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The Dallas Darrell DOWNS family


My grandfather, Dallas Darrell DOWNS, married Philena WATERS about 1895. They homesteaded land in Woodward County, Oklahoma in the land rush of the 1890's. Using the farm as collateral, he bought a combine. For whatever reason, he lost the combine and the farm too. He then moved to the Tryon-Chandler area where my father, Frederick Earl DOWNS was born in 1906. Shortly after Fred was born, the family moved to Grandfield, Oklahoma. Philena's sister, Rachel, lived just off of Bridge Street five or six blocks south of the ice house. Her husband was always called Mr. Henry.

Dallas helped to build the first school in Grandfield. He was a building contractor in Grandfield, Oklahoma. He built several private homes in that area during the 1910's and 1920's. Some are still in use today. Dallas also taught two of his sons, Howard and Fred, carpentry. Howard went on to become a master carpenter and cabinet maker while Fred went into the oilfields as a driller and toolpusher. Dallas' carpenter's tools including a wooden mallet, his framing square, and several different types of wood planes were found in Fred's garage on March 10, 1997, as well as a four volume set of books on carpentry. The copyright date was 1923. A receipt made out to D. D. DOWNS was found inside one of the books. A two man cross-cut saw that belonged to Dallas was found in the garage a few weeks earlier.

Dallas' daughter, Edna, married James 'Big Jim' GIBBONS. Their son, 'Little Jim' GIBBONS was an accomplished musician and instrument maker in Grandfield. 'Little Jim' was an excellent mechanic and loved to 'tinker' with anything mechanical. He owned a shoe repair shop for a time also.

Fred has led a multi-faceted life. As a young man, he was known as 'Bulldog DOWNS from the gravel pit'. About 1921 or 1922, a carnival with a prize fighter came to his hometown of Grandfield, Oklahoma. The carnival owner offered a cash prize to anyone who could stay three rounds with his fighter. After his man knocked out two or three of the local 'toughs', the carny boss asked if there was anyone else who wanted to try their luck. Some Grandfield old timers yelled out that 'Bulldog' DOWNS could beat his man. Fred was located and brought to the ring where he promptly knocked the carny's fighter out. The boss hired Fred on the spot as his new boxer and Fred went on the road with the carnival, never losing a fight. Fred told of boxing 'Kid SNYDER' ten rounds to a draw a few years later. 'Kid SNYDER' was the Oklahoma state champ.

A few years later, Fred and his best friend were working as roustabouts for an oil company near Drumright, Oklahoma and were being taken back and forth to the job site from their company's 'yard' in a company truck. It seems that the company that they worked for insisted that the driver get them to the job quicker because they were being paid from the time that they left the 'yard' until they got back and the company didn't like paying for so much 'riding' time. Fred remembers telling his friend that he would never ride with their driver again because of the reckless way he was driving. He said that they were sitting on a bench behind the cab of the truck with a case of dynamite beneath them. On the way to the job, there was a head-on accident on a curve near Drumright involving their truck and another truck. His best friend, the drivers of both trucks, and several other men riding with them were killed and Fred was badly injured. Fred was found on the side of the road with an iron stake protruding from the top of his head. The stake had entered beneath his jaw and exited through the top of his skull. His right arm was severely injured also. Someone covered him up believing that he was dead. It was some time later before the medical examiner arrived and discovered that he was still alive. He was rushed to the hospital in a Model T touring car where he spent fifty-six days recovering from his injuries. After he woke up, the doctors asked if he knew what happened and he said that he thought that the dynamite had gone off. The doctors told him later that being bounced around in the ride to the hospital probably saved his life. He has a scar that runs from the tip of the index finger on his left hand to his knuckle. Fred said that the finger hurt more than any other injury. It was almost cut off and the skin was sewn together tightly. The doctors would come to his room every day and pick at the finger to make it bleed in order to keep blood circulation in it. He said that he had to hold his arm in the air because the finger would start to throb every time he let his arm down. Fred said that he begged the doctor to cut the finger off because of the pain and when the doctor refused, he asked for a sharp knife or hatchet so he could cut it off himself.

He worked for over forty-five years in the oil fields after the accident. He worked first as a derrickman for the Carter Oil Company in Oklahoma and Illinois, and then as a driller for several other oil companies. It was while working for the Carter Oil Company that he broke one of his legs. The company doctor released him to go back to work even though he still had a cast on his leg. When he protested that he couldn't work derricks in a cast, the doctor said that he could fire boilers or something. Fred got in his car and drove to the company's offices in Oklahoma City. He went in the president's office, sat down and put his cast on the man's desk and told him, "I'm ready to go to work". The man asked who he was and what was his job. When Fred told him the he worked derricks, the man replied, "You don't look to me like you're ready to go back to work". Fred told him that the company doctor disagreed. The president then told him to go back home and not worry about coming back to work until the cast was removed from his leg.

Fred married Hollene Pearl Boren on May 1, 1934. He worked many years in Burkburnett, Texas as a driller and tool pusher for the Bell Oil and Gas Company and the E. G. Boardman Drilling Company. One of the rig locations was in a 'Black Diamond' watermelon patch along the Red River close to Nocona, Texas. Fred had purchased a 1947 Hudson from Mr. Boardman. He bought all of the watermelons that he could load in the Hudson for ten cents apiece. He had the turtle back full (that's a trunk to you youngsters), the back seat full to the top of the car, and the front seat was so full of melons that Fred could barely drive the car. As he entered Burkburnett, he stopped at the ice house (a REAL ice house) to ice down some of the melons. Several people came in while he was there and wanted melons, so he sold some for a dollar each. He knew that he had more melons than his family could eat, so he went to the local A&P grocery store and asked the produce manager if he wanted to sell them and split the proceeds. The manager agreed and Fred left some of the melons. A couple of days went by and Fred checked to see how the melons were selling and found that only one or two had sold. Two more days went by and no more had sold. Fred noticed that the price per pound made them too expensive for most people to buy and he suggested to the produce man that he should lower the price so the melons would sell before they began to spoil. The manager replied that if he lowered the price, the local merchants association would run him out of town. Fred answered by saying that the merchants association couldn't run him out of town and he wanted fifty cents a melon for his part of the melons and then the merchant could sell them for what ever price he wanted or else Fred would sell them in front of the store for what he could get for them, or he would give them away before letting them spoil on the shelf. The manager told Fred that he could buy all of the melons that he wanted for ten cents apiece, delivered, which is what Fred paid for these melons and he had to pick them himself. Finally, the manager agreed to pay the price, but told Fred not to bring him any more melons, at any price!

There was a man roughnecking for Fred who had a reputation in Burkburnett as a bully. He had 'whipped' several drillers and, afterwards, made them take him to town in their cars while he still had his dirty work clothes on. For no particular reason, he picked a fight with a man who was hauling water to the rig. He out weighed the man by fifty or sixty pounds and gave him a pretty bad beating. Fred found out about it when the water hauler came up to the 'dog house' to clean up. He called the roughneck up to the 'dog house' and told him that he was fired for what he had done. Fred told him that he knew about the way he had made other drillers take him to town after 'whipping' them and that no matter what else happened, he was still fired and that Fred wasn't going to take him to town. My uncle was there and saw and heard every thing that went on. The roughneck later became a patrolman in the Burkburnett Police Department. I heard that he died several years ago.

Fred also worked for the Harry Sneibold Drilling Company and the Hamilton-Powell Drilling Company in Wichita Falls, Texas. One Christmas, Mr. Sneibold bought Fred some custom made cowboy boots as a Christmas gift. Fred went to the boot maker and had him make Hollene a matching set of leather purses with the same design that was on his boots. My daughter has the coin purse to the set and my sister, Francine, has the rest.

Although already in his sixties when the oil field decline of the 1960's hit, Fred left the oil fields and went to work for Texas Lock And Key in Wichita Falls, Texas. He continued to work there until he retired at the age of 76. Although he was in his 90's and in a nursing home, Fred still played
dominoes every day with the other folks there until his death in 1997.

Contributed by Fred Downs
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.