a ghost town, Thurber
existed only as long as it could produce something.
Coal mining brought the Eastland County town into being in late 1886.
When the Texas and Pacific Railroad pushed across West
Texas in the early 1880s, it needed fuel for its steam locomotives.
A large vein near what became Thurber
produced plenty of bituminous coal.
Then someone realized that all the red clay around Thurber
would make good bricks. In 1897, the Texas and Pacific Coal Co. opened
a brick plant on company property. Workers from Italy, the United
Kingdom, Mexico and other countries produced vitrified paving bricks
used on the streets of Amarillo,
and many other Texas cities.
Thurber Brick yards.
Old post card TE Archives
wildcatters discovered oil around the nearby town of Ranger
in 1917, Thurber
prospered from that production. The Texas and Pacific Coal Co. added
"and Oil" to its name and Thurber
boomed, reaching a population of up to 10,000.
those three phases of Thurber's
history - coal, bricks and oil -- are well known, much less known
is that the town became a production center for a fourth product:
For that information, posterity has Ed Owen to thank. Throughout his
long career as a geologist, Owen studied more than strata and fault
lines. He later recorded his experiences and observations in a tidy
print, chronicling everything from his family and educational background
Samuel Ellison, Jr., Joseph J. Jones and Mirva Owen (the geologist's
sister-in-law) edited Owen's writings for publication by the Geology
Foundation at the University of Texas at Austin. Published in 1987,
"The Flavor of Ed Owen -A Geologist Looks Back" is a hard-to-find
soft cover with considerable insight into early 20th century Texas.
Working for oil producer Lew H. Wentz, Owen established his headquarters
in Eastland in 1927.
There he soon became familiar with Thurber,
where labor difficulties and the conversion of coal-fired steam engines
to oil burners soon resulted in the closure of the Thurber
mines. Despite the cessation of coal mining, scaled-down operations
continued at the Thurber brick plant.
"The prohibition era came on at the right time," Owen wrote, "so now
is the bootleggers' domain. It is the mecca for the thirsty for miles
around, for these manufacturers have imagination and are also energetic
The observant geologist found the range of Thurber-made liquid products
"The pride and joy of the Italians is 'grappo,' a throat-searing,
soul-trying distillate of grapes and apricots," Owen continued. "Emil
sells homemade beer that approaches some of the old-time brewers'
quality. The specialty of the Dutchman's house is peppermint whiskey.
It has a cloying, sweetish taste, but the Dutchman will calm your
fear of poison by trying it on the nearest three or four of his 14
Someone named George sold red wine by the gallon. "Some people can
get drunk on it," Owen observed, "but most get sick too soon."
stood as the "gourmet capital of the bootleg industry," the pickings
elsewhere in West Texas were rather sparse in Owen's opinion.
A man in need of a warming brace could get "sugar whiskey" at Coleman,
tequila smuggled on mule back from Mexico, home brew at "Mac's house"
in Humbletown (a short-lived oil boom town near Cisco
in Eastland County) and of course, "the madam of the honkey tonk at
Angelo made gin."
Even so, heavy customer demand forced Mac to sell his beer before
its time, the Coleman sugar whiskey came out "too raw or burnt" and
Angelo madam's gin was "as unsatisfying as the other articles
of commerce in the honkey tonk."
Concluded Owen: "So Thurber
has broad paths beaten to its humble doors."
The Thurber brick plant closed in 1930, though Texas and Pacific maintained
some presence in the town.
When Congress decided in 1933 that its experiment in social engineering
called prohibition had failed, Thurber
went into its final decline, having no more commodities to offer.
© Mike Cox
September 7, 2006 column
Thurber Brick by Mike Cox
Texas' Premier Ghost Town
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