99% of the Oil Business is being in the Right Place at the Right Time…

Dreams of the big one kept the wildcatter afloat. When the stock market crashed in 1929, E.W. Marland, who had diversified from oil into stocks and bonds, was headed towards bankruptcy. Granddad decided to go out on his own. When he reminded his wife that salary or security would not follow him out the door, she told him that he hadn’t had his salary long, and she could always fire the help and go back to washing, ironing, and cooking. Promising never to overextend himself financially or take his company public, which he saw as E.W. Marland’s downfall, Granddad rented a one-room office in the W.T. Wagoner building in Fort Worth. In 1927 he became an independent oilman, a wildcatter, HIS FIRST 29 WELLS WERE DRY HOLES. But, he wasn’t known as “Dry Hole Monty” for long. He’d heard of prospecting in East Texas, which was broken up into little dirt poor hog farms, cotton fields, and squatters’ shanties. Because the land was tangled up in cloudy titles, it was tricky to lease. But Granddad felt East Texas had potential. His opinion was pushed along by amateur geologist “Doc” Lloyd. Lloyd was a big, fat, usually unwashed country boy who wore sombrero hats. He had been married six times and had been involved in dog and horse doctoring, drug merchandising, and gold prospecting before falling into the oil business. Geologists from the major oil companies had declared East Texas barren. So Lloyd was considered a crackpot. He had drawn a map of the major oil fields in the U.S. with lines stretching out from each to the point where all the lines intersected. He called this point “the apex of the apex,” and promised that beneath this apex waited an “ocean of oil.” The apex fell precisely on top of the little East Texas town of Rusk. Granddad listened to Lloyd. But he didn’t rush into business with him. Lloyd eventually partnered with “Dad” Joiner, a Shakespeare-quoting frontier Okie scholar, womanizer, and con artist.  On Lloyd’s assurance about the ocean of oil, Dad Joiner leased one hundred acres in East Texas. After drilling two dry holes, Doc Lloyd sweet-talked the widow Daisy Bradford into letting him sink a well on her land seven miles outside of Henderson, Texas. He built a Derrick of cast-off yellow pine and sold $25 interests in the “Daisy Bradford #3” three times over. On September 5 1930, with Joiner’s investors ready to lynch him, the Daisy Bradford #3 exploded in a gusher of black rain. The boom was on, but it turned out to be a bust for Dad Joiner, who didn’t know the size of his find until it was too late. The Arkansas gambler, H.L. Hunt, kept the debt ridden Joiner holed up in a room in Dallas’ Baker Hotel until he sold out his holdings for $1.3 million. In his one-room office in the Waggoner Building, Monty Moncrief was far removed from East Texas- until luck found him once again. A promoter named B.A. “Barney” Skipper, who held leases on four thousand acres just northeast of Dad Joiner’s well, wanted to sell his leases cheap to pay off debts he owed on them. He’d written letters to 750 major and independent oil concerns offering them free leases if only they’d drill a well. Convinced that the East Texas field stopped short of Longview, the majors decided to pass. Granddad snapped up those cheap leases in partnership with an associate. Selling off pieces of their holdings to finance their drilling operation, Granddad began scoping out the best place to drill. He decided that it lay in a “window,” an unleased section right in the middle of a forty acre hog farm belonging to a country doctor named Falvey, who had a booming medical practice among the black farmers in the area. Granddad made an appointment with the Dr. In the doctor’s waiting room, Granddad waited, and waited, and waited. Finally the doctor emerged, listened to the lease proposal, and showed Granddad the door, “I don’t want no oil well messing up my hog farm,” Dr. Falvey said at last. Granddad was dejected, but not for long. On the very night after Falvey’s rebuff, he was eating dinner alone in the Gregg Hotel when a hog farmer blew into the dining room. “Mr. Moncrief, my name is Frank Lathrop. I work for the Kelly Plow Company, and I own four hundred acres in the block leased by B.A. Skipper, on which you now own the oil and gas lease,” he said breathlessly. Granddad invited the stranger to sit down. Then Frank Lathrop said something that, Granddad would later say convinced him that 99% of the oil business is being in the right place at the right time. “Mr. Moncrief, I would like to make you a proposition,” he said. “If you drill your first well on my land, I will give you 1/4th of my royalty.” Granddad stood up, extended his hand, and said, “Mr. Lathrop, you done gone and made yourself a deal!” They drilled the well with rotary tools beneath a wooden derrick. On the night of January 25th, 1931 at 3,500 ft., the rotary bit hit a soft formation, and the crew took a core. When they laid the core sample out on the floor of the Gregg Hotel, everyone gasped. The sample looked like brown sugar coated in oil. The Frank Lathrop Number One was going to be a producer. The news spread so fast that schools were let out the next day so the kids could watch an oil well blow in. A crowd of fifteen thousand gathered around Granddad’s well that morning. When they opened it up, oil shot from the pipe extending from the wellhead into a sludge pit. First five feet, then ten feet, then twenty, then one hundred feet, the oil shot across the pit, spraying the crowd with black gold. Granddad and his partners were dancing in the spray, throwing their hats into the air. My dad, Tex Moncrief, age ten, stood in the crowd of kids and watched his daddy strike the Big One and toss his Stetson toward heaven. Before the hat landed, my father stared up at his mother and said, “Mama, when I grow up  I wanna be an Oilman.” The well came in at 18,000 barrels a day. Doc Lloyd’s vision of a sea of oil was dead-on. Soon twenty-five thousand oil wells poked the oil rich, thirty mile sandbar known as the East Texas Field. But Granddad’s Lathrop Number One would be known as the “Daddy of Them All.” Later, a well was sunk on Dr. Falvey’s property. The well was dry as a bone.

Excerpt from: “Wildcatters” Written by Charlie Moncrief- Texas Oil Billionaire.

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