BYNG — Byng School lost one of its landmarks last week when “Ol’ Oily,” the well that had pumped  non-stop for some 40 or more years, was shut down.  

Nobody, including the company that presently owns the well and was responsible for its demise, knows exactly the age of “Ol’ Oily,” but I have distinct memories of noticing this oil well , looking like a giant black grasshopper, directly behind the present school cafeteria early in my teaching career which began in 1955.  I remember, having read in Oklahoma history that we are a special state in that we have a producing oil well on the grounds of the State Capitol.  I was impressed that our school was similarly blessed.

I think, in my ignorance, I must have had something of the Hollywood concept of an oil well.  Having an oil well on your place was a little like having a money tree, and I visualized Byng School as recipient of bountiful royalty checks each month.   Lots of years later, I asked Marilou Gardner, the school’s astute business manager, if the still-pumping well was a money maker for the district.  She looked puzzled and said, “We don’t get any income from that well.”

I was certainly disappointed, but I learned that having an oil well on your place doesn’t mean extra income for anyone at Byng unless your great grandpappy owned the land for the past 100 years and was sharp enough to hang on to his mineral rights.   Almost any time property is bought or sold at Byng the buyer quickly learns that only surface rights are included in the transaction.

Because I walked past “Ol’ Oily” daily on the way to the track, I was aware that ownership of the well had changed about eight years ago.  Pontotoc Production Co. was the new owner according to a posted sign.   A short time later a solid six-foot  fence was erected around the well, keeping curious onlookers at bay.    When winds blew the fence down last year, it was quickly put up again.

At the beginning of  this year’s Spring Break, what I assumed to be a clean-out rig was brought in.   I assumed “Ol’ Oily’s” innards were going to get a reaming out so he would be more productive, but imagine my surprise a day or two later when the rig was gone; the pump was gone; even the smell of oil was gone.   There was nothing to show that the well ever existed.

Out of curiosity, I called Pontotoc Production and was eventually called back by a nice spokesman, the production manager for Oklahoma.  He told me “It was a matter of liability” as their reason for obliterating “Ol’ Oilly.”

“We were very aware that kids could get hurt on this well.  That was the reason we put up the tall fence.   However, we knew that if some curious student wanted to investigate, the fence wouldn’t be much of a deterrent.   Too, it was a matter of production.  This well had reached the point that it was producing only about half a barrel of oil daily.

“Actually, we took out three wells near Byng School this month.   We were worried about liability in each case.   It was difficult for us to maintain the wells because we could not afford to work on them during school when kids were out and about.   Having to work on the weekend or during holidays was a nuisance and more expensive for us.”

I will still miss “Ol’ Oily” for a few days as I walk past his former site to the track, but after a little while, seeing nothing to remind me of him, I’ll probably dismiss him from my mind.  So, if anybody besides me had wondered what happened to our oil well, here you have the reason.

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I know of three Byng class reunions that are scheduled to take place this summer.  The newest one to announce plans is the class of 1986.   I had mentioned previously that Major John Engel had been asking his mother, Rita Engel, to find out about any reunion plans..  That was enough to get a few class members started.   Recently five of them got together and  began trying to contact the rest of the class.  First, they established July 29 as the date , and they will be working to reach everyone.   The committee consists of Shawna Case Jackson, Julie Joplin Wall, John Estes, Lonnie Manuel and Wanda Keller.   If you’re a member of the class of ’86 and you haven’t been contacted yet, call one of these classmates and report your whereabouts.

The class of 1971 has already sent out a letter setting the date for June 16-17 and asking for reservations to be made by May 16.  Sounds as if they have a lively weekend planned.

Frances Phillips, who has begun to feel like a first class sleuth, tells me that she has now located every member of the class of 1966.  Her committee will be sending out letters soon.

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I was reminded of an old adage this week when I read of the death of Jim Muncrief.   The saying “It is better to wear out than to rust out” certainly comes to mind where he was concerned.

I did not know Jim well, but I certainly admired and respected what I did know of him.   Several years ago he called prior to the Christmas season and asked me to find a family who could use a little extra boost.  He wanted to buy Christmas dinner for them.  He was not content to give his money to some benevolent organization and let them take care of it.   He wanted to meet the family and see that they had everything they needed for a holiday feast.     So, I was able to find a family that needed some help.  I arranged for them to meet by telephone and to set a time when they could get together at a grocery store and do holiday shopping together.   He told me later, “I sure am glad I was there to insist that the mother buy more stuff.  She was getting hardly anything, and I wound up filling her food cart up.   She had a little girl with her, and I was able to help her find a doll she liked.”

I helped Mr. Muncrief for a couple of holidays.   Then I discovered he had moved into the community.   He came for several times to our game night at the Frances City Hall and we got an update on what he was doing.   With his granddaughter, Amber Warren and her husband, Steve, they had bought a house in the community.   They had done some remodeling building a large playroom for the Warrens’ two small chlldren.   The amazing thing was that he had assumed the task of caring for the little ones.

He mentioned that he and his wife had reared Amber as their daughter, and he felt comfortable serving as a caretaker for her children.  He pointed out that Amber and Steve had demanding jobs and he was happy that the kids didn’t have to be taken to a nursery or a day care center.  He seemed to get much joy out of a job that would certainly be confining and fatiguing for a man in his eighties, but he was thoroughly enjoying it.

Jim was a graduate of Byng High School, class of 1937, and he attended East Central State for three years before becoming bookkeeper for Ada Lumber Co.  He held a Civil Service job with Tinker Air Force Base until his retirement, but he seems to have been just as busy after retirement.  Widowed since the death of his wife, Balzora, in 1996, he helped care for his sister, Addie Hubbard, who died of cancer.  He certainly had a need to be useful to his fellowman and he found many ways of being of service throughout his 89 years.   He will be missed at the Byng Free Will Baptist Church as well as by his family and friends.    

 

 

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