There is seemingly little that colorful pioneer Permian Basin oilman W.T. “Dub” Riley doesn’t remember and he has put it all into an autobiography titled “Reflections.”
Selling for $22.95 on Amazon and $20 at Ye Old Bookworm at 517 N Grant Ave., the 195-page book with 12 chapters begins with Riley’s reminiscences of growing up at Paint Rock and Brady with his father Tom, mother Gladys and six brothers and sisters and arriving in Ector County in 1944 for his dad to work on the Parker Ranch.
He will autograph his book from 2-4 p.m. Sept. 23 at American Legion Post 430 at 2701 E. Eighth St.
Having been assisted by Odessa College Agriculture and Horsemanship Instructor R. Mikel Lemons, Riley said, “I start out telling about being born during the Depression and how poor we were.
“I was attending Odessa High School and working in the oilfield when I joined the Marine Corps at 18. I was expecting to invade Japan with the Third Division when Harry Truman saved my life by dropping the atomic bombs in 1945.”
The 11th chapter of “Reflections” has 44 “Rileyisms” or aphorisms including, “Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird butt.”
Others are, “For a single man, beware of widow women bearing casseroles;” “She has more kinfolks than a 99-year-old jackrabbit;” “If you drink to forget, please pay in advance;” and “The only heavy industry we had in Goldsmith was the 300-pound Avon lady.”
Speaking of Goldsmith, Riley had worked as a roughneck while continuing to do ranch work before the war and upon his return he joined Gulf Oil as a roustabout, laying flow lines and building tank batteries around the village 20 miles west-northwest of here.
“When I first started in the oilfield I’d never done anything but pick cotton and brand and vaccinate cattle,” he said. “I’d been getting $1 a day on the ranches and when we came out here and I got 75 cents an hour, I didn’t know what I was going to do with all that money.
“We moved west of town to the Cowden Ranch off Highway 866 and one time we rounded up 100 to 125 cattle at 4 a.m. on the back side of the pasture and drove them down 27th Street past West County Road with the sheriff stopping cars. We drove them to Dixie and put them into pens to be loaded on the train. It took till late at night.”
Asked the secret to his longevity at age 96, Riley quips, “Hell, just don’t die!”
He is proud of his service in the Marine Corps, after the war having taught marksmanship at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., where one of his students was future President Jimmy Carter, and being in honor guards for President Truman, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admirals Chester Nimitz, William “Bull” Halsey and Ernest King.
He was part of the first peacetime graduation honor guard at Annapolis in June 1946 with Five Star Admirals Halsey, King and Nimitz in attendance for the first and last time the nation had five star admirals.
The frontispiece in Riley’s book is the Marine Corps Globe and Anchor with a quotation from the late former President Ronald Reagan, who said, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in this world. Marines don’t have that problem.”
“The Marine Corps was a great experience,” he said. “The discipline was one thing and I got out to see the world. I realized I had to get more education.”
Asked his recollection of the Georgia-born Carter, Riley said, “I don’t remember too much about him.
“He was red-faced and cotton-headed and he talked kind of funny. I had him two days a week.”
Attending Odessa College for six years at night to get a degree, Riley advanced with Gulf Oil from pumper, operating oil wells and keeping records, to instrument technician, a buyer of pumping units and tank batteries who often spent $100,000 in a day and finally to regional production foreman with 10 pumpers and over 150 wells. He is OC’s oldest graduate.
Riley retired from Gulf after 35 years, before its merger with Chevron, and he was a partner with Jimmy Floyd of Midland in the RollTex and RollCo ball bearing companies for nine years. He and his late wife Caroll Sue had three children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His wife’s name is Nancy.
“Everything is common sense,” he said. “I used to train engineers all the time. I didn’t have a degree, but I knew how to crack a well or squeeze a casing leak. After two or three years they would be an engineer.
“I never worried about losing my job. If you show up every day sober and make a good hand, a company will make an effort to keep you on even if they don’t need you. They don’t write it down, but when they have a layoff they’ve got it in the back of their heads that this guy wasn’t a very good hand anyway.
“Channel 2 was our first TV station,” he said. “Then we got Channel 7. The station was on Whitaker and they put their tower at Goldsmith. Then Channel 9 put their tower north of Notrees. Ed Costello and Johnny Vacca did the first newscasts for Channel 7 and Dan Kalenak was the weatherman.”
Asked what Nancy and he like about Odessa, Riley said, “The weather and it has lots of good jobs.
“It’s just a great place to know everybody. I know all the judges, Sheriff Mike Griffis, Congressman Pfluger, Sen. Kevin Sparks, Rep. Brooks Landgraf and a lot of other people.”
One of the Rileys’ favorite places is the American Legion where they often attend Hamburger Nights and where the author recently sold 15 books.
Riley remembers the Odessa and Goldsmith of the 1940s and ‘50s as busy places with little time to worry about anything except making a living and occasionally getting entertainment. “We had the KRIG and KCRS radio stations in Odessa and Midland and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys played inside at West County Park where Floyd Gwin Park now,” he said.
“A piano player called Big Daddy Pat played at the Ace of Clubs west of town. It was wide-open gambling at the American Legion when it was where Medical Center Hospital is now. They had poker nights and slot machines. Some big bands played at the VFW between here and Midland where the aviation companies are.
“We had two or three drive-in movies including the Broncho,” Riley said. “I think it cost 25 cents to get in. We had the Rio Theater at Sixth and Grant and the Scott family from Iraan built the Scott and Ector theaters on Texas.
“Before I got married I lived in the Gulf bunkhouse with 40 men a mile east of Goldsmith and paid 60 cents a meal in the boardinghouse next door. Most of the oilfield hands I knew were beer drinkers. We’d go to Jelly Haynes’ Buckhorn Saloon to cash our checks. I contributed a lot to that thing.
“I just decided to write a book and tell my story.”