Gasoline, Texas and the Gasoline Cotton Gin
Gasoline, Texas doesn’t sound like the most attractive place to live, but in the early 1900s, the Tracy family returned to this community three times after moving to other towns in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona. So, why was this Texas town named Gasoline, what was its history and why did the Tracy family keep coming back.
How Did Gasoline Get its Name?
Settlers began to farm cotton crops in the area around the location of future Gasoline in the late 1800s. At the time the nearest cotton gin was in the town of Turkey, ten miles away. So, in 1906 three partners, M. E. Tomson, J.H. Clack, and L.A. McCracken bought a gasoline-powered engine and built a cotton gin on a site about four miles south-east of the town of Quitaque. With gasoline engines being a new and fascinating source of power for the locals, they named the settlement that grew around the cotton gin Gasoline.
Origins of the town of Gasoline, Texas
The area around Gasoline was originally settled as a trading post by a Comanchero trader named Jose Piedad Tayfoya in 1865-67. Ten years later, in 1877, a rancher named George Baker established the Lazy F Ranch there. Baker subsequently sold the ranch to Charles Goodnight in 1888 who renamed it the Quitaque Ranch. It was on the site of an early cowboy line camp that M. E. Tomson, J.H. Clack, and L.A. McCracken were to build their gasoline-powered cotton gin.
The development of the Quitaque Ranch led to the establishment of a town with the same name. In 1891 the town harvested its first cotton crop and in 1892 Quitaque was surveyed and platted. In 1903 several farm families built homes near Quitaque. Four miles south-east of the town, farmers drilled a well near the site of the future town of Gasoline. By the time the Twilla Hotel went up in Quitaque in 1907, Tomson and his partners had built their cotton gin, and in April of the same year, had produced their first cotton bale.
M. E. Tomson, who managed the gin, opened Gasoline’s first store and established a post office there in 1907. In 1908 W. A. Smith opened a hardware and farm machinery business. In the same year, a one-room school opened. It was expanded to four rooms by 1920 and had four teachers and eleven grades by 1929. In its early years, Gasoline boasted a blacksmith shop, a barbershop, a drugstore, and a cafe.
The Tracy Family’s First Move to Gasoline, Texas
Over the years Sandford and Dorothy Tracy moved from town to town in search of work. Their first daughter, Lora Mae Tracy, was born while they were settled in Roswell, New Mexico in 1909. It was soon after this moved to Gasoline, Texas for the first time. Sanford started working in Tomson and partners cotton gin. In 1911, during their stay in the town, the Tracys had their second daughter Chloe Margaret. The Tracys’ youngest daughter later recorded the event in a memoir:
Grandpa and Grandma Harrelson had been visiting, and Papa took them to Quitaque to catch the train home and bring back the doctor for Mama. They were too late, a woman by the name of Hodges had delivered the baby by the time they got home.Edith Opal Avera [Tracy]
About a year after this, the Tracys left Gasoline and moved to Electra, Texas, then to Witchita Falls and by 1914 were back in Cordell Oklahoma, where their third daughter Willie Lee was born.
Sometime before September 1916 the family was back in Gasoline, Texas. This time Sanford rented a farm with someone Edith identified as “Uncle Jim.” Their fourth daughter Laura Leona was born in Gasoline on Sept 12th, 1916.
By mid-1919 the family had once again left Gasoline. They moved a number of times, including a planned trek to California with another family, but by 1925, having made it as far as Arizona, the Tracys decided to return to Gasoline.
The Tracy’s Last Time in Gasoline, Texas
The Tracys were back in Gasoline in time for the birth of their youngest daughter, my wife’s grandmother Edith Opal Tracy. She was born on May 8th, 1926. Sandford Tracy was helping work his father’s farm and during the fall, worked at the cotton gin.
Since the town was established local church members had been meeting in the 1907 schoolhouse, but around this time (1926) a new community building was built and the old school pulled down.
During the Tracy’s final stay in Gasoline, Laura, Edith’s sister was married to Guy Willis in Quitaque on April 25th, 1927. Before the end of the year, Sandford and his family had left Gasoline for the last time.
The End of the Gasoline Cotton Gin and Decline of the Town
In 1929 the town’s carbide lights and kerosene lamps were replaced with electricity, but for years Gasoline had only one phone. A local literary society staged plays, and sports such as baseball and volleyball also supplied entertainment.
Disaster struck in 1938 when the cotton gin, the origin, and hub of the community, was burnt to the ground. By 1940 Gasoline’s population was down to twenty, and its school district merged with the nearby Quitaque district in 1946. The post office closed in 1948. During the mid-1980s there remained several old farmhouses and the community building, in which yearly homecomings were held.
A Ghost Towns History
We often have a misplaced sense that towns and cities we live in are permanent features of the landscape, but there are numerous cases throughout history where huge settlements have vanished without little or no trace left behind. More often than not, these towns are built on a single industry, which over time becomes obsolete, or financially unviable. For Gasoline, this first started when the railroad bypassed the town making it easier for competitors to transport their cotton. The decline continued as the cotton industry changed. The final straw was the destruction of the cotton gin, which by then was not worth rebuilding.
While these ghost towns leave one with a sense of loss, it’s important to remember that however short their tenure, these towns provided work, prosperity, and community for many people. Clearly the Tracys had an affection for Gasoline, having had three of their children there, and living there three times. Perhaps the most important take-away from the stories of these ghost towns is that history is recorded in documents and images, not in the buildings and physical things that existed there. We still know the history of Gasoline, Texas. We know something about its people, its structure, and its stories, even though all that remains is a simple historic marker in a field.