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McCleskey No. 1

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McCleskey No. 1

      Discovery Well

McCleskey No. 1 was drilled under the direction of W. K. Gordon ("Father of the Ranger Field"), Vice President and General Manager of Texas & Pacific Coal Company, the lease owner. Warren Wagner was the contractor, and Frank Champion was the driller when the gusher "roared in."

The Ranger Boom was heard far and wide as evidenced by many articles, ie. one captioned "WAR NEED FOR OIL..." This same article related "The major part of the development work near Ranger, Texas... It was not until after the well at Ranger showed oil that other companies began to enter the field on an important scale."  Another statement, "... probably the most spectacular boom ever to have occurred within the United States."

"Spectacular," indeed. Our United States, Great Britain, Italy, France and Russia were in the midst of WWI with Germany and the Central Powers. Russia had supplied the Allies with oil since 1914 and its withdrawal from the conflict in 1917 caused the Allies to have a "critical petroleum shortage, threatening to halt Allied ships, planes, tanks, trucks and locomotives." Earl Curzon declared that the Allies cause had been "floated to victory on a wave of oil" because if it had not been for the great fleets of motor trucks the war could not have been won." The Ranger Boom was to become noted as "The Boom that Won The War." Quote of a late Ranger resident...."Colonel Thompson, Chairman of the Railroad Commission... I've heard him make the statement 'that World War I, the rode to victory on the oil that was produced out of the Ranger Oil field'... And it was one of they great oil booms...because there was a demand for oil"

"The World's Biggest Boom... The wildest, roaringest boom of them all - Ranger! ....Truly, California in 1949, the Klondike, Butte, Spindle top - none of the other great riches, whether produced by gold , silver, copper, or petroleum equaled Ranger."  And the J. H. McCleskey No. 1 started it all!

The Ranger oil boom was born when the McCleskey Number One roared in on October 17, 1917. Although this was the attention getter, it was not the first drilling activity in the area nor the first oil producer.

Slight indications of oil had been found as early as 1912. In that year, the Texas and Pacific Coal Company sunk some test holes to 700 or 800 feet near the Leon river, about seven miles from Ranger, while searching for new veins of coal.

These test holes created some excitement, prompting the taking of some oil and gas leases in the vicinity, but nothing much was done until 1915 when TP drilled a well test about ten miles east of Ranger and three miles west of Strawn. This well, which came in at about 1000 feet, flowed several hundred barrels of oil a day. (Wagner)

With the Strawn well as incentive, a number of oil companies were formed in Ranger and Eastland, and explorations were begun east, northeast and northwest of Ranger. A few tests were also made near Eastland but since all of these wells were shallow attempts, they all were dry holes and interest once again waned. (Denny)

Following the disappointing results of the previous activity, all exploratory activity ceased until the Texas company drilled a producing well on the Jim Parks ranch about seven southeast of Breckenridge and twenty-five miles northwest of Ranger. This was the first well to produce oil from what come to be known as the Ranger Sand or deep pay. (Wagner)

In March, 1917, a public meeting was held to discuss with W.K. Gordon, the general manager of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company, the possibility of getting some deep test holes drilled near Ranger. After considering the proposal, Mr. Gordon agreed to drill four deep tests to a depth of 3,500 feet if the local parties would secure the lease on a minimum of 10,000 acres for the T & P Company.

Property owners were offered twenty-five cents per acre and an annual lease of $1.00 per acre for the next seven years. This offer was accepted and a block of 25,000 acres was soon secured and the first derrick was built in the spring of 1917 inside the city limits on the land of Mrs. Nannie Walker.

Shortly after this initial start, the second well was spudded in on the J. H. McCleskey farm about two miles south of Ranger (Denny)

The drilling progressed rapidly at the Nannie Walker site until the latter part of August when a considerable flow of gas was reported. Drilling was delayed for a time but resumed after security precautions had been taken. The well was pushed on to 3,400 feet when a string of tools was lost in the hole.

After a prolonged fishing job, the well was abandoned.

Work at the McCleskey site continued after the Walker well was abandoned, but the New York financial bankers of the two Ranger drilling projects became so skeptical that they refused to advance additional money for continued operations. W.K. Gordon, who had kept a daily watch on the wells, had faith and authorized the drilling operation to continue. He was soon to be rewarded.



The Town Faith Built

W. K. Gordon said keep drilling when everyone else had given up





Frank Campion was the driller on the afternoon that the McCleskey well blew in. He walked the mile from the drilling site into town and telephoned Gordon at Thurber the news which was quickly flashed across the nation. The well had hit pay at 3,234 and the Ranger Sand was discovered. No preparations had been made when the well came in and dams were hastily constructed downhill from the well to contain the 1,700 barrels of oil per day that flowed out of the well.

The Nannie Walker well that had been abandoned continued to flow gas that was burned off. During the night of January 1, 1918, the people of Ranger were awakened by an explosion from the well site. The morning inspection revealed that the well had increased its production of natural gas to more than a million feet, but the T & P Company was occupied elsewhere and allowed it to continue to flow.

About six weeks later another explosion occurred and the Nannie Walker began to spout oil. What had been considered a $35,000 loss became a paying property worth about a half million dollars. (Wagner).

The third well was spudded in on the Davenport  farm and came in on March 1, 1918. Ten days later the fourth well came on the Hagaman tract and when word got around that four for four were producers, operators from all across the country converged on Ranger to share in the mother lode of  ‘liquid gold.’

It was soon discovered that, thanks to W.K. Gordon’s astute handling of the situation, most of the productive territory was leased to the Texas and Pacific Coal Company. The company was able to sell half its holdings at $4,000 per acre, reaping a golden harvest without having to drill for it. (Wagner)

Magnolia and Humble oil companies were drilling for the T & P Company on a share basis. The small operator, being shut out of the Ranger field, began to spread out in the territory surrounding Ranger and as far north as Burkburnett. Production around Breckenridge became so intent that it began to rival Ranger as the center of the oil activity. During the later part of 1917, the fields around Ranger and Breckenridge produced 93,000 and 36,000 barrels respectively. During 1918 the same territories produced 3,107,000 and 79,000 barrels. (Wagner)

When the thousands of men were released from the military following the end of WWI, they were not content to return to the ordinary jobs or the farms they had left to go to war. They had been men of action and hazardous endeavors wer just a part of living to them. Ranger offered the type of excitement they were seeking and the prospects of becoming wealthy seemed to them to be worth the risk of a few dollars. They flocked to Ranger by the thousands to join the adventurers who continued to swarm in from every part of the country.





William Knox (W.K.) Gordon

William Knox Gordon, son of Cosmo and Adelaide (Lorimore) Gordon, was born in Fredericksburg, Spotsvylvania County, Virginia, on January 26, 1862, received his formal education in Fredericksburg public schools, and studied engineering under his uncle William F. Gordon who was considered one of the best in the State of Virginia. A self-taught  geologist, civil and mining engineer, Gordon came to Texas to make surveys for a proposed railroad between Thurber and Dublin. He became acquainted with Col. R.D. Hunter, then president of Thurber’s Texas and pacific Coal Company, who in 1892 hired Gordon as superintendent for the company.




In 1917 severe drought hit West Texas. Wit its main industry farming and ranching, economy in Ranger, Texas was failing. A few Citizens, with knowledge that W.K. Gordon had been testing for oil in the area, traveled to nearby Thurber to approach Gordon, then vice president and general manager of Texas and Pacific Coal Company, to explore for oil in Ranger.

Gordon’s response was “...if you will give our company a block of 30,000 acres around Ranger, we will drill four deep test wells. We are willing to wager $200,000 that there is oil.”

Taking him up on the offer, and after the first test came in a gasser, attention turned to the John H. McCleskey farm where the second well had been spudded on July 2, 1917.

Geologists sent from the New York office, reported there was no sign of oil in Ranger, and if any found, it wouldn’t be profitable to drill. But Gordon argued with the New York office who told him if he thought he knew more than the best geologists in America, go ahead, but their advice was to stop. Gordon had faith, continued, and his perseverance was rewarded at 3,43 feet when the McCleskey well came in a gusher, the discovery of he Ranger Oil Boo, that became a major part in winning World War I.

W.K. Gordon, “Father of the Ranger Field,” died in Fort Worth, Texas on March 13 1949.

In 1996 W.K. Gordon was nominated, and inducted, for his “significant contributions to Ranger, Texas,” into the newly established Ranger Hall of Fame.

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