restricted access 13. Mr. Ford’s Car
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13 Mr. Ford's Car Born ofthe sun they traveled a short while toward the sun, And left the vivid air signed with their honor. Stephen Spender, "I think continually ofthose who were truly great" Ifin 1920 Corbett could have looked ahead, he would have seen his daily life shaped more and more by men in other places. Those distant people brought control by temptation, not by force. They offered more convenient ways ofdoing work that had been done before by human sweat. By harnessing new energies and fashioning new gadgets, industrialists would bringJohn Henry Kirby's dream to many. Everyone could have an iron horse, but only ifthey sacrificed a measure ofthe freedom that had up to then let them carry on their lives independently of bosses. An event that forewarned of change had taken place sixty miles downstream from Old Zavala in 1901. On January 10 of that year, the town of Beaumont awoke to the sounds of the same saws that had made it sleep the night before. Trains on Kirby's railroad rolled in from the north. Millhands started work at shaping boards from timber. 120 Mr. Ford's Car Dockhands at the Neches River landing loaded wood on steamers bound for distant ports. The time approached mid-morning. Some had paused for coffee. At 10:30 by the railroad stationmaster's watch, a low-pitched roar commenced from somewhere to the south. Those who heard it paused to listen, then to look. "It's Bud's well!" someone shouted. Three miles outside town at a low hill on the marshy plain, no one had to shout. Patillo "Bud" Higgins's wooden derrick had transformed itself. With the roar, three hundred feet of drilling pipe shot skyward through the structure. Inky liquid spouted up a hundred feet. Spindletop had come to life, and the Age ofOil had begun. ~Hardly anyone in those days suspected oil had come originally from sunshine. It all started millions of years ago near the edges of tropical oceans. Here, sunlight on the water stimulated tiny plants, called plankton, to grow. These kinds of plants are what make ponds fertilized by cattle droppings green in summer. Year after year in that faraway time, rain on land brought loads of silt, clay, and life-nourishing nutrients to the edge of the sea. A plankton soup simmered in the bays and estuaries. A drizzle of mud and plankton settled in the coastal waters, collecting on the bottom with dead invertebrates and fish. Century after century the dead plants and animals built up, layer on layer. Bacteria decomposed them, leaving behind in the bottom ooze oil and a gas called methane. Thousands of years passed, and the delta of a great river built seaward to form land where Beaumont now stands. The river shifted its point ofdischarge many times as its delta moved back and forth across the shallow sea. Silty mud settled where the water smoothed and stilled; sand layered deep in turbulent places. The mud and sand weighed down on deeper layers. The grains of sediment pressed closer and closer against each other. Gradually the great pressure forced the oil and gas left by the decomposition of the plankton out of the layers of mud and clay and into nearby layers of sand which had larger spaces between the grains. The pressure eventually became so great that both the mud layers and the sand layers hardened into rock. The mud became shale or mudstone, impervious to oil or gas; the sand turned to porous sandstone , and in the pores the oil and gas collected. The oil and gas seeped upward in the sandstone until they ran into a layer of shale. There they stopped. In some places, ancient movements of the earth's crust had tilted the shale layer, and the oil and gas oozed uphill along its bottom. Where the tilt leveled out, then dipped again, the oil and gas stopped, trapped beneath a cap ofshale. For many millions of years the sediments kept building up at the surface; pressures became greater and greater where the ancient seabed had been, squeezing out even more oil and gas from the sediments . The store ofoil and gas grew and grew. Then one day Bud Higgins's drillers pierced the cap of shale at eleven hundred feet below the ground, and the pressure from the gas sent drilling pipe and oil sky-high. A stock of fuel built by a hundred million years ofsunshine on...


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Subject Headings

  • Truett, Joe C. (Joe Clyde), 1941- -- Childhood and youth.
  • Angelina River Valley (Tex.) -- Biography.
  • Ecologists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Natural history -- Texas -- Angelina River Valley.
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