West Texas Titillation
By Mike Miller
If you’ve ever passed by Fort Stockton, in west Texas on Interstate 10, you may not remember because it’s not a very big place. Just eight thousand residents, more or less, a little north of the big bend in the Rio Grande River.
I remember it because I stopped there on a cross country drive back in 2007. It was suppertime, and the first place I saw was the Comanche Springs Restaurant next to a sprawling truck-top. Pickup trucks and cars filled the parking lot, usually signs of decent roadside food,and a couple dozen big rigs rested on the perimeter around the diesel pumps.
Cigarette smoke filled the place, with clouds hanging over tables and booths of diners. The counter near the kitchen had a little less haze, and that’s where I headed. More than sixty men and women were eating and smoking, talking and laughing, mostly wearing jeans and work shirts with cowboy hats or baseball caps. One woman with a ponytail wore a T-shirt with a catchy phrase stretched tight across her ample breasts: “Ask Me About My Nipples.”
She and her table of friends were still smoking and talking and laughing and sipping coffee when I finished my chicken-fried steak and headed for the door. Sometimes a writer can get away with a question other people never ask, so I stuck out my hand and introduced myself to her and the big fella sitting next to her.
“I couldn’t help noticing your T-shirt so I decided to ask,” I said to her. “It might turn into a little story.”
“A lot of people notice it,” she said, with a laugh. “Oil field people know what it means: short pieces of pipe with male threads on both ends—nipples, we call them.” The big fella laughed, too, adding it was one of her favorite shirts, helping promote a local business that supplies nipples to the oil industry. They invited me to pull up a chair and I did.
They gave me a crash course in the history of the Yates Oil Field, fourteen miles south of Fort Stockton, discovered in 1926. It’s one of the largest and most productive oil fields in the United States, covering forty-one square miles. In the early days, they said, so much crude leaked from the wells it contaminated the Pecos River and workers recovered over three million barrels just by skimming the river every day. At its peak in 1929, they said, one uncontrolled gusher spewed out a world record of more than two-hundred-thousand barrels in one day. But Texans like to brag, and I was skeptical.
“America has enough oil to last forever, if we get to drill for it,” they said. “Yates already produced a billion barrels, with another billion still in the ground.” That sounded like more Texas bragging, so I looked it up that night in my motel. Everything is right there on the Internet—maybe that’s where they got some of their information, or maybe Wikipedia got it from folks in Fort Stockton.
If you’re ever in west Texas, passing through on I-10, think about stopping at Fort Stockton and eating at the Comanche Springs Restaurant. It’s been around since 1870, some say, after the Army built seven forts along the Comanche Trail from San Antonio to El Paso. Nowadays it’s open 24/7 with good food and great coffee. The locals don’t care much for government regulations on a lot of things, and they ignore no-smoking laws. But they’re friendly folks, and talkative.
They take a lot of pride in their oil field, restaurant, and the remnants of the old fort. They’re proud of other things too, like the world’s largest statue of a roadrunner nicknamed “Paisano Pete” that welcomes visitors to the downtown area.
And they’re really proud of their nipples.