It was big news in North Texas when a wildcat well discovered an oilfield on S.L. Fowler’s farm on July 29, 1918. A drilling boom along the Red River would soon make Burkburnett world famous. Over The Top Oil Oil Company wanted in on the action.

‘‘Land values in and near town took a jump at once and all available land in and near that townsite has been either leased or offers have been made upon same,” reported the Burkburnett Star.

Over The Top Oil Oil was one of dozens of speculative ventures that quickly followed up the discovery. About 60 drilling rigs were at work within three weeks of the strike.

Over the Top Oil Company

By June 1919, Burkburnett, Texas, had more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.” Twenty trains ran daily between the town and nearby Wichita Falls.

Six months later, Burkburnett’s population had grown from 1,000 to 8,000. A line of derricks two-miles long greeted visitors.

With few skilled petroleum engineers, the rush to tap into oil wealth ignored reservoir management and conservation techniques. The Over The Top Oil Company was among those in a rush.

The company, with J.B. Thomas president and J.E. Lake secretary, issued $40,000 in par value $1 stock. International Petroleum Register noted the company’s holdings to be one lot encompassing only three-fourths of one acre, “out of block No. 21 on the Outer Block subdivision to the town of Burkburnett, Wichita County, Texas.”

The company began drilling its first well on its small lease.Then came the Spanish Flu. Amidst the boom town crowds and many hazards of drilling, the Wichita Daily Times of October 16, 1918, reported Burkburnett to be, “at a standstill on account of the epidemic.”

It was the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which would kill an estimated 675,000 in the United States alone. In Burkburnett, “Despite the millions of dollars that awaited to be tapped, the only economic activity that occurred was the sale of “bottled drinks….at soft-drink stands.”

Nonetheless, Over The Top Oil Company brought in a small producer in March 1919 – the No. 1 McKinney at 300 barrels. It was before overproduction, reduced reservoir pressures, and shrinking margins took their toll on Burkburnett.

By 1920, Oil and Gas in the Mid-Continent Fields reported how the town had experienced “that history which all oil fields go through, particularly those controlled by the small operator, namely, the location of far too many wells to the acres.”

Noting that “every little building lot has a rig upon it” and “every back door yard has a well all its own,” the author continued that “from a distance, the stranger would swear that the legs of the derricks were ‘crossed.’

Over the Top Oil Company

A popular 1940 MGM movie was based on the 1918 Burkburnett oilfield discovery.

“The fact is, many derricks are set up 20 feet apart. One derrick is squeezed in between two little houses, so that the legs are within a foot of a house on either side.”

Although Over The Top Oil Company remained in the American Oil Directory of 1922 at the same Wichita Falls address, no further drilling was apparently made and references fade from records. The Texas Railroad Commission maintains an archive of oil well records and may be able to assist with deeper drilling into the history of Over The Top Oil Company.

Learn more in North Texas oil history in Boom Town Burkburnett and Texas Production Company.

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The stories of exploration and production companies trying to join petroleum booms (and avoid busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

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