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LONGTIME MEMBER PROFILE: Salt Flat Pipe and Supply

0917
 2014


Employee Caeser Corpus finishes repairs to a faulty pump on one of Luling’s character adorned wells, a lighthearted symbol of the city’s 92 years of oil production. (Jay Godwin photo)

By Ed Crowell

Forget the boom and bust. Slow and steady wins at venerable Luling business.

The sprawling storage yard at Salt Flat Pipe and Supply Company on the outskirts of Luling holds
what can be found at many Texas oil service companies. Hulking pump jacks tower over racks of rods, tubing and other, well, thingamajigs. 
 
Inside the clean and bright office, it’s a neater picture. This is the cheery domain of Pat Farmer and her 22-year-old granddaughter, Victoria Patterson.
 
Covering the file cabinet tops are family photos showing off Farmer’s progeny in graduation caps, soccer team uniforms and Watermelon Thump gowns. Her daughter, five grandchildren and a great-grandson live in the Luling area.
 
Near the back door leading to the repair and pump shop are bowls of candy for the company’s 16 employees.
Farmer, 71, has worked here since 1978. Morton Shefts started the company as Shefts and Shefts in the 1950s. He died in 2002 and three years later, Farmer partnered with a fellow longtime employee, Robert Zamora Sr., to buy the company. 

(Jay Godwin photo)Nine years ago, Robert Zamora Sr. and Pat Farmer bought the oil services company where they worked, and Farmer’s granddaughter Victoria Patterson later joined them. 
 
Today, they keep the oil wells of clients pumping 24 hours a day. The wells all are within a 40-mile radius from Luling. Most are “stripper wells” in the Austin Chalk formation, which is shallower than the currently booming Eagle Ford shale play that stretches into South Texas.
 
Stripper wells, also called marginal wells, are those that produce fewer than 10 barrels of oil a day.
 
“It reminds me of the early ’80s now, what’s going on with the boom. It’s fun to look back and see how the price of oil was changing in those days,” Farmer said. “Some people had wells pumping 30 to 50 barrels a day then, but they didn’t stay at that.”
 
While Farmer and Zamora concentrate on repairs and replacing worn parts for wells drilled by other people, the two also own 95 old wells. The majority of these wells operate with Bluebonnet power and some produce as little as 1/100th of a barrel of oil per day. A couple of good ones in town get 2 barrels a day. The wells were acquired as part of their purchase of Shefts and Shefts. 
 
Salt Flat’s slice of the oil business does not have gusher stories that make for movies or headlines. The company leaves the geological gambles and bids for land and mineral rights to others. Drilling speculators and nomadic roughnecks experience fast-moving boom and bust cycles. Salt Flat goes slow and steady, on behalf of longtime customers.
 
“We keep our service prices reasonable because the people around here aren’t getting fabulously wealthy with stripper wells,” Farmer said.
 
Patterson grew up hanging around the shop. 
 
She loves the business she joined two years ago, after she decided to not become a teacher, she said. 
 
“Every day is something different and it’s never boring,” she said. “I like that it’s the
old-school oil business here, nothing fancy or corporate. The weird mixing pot of people I meet is interesting.” To show off a “workover" job for a faltering pump on one of his wells, Zamora drives into Luling's business district. At the back of a DollarGeneral store parking lot, a worker is riding a toothsome shark, one of 16 oversized, cartoonish characters and creatures that have been mounted  on pump jacks. They are a light-hearted way for Luling to promote its historic support of oil production. Zamora, 59, smiles at the scene, obviously satisfied with his niche in the Texas oil industry.
 
“Some of the best wells around here are right in the city,” he said.

Every month in 2014, we featured one of Bluebonnet’s earliest commercial accounts. 
 

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