When driving out to west Texas there's not a lot to see. It's flat, desolate and there are very few roadside markers that you can use to track your journey. So when you come across something out of the ordinary it tends to get your attention. For example, you know you've made it to Thurber, TX when you see this:
The Thurber Smokestack is the last remnant of a former thriving coal town. The town was owned by the Texas Pacific Coal Company and the residents were made up of primarily of the company's employees. As the oil boom grew, Texas Pacific transitioned more toward the petroleum industry. And with rise of the railroad, most of the residents had to leave to find work elsewhere thus creating a good old fashioned ghost town with the stack and a historical marker left behind:
The marker reads:
"Most important mine site in Texas for 30 years. Coal here, probably known to Indians, was "discovered" in 1886 by W. W. Johnson, who with his brother Harvey sold out to Texas and Pacific Coal Company in 1888. (T. and P. Coal Company provided fuel for the Texas and Pacific Railroad, but was independently owned.)
Town was named for H. K. Thurber, friend of T. and P. Coal Company founders. Most dynamic firm member was Robert D. Hunter (1833-1902), developer of 7 of 15 mines. Next president was E. L. Marston, Hunter's son-in-law, who left mining largely to William K. Gordon (1862-1949), an engineer who brought daily output to 3,000 tons.
Then in 1917, Gordon (backed by management of coal company) was primarily responsible for discovery of Ranger oil field, 20 miles west. Adoption of oil- burning railway locomotives cut demand for coal. Last mine here closed in 1921, and the 10,000 or more inhabitants of Thurber began to move away.
The coal firm changed its name to Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company and was sold in 1963 to Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Inc., for $277,000,000.00. Renamed Texas Pacific Oil Company, it is now one of largest independent domestic energy suppliers. Much coal (by estimate 127,000,000 tons) remains underground. (1969)"
A lot of interesting roadside stops like these can be somewhat secluded which which makes people hesitant to stop. But the good news here is that the smokestack is accompanied by the Smokestack Restaurant so you can grab a slice of buttermilk pie when you investigate some history: