Struck Oil


Oil discovered in the quiet little community of Van, Texas, turned it in to a Boom Town overnight.

Come and listen to a story
‘bout a man named Jarman​
poor cotton grower
barely kept his family farmin’
Then one day
Pure Oil brought in a dude
and up from the ground
came a bubblin’ crude
Oil that is, black gold, Texas Tea.

Unlike the character Jed Clampitt the Jarmans didn’t  become millionaires and move to Beverly Hills when oil was discovered on their land in October 1929 by Pure Oil Company.

William Thomas (W.T.) Jarman and Miranda Lyons Jarman were poor cotton farmers during the late 20’s with nine children, grown and gone, and a granddaughter Aline living with them in their meager home in Van. Like many families of the time, they had no indoor plumbing, electricity or other “modern” conveniences.

The little town of Van was nothing more than a “wide spot in the road” with one store and a filling station and a few farm houses like the Jarman’s that had seen better days.

Pure Oil Company first started paying attention to the Van area in the early part of 1927 when their geological department made a thorough investigation of East Texas for surface indication of deeply buried salt domes, which often indicates oil is nearby. While pursuing this detailed work it was found that the topography—erratic dips and surface faulting in the southeast part of Van Zandt County had the appearance of an uplift with its highest point in the town of Van. Following this discovery a seismography party was assigned to detail this region.

Hearing all this going on around him, W.T. was convinced someone would discover oil on his property, his great-grandson Dwain Jarman says.

“He knew it was on his land,” Dwain said. “It was his dream to find oil.”

Unfortunately W.T. died September 16, 1928, just months before Pure Oil started core drilling in Van in January 1929, and one year and 28 days before they struck oil with the Jarman No. 1 discovery well.

In the back cotton patch of the Jarman farm the Pure Oil crew put up the number one derrick October 14, 1929. Jarman No. 1 was brought in at a depth of 2,710 feet. The initial flow was 149 barrels the first hour and 132 the second. Later, when the well was choked down, production stabilized at 260 barrels a day. The oil paraffin base, greatly superior to the petroleum of West Texas, was the highest quality lube stock known. Van was a find of major significance.

The discovery was as welcome to the people of Van Zandt County as it was to the Pure Oil Company. The soil of the area was poor. Crops that year had done badly, and farm prices in general were depressed. In past years the farmers had supplemented their income from cotton by engaging in dairy farming and poultry raising. Now their fields sprouted a new crop.

Pure Oil built a camp site in Van that included a motor vehicle work shop, bungalow office building and executive cottage, a warehouse, a mess hall, a stewards cottage, three bunk houses, a geological lab with combination core-house and garage and a bath house. It was fully equipped with electricity, fresh running water, and modern sewerage.

After the strike, the roads in Van were clogged with incoming trucks and automobiles. Tents and rough-board shacks sprang up. Dance halls opened. Beds in the primitive, crowded “hotels” were going for $4 a night. More than 40 “joints” opened to feed the crowd estimated as high as 8,000. The price of water soared to 15 cents a bucket.

Although the Jarman well had begun flowing late in 1929, the total production for the year amounted to 144,000 barrels of crude. Twelve months later 180 wells had been drilled, not one of them a dry hole.

The Van Free State Press had this to say just one week after the strike. “Today Van is a beehive of industry, it’s springing up like the proverbial mushroom. Oil, the golden fluid whose power to turn everything into gold makes the story of old King Midas seem an ultraconservative tale, has brought about the great change in Van. Van, like Rip Van Winkle of old, has fully awakened, has come to life and has begun to realize what it is all about. But even yet, the oil town has not begun to realize that within a few short months it will be one of the largest cities in East Texas, the center of one of the biggest and most productive oil fields in the state.”

Through all this the quiet, soft spoken, gray haired matriarch of the cotton patch that struck oil stayed humble. Miranda Jarman received a lot of publicity about the wells on the property but it didn’t phase her, great grandson Dwain said.

“All she wanted was modern utilities like plumbing,” he said. “And shoes for her children and food on the table.”

Miranda and granddaughter Aline stayed on the farm. The house was wired for electricity. She bought an electric pump, hot water heater, a sink and an electric cookstove, Dwain said.

“She also had a modern bathroom,” he added.

When asked if she would ever leave the farm for greener pastures, she is reported to have said, no, she was content with the modern home. She would never leave the home where she had lived for 35 years. Oil money would never make her stuck up.

Miranda told a local newspaper she also intended to stay on her farm to take care of her mule, pig, and chickens, but allowed that the oil strike would enable her to go to town and buy a new set of teeth.

She died in that home in Van December 30, 1940.

One would think the generations would have prospered from this discovery but it wasn’t so.

“My dad, Miranda’s grandson, got an old Chevrolet out of it,” Dwain said. “But that’s about it.”

During the next decade the Van field yielded 78,700,000 barrels of oil. In the World War II years Van produced enough crude to refine over 6,000,000,000 gallons of gasoline. In a quarter century Van’s 400 wells poured out 190,000,000 barrels of oil. The Jarman No.1 turned out oil without a pump until 1980 and the well is still producing with a pump today.

Part of the Van Camp Site built by Pure Oil Company in 1929 was the “Cook Warehouse,” used for storing materials for drilling, completion and operations of the wells. Many a tale, hand shake and hello were extended through the big doors of that warehouse. It served the oil field well from January 1930 until February 1966 at which time an era ended.

Union Oil Company of California purchased the Pure Oil Company properties in the Van field in 1965 and changes began. The camp was closed.

The Cook warehouse was ultimately sold to the City of Van  and it lay empty for a number of years. In 1971 Luther and Dorothy Davis renovated the inside of the building and opened a restaurant called the Woodbine Inn.  It served Van and the surrounding area until 1982 .

Several other restaurants opened and closed after a short time and once again the building was empty.

In 1986 a group of area citizens met and discussed recovering “The Era” by starting a museum. Armed with a 99 year lease from the City of Van on the Cook warehouse, a lot of determination and no money, the Van Area Oil & Historical Museum was born and incorporated June 30, 1987.

Still in operation today the museum houses displays such as an old workable corn sheller, sewing machine, postal equipment, surveying equipment, a small working replica of an oil field pumping unit, various types of farm equipment, an old fire truck, all types of oil field tools from wrenches to wooden sucker rods, various household items such as WWII rations books and numerous other items of interest . Recently a late 1800’s log cabin was donated to the museum that had been discovered within the walls of an old house that was being torn down. They plan to restore the cabin and furnish it with period furniture.

The museum is a welcome attraction for tours and individuals who want to get a taste of the oil boom days. 

Van is now a typical one-stop light town with families who appreciate quality education, high school football games and children’s activities, and small businesses that keep the community thriving.  It’s got the usual post office, video stores, country cafes, pharmacies, several banks, gift shops, auto parts and hardware, and the recently completed “bigger and better” grocery store. Union Oil of California is still very active in their search for oil and gas in the Van field along with the continued daily operation of the oil field.

It is a town full of rich history and people who preserve it well. Each year in October the community celebrates the oil boom that started that month 72 years ago with the Van Oil Festival. 

Now it’s time to say goodbye​
to Van and all their kin
And they would like
to thank you folks
for kindly droppin’ in
You’re all invited back
this month to this locality
to have a heapin’ helpin’
of their hospitality.

Resources include Dwain Jarman, Nadine Rowan with the Van Oil Museum, Pure Oil News, The Pure Oil Story.


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