In 1927 three companies combined their resources to construct an industrial
plant to produce and process natural gas from the enormous reserves in the Hugoton
Gas Field, which extends through the Texas Panhandle, the Oklahoma Panhandle and
part of Kansas. The plant operated under the name of Canadian River Gas and was
located in Moore County, Texas, thirty-two miles north of Amarillo
and sixteen miles south of Dumas. Construction began
in late 1927 on the plant complex and a 342 mile pipeline to transport natural
gas to Denver, Colorado. At the same time, a hotel for single workers and twelve
houses for married workers and their families were being built. The housing area
was commonly known as a camp.
The plant was built on land purchased from Lee Bivins, member of a prominent
ranching family. The community would be named after him. The plant was known as
Bivins Compressor Station. On April 15, 1928 the Amarillo Sunday News carried
an article with the headline:
GROWTH OF GAS INDUSTRY LEADS TO NEW TOWN
“BIVINS” SPRINGS UP IN SOUTH MOORE COUNTY
The article predicted
grand things for Bivins; such as, a lake, a swimming pool, a church and
a school. Not all those predictions came true. There was a church and a school,
but there would be no lake and no swimming pool. The last sentence in the story
read: “The town ‘Bivins’ will be on the map….” If Bivins was ever on the map,
it didn’t stay there for many years.
Moore County Texas map showing "Bivins" |
Courtesy Texas General Land
|After the houses were
occupied, the wife of a worker set up a classroom in her home and taught the five
children who lived in the camp. By 1930 there were eighteen students and a one-room
school was built. In 1937 the plant expanded and an additional twenty homes were
built. That year a three-room brick school building was constructed at a cost
Early on, a Sunday school was organized and meetings were
held in the homes of its members. Later, classes were held in the schoolhouse.
From time to time over the years, there was not enough interest to keep the church
going. During those times folks who really wanted to be in church drove to Dumas.
During the thirties, the demand for helium increased greatly when the army
and navy expanded their aviation programs. In June, 1941 the United States Department
of the Interior requested a new facility to meet the even greater demands for
helium that would occur if the United States became involved in World War II.
A survey across the southwestern region of the nation, determined that natural
gas with the highest content of helium was to be found in the Panhandle field
of Texas. In March 1942 a contract was signed for land, located three-quarters
of a mile west of Bivins, for a helium plant to be constructed and operated by
the U.S. Bureau of Mines. The plant was hurriedly constructed and by March 1943,
helium was being produced by the Exell Helium Plant. Natural gas was delivered
to the plant from Bivins Compressor Station, the helium extracted and the gas
returned to Bivins. During the war, helium was used chiefly in dirigibles that
escorted ship convoys across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to deliver troops
and military equipment and supplies. Later, helium was important to the space
Seventy-five homes were built adjacent to the helium plant and
the population of Masterson swelled to almost five hundred. The drastic increase
in school enrollment called for a larger building. Wartime shortages, however,
would delay any addition until 1946 when four rooms were added. A few years later
a gymnasium and cafeteria were added.
First Baptist Church in Dumas
organized a mission in 1943 to serve the entire community. It was called Exell
Baptist Church and services were held in the school. In 1947, members voted to
borrow $2,000 for a cinderblock structure and they spent their summer working
on the church. The building had only an auditorium with areas curtained off for
Sunday school classes. Later, an old barracks building was bought and moved in
When Bivins came into being, mail was carried by train
from Amarillo to Channing
where a carrier picked it up and delivered it to Bivins. Residents picked up their
mail in the office. Later, it would be carried by the bus that transported employees
who lived in Amarillo to and from work. After the helium plant was built, the
storekeeper, who lived in Amarillo, picked up mail there and delivered it to the
plant. Camp residents picked up their mail at a guard shack near the entrance
to the plant.
In 1946, Steve Scott returned from a stint in the U.S.
Army and went to work in the office at Bivins Compressor Station. The next year,
he bought and moved an old barracks onto land he leased from Lee Bivins. He established
a combined grocery store and gas station and began the tedious job of obtaining
a post office. When that was done and he met the qualifications for postmaster,
he had to choose a name for the town. To him, Bivins was the obvious choice, and
that’s the name he submitted to the Postal Service. The request was denied. Another
small town somewhere in the state was named Bivens. Next, he submitted the name
Levi. It was also rejected. There was already a Levi, Texas. Robert B. Masterson
was a prominent rancher in the area. Mr. Scott submitted the name Masterson
and the community finally had an official name. Reta Horn would become postmaster
soon thereafter, and she held the position for more than thirty years.
the town was named, the church also selected a new name – First Baptist Church
of Masterson. Though it was a Baptist church, it was attended by members of all
denominations. People who lived in two other camps,
located outside the school district, came some distance to participate in the
church and its activities. The community also presented opportunities for them
to take part in 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Home Demonstration, youth and adult
softball and various other social activities.
in the forties and continuing for nearly twenty years, the school averaged an
enrollment of around a hundred students from first through the eighth grade. At
Bivins, scholastics were first priority and eighth grade graduates were well prepared
when they started school in Dumas. Students scored well in interscholastic meets
and in every year but one from 1953 to 1970, Bivins had winners in either Junior
or Senior, or both, divisions of Moore County Spelling Bee. Over the years competition
in sports included baseball, volleyball and track, but basketball was the most
popular. Most residents were avid fans of the Bivins Broncos and drove many miles
to cheer them on when they played other small schools in the area. |
was the beginning of the end. That spring, Bivins
camp residents were notified that all the houses in their camp
would be sold within the next two years. Reluctantly, families began to move into
new homes in Dumas or Amarillo.
A few months later the people at Exell got notice that houses vacated in their
camp would be sold. Seeing
the certain demise of the community, residents of that camp
also began to move.
In the spring of 1966, the church had a special
ceremony to burn the note on the auditorium and parsonage built several years
earlier. In January of the following year, members voted to disband. There were
not enough members left to support the church.
Except for two houses
at Exell, both camps
were gone by 1970. Still, the school struggled on for several years. The majority
of its few students came from Middlewell,
a farming community which had closed its school some years earlier. With only
four students scheduled to enroll for the school year ‘77-‘78, trustees voted
to close the school after the spring semester of 1977 and bus students to Dumas.
To serve the few remaining families in the area, the post office and
store remained open until 1984, when Mrs. Horn retired.
operated Exell Helium plant fell victim to privatization and was closed in the
late 1990s. The plant’s buildings remain, but all the equipment has been sold.
Canadian River Gas sold the Bivins plant to Colorado Interstate Gas Company in
1951. In 2002 Pioneer Natural Resources bought them out and the plant continues
to produce and process natural gas. Artifacts from both plants are on display
at Window on the Plains Museum in Dumas.
Nowadays, the store and post
office building are empty. The church building is used for storage and a retired
couple lives in the parsonage. The school was sold to a Borger
church to use as a retreat. A Masterson reunion is held there every other year.
Life in a Camp > next page|
from the book tell more about life in a camp.
"No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas" was published in 1994
by Louise George who can be contacted at (806)935-5286 or lgeorge@ nts-online.net
or Box 252, Dumas, TX 79029.