Giddings was a town in Texas that hardly anybody knew about, and fewer cared whether it even existed. Then came the boom. Lee was the second poorest county in Texas. Then came the boom.
Farmers and ranchers raised a few cattle and harvested a lot of cotton and peanuts in order to survive each year. They depended on the rain for their crops and grazing grass but always knew it would be a long time between storms. The weather never cooperated on hard ground. The good years were bad, the bad years even worse. Streets were empty.
Stores were going out of business. Then came the boom.
During the mid-1970s, a curious assortment of independent operators, with very little experience in oil exploration, boldly journeyed into the fields around Lee County, determined to coax oil from the deep layers of the Austin Chalk.
Giddings did not laugh at them.
Giddings pitied them.
Oilmen had been drilling wells since the 1930s. The chalk had a lot of promise. The oil would explode to the surface, then immediately begin dwindling away. Within a few weeks, the wells were no longer flowing much crude at all. Operators cursed the devil’s chalk. The major oil companies were afraid of it. Only fools dared drill.
It became known as the field of broken dreams.
Max Williams arrived first in late 1975, looking to duplicate the only big chalk well that had ever made good on the promise. He had been a big-time, hotshot basketball player at SMU before venturing out in the oil business with partner Irv Deal. Both men had been highly successful in their real estate businesses until the market went bust during the 1970s. Raw land was no longer selling. Raw land ruined a lot of good men. Then came the flamboyant Pat Holloway, a lawyer who operated drilling funds and figured he could outwork, outthink, and outsmart anybody in the oil patch. He found he most oil. He lost his fortune in a courtroom. Jimmy Luecke was a highway patrolman who kept law and sometimes order on the roads in and out of Giddings. He stopped Holloway for speeding and said, “I won’t take you to jail or give you a speeding ticket if you promise to drill on my family’s land.” Clayton Williams was a high-rolling oilman who could go from millionaire to pauper and back to millionaire before the sun had gone down. He once said, “As a typical Aggie, I tried to drill my way out of trouble.” Bill Shuford was right out of college and, in the beginning, more interested in finding the next beer joint and the next party than the next well to drill. Jim Dobos was a constable who often used his badge to get better deals on oil leases and sold his interests for $53 million dollars. He was found with a bullet in his head. Was it murder or suicide? In the early days, the oilmen grown rich in Giddings had access to geologist Ray Holifield who defied logic and cracked the code of the chalk. He was the genius who made the field profitable even when others had failed.
For them all, it was a battle for hard ground, fought in the devil’s chalk. It was a field owned by the independents. Major oil companies stayed away. Some had been burned before. Dry holes were the curse of the chalk. Only a small band of petroleum daredevils stabbed their drill bits into the vast fields of burnt cotton and brittle peanut vines. They did not have a lot of money. Some said they had even less sense.
The devil’s chalk would either break or make them rich. They fought the land, dueled before judges, battled each other, and spilled more money than blood. The scars, however, ran deep and would last a lifetime.
Together, they gambled in a great unknown and discovered the second largest oilfield in the continental United States in the past half century, second only to the famed North Slope. The technologies they developed to whip the chalk would forever change the scope of oil exploration. Yet they labored far beneath the radar in an oilfield that no one knows.
Reviews of Gamble In the Devil’s Chalk
“Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk,” written by Caleb Pirtle III is based on the exploits, trials, and tribulations of an odd collection of oil operators who had no business and very little expertise in oil exploration, yet they defied the odds and drilled in the Austin Chalk around Giddings, Texas – known as the field of broken dreams – and discovered the most prolific oilfield in the continental U.S. in the past fifty years. This book has been widely awaited by many of us who have participated in this adventure, having much fun and enjoyment but many, many years of working 100-hour weeks. “Gamble” explores the fights and feuds that scarred the great oilfield. We didn’t always get along, but we found a lot of oil. This is the best and most authentic book on the never-ending struggle for oil since Harry Hurt III wrote his biography of H. L. Hunt.
Ray Holifield, geologist
Caleb Pirtle’ captivating tale of the Giddings, TX, oil boom is a veracious read from the first words of Chapter 1, Reinhardt Richter, to the lst words in the epilogue. There is not one wasted word in the entire 572 pages. A true telling of a Texas oil adventure in a small town. But there is nothing small about the cast of characters and their mad search for oil in the devil’s chalk. A great book.
T. Turner Taken from Amazon.com