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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

Rudolph the red-nosed pumping unit

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
If you drive through Lufkin during the holidays, be sure to take notice of one of East Texas’ most unusual Christmas decorations.

For decades, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Pumping Unit,” the creation of Lufkin Industries, Inc., the inventor of the balance-type oilfield pumping unit, has helped East Texas celebrate the season.

Rudolph, named for the reindeer made famous by the Gene Autry song, is a fully-operational pumping unit standing about 45 feet high.

For about four days before Thanksgiving, an electrician installs 1,000 seven-watt light on a selected unit. Another work crew spends another two and a half days putting Rudolph together at his holiday home on the parking lot of Lufkin Mall beside Loop 287 and U.S. 59.

Rudolph is actually a fully-operational Lufkin Mark 640 oilfield pump painted red for the season. At his holiday home, he is pulling a 38-foot dump trailer, also made by Lufkin Industries, carrying Santa Claus and a pile of Christmas gifts.

Rudolph, naturally, sports lighted antlers and a red nose.

On each Saturday before Thanksgiving, East Texans gather by the thousands at the mall, Santa Claus arrives, a local band and choir fills the air with Christmas music, and cookies and milk are passed out to the children on hand.

Lufkin Industries selects a person or group each year to be the official lighter of Rudolph. The crowd shouts out a countdown, a button is pushed, and Rudolph comes to life.

The origin of Rudolph goes back to the days when Guy Croom, a Lufkin Industries employee, heard the Gene Autry song and decided to decorate a small pumping unit with a red electric light bulb and a red ribbon around his neck.

The Christmas decoration was placed at the back entrance of a company machine shop where people driving down Raguet and Angelina streets in downtown Lufkin could see Rudolph bobbing up and down.

The site of Rudolph was often changed each year until it found a permanent home beside Loop 287 in south Lufkin.

At the end of each holiday season, Rudolph is dismantled, repainted and sold to an oil producing customer somewhere in the world. The trailer is also sold to a customer to carry goods across America.

The same will happen to Rudolph this year and it’s not unlikely that he could be placed in a foreign country where Christmas, as we know it, is not celebrated.
All Things Historical
December 17, 2007 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 35 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

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