Two eggs over easy, with ham, and toast," shouted the waitress through the kitchen window. It's 5:00 AM and already the Spur Cafe is buzzing with activity. Groups of men, men of every shape and size coming in to eat breakfast before going to work or eating supper if they had just come off morning tour on one of the many drilling rigs that dotted the landscape around West Texas. Sitting in a corner booth packing his pipe with Prince Albert tobacco, Mr. Mac is waiting for his tank crew to show up. His son Bud was driving the truck around town, picking up all the hands. Mr. Mac was early. He was anxious to get on the road. The crew had loaded out the truck Sunday afternoon with enough material to build a "High 500" redwood tank. The job had to be completed in six days and they had a long drive ahead of them before they could even get started.
Mr. Mac had been building wooden tanks since the boom days in McCamey when he went to work for Drane Tank Company in 1933. The son of a blacksmith, he first tried his hand as a storekeeper with his brother Howard. He, his wife Annabelle, and three children lived in an apartment above the store. His career as a storekeeper came to an abrupt halt when the store where he was working and living, burned to the ground. He broke both ankles jumping from a second story window holding onto his infant daughter. Not only did he lose his job he lost a place for him, his family to live. As is true in most boomtowns, places to live, particularly for families, were hard to come by. With the help of relatives he found a big tent for them all to live in while he recuperated. Mr. Mac and his family became part of a large tent city that sprang up west of town and south of the Kansas City Orient railroad tracks. Every day, as soon as he was able to get around on crutches, he would walk down the railroad tracks to town. He would walk to get the mail and see what was going on in town. He would walk get his hair cut and look at what jobs were available. He would walk to see his brother, or what ever it took to get out of the way of his doting wife and children. Mr. Mac was about to go crazy and he was running out of money.
"Hey, you!" a man yelled at Mr. Mac as he walked by a big shop building. He had walked passed this building several times during the past weeks, but had never seen anyone there.
"Hey you, …yes you, you, interested in going to work?"
"Well, yes, but you can see I'm on crutches." Mr. Mac replied.
"Yes, I know, I've seen you around town for a few weeks. You ought to be getting off 'em pretty soon shouldn't you" the man stopped talking for a minute realizing he was talking to someone he really didn't know. "I'm sorry, I'm Bill Pervis, and you are?"
"I'm Lloyd McSpadden" Mr. Mac answered.
"Well Mr. McSpadden, I'm looking, well I mean, The Drane Tank Company of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is looking for some hands to build wooden tanks. Ever been a tank cooper Mr. McSpadden?"
Needing a job and not wanting to lose this opportunity Mr. Mac answered, "Well no but, I worked in a blacksmith shop and did some worked as a wheelwright." "I could learn, but I'm still on crutches."
"Your not planning to stay on them are you?" Mr. Pervis asks.
"No, … no I think I will be off the crutches in a week or so. I don't know what I could do till then. Why would you want to hire me in this condition"?
"I want to hire you before you get well. The boom activity is about over and hands are hard to come by. Besides that, I'm new in town and need someone who knows his way around. Do you want the job or not." Mr. Pervis pressed.
"Sure! I need a job," Mr. Mac answered.
"Good, hobble back over here tomorrow morning at six. I've got a couple of flat cars loaded with redwood due in on the public siding Wednesday morning. You can help me round up a crew of roustabouts to get it unloaded."
That Wednesday Mr. Mac went to work for The Drane Tank Company of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma as a tank cooper.
About a year later, the boom in McCamey was about over and the oil activity moved on. The Drane Tank company closed its' McCamey shop and opened one in Odessa. Mr. Mac and his family moved to Odessa into a house provided to them by the company. Mr. Mac was a company man.
Mr. Mac looked up and saw his crew coming through the door of the cafe. First through the door was Albert a wiry man who had work for Mr. Mac for many years. When Albert and his wife were newly weds, they lived next door to Mr. Mac and his wife. Annabelle, Mr. Mac's wife had sort of adopted the young couple.
Next through the door was Buck. Buck served in a combat division in the Pacific during World War II. After the war he and his brother moved from Indiana to West Texas because his brother suffered from a lung disorder and needed to live in a dryer climate. A year after moving to Odessa, Buck's brother moved back to Indiana and died a year later. Buck stayed, got married and raised a family. He had been working for Mr. Mac for ten years.
"Where's Bud?" Mr. Mac asks.
"He's parking the truck," Albert said "He ran into somebody he went to school with outside and is visiting with 'em."
"I sure wish he would get in here and drink his coffee, we have to get on the road," Mr. Mac commented. Bud was Mr. Mac's son. They had been working together ever since he came back from the Navy. They both new that it was tough for a son to work on a crew of men when your fathers the boss. Mr. Mac had told Bud when he went to work for him not expect any special treatment. Mr. Mac told him the first day he went to work
"If there's a hard or dirty job to be done that nobody wants to do you might as well jump in and do it. Even then someone will complain about you getting special treatment because you're my son." From that point on Bud always called his father "Boss."
In a few minutes Bud came in and set down with the rest of the crew and began drinking his coffee. "Albert did you get enough dowel pins to do both the head and the bottom," Mr. Mac asked. The conversations continued about what was loaded to be sure that nothing was forgotten. "Now you boys realize we're staying out for the week to finish this job," Mr. Mac said. "We'll be staying at the Trails End Courts in Iraan for at least five nights, so don't nobody start bitching about going home." After a while Mr. Mac threw two bits on the table for the waitress, and they all went out the door. A two and one half-hour drive lay before them.
Traveling in a 1958 Chevrolet 2-ton gang truck with four men in a cab designed for three, the tank crew headed out in the darkness of a cold West Texas morning. The redwood staves, and bottom boards, tied down front and back with a chain and boomer, stick out over the cab of the truck. They are loaded on the truck running from the rolling tailboard to the headache rack that protects the cab. On the bed are sacks of El Toro Brand portland cement, boxes and tow sacks full of nuts, bolts and lugs for the hoops, and a large cast iron cleanout box. Tied behind the cab through the handles are four pasteboard suitcases belonging to the crew. The passenger side door is blocked by a big bundle of 5/8 inch tank hoops tied down to the side of the truck. Flange gaskets are hanging underneath the bed of the truck. The tool boxes are chock full with tools centuries old in design, a 4x4 block plane with tongue and groove blades, a lead filled dummy mallet, assorted chine chisels with oakum for corking and a brace with assorted auger bits. The possum belly has assortment of men breaking earth-moving tools, shovels, picks, rakes, and hoes. Tied to the back of the truck is a beat up old wheelbarrow used to mix the cement. In a bracket welded to the right hand side of the headache rack is a galvanized water can, with a community tin cup attached with a piece of baling wire, rattling in the wind as they move down the road, south bound on U.S. 385.
The Cap Rock Escarpment is the dividing line between the High Plains and the lower rolling plains of West Texas. The escarpment runs north and south down the eastern side of the Texas panhandle gradually decreasing in elevation. South of Borden County the escarpment turns west to the vicinity of Winkler County, then turns north through the eastern part of New Mexico. The Cap Rock was an obstacle to one of the earliest oil discoveries in West Texas. In 1926, there were two major oil discoveries in Crane County. The Church and Fields, and the McElroy areas were only 25 miles from the railroad in Odessa. Yet, they were much further in distance when you considered the effort it took to get men and supplies through barrier of sandhills and the rough terrain of the Cap Rock. County roads were eventually built and in 1932, the Texas Highway Department paved these roads into what is now U.S. Highway 385.
As the truck approached the Cap Rock the highway seemed to drop off to the desert floor below. From this vantage point, you could see for miles. To the southwest, you could see a vast area of sand dunes left by an ancient sea and beyond that you could see the lights of Fort Stockton, forty-five miles out to the horizon. To the South you could see Crane, Texas still 20 miles away.
As they came into Crane, Mr. Mac said, "Bud, stop at the ice house and will get a block of ice for the water can. Maybe it'll last a few days. I'm not sure we can still get block ice in Iraan." "
Buck get the ice coupon book out of the glove box."
The company provided ice for the crew's water can. To make sure that it got what is was paying for the company provided each crew with a book of coupons that were redeemable for only ice at Southern Ice Company. They had ice houses all over the oil patch. Before the ice company came up with the ice coupons the company would give the crew cash money. It seems that when some crews got money for ice, they didn't get any ice.
Bud eased the truck up to the ice house dock. The man at the ice house was on the dock dropping blocks of ice into water cans from some other trucks that were already there.
"Can I help ya."
"Sure, let me have a twelve and a half pound block," Bud answered.
"You boys need any beer or milk or anything. Me and my partner decided to put in a few supplies on the side that we thought people might need."
"Nope, can't want any beer, ain't got no place to keep milk," Bud replied.
"Well, you can put the milk in your water can, it'll keep. Sure would be nice to have a cold drink of milk this afternoon."
About that time, Mr. Mac walked up. "Nope, nope, my boys don't want anything. Besides, I don't allow anything in my water can but water … and ice when I can get it. One time I had an ole boy put a quart of milk in my water can when I wasn't looking. Well, late that morning, on a hot day in July, I went to get me a nice cool drink of water. I thought I'd been poisoned! The milk had leaked into the water and we were out in the middle of nowhere and practically a full day yet to go. Besides that what ever goes in the water can has to be fished out by someone's dirty hand." The water can was secured to the side of the truck and they were on there way, south bound on US 385
Approaching the job sight in the rays of the early morning sunrise Bud slowed the truck down and said, "Y'all keep an eye out for a good place to get gravel to mix with the cement, hopefully in a place not too hard to dig."
Mr. Mac, riding the hump between Albert in the middle and Buck by the door, spotted a culvert over a dry creek bed down the road, "Bud, pull over at that next culvert and lets get a look and see if it's any good."
Bud slowly pulled the truck over to the side of the road. As the truck rolled to a stop the men rolled out of the truck ready to stretch their legs and get rid of their morning coffee.
Mr. Mac, already down at the dry creek bed lighting his pipe, yelled up at the men, "Bud, bring a shovel down here, Albert, check the load and make sure we still have every thing, Buck, check the oil in the truck." The men went about their task as Bud stumbled down the embankment using the shovel as a walking stick. "Here, ... here dig here Bud," Mr. Mac said, "Now come over here and dig a shovel full. Looks good to me, what do you think."
Bud replied, "It looks good to me and its only five miles or so to the job. Do you want to me to send Albert and Buck back here to get a load after we unload the truck?" "No," Mr. Mac said clenching his pipe between his teeth, "I want you and Buck to come back and load the gravel. I need you to do it so they won't think I'm playing favorites. Besides that you and Buck are younger and Albert is still hurtin' some from dropping that cleanout on his foot last month."
"That's OK, I understand," Bud replied, "You still want me to do the squaring and leveling on the cement forms don't you?" "Sure, you're the best I've got." As Mr. Mac and Bud were climbing up the side of the creek bed Mr. Mac yelled "Let's get loaded up boys and get to the job, we're trading daylight for dark."
A mile down the road Bud turned West through the cattle guard and headed down the washboard lease road. Mr. Mac looked out at the bare mesquite bushes to see if he could see a sprig of green on their branches, a sure sign that there would not be another freeze this year. "I sure hope it doesn't freeze tonight, It'll ruin the cement if it freezes before it sets," Mr. Mac said.
"Don't matter, nobody will ever see it under that tank," Buck responded.
"It does matter, it matters to me that we do a good job," Mr. Mac said "but there's not much we can do about it. The tank has to be finished by Saturday. Maybe if we pour it early enough today it'll be OK."
About four miles down the bone jarring lease road Bud pulled the truck up to the location. The men rolled out of the truck and started to unload the material. Mr. Mac went about gathering firewood in a 5-gallon bucket. The fire would be used to keep warm during breaks and later would be used to melt pitch for corking the bottom and the head. The men went methodically about there task stacking the 12 inch by 3 inch by 12 foot long redwood boards to be used for the floor and head in one stack, the fir shiplap lumber for the sun deck stacked in yet another stack. The 4 inch by 3 inch x 16-foot redwood staves are stack around the pad location like spokes in a wheel. This was so they would be ready to stand up when time came to stave up. The heavy cast iron clean out came off the truck lasts. It takes at least three men to maneuver it safely out of the way until needed. It's one of the last pieces installed. That probably won't be until Saturday.
Before the truck was completely unloaded, Bud started looking for a piece of redwood to use for a center stake. This is the stake that all measurements for roundness of the cement pad would be taken. Carpenters deal with things being perfectly square and so do Tank Coopers, but more importantly some things had to be perfectly round. The stake was about three inches square and eighteen inches long. Long enough to stay in the ground while the sweep was used to level the forms and later smooth the concrete. The sweep is a long piece of heavy angle iron with a small nail hole in one end. The center stake is driven in the exact center of the pad and the sweep is anchored in the top of the center stake with 10-penny nail. Bud sharpened the end to a point like a pencil using a rig builder's hatchet, an advantageous tool that has a hammerhead on one side of the head and a hatchet on the other.
"Buck come over here and hold the dumb end of the tape on the side of that other tank so I can get the center measurements," Bud said. Buck held the tape against the adjacent tank at a spot that Bud had already marked by driving a nail into the tank. First one side then on the other. They repeated this procedure a couple of times to make sure it was right. Then Bud, with a 5-pound sledgehammer drove the stake into the center of the pad.
The forms for the cement pad are made of galvanized steel six inches high and four feet long. On the end of each form are three holes to bolt them together. Normally hauled around bolted together in pairs, The crew drags them around the center post in approximately the circumference of the pad. After they are laid out, the crew begins bolting them together. A 50' Lufkin tape measure hooked to the nail in the top of the center stake is used to line the cement forms into an exact circle. The forms are held in place by driving stakes on each side of the forms.
Wooden forms for the troughs are built and staked to the middle of the cement pad to allow a place for the blocks to rest. The blocks are under the bottom boards and provided a place for the post to be landed in. And the work went on¼
"Pick up your feet boys, we're trading daylight for dark," Mr. Mac chided the men to work on.