Richard Thornton Fox
to discovery of petroleum in the locality, the only other industry was
harvesting timber. Vast stands of virgin growth longleaf pine was extant in the
1920s. Large sawmill towns, e.g., Selma, Rochelle, and Urania were built by
lumber companies to attract and provide a stable work force.
all houses in the towns were owned by the company, as was a single mercantile
store. The caliber of employee housing depended on the status of the worker.
Supervisors lived comfortably, but common laborers did not fare nearly so well.
Nominal rent was withheld from employees' wages each payday. All workers were
expected to use the company store for all their needs. Sometimes workers were
paid in "script" instead of cash. Script had a value somewhat more
than cash at the company store, but could only be used at this place. Credit was
available from the store but was at high interest.
any employee be noted to buy too many of his necessities at stores out of town,
he was nearly certain to be warned against this practice. Warnings were taken
seriously since loss of a job risked placing the family into immediate poverty.
Other than hard scrabble share cropping, there was no other employment
available. If all these practices sound like a feudal system of worker
exploitation, this is exactly what it was. Given these managerial techniques, it
is not surprising two of the towns mentioned, Rochelle and Selma, were
relatively short lived When the available stand of timber was cut, that was it.
The mills shut down and the people just faded away. The timber company that
operated in Urania was more far sighted and early on started a reforestation
program to replace trees harvested. Their
operations still continue in Urania.
disposal problem was simple to solve in those non-enlightened times. The brine
was simply directed to the nearest ditch and allowed to run to a lower level. It
always ended up in a swamp or creek. The salt content of this brine was several
times more concentrated than sea water and invariably contained some suspended
petroleum. The end result was the brine contaminated and killed all vegetation
in its path and wreaked havoc on wetlands and waterways. Though such practices
are not longer allowed, the environmental scars are still visible.
in the oil fields was hard, dirty and physically demanding work. Conditions were
compounded by the climate of central Louisiana where summer temperatures
routinely are more than 100 F. and torrential rains and tornados are common.
Predictably, the men who did the work reflected their surroundings. They were
generally tough, honest, direct and occasionally violent. Morals, politics and
religion were observed from one extreme or another. There was little middle
ground or room for compromise on most issues. Arguments often led to physical
confrontations, sometime with tragic results. Sometimes people from surrounding
communities would refer to the local inhabitants as the “Tullos Toughs."
earth in Tullos was a peculiar type of clay known locally as "gumbo."
When it rained, which was a frequent occurrence, the gumbo melted into a mud
that stuck to the feet with tenacity. After walking a few yards in this goo each
foot became the size of a dinner plate. The color of the gumbo ranged from black
to red. It permeated the entire area, houses, churches, stores, everything.
Actually, outsiders referred to the town as "Mudville." With good
then is where Norman and Ruby would live the greater part of their lives. Norman
seemed suited to fit in the general atmosphere. He recalled to me when he first
came to town he saw a person mistreating a mule. So he, Norman, picked up a
piece of 2x4 lumber and "knocked the offender in the head." The
came to Tullos as the district superintendent for the oil company. The company
was operating about 50 producing wells, all within a radius of S miles. About 40
full time employees were in the local organization. Under the direct control of
the superintendent were a general foreman, a warehouse supervisor, and an
accountant/shipping agent who kept track of and oversaw shipment of petroleum
produced. The superintendent and his principal assistants each lived in a
"company house" built and maintained by the company.
of these houses had less than 1000 square feet living space, but they did have
gas heat, running water and inside plumbing. No matter the gas had little odor
and was dangerous to live with, the running water was really not potable
(everyone had a tank or rain barrel to collect drinking water). Plumbing was
piped to a convenient ditch. Indoor plumbing and running water were marks of
distinction in the early days of this town. The only other company house was a
small cottage occupied by a warehouse assistant a black man named George
Johnson, and his wife Polly. The cottage was located near the warehouse which
provided day to day storage of supplies, pipe, fittings and working equipment.
George had encyclopedic knowledge of what was on hand and where it was located
This was no mean feat and he was recognized as an indispensable part of the
main work force consisted of small groups of men called "gangs"; who
were led by a man titled, appropriately, "gang pusher." Usually there
six or seven men in a gang. Individual workers were known as
"roustabouts." Gangs did the laborious work of maintaining the wells
is a producing condition required pulling up and dismantling hundreds of feet of
pipe tubing to find and repair a defective section. There was no way of doing
this without becoming covered from head to toe by oil, water and mud. Doing this
in the July and August climate of Louisiana could cause even the heartiest to
"faint and fall out." But, no one ever quit or walked off. Jobs were
too precious. Hopefully the wells pumped night and day to maximize production.
Some men known as "pumpers" worked in individual 8 hour shifts to
visit a number of wells on a set schedule throughout the day to ensure all was
in order. At night this was a lonely and sometimes dangerous job. Many carried a
gun "just in case."
the Arkansas Fuel Oil Company, the other production company in town was the H.
L. Hunt organization, know as the Placid Oil Company. Placid was approximately
the same size as the Arkansas Fuel Oil Company.
There were a few "poor boy" outfits operating three or four
wells each, but their production was always much less than that or the larger
the early boom days life in Tullos was lively. The main was dirt, or mud if it
rained. One shooting incident occurred to which a witness testified "it was
so could not see across the street." The prosecution allowed that in fact
the mud in the street was so bad on that day a mule team got stuck right in the
middle. Subornation of witnesses is not a recent thing. Law enforcement in the
town was accomplished by a town marshal who had an office in a one room jail
with two cells. Most local problems were caused by drinking and/or fighting. The
marshal had to be a man of great physical courage and could never yield to a
threat, as many troublemakers found out the hard way. The marshal was paid
poorly, not universally admired, but nearly always obeyed.
the mid 1930s the boom was over and the companies worked to maintain production
already established. The town stabilized into a village of two small grocery
stores, a drugstore, a hardware store, 2 dry goods stores, a picture show
(movie), doctor's office and 2 filling stations. All of these businesses , with
the exception of one filling station, were mom-and-pop operations. These were
two churches, one reasonable large Baptist Church, and one smaller Methodist
Church. On occasion Pentecostal tent revivals would be held where believers
would speak in tongues. There was no doubting the sincerity of the believers and
large crowds attended.
town school conducted grades 1 - 9. Classes were always small and one teacher
taught all subjects for the year group in the lower grades. There was no public
transportation to the school since nearly all of the children lived nearby.
Students either brought a lunch or went home for the noon meal. There were no
discipline problems of consequence. Bad behavior was not tolerated by the
teacher, principal, or parents. No doubt the system was authoritative - neither
was there any doubt it was effective in providing a basic education.
was little change in the town after the boom until the end of the 1930s when the
war started in Europe and it was obvious the United States would be drawn in.
The draft started and the young men left for the armed forces. Every able bodied
single man between 18 and 26 was called. Later,
married men were inducted. Exceptions from the draft were nearly unheard of.
Even if a man had a valid reason not to serve, he was generally considered to b
a slacker and looked down on.
approaching war fueled an increased requirement for petroleum and new wells were
drilled in the existing fields. The company headquarters in Shreveport,
Louisiana, sent geologists and engineers to Tullos to survey Likely locations
and determine where the new holes were be drilled After due consultation between
all concerned, a wooden take was placed in the ground to show the exact site for
the new well. When the search team had left the area, Norman would invariable
pull up the stake and move it a foot or two to one side "just for good
luck." This strategy must have worked for it was rare to come up with a dry
hole or non-productive well.
ran a tight ship and was extraordinarily well thought of by the company. He knew
his job and was satisfied with his position in the organization. He was called
"N. G." by his friends. Employees addressed him as "Boss" or
"Cap'n Fox" in person, but referred to him as `The Kingfish"
among themselves. Norman was an accomplished angler and was reputed to "be
able to catch fish out of a mud hole.."
of the war being fought so far away was clear enough. Army camps Beauregard,
Claiborne and Livingston were about fifty miles away and basic training was
conducted throughout the area for hundreds of thousands of inductees. Trucks and
tanks traveled through the area single and in convoys throughout the day and
night. It seemed most of the soldiers wee from the northern states and they did
not appreciate the climate, red bugs, ticks and snakes the locals had to contend
with. Whenever possible people in the town would invite soldiers on maneuvers or
otherwise passing through in for meals. These occasions were enjoyed by all
concerned and a lot was learned from guests and hosts.
hoped someone else was likewise extending hospitality to their son away in
service. Locally, the civilian
population was subject to the same restrictions as the rest of the country.
Shoes, sugar, coffee, cigarettes, tires and gasoline were rationed. None
of these restrictions caused any hardship, and only occasional minor
inconvenience. Though details of
the actual conflict were somewhat obscured by censorship and lack of real time
media coverage, people knew how well off they were to be out of harms way. Early
on a local Civil Defense Corps was established to provide some defense against a
bombing attack. No doubt this came about because of the havoc being caused in
England by the Nazis. In retrospect it is hard to see why or how a bombing
attack would be carried out against Tullos, but the drills did keep the war in
occasional report of a local man being killed or wounded in action also served
to bring the war close. Norman and
Ruby's son Raymond had started to college at the Louisiana Polytechnic Institute
in Ruston, La., in the fall of 1941. He was 16 at the time (Louisiana high
schools finished at grade 11 ). Before
he was 18, Raymond enlisted in the Navy but was not called to active service
until 1943. He served as an aircraft radar technician in PBY Catalina flying
boats and on aircraft tenders. He was on one of the ships in Tokyo Bay when the
Japanese surrendered in 1945. Richard, Norman and Ruby's youngest son, enlisted
in the Navy in September 1945.
1946 Ruby was diagnosed as having breast cancer and underwent a radical
mastectomy. The operation was not completely successful. The cancer metastasized
and she died of further complications in 1947. She is buried in the Thornton
family cemetery in Liberty, Texas. Norman
continued living in the company house after Ruby's death. In 1949 he married
again, but the union was not happy
and was being dissolved when Norman had a stroke in late 1950. The illness left
him permanently disabled with the loss of use of his left arm and impaired
walking ability. After an initial stay at a hospital in Shreveport, he stayed a
period at the Veteran's Hospital there until he went to live with his son
Raymond, then in Natchez, Mississippi.
recognition of the exceptional service Norman had given, the Cities Service Oil
Company continued Norman on full salary from the time of his stroke until he
reached normal retirement age in 1956, and then kept him on retirement pay. This
made him independent in so far as financial needs were concerned, and it gave
him great comfort to be able to pay for his own expenses for the rest of his
Raymond and his family did all in their power to provide for Norman, but his strong sense of independence led him to seek other alternatives. Raymond was employed by Lane Wells, a oil and gas drilling company and it was necessary for him to relocate every two years so as dictated by the circumstances of the business. Richard was a newly commissioned officer in the Navy and on sea duty. Norman always had good relationships with his mother-in-law, Carrie Thornton, in Liberty, Texas. He stayed with her for some time prior to her death in 1960. About then, Raymond was transferred to Lake Charles, La., and Norman moved to a nursing home there to be close to him, but still have, in effect, his own place to stay. Raymond was killed in a firearms accident in 1962 in New Iberia, La., where he was then living. Norman remained in Lake Charles until he died on 28 December 1963 following three weeks in a hospital. Death was caused by a new cerebral thrombosis (stroke) brought on in part by pneumonia. Norman is buried in Liberty, Texas, alongside Ruby.
Richard N. Fox
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