is no longer in operation, so I can't give a lot of detail about what they show. I recall reading that Sugarland Industries leased its River bottom land for exploration, but little came of it. Maybe I can find out more with further research.
(Update) My brother Bruce found this reference in The Handbook of Texas. It offers some interesting history on the Sugar Land Oil Field. After reading it I'm uncertain if the photos show Cockburn's exploratory drilling in 1927 or Humble's producing field. It's possible/probable they show both. The photo of the River bank could be an early photo of Cockburn's exploration. He doesn't appear in my notes, but a man named Nelson does. He either worked for Cockburn during exploratory drilling or Humble as they put the field in production. (I hope I can find the Web site where I found these photos.)

Link to entry in The Handbook of Texas

The album ends with a few pictures Bruce took of the remnants of the Camp in present-day First Colony.

Link to photo album of Humble Camp

Monday, June 6, 2011

Another How-Times-Have-Changed Story

Everyone says times have changed & takes it for granted. Concrete examples really make the point stand out. One of my favorites is the story about boys taking their shotguns to school so they could go duck hunting in what is now Venetian Estates before & after the school day. Here's a similar story I heard last weekend at a confab of old timers.

I don't know what year this incident happened, so I don't know what grade they were in, but it's part of the Class of 1951's lore. The scene was Miss Ford 'Add-Another-Ruffle' Berry's history class. (The origin of her nickname is another funny story.) Allan Landin had taken a board out of the bottom of his desk, pulled out his large pocket knife, & began whittling. Apparently, he was sitting on the front row, so Miss Berry was either so focused on the lesson that she didn't see the knife, or she figured whittling was ok as long as it kept Allan quiet.

Well, Allan placed the board vertically on his left thigh & began whittling downward toward his leg. The knife slipped & he slashed the inside of his thigh pretty good. Ron Miller said blood went everywhere. Allan said he cut some cord off the classroom blinds & made a tourniquet for his leg. Several boys helped him out of the classroom and set him on a bicycle which they used as a make-shift gurney to get him across the street to the hospital.

Well, Miss Nema was as alert as ever. She saw them coming across the street toward the front door. She yelled, "DON'T BRING HIM IN THROUGH THIS DOOR! HE'S BLEEDING!" I guess neatness & decorum trumped emergency procedures.

The boys ignored her & took him in the front door. I guess it all turned out ok because I saw Allan last Saturday & he lived to tell the tale. In fact, he said he still has the knife.

(Update) I just talked on the phone with B. I. Webb (SLHS '51) & got his version of the story, which is generally the same. He thinks it happened in the '48/'49 school year when they were sophomores. He also thinks Allan was whittling on a slat from an apple box. The knife was a single-blade, 4" knife. As Allan tried to split the slat using both hands on the knife & the slat balanced vertically on his thigh, the knife slashed through the dry wood and cut into his thigh. They used B. I.'s bicycle to get him to the hospital. Good stuff.

(Update) I got this note from Jackie James (SLHS '57); I thought it was funny. 'I really enjoyed looking at the pictures in Humble Camp. Had some really good friends that lived out there.......Barbara Burns, H.G. Bossley and Ray Barton all lived out there if I remember right. I have a couple of funny ones on "Miss Good morning merry sunshine" Barry. (That's how she greeted me in the hall when I visited SLHS the year after graduation). When we were in high school (class of '57) her room's windows looked out across Cleveland Lake to what was then called the Pecan Grove I believe. There were also cows grazing there at the time. If I remember right, we were in 8th grade. One of the guys kept a round cow head that when turned over mooed several times under his seat where we had places for our books. Every once in a while he would reach in and turn that cow over and it would moo and moo. Miss Barry would stop the class, look over at the cows in the Pecan Grove and say, "Those cows are really noisy today" and keep right on going with her lecture. A couple of other times someone put an alarm clock on top of the cabinet in the corner of the room by the blackboard behind her desk. It was set to go off about fifteen minutes before the bell was to ring. When that happened she would say, "My, my, that time really went fast today, get your books and see you tomorrow"!! Whoever did it didn't get away with that more than one or twice if I remember right because we didn't know what to do once we got out into the hall! I'll have you know "yours truly" had nothing to do with either of those happenings!!!! I was talking to Ronald Miller one time after he was in college and I was in 9th or 10th grade. The subject came up about Miss Barry and I was telling him those stories probably. Ronald said, "Jackie, I am going to give you some great advice! Listen to everything that lady has to teach you as she really knows her history and is much smarter than most kids think"!! I took his advice and when I was taking History in college at TCU my history professor wanted me to be his "assistant" and grade his papers for him because I was so good in history. TRUE STORY. Ronald probably doesn't remember but I do.'

Imperial Boulevard

A few month's ago I posted a copy of the old Sugar Land newspaper, Texas Industrial News, printed on December 6, 1924. It had a short article about Imperial Boulevard, which had just been named by residents living on that street. I know first-hand that many residents referred to Imperial Blvd. as 'Rat Row.' I can't recall who told me this, but the cotton gin & dairy (which sat at the east end of the street where it intersected Ulrich St.) attracted lots of rodents. Alec Horn has told me his father & uncle were paid to hunt (shoot) rats at night. (Alec's grandfather ran the feed mill.)

(Update) Gerald Culler reminded me that Imperial Boulevard went by another nickname, too: "Tin Can Alley."

(Update) I received this note from Ron Miller, whose family lived on Imperial Boulevard. "
I have another angle on why it was called Rat Row.
The railroad marshalling yard was to the north of our street and before Oyster Creek. The waste raw sugar from the plant was piled adjacent to the rr tracks, and the rats feasted on this substance and became quite large. And there were a lot of them. They tunnelled all over the place and for some reason elected to build exits in the back yards of the people that lived on the north side of the road.

My dad's brother, Johnny Miller, his wife, Selma, and son my cousin, Vernon, lived next door to us. Vernon was about four years older than me, and knew how to use a 22 rifle. He liked to do some rat plinking from time to time, and would set up in the back yard to do this. If it was a slow day for rat plinking, a water hose could be placed in one of the holes/exits for the rats and the caverns below filled with water. Of course, the rats escaped to the surface to the rifle fire of Vernon. Ron"

I wish I had a good picture of the street. The best I can do are the two below. They may have been taken at the same time, sometime between 1949 & 1951. (The Palms Theater appears in the pictures, & it was completed in 1949. The Shopping Center isn't under construction, & it began in April, 1949.)

Imperial Boulevard is the street running down to the lower- right corner of the first picture. You can just see the beginning of the houses. It's in the lower-left of the second picture.

(Notice Belknap. Just a few houses there.)

The earliest houses dated from 1922. A house was moved to the end of the street (north side) in 1946. Most houses were built in 1924 & 1925. My grandparents (Kellys) lived at 506. I always thought the street address was 811 because that's what's on my father's birth certificate, but actual street addresses weren't assigned until sometime in the 1930s when HL&P began supplying power to the town. Earlier street numbers (like 811) were a company reference, apparently.

Imperial Boulevard vanished with the expansion of Nalco in the 1970s.

Sports Ephemera

I found a Web site recently with 'ephemeral' from Houston's history. These were common-place things that are rarely saved, like cocktail napkins, business cards, advertising fliers, movie tickets, etc.

Rick Kirkpatrick had a couple of interesting (to me) items in his family archive. The first was an unused ticket to the first regular season game in the Astrodome. The 'Stros played Philadelphia & lost 2-0. Chris Short beat Bob Bruce.

The second item is a ticket to the Ali - Williams fight in the Astrodome in 1966. My father went to the fight, too. I remember him saying the most impressive thing that night was the 'Ali Shuffle.' He said Ali's feet were so fast, they were a blur -- like a ballet dancer's.

Here's a 10-minute video of the whole fight