’umble we are,
’umble we have been, ’umble we shall ever be.
Dickens’ penned those words in “David Copperfield” but they well express the philosophy
of many of us who lived and worked in Baytown
during the era of Humble Oil & Refining Co.
Life goes on, times and names
change, but there are those who stubbornly cling to the original name of Baytown’s
And drop the sound of H in Humble, please.
someone in Baytown mouths
the sound of that first letter in Humble, they are likely to be asked: “You’re
not from around here, are you.”
Maybe that’s how we’re supposed to say
it, with the H, just as we’ve been told we should accent the second syllable in
Burnet, and San
Jacinto is San Hacinto.
Maybe so, but that’s not the way we talk.
ban on the H sound also is evident in the town from whence the name came. That
whiz in the oil biz --Ross S. Sterling -- got his big start in Humble
and attached the name to the company he helped to establish.
in the old days, everyone knew that the initials HORC stood for Humble Oil & Refining
Co. It wasn’t the custom, however, to go around mouthing initials when all we
had to say was ‘Umble Comp’ny.
To simplify even further, we would refer
to The Plant.
I was growing up in Baytown,
most of the dads of my classmates and friends worked at The Plant. If their dads
didn’t work there, other close kin did.
Shorthand used to be the most popular
course for a high school girl to take in Baytown,
because it opened doors for future employment at ’umble as a secretary.
the Fifties, industries boomed along the Houston Ship Channel and Baytown
attracted a large number of newcomers who worked at those plants. Lakewood subdivision,
in particular, became home to many families associated with Shell, Diamond Shamrock,
Ethyl and other companies along the ship channel.
Once, when I was attending
a coffee hosted by the Chemical Engineers Wives Auxiliary, I overheard a member
ask a guest: “Does you husband work at the plant?”
Guest: “He works at
the plant but it may not be the plant you’re talking about. There are other plants
besides Humble Oil & Refining Company.”
I don’t remember how she pronounced
Humble but, having recently migrated to Texas from
up north, she most likely gave full credit to the H.
After Humble and
before Exxon, there was Enco. It stood for Energy Company.
I read somewhere
that Enco in Japanese meant “stalled car” and that’s why the name didn’t last.
Whatever it meant, it didn’t matter to the oldtimers in Baytown.
Enco could have meant “glorious chariot” in Egyptian, for all we cared.
We were still using the name that Ross S. Sterling gave it.
the official company name approved in the Seventies.
Sounded good. It caused
no glitches in translation, and apparently didn’t ruffle any feathers among subsidiaries
or competing oil companies.
A merger in the Nineties added two more syllables,
bringing us to the present-day ExxonMobil.
Again, we oldtimers -- especially
the BIBs (Born in Baytown)
– tend to revert.
You see, it’s not just a name. Humble Oil & Refining
Co. is our link to the past, a reminder not only of a refinery but of its community
house, tennis courts, golf course, dorm, commissary, hospital, health clinic,
credit union, semi-pro baseball park and an entire neighborhood called the Company
It was ’umble that built Baytown,
that got people through the Depression, that helped win WWII,
that helped pay for schools and medical facilities and gave land for parks and
charities and boosted the economy in countless, significant ways.
a grand old name.
Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
August 17, 2013 columns
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