In this day and age there are a number of ways or reasons a business becomes successful or famous. Social media is a huge outlet for a business to use for advertising. Clean bathrooms can also make a business famous, like Buc-ee’s for example. Buc-ee’s is much more than clean bathrooms, but that is what everyone thinks of when the business is spoken about. Long before the internet, television, and probably before many families in Texas had radios in their homes a man named Luther Bedford “Bob” Robertson had a vision for a business and the drive to make it a household name across the country.
Bob was born in Greenville Texas. I can’t find any history on his child hood. He served in WWI, but I don’t know to what capacity. I also don’t know what brought Bob to the small West Texas town of Matador in the 1920’s. Whatever the reason, Bob became a gas station attendant and I imagine that opened the door for his dreams and plans to flourish.
In 1932 Bob opened his own gas station. He called it “Bob’s Oil Well”. This was certainly no small task at that time. West Texas was in the throes of The Great Depression and Matador was on the edge of the dust bowl. Many, many farmers and ranchers were barely scraping by and that is the predominant profession of the area. But that did not deter Bob.
To make his gas station stand out Bob erected a large wooden derrick on the roof of his building. Its design followed the oil derricks that were used for drilling oil. Bob was proud of his design and didn’t want to be copied so he patented his derrick. However, he decided he needed to go bigger. In 1939 he tore down the wooden derrick and erected an even taller steel derrick much like the one that still stands to this day. He installed lights on top of the 84 foot tall structure to bring even more attention to his business.
Bob began to cater to the long haul truckers that would stop for fuel from all over the country. The freeway system had not been developed at this point, and Matador was located at the intersection of Highway 70 and 62. Bob wanted to get the word out so he paid truck drivers to install signs all over the country advertising his station. The signs included the mileage to Bob’s Oil Well.
Bob was the consummate business man and promotor. He decided that just selling gas was not enough. He opened a café, small grocery store, and a garage on the property. He also decided that he needed to entertain his customers. So he started with rattlesnakes in cages inside the store. This led to a plethora of animals later on that could very well be considered a zoo. He had monkeys, lions, coyotes, and a white buffalo along with the cages of rattlesnakes that started it all.
Bob was not only an entrepreneur, he was also a true patriot. He dedicated much of his free time to helping veterans of WWII. He wanted to recognize them for their service to the country. I imagine this stemmed from his own military service of WWI.
Unfortunately, Bob passed away suddenly in 1947. Two weeks after his passing a storm blew down his beloved derrick. Bob’s widow Olga rebuilt the derrick two years later and installed even larger lights. However, the allure of Bob’s Oil Well began to fade. The station closed in the 1950’s. There have been a few attempts to reopen the station, but all have been short lived. There is also a group working to preserve the iconic piece of West Texas history. If you are ever in the vicinity of Matador Texas, it is worth a few minutes of time to stop and take a look around. Unfortunately, Bob’s Oil Well did not become a household name across the country or even the state. I wonder what Bob would think about all the ways a business can be promoted these days.