Stephen F. Austin State University

Drilling Boom Ignites Growth (August 2012)

Drilling Boom Ignites Growth
By Wanda Bobinger

Developments during the late 1920s demonstrated to Polk Countians that an untold amount of mineral wealth lay beneath the surface of land in the area. Experienced geologists were saying that it would be only a matter of time until an oil field of considerable magnitude would be drilled.

The Polk County area was believed to be in the Texas Coastal oil district. Prospecting crews employing the seismograph and torsion balance substantiated the theory.

By April 1930 two wells been drilled by the sunshine Oil Co. and preparations were underway for a third test.

On a Sunday night, Jan.19, 1930, around 8' 0 clock p.m. the sunshine well began to flow. When news spread to the town of Livingston, many citizens drove to the well and watched until after midnight.

The flow continued steadily and amounted to approximately 250 barrels per day.

A huge change came to Polk County when in 1937, a wildcat oil operator named Dick Schwab drilled a discovery well. This caused a tremendous boom and overnight the farming community of Knight had dance halls, tent shows, board sidewalks, gamblers and, bootleggers.

The oil boom also brought investors, speculators, traders and lots of cash. Homesteaders leased their land for mineral rights gaining much more money than they had made in a lifetime of farming.

Dick Schwab, the courageous wildcatter, became a hero overnight. His headquarters were in Livingston. A special parking space was reserved for him on Washington Avenue, right in front of the picture show. The new boom town Schwab City was named for him.

During the early days in Schwab City, a newly-drilled gas well got out of control, blowing the gas into the air. After a few days the situation became critical.

There was so much gas in the air no one dared to light a cigarette and housewives were being warned about firing up the cook stove. School was turned out and the whole town was virtually shut down.

Finally, a brave roughneck stepped forward to go in an attempt to shut of the well. The community is said to have gathered on a hill overlooking the well to watch.

The hushed crowd held their breath as the roughneck used a large wrench to close the valve.
There was a horrifying screeching sound, then after a few moments, a great roar went up with applause. That roughneck was Fred Lester. He received no extra compensation for his noble deed.