In recognition of the 100th anniversary of ExxonMobil in Baytown, The Sun hosted a contest to “write your favorite memory of anything to do with Humble, Exxon or ExxonMobil.” Winners received one share of ExxonMobil stock in their name. Here is the final essay.
84 years and counting ...
On July 24, 1935, Eddie Vaughn Gray was born in a three-room house that belonged to Humble Oil and Refining Company. The house was in the “Humble Camp” at Conroe, where an oil boom was going on. Eddie’s father, Elmer, was buying the house from Humble for $100 paying $10 per month payments. Before the house was paid for, Humble moved the drilling rig that Elmer was on to Beaumont, Texas where the crew discovered the Amelia Field. Then Humble moved the rig and Eddie’s family to Alvin, Texas and drilled wells in the Hastings Field. From there they were moved to the Goose Creek Field in what is now Baytown. They lived in a “Humble Camp” on Evergreen Road, backing up to Tabbs Bay. From here, the crew drove to the nearby Mont Belvieu area to drill wells around the Barbers Hill Salt Dome.
Eddie grew up in Pelly, which was considered to be the “rough” part of town. There Eddie played in his dad’s lumber yard, which provided necessary supplies to Humble Refinery during World War II.
In high school Eddie played catcher on a baseball team that played at the “Humble Baseball Field” behind the Post Office in “Old Baytown.” Before getting out of high school, Eddie worked with an oil field drilling crew that drove from Baytown to Grande Isle, Louisiana to a Humble Heliport. From there a Humble helicopter flew them 15 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and landed on a platform tied to a big drilling rig. Eddie spent the summer “tripping pipe” on this rig while preparing for his senior year on the Robert E. Lee High School football team.
In 1953, Elmer Gray (father) and Eddie Gray (son) leased 32,000 acres from the Humble Oil and Refining Co. for cattle, hay and rice farming. The corners of the “Double E Ranch” were La Porte, Seabrook, Webster and up to Genoa and back to La Porte. (Fairmont Parkway was the northern border of the ranch and the southern boundary was Clear Lake.) Gray’s ranch operated for 10 years.
In 1964, Humble gave Rice University 1,200 acres of the ranch that Rice, in turn, gave to federal government to build the NASA Space Center. Humble then created the Friendswood Development Co. that developed the residential and commercial entities of Clear Lake.
All of that area was once part of the Double E Ranch.
After high school, Eddie enrolled at Texas A & M University on a four-year track scholarship. He studied Geology which led him to work on a Master’s Thesis concerning the surface subsidence of the Baytown Ship Channel area. Humble strongly supported this effort and furnished Eddie an office inside the refinery, as well as, provided Eddie access to all of the water production records concerning the refinery. The research revealed that cities and industries all along the Houston ship channel were pumping tremendous amounts of water from the fresh water sands below the area. The study documented that the withdrawal of water from the subsurface had caused the surface to subside approximately ten feet in a period from 1943 to 1953. This study, along with many similar studies, documented the affects of subsidence and resulted in a “Subsidence District” which regulated municipal and industrial fresh water withdrawal in the area.
After the pumping stopped in the 1960’s and 1970’s, subsidence basically came to a halt. After Texas A&M, Eddie returned to Baytown where he and his Dad formed Gray Oil Company and Gray Enterprises. The oil company was successful along the Texas Gulf Coast, West Texas, and discovered a large gas field in Western Canada.
The real estate company, Gray Enterprises, developed Graywood Subdivision in Baytown and Fairmont Park Subdivision in La Porte. Eddie is presently leading the development of a 7,000-acre tract in Liberty County as single family, multi-family and commercial tracts. During the 1990’s Eddie worked on a committee to clean up and develop parks and trails along the Goose Creek Stream that flows through Baytown. For Eddie’s efforts on this committee and other works in the community, Eddie was awarded the ExxonMobil “Refiner of the Year” award in 1996.
During this time, while working on the Goose Creek Stream redevelopment committee, an opportunity arose to obtain an old bowling alley on the Goose Creek Stream. With an initial gift from ExxonMobil of $20,000, Eddie negotiated the purchase of 6 acres of land and a 14,000 square foot bowling alley.
After two years of hard work by a committee of City of Baytown, Goose Creek CISD, Lee College, and local citizens, a grant was obtained from Texas Parks and Wildlife for $400,000 to rebuild the building and start an environmental education center.
ExxonMobil allowed Bill Gammel, the center’s first director, to display exhibits in the lobby of the ExxonMobil building on Decker Drive while the center was being built. Then ExxonMobil donated $30,000 to the center to create the ExxonMobil Learning Trail in the exhibit hall of the building.
Pete Alfaro, an ExxonMobil engineer, and his son were two of the first volunteers to start refurbishing the building. Since then, many ExxonMobil volunteers have spent countless hours making the Wetlands Center what it is today. Doug Walker, while the manager at ExxonMobil Baytown Olefins Plant, was one of the first industry leaders to share the vision of what the center might become.
After the center had been in operation for several years, Mayor of Baytown, Pete Alfaro, and the City Council of Baytown gave the center its formal name, “The Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Education and Recreation Center”. This year marks the 20th year of operation for the center and the environmental awards received to date are numbered in the dozens. The success of this project is only possible because of the generous support and dedication of ExxonMobil for the study of the environment and the education of Baytown area children, who hold the future in their hands.
My granddaughter Shalyn Stickler is employed at Exxon Refinery as a health and safety supervisor, carrying on the tradition of our family’s connection with Exxon.
As of July 24, 2019, Eddie V. Gray has been connected to and partnered with ExxonMobil for 84 years.
— Eddie V. Gray