Richards recounts Oil Show’s rich history

Ministers in 1940 protested that it would drain their congregations

Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang member John Lewallen rings the meal bell as his fellow Chuck Wagon Gang members serve lunch to trade show visitors on the opening day of the Permian Basin International Oil Show Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, at the Ector County Coliseum. (OA File Photo)
Larry Richards

Dating back 83 years to 1940, the 2023 Permian Basin International Oil Show will haul a double truckload of history into the Ector County Coliseum Oct. 17-19.

“We dug into our archives earlier this year and I had fun reading about some of the early challenges and antics of the men and women who built this show,” said Larry Richards, the exhibition’s 36th president. “While other oil-producing regions of the United States hold trade shows, none rivals the one held every other year in Odessa for the onshore oil and gas industry.

“Originally organized in 1939 as the Permian Basin Oil, Land and Business Men’s Association, representatives from every county in the Permian bid for their 1940 convention and Odessa was successful.

“The Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang was formed in 1940 and Odessa was touted as the ‘Hub of the Vast Oil Empire of the Permian Basin.’”

Richards said the organizers decided to show “exhibits at the auditorium by supply companies whose headquarters are in Odessa” as well as “good food and good dancing.”

“Odessa was headquarters for about 50 supply companies and M.L. Atkinson, production superintendent for Phillips Petroleum, made arrangements for the ‘West’s greatest oil exhibit,’” he said. “Despite having only three exhibitors confirmed a few weeks before the show, over 60 oil well machinery and supply companies were set up with decorated exhibit spaces by show time.

“Tickets sold for $1 each and the organizers realized a few days before the show that 11,000 tickets had been sold to the official dance in an auditorium that only held 600 people. They built a 100-foot-square open air dance floor and completed it only hours before the show began.”

First called “The Little International Oilshow,” Richards said, “It was so successful that the organizers decided to keep it open one additional day on Sunday for working people to attend.”

Quoting the archives, he said, “This caused a furor among local ministers who feared that their flocks would desert to the lingering festivities on the western edge of Odessa.

“They resolved the situation by inviting Abilene’s First Baptist Church pastor to give the closing address that Sunday evening and he encouraged many of the upset ministers to attend the event ‘with their straying congregations.’”

Permian Basin International Oil Show attendees gather underneath a long-stroke pumping unit as they browse through the outdoor displays on the last day of the oil and gas trade show Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at the Ector County Coliseum. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

After the inaugural exhibition, the president of one of the largest U.S. tool companies said, “Right here where the actual buyers are running the show is a perfect set-up.

“Superintendents and field men, the men in actual charge of oil production in all of its phases, are here. This is where the show should be permanently.”

Richards said early exhibitions featured rig builders racing to erect 87-foot derricks on the show grounds and Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel performing with his Hill Billy Band.

“The show was halted in 1942 as a headline read ‘Oil Will Win or Lose War’ and all efforts transformed to win World War II,” he said. “By 1950 the Permian Basin accounted for 10 percent of global oil production and the Permian Basin Oil Show was officially restarted as a biennial event at the new 60-acre Ector County Coliseum and Fair Park in north Odessa.

“The 1954 show saw the addition of an old cable tool rig that was a replica of a rig from the Big Lake Field. The rig was used for a well drilled on site during the 1956 show by crusty tobacco-chewing L.R. “Paw Paw” Galbreath, a 64-year-old veteran driller imported from Eunice, N.M. Galbreath kept the rig running during the entire show, claiming the well was owned by the Hardly Able Drilling Company.

“That rig burned down and its replacement now stands as a working cable tool rig near the Old Timers’ Lounge at the show grounds. The Old Timers’ Lounge hosts a wealth of historical memorabilia that will stir old memories from days past.”

Richards said the PBIOS is a nonprofit organization run by volunteer leaders from across the industry.

“We’re thankful for the directors, committee chairs and executive committee members who tirelessly donate their time and expertise to put on this amazing show,” he said. “We hope this year’s show will continue the proud legacy of those before us.”

The past presidents are Lloyd R. French, 1950 and ’52; W.D. Lane, 1954; Roy Carter, 1956; Arno Anders, 1958; J.C. Hostetler, 1960; O.D. Albright, 1962; John Ed Cooper, 1964; Fred Courtney, 1966; J.A. McVean, 1968; Pat Fletcher, 1970; Vernon Blain, 1972; Frank Lovering, 1974; Bill Hall, 1976; Larry Byrd, 1978; Joe Womack, 1980; E.G. “Eddie” Durrett, 1982; Frank Ratcliff, 1984; T.L. “Woody” Gregory, 1986; Clarence Cardwell, 1988; Ed Barham, 1990; Robert K. “Bob” Beggs, 1992; Don Narrell, 1994; W.R. “Bro” Hill, 1996; John Dinger, 1998; L.D. “Dave” Robbins, 2000; Kirk Edwards, 2002; Ray Peterson, 2004; Joe Young, 2006; Steve L. Holifield, 2008; Douglas E. Duff, 2010; Don Gregory, 2012; Larry Wadzeck, 2014; Monnie Sparkman, 2016; Steve Castle, 2018; and Tommy Pipes, 2021.