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Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"


Bubba's Bus Route
The Day the Water Tank Fell

by Michael E. Beckham
They shoe horse
I lived in Orla Texas from 1961 through 1968 until I graduated from Pecos High School. Life in Orla was made to say the least. Our memories were good for the time we lived there. At that time, there was much activity in the area with oil and gas, and later about 1967, a sulphur boom came along with several exploration companies coming in to the area. Duval built a huge processing plant west of Orla about 25 miles.
An old gas station in west Texas

Former gas station in Orla

Photo courtesy Rob Hann
Businesses in the area were Hall Olds store and grocery of which you have pictured, George Ashby owned the Phillips 66 station across the street, and later the Humble/Exxon station down the road to the south. Pearl Ashby, George's wife ran a liquor store next to the station. I worked for both Hall Olds, and George Ashby in the filling stations. Hall had a gravity feed pump that would suffice when the power would go out. The Orla Café, where my mom and sister worked, served to feed the workers in the oil, gas, and sulphur fields daily with much activity and gossip abundant. We had another café that came and went. Opal Sorrels was the main stay waitress at Hall's store. There were many characters from the surrounding area. A few ranch headquarters were in the area, Jack Wilkerson ran the Burner Ranch at the time, since sold to someone else. Jimmy Cooksey and his wife Evelyn had a ranch close to the area, Buck Jackson's ranch was near. Jigs Dinwiddie had land in the area. Newt Keen worked on a ranch near Mentone and would grace us occasional with his wisdom and wit.
Cafe in Orla Texas
Cafe in Orla

Photo courtesy Rob Hann
We traveled to Pecos on a big yellow school bus daily. Buck Jackson's son, "Bubba" was our school bus driver. He lived east of Orla and taught school in Pecos, so transportation for him was taken care of. His home was 18 miles east of Orla. The bus route would usually go something like this: Phillips Camp, Anadarko Camp, Couch/Waterflood Associates Camp where we lived, then to Orla, stop on the north side of town and pick up the Cooksey's, then up to Red Bluff. On the way out of town South toward Pecos, we would pick up the Pasotex camp at the highway entrance to the camp, sometimes we would deadhead into Pasotex and pick them up though it was about 5 miles down to their camp. This would all be done by 7:00 AM. Then on the way to Pecos, if the Armstrong's were working on the ranch south of town, we would pick them up. The Keen's were on the Dixieland Ranch between Orla and Pecos, if they were on the ranch working, we stopped to pick them up. It's now 7:30 AM and we are off to Pecos. We would usually stop at the Elementary school first, then Junior High and back to High School, once "Bubba" had let everyone off, he would go to East Pecos Jr. High and do his teaching. After school, we reversed the pickup schedule for the afternoon. High School, Jr. High, Elementary, then off for a 38 mile ride back to the Orla area. When the day was done, we would get home sometime around 6-6:30 pm depending on how "Bubba" wanted to run his route. Sometimes we would go in at Pasotex, and follow the river road back to Phillips, Anadarko, and Couch then he would go into Orla and up to Red Bluff. Sometimes he would drop the kids at Pasotex turn off, if a ride was available then to Orla, Red Bluff, and the camps last.

Water was not easy to come by. We had to haul drinking water from the water station near the Jackson's ranch, 18 miles to the east. Most everyone had overhead storage to keep drinking water available. George Ashby kept the community water trailer at his gas station. We all used it. Jimmy Cooksey had my dad build him an overhead storage rack for his water tank. Jimmy had just bought a brand new 1966 Ford pickup, baby blue and white. His son and I went to haul a tank of water once it was installed. Upon returning, we parked the pickup and tank below the overhead to fill it. I had rained for several days prior and in that part of the country that was an event. As we filled the overhead, and weight began to press on the stand legs, his son and I noticed the legs sinking in the ground somewhat, before we could stop the pumping of the water into the overhead tank, it came down, right in the bed of Jimmy Cooksey's brand new pickup. It was as if it was slow motion and we could do nothing. The bed of the pickup looked as if someone had taken a giant sledgehammer and hit it behind the cab. Jimmy handled the catastrophe pretty good, but his wife, Evelyn was some kind of mad.

Jackie and Hall Olds ran the store and café. Hall was known to take a drink, and Jackie had a short leg and had to wear a built up shoe. Jackie's favorite beverage was iced coffee. While I worked at the store and café, her favorite saying was; "I'll dance at your wedding if you will get me an iced coffee from the café." I thought I would die every time she asked me to get an iced coffee for her, but I was always happy to accommodate her. Walking on that short leg was a real effort for her. It seemed I was doing nothing but getting iced coffee 20 times a day. Hall would usually open up in the morning and we would not see him the rest of the day until it was time to close. Both were great people and have helped many travelers get to either Pecos or Carlsbad NM, giving them gas or fixing a flat, or feeding a family a meal.

Carrie Von and Sam Simpson ran the State Line Bar and Dance Hall 15-20 miles north on Hwy 285. Every Sunday night, they would cook ribs, brisket, chicken, and every one from miles around, even from the camps in New Mexico, would come in and they would put on a big feed and have a dance. The dance hall was modest but had a great hardwood floor. I learned how to western dance with all the older ladies. Schotish, Put Your Little Foot, Cotton Eye Joe, Two Step, Waltz, and even a little swing.

Orla was a community that made its own activity. Everyone who lived in and around Orla was a true community. We did have two churches. A Baptist, and a Methodist. Brother Mac from Pecos would come on Sunday and Wednesday nights for the Baptist. And several different traveling lay ministers would come in to the Methodist on Sunday evening for worship.

We did have an active Post Office, of which my mother was Post Mistress for a while. We had an oilfield supply store.

The kids would have their own dances and get togethers at the Phillips Camp community house occasionally, and we had a 4-H club, Rustler Hills 4H, named for the foothills west of town. Fishing in the river, quail hunting on the oil leases, deer hunting in the foot hills, arrowhead hunting on the ranches, hanging out till 9:00 pm at the store or café, everyone was driving on their own before they were 16, camping out at Red Bluff, swimming in Red Bluff Lake, which had to be close to swimming in the ocean, as it was so saline. We truly made our own life in Orla. Many more stories could be told, some funny, some sad, some bizarre, but life in that small place sometimes was bigger than being anywhere else on the earth. - Michael E. Beckham, September 16, 2005

"They shoe horses, don't they?" 9-17-05 Guest Column

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