If its a dive, and a place for hands to eat, slap some dominoes and drink a few cold ones, its a joint. So it was with the Deep Test Cafe in Gerber, Oklahoma in 1923.
The streets in Garber were dirt in the early 1920's; they froze hard in the winter and were long stretches of solid mud in the spring. The street could be navigated in front of the cafe, but you had to watch carefully for flowlines laid on top of the ground. Best just walk from your rig after work down to this joint; you could get the meat loaf special for 25 cents a plate, including a slice of deep-dish apple pie and black coffee strong enough to peel paint.
The bottles of Old Milwaukee at this place were kept in a tin box full of block ice and so cold the first one would give a hand a fierce headache on a hot summer day, the next four, however, went down fine. Ice picks were jabbed in the bar and protruded upwards like the wooden derricks down the street. The Deep Test got a little drafty in a December north wind but when the pot bellied stove glowed orange it was warm enough, and a damn site better than a rig floor. If somebody had a bottle of shine to pass around the stove the cold wind could be bucked just long enough to walk back to the flop house to get under your blankets for some shut-eye before your next tower.
East of Enid about 15 miles, Garber was located in the famous, Cherokee Strip of N. Central Oklahoma, where sooners raced west to stake
their homesteads in 1893. Communities of those homesteaders sprung up along the strip; mostly German wheat farmers of strong Lutheran beliefs. As early as 1904 natural gas was found in Garber County at a depth of 400 feet. Drilling activity graduated from spring pole percussion drilling to cable tools and by 1910 some shallow oil was found in Permian age rocks down near Covington, Oklahoma, about 8 miles south of Garber.
Then in November of 1916 an outfit named, Exchange Oil Company made a 90 BOPD well down on the Hoy Farm between Gerber and Covington at 1,140 feet, above, photo courtesy the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The Sinclair Oil and Gas Company jumped into the county in 1918 and the boom was on. Every well in the area drilled a little deeper found new pay sands. Some 11 different oil pay's and three gas sands were found in Gerber Covington Field, the Hoy and Hotson sands the most prolific producing intervals. The pool, Oklahoman for field, ultimately comprised a total productive area of ten square miles and made over 180 million barrels of oil.
By 1921, at the peak of the boom, in the northern part of the pool, close to the community of Gerber, some "deep" tests were made below 2,700 feet. It was about then the Deep Test Cafe got to frying bacon and eggs for hungry rig hands. One of the Gerber Sand tests actually made 27,000 BOPD for a few weeks in 1927 before pooping out.
Down on the bottom end of the pool, near Covington, in August of 1926, some laid off rig hands named, the Kimes Brothers, Matt and George, robbed two banks in one busy, exciting fall afternoon. At the last one for the day the boys locked up 25 bank employees and customers in the vault and insisted the bank manager give them only the bank's money, not money from orphans or widows. All this haglin' over whose money was who's during the heist eventually led to the crooks being arrested three weeks later in a beer joint over near Enid.
By the late 1920's the Gerber Covington oil boom was over, suddenly, and both communities started to slowly empty themselves into other oilfield booms, much like Slick, Oklahoma just south of Tulsa.
Behind the exodus once thriving communities of thousands, all so full of hope, all so sure of putting down permanent roots in an oil boom that would never end, were left almost totally abandoned and ghostly. Like Bedouins in a land of little sand, an oilfield family and all their worldly possessions were loaded in the Buick to wander off to the next oil boom, the next one room, shotgun house with flaking paint and a roof that leaked. To more labor, a new vegetable garden, a new school for their confused children...and new hope.
Home to the typical American oilfield family, circ. 1920. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society
By 1930 the beginnings of the Great Depression in the US hit the oil industry hard. Demand for oil fell to nothing and many, many families reliant on their jobs in our nations new oilfields were devastated with sudden poverty and hunger that lasted almost a decade. Joiners, East Texas Field discovery sold for less than 40 cents a barrel and oilfield wages, when you could find them, struggled to a dollar a day.
John Steinbeck once wrote, " How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him more, he has known a fear beyond every other."
History never repeats itself, you say?