In a restored 1885 mercantile building downtown, the Luling Oil Museum (also known as the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum) displays a variety of historic equipment from the Luling oilfield. Some people say the giant field was discovered by a psychic.

luling oil field

Exhibits in Luling’s restored 1885 mercantile store educate visitors about a 1922 oil discovery – and the modern petroleum industry.

Although famous for its BBQ ribs and watermelon seed-spitting contest, Luling, Texas, still rises and falls with the fortune of am oilfield discovered more than a century ago.

In 1924, just two years after its discovery, the Luling oilfield had about 400 wells annually producing about 11 million barrels of oil.

Modern drilling and production technologies have reinvigorated the Luling oil patch, noted Luling Oil Museum Director Carol Voight in 2013, when she was featured on Austin TV news. She explained the historic oilfield’s return to prosperity thanks to horizontal drilling.

Once known as the toughest town in Texas, visitors to Luling on the first Saturday in April now find the streets crowded with families enjoying the Roughneck BBQ and Chili Cook-Off. “Best ribs in the country,” Reader’s Digest once proclaimed.

Crowds rally again in Luling beginning on the last Thursday in June for the Watermelon Thump Festival – and Seed-Spitting Contest.

The Guinness Book of World Records documents the contest’s still unbeaten distance of 68 feet, 9 and 1/8 inches set in 1989.

Just a few steps from the carefully calibrated arena where the watermelon seed-spitting record was set, visitors find the oil museum, housed in an 1885 former mercantile store.

luling oil field

Edgar B. Davis in 1922 discovered an oilfield 12 miles long.

The historic Walker Brothers building in the heart of the business district.

The museum “shows the contrast of the tools and technology of the past with those utilized in the oil industry today.” Exhibits trace the development of the oil industry – from the first strike in 1859 in Pennsylvania to the social and economic impact on Central Texas.

“We strive to demonstrate the struggles between the men and women who were the oil field pioneers and to create a better understanding of the process of oil exploration and production,” noted one volunteer.

“Our collection includes a working model of a modern oil rig, pump jacks, the ‘Oil Tank Theater,’ and an excellent assortment of tools from each decade of the oil industry,” added Voight.

Revealing the Luling Field

The museum’s restored building was constructed in 1885 as a place where cotton was financed and traded. But oil replaced cotton in Luling’s future thanks to Edgar B. Davis’ Rafael Rios No. 1 well of August 9, 1922.

After drilling six consecutive dry holes near Luling, the heavily in debt United North & South Oil Company brought in the Rafael Rios No. 1 well – discovering an oil field 12 miles long and two miles wide.

Local lore says Davis, a leading citizen of Luling and president of the company, found the well only after getting a psychic reading from famed clairvoyant Edgar Cayce (see below). Today, the museum introduces visitors to the science behind the discovery and to Luling’s oil boom, when the town’s population grew from 500 to 5,000 almost overnight.

luling oil field

After sampling “the best ribs in the country,” visitors to Luling, Texas, marvel at the many decorated pump jacks seen in its historic downtown.

By 1924, Luling a major U.S. oilfield. To preserve the city’s petroleum heritage, a large collection of locally donated artifacts illustrate not only how it was in “the olden days,” but also what can be accomplished with community efforts, cooperation, and creative programs.

Voight credited Luling area oilmen and especially Tracy Perryman, a multi-generation independent producer.

One of the museum’s great outreach success stories has been its “Reflections of Texas Art Exhibit,” Voight added.

For five years, the art show has brought a growing regional audience to the museum. Another unconventional program is the annual Davis Street Quilt Show, which draws yet another new audience into the museum’s exhibit space.

Educating Young People

luling oil field

Dad signs the museum guestbook for this visitor.

Like all community oil and gas museums, the Luling Oil Patch Museum must carefully manage its limited budget, said Voight. Required maintenance and repairs are expensive and the costs of a needed expansion prohibitive.

In a frugal approach to integrating downtown park expansion with outdoor exhibit space, the museum partnered with Susan Rodiek, Ph.D. and students of her graduate architectural design studio at Texas A&M University.

Voight said six teams of students were assigned to create designs that could economically exploit existing property and facilities, while providing Luling and the museum with new exhibit spaces. Students approached the project competitively, proclaiming the museum to be their “first client.”

Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey noted, “The preliminary designs that the Aggie students presented to us were fantastic. There were some terrific concepts and the work was detailed and quite fascinating.”

luling oil field

Museum Association Board Member Trey Bailey and his children.

Voight added, “They really got it – Luling’s rich heritage in oil, the E.B. Davis story and more. Being able to get this quality of work and vision is tremendous to our efforts to showcase some of the true historic gems of Luling.

“Dr. Rodiek and her able team have again offered us the ability to get this project moving, especially considering the limited budget we have at this time.”

The Luling Oil Museum staff and the Chamber of Commerce, which share space in the historic Walker Brothers building, are interested in sharing their approaches and learning from other museums’ experience.

Psychic Edgar Cayce 

Biographers of the once famous American psychic Edgar Cayce note that he found his own mysterious path into exploring the oil patch at Luling.

In 1904, Cayce was a 27-year-old photographer when a local news-paper described his “wonderful power that is greatly puzzling physicians and scientific men.”

The Hopkinsville Kentuckian reported that Cayce – from a hypnotic state – could seemingly determine causes of ailments in patients he never met.

By 1910, the New York Times proclaimed that “the medical fraternity of the whole country is taking a lively interest in the strange power possessed by Edgar Cayce to diagnose difficult diseases while in a semi-conscious state.”

As his reputation grew, Cayce expanded his photography business with the addition of adjacent rooms and a specially made couch so he could recline to render readings. He became known as “The Sleeping Prophet” while his readings expanded beyond medical diagnoses into reincarnation, dream interpretation, psychic phenomenon…and advising oilmen.

luling oil field

Edgar Cayce visits his drilling site in San Saba County, Texas, in 1921. The famed psychic’s abilities failed him searching for oil.

Psychic Oil Company

Sidney Kirkpatrick, author of Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet, writes that Cayce in 1919 provided detailed trance revelations to several oil-men probing the prolific Desdemona oil field in Eastland County, Texas. The results inspired Cayce and several partners to form their own company.

In September 1920 he became the clairvoyant partner of Cayce Petroleum Company.

Guided by psychic readings, Cayce Petroleum Company leased acreage around Luling. But raising capital for drilling proved difficult and eventually led to loss of the lease.

Not far away, Luling’s most revered citizen, Edgar B. Davis, drilled eight dry holes and nearly went broke before bringing in Rafael Rios No. 1, the discovery well for the highly productive Luling field.

Local lore and abundant literature proclaim that Davis found his well only after getting a Cayce reading.

Undaunted by the loss of its lease in Luling, Cayce Petroleum tried again 150 miles north in San Saba County, Texas.

Psychic Dry Hole

luling oil field

A psychic’s petroleum product sold today.

Cayce’s readings included, “detailed descriptions given of the various rock geological formations that would be encountered as they drilled,” notes Kirkpatrick.

The Rocky Pasture No. 1 well would drill beyond 1,650 feet in search of what Cayce described as a 40,000 barrel per day “Mother Pool.” It was a dry hole. Cayce Petroleum Company ran out of money and failed.

Today, the psychic oilman’s legacy lives on at his Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia, founded in 1931, and “the official world headquarters of the work of Edgar Cayce, considered America’s most documented psychic.”

An invention from Cayce’s venture into the oil business remains on the market – his “pure crude oil” product he recommended as a first step toward replenishing healthy hair. Cayce invented a “pure crude oil” product he called Crudoleum, which  is sold today as a cream, shampoo and conditioner.

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