Terry Williamson | Midland Reporter-Telegram, TX
Every boomtown era is different in its own right, but I can’t get over the idea that many Midlanders think we are exploring a new way of living.
The truth is, West Texas has seen boomtowns dozens of times since the late 1940s and early 1950s when the Permian Basin exploded with all-out mining of major oil reserves.
Nearly all boomtowns share a few common threads. There is always a huge housing shortage and cities struggle with how to educate all the new children who come into the system. Traffic increases by leaps and bounds, and roads deteriorate at a faster level.
And everyone across the nation wants their city to be a boomtown until it is one.
We are once again discovering that there are major upsides and steep downsides to every boomtown experience. West Texans also have discovered that you have to make hay while the sun shines because boomtowns do not last forever.
We are prisoners of our ability to get oil out of the ground, or to the price of oil, or to a government that can saddle the industry with uncompromising hurdles, or to technology.
Yes, Midland has seen boom times before. Midland has also seen times of bust when there is plenty of housing, no traffic and no money.
One of the favorite jokes of a busted oil town goes like this, “What do you say to a geologist?”
“Hey, waiter, what’s on the menu today?”
We’ve seen both sides of the boom-bust coin and we still can’t get away from that cycle related to the oil industry.
I was a child when Snyder had its big boom era, about the same time Midland was booming in the ’40s and ’50s.
My dad told me about those days. He told me wonderful stories about some dirt-poor farmers becoming millionaires overnight with the discovery of oil on their land, while other farmers were passed over, leaving them with only parched dirt that wouldn’t grow a crop.
He said that Snyder once swelled to well over 20,000 residents. There were no places to stay. Flop houses were opened and an oil field worker would purchase his cot space for the night. If you moved from your cot, it was sold to the next person in line.
I told my dad, “That kind of living had to be hard on your kidneys,” and he replied, “I suspect there were a lot of wet cots.”
That gave me a whole new perspective on what it must have been like to work in the oil field in those days. Oil companies today rent out hundreds of rooms for their workers. We complain about the cost of hotels in the area and the lack of rooms, but it sure beats the old flop houses. That’s just not a good answer to affordable housing.
We complain a lot about the ill effects of the boom on our community, but no one wants it to go away as long as we can keep our pants dry.
Thought for the Week: “The difference between a town in boom and bust is people get rich in boom times and go broke in the bust. Those not affected by either is what you call diversification.” — Journalist Earnest Johnson
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