Some Misperceptions of Thurber
There were several interesting aspects of Thurber:
1. Thurber's Texas and Pacific Coal Co. provided a dependable fuel supply for a dozen Railroads from 1888-1926 and thereby helped to open up the southwest.
2. In 1917 this company, under W. K. Gordon's direction, brought in the Ranger
oil field, and from this discovery oil exploration spread throughout West Texas.
3. Thurber bricks paved hundreds of miles of highways and streets in north Texas.
4. Thurber's successful 1903 Strike was a tremendous boost for the southwest
labor movement and Thurber became entirely unionized in all trades.
5. There were as many as 18 different nationalities living in harmony in Thurber.
6. Thurber was a lively, modern company town with no unemployment, no municipal government, no politics, no taxes, no discrimination and virtually crime-free.
It is understandable that Thurber is an appealing subject for writers at all levels. But writers often quote unsuitable references and they form their own ideas on what Thurber should have been like, rather than what Thurber was really like. For example:
1. The peak population of Thurber has been generally accepted as 10,000 (some references give 20,000). But a more realistic figure would be 5,000. The maximum coal production was in 1915 and the 1910 census count is 3,805 and the 1920 count is 3,598.
2. A map of Thurber will not support the contention of a "hodgepodge" of houses with little regard for planning or layout. It is true the streets were not precisely laid out in rectangular blocks and there were no paved streets or curbing, but the houses were systematically spaced and oriented so that the front porch faced the street.
3. A dreary, desolate Thurber is evoked from unsubstantiated comments such as "…the mine dump, the shale dump and the railroad spur always dominated the scene…" and "…most of the houses sat on rocky soil that never produced greenery…" But mines in the residential area were short-lived and abandoned by 1894 so the mine dumps were inconsequential. Thereafter the mines extended westward and away from the residential areas; the furthest mine was six miles from downtown. Thurber sat in a valley of fertile soil and there was greenery with many vegetable gardens and flowers and shrubs.
4. The long, straight bar of the second Snake Saloon is often mislabeled the "Horseshoe Bar." But the "Horseshoe Bar" was in the downtown Snake Saloon and the second Snake Saloon, sans "Horseshoe Bar", was in Palo Pinto Co. a quarter-mile north.
5. Regardless of location, the standard rent for all box-type housing in Thurber was $6. a month for a three-room house. The idea of a "low rental" area on Thurber's Park Row is an absurd conclusion, as if one could shop around for price and location.
6. Thurber was unique in many ways; yet, some Thurber writing arbitrarily references a New York study on immigrants which would infer that Thurber Italians, too, intended to return to Italy after making some money. And "…this reduced Americanization and naturalization to secondary considerations." Some Thurber Italians did return to Italy for personal reasons, but not because they made their "bundle." (Mining coal?) The vast majority of Thurber Italians were content with life and work in Thurber. They strived to be Americanized by joining American fraternal clubs, playing in bands, and buying homes and owning businesses in nearby towns. And they did well during the Depression by bootlegging. They seized the opportunities available in America.