Thurber, Texas: Thurber's Lonely Smokestack

128 feet tall, artfully made, and built of bricks, it's pretty much all that's left to mark the ghost town of Thurber.
State Hwy 108, Thurber, TX
Interstate 20, exit 367. Halfway between Abilene and Fort Worth.
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Thurber's Lonely Smokestack

Take the back roads to Thurber through Mingus and Gordon if you like small town history.

[KC Franklin, 08/25/2017]

Thurber smokestack.

Thurber's Lonely Smokestack

While driving on Interstate 20 recently I was surprised to see a tall structure that resembled a lighthouse. But since the nearest ocean is well over 300 miles away, I couldn't figure out what it was. I found out online it was an old smokestack.

The 128-foot brick smokestack is almost all that remains from what used to be a booming town called Thurber, Texas. The Thurber Smokestack was part of the town's electric power plant - very high-tech for its time. Thurber was once the largest town between El Paso and Fort Worth, with a peak population of approximately 10,000. Today, it is a ghost town with an official population of five.

Thurber was established as a company town in the late 1800s. The coal mine company built houses for the miners and their families. They even issued their own scrip (private paper money) that was worthless elsewhere. The north central section of Texas still sits on top of huge amounts of coal, but the discovery of oil down the road essentially killed Thurber, as railroads switched from using coal to oil to fire their locomotives. By 1935 the town was gone and most of the dwellings were demolished.

1908 Smokestack crown and lanyard.

Thurber also made bricks, using local material they dug out of the ground. It's safe to assume they built the smokestack using their own bricks (I'm guessing that the "1908" near the top denotes the date of its completion.). [As for the pulley-looking gizmo near the top of the smokestack, no one I talked to seemed to know what it was for; my guess is that it was part of a lanyard system that made it easy to hoist heavy items, and also doubled as a means of flying flags.]

Nearby is the popular Smokestack Restaurant ["The Only Place to Eat in Thurber for Over 35 Years" -- now Wi-fi enabled], still going strong in one of the few remaining original brick buildings. An official Texas historical marker sits in front of the tower (In fact, there are eight official state historical markers in Thurber, more markers than residents!).

Since the smokestack is about 100 years old, it is dangerous to approach it. You can see bricks have fallen out in several places. Curiously, there doesn't seem to be any means of keeping the curious or the criminal from getting inside. There is no fence, barbed wire, or alligator pit around it. But my guess is the local sheriff wouldn't cotton to anyone trying to climb the thing. I also don't advise anyone to go wandering around Thurber alone, even during the day - one might disappear into an abandoned coal mine air shaft!

Across I-20 from the smokestack is a new museum dedicated to the town, the W. K. Gordon Center for Industrial History of Texas. It is affiliated with nearby Tarleton State University. Opened in 2002, it's a superb collection of photographs, films, personal histories and mementos from the coal mining days. Inside the gift shop you'll find a "working" model of a wooden oil derrick, about 10 feet tall; push a button and a gusher of "oil" will shoot up through the middle of the derrick (Don't worry, it's enclosed in a transparent pipe.).

[Matt J. McCullar, 11/03/2007]

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