Sunray is a rural community of 2,000 residents located in Moore County, 70 miles north of Amarillo. Its primary industries are agriculture and oil & gas.
For a map of Sunray, click on the link below:
The History of Sunray
LOLA PEARL SANDERS GOUGH
According to all the stories I have heard, Sunray, Texas was founded by Jack C. Collins. He was born in Hartley, Texas in 1893, and moved to Channing, Texas with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. E.S. Collins. Jack Collins graduated from Channing High School and later, in 1916, from Texas A&M College where he was class valedictorian and class president in his senior year. Later he served for several years as cashier of the First National Bank of Channing while extending his own and his family’s ranch holdings. Mr. Collins was well-known and respected in ranching and financial circles and was a ranking member of the Republican Party for several years.
Jack Collins didn’t call the town “Sunray” when he laid it out in 1930. The first lots were sold at $10 each under the name, “Altman”, but it was discovered that a town in Rusk County had already appropriated that name, hence, the name “Sunray” was used. A Post Office was applied for on May 5, 1930, using the name “Altman”, but because of the duplication “Sunray” was not approved until 1935.
The change to the name, “Sunray”, came because Sunray Oil Company set up a gas-oil refinery near the town on 10 acres of land originally donated by Mr. Collins to Dana Oil & Gas Royalty Company. Sunray Oil Company bought the holdings of Dana in the early Jones field in northeast Moore County which was near the new town. The townsite location was determined by a new Rock Island Railroad route running from Dalhart to Morse along the northern edge of Mr. Collins’ townsite survey. At the time the town was 3 miles from the Jones Well and 6 miles from the Morton oil well—both early oil-gas discoveries in Moore County.
At the age of 44 Jack Collins was killed when both front tires blew out from the car in which he was returning from a Christmas holiday trip to San Antonio. He died several hours later in a Plainview hospital on December 30, 1937.
Natives of Jones County, Texas, my parents, David C. & Lena Herndon Sanders came to the Panhandle with my brother, David H., and me in February, 1931. We lived near Stratford with a brother of my father, Uncle John Sanders, and his family in a big tin building on a farm. My cousins were attending a little country school. I went for one day, but I was the only student in my class and didn’t like it. So my father arranged for me to stay with my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Sanders in Stratford for about a month until we could get a place in town. I remember that first spring we had snow that stayed on the ground for about 6 weeks, and I finished the 5th grade at Stratford, Texas.
In 1932, we moved to the Flores Ranch which was located about 5 miles north of Sunray. At first we lived in an old house that had a huge attic in a remote area. We believed the place to be haunted and the appearance of snakes at unlikely times reinforced our belief. I was afraid of the place the whole time we lived there and much relieved when we moved into 3 rooms—a part of another house in a better location that the foreman of the ranch lived in.
Here I met my first Sunray friend, Virginia Vaughn Burton, when her mother and father, Luther & Ellen Vaughn, came to visit the foreman and his wife. Both of us were adept in gymnastics and practically spent the whole afternoon standing on our heads and trying to outdo each other with various tricks we had learned.
The foreman moved, and we became the sole inhabitants of the house. Two of the rooms were built of rock, and I thought they were the prettiest rooms I had ever seen. We had a lot of exciting times during the first several weeks, especially when some of our furniture arrived from Jones County—a bird’s eye maple bed and dresser, a cedar chest, a Boston Rocker, and an Edison phonograph with a sizeable collection of thick records. We cooked meals on a kerosene stove and heated the house with coal stoves.
Our old Whipper, the car that transported us all the way from Jones County, finally wore out and we could not afford to get it repaired. My father rode a horse to Sunray to get our groceries which consisted mainly of staples. However, he always remembered my brother and I with a treat---usually a giant-sized Mr. Goodbar which in those days sold for a nickel.
We had cows to milk and kept our fresh milk, clabber, buttermilk and butter in a cement trough in the well house through which cool water flowed both winter and summer, thanks to a trusty windmill. We raised our own hogs and chickens, and Mr. Flores gave us a quarter of beef about twice a year. In summer we had a big vegetable garden, and canned a lot for the harsh winters. Lightning in rare rain storms was extremely fierce and scary—our dugout served us well. Once a big ball of fire struck in the barnyard and killed a blue mare. We didn’t know what tornadoes were, but I’m sure there were several around, and the wind was always a fact of life.
My father’s wages in addition to the food and shelter was $40 per month. When September came I didn’t have a way to get to school in Sunray so I stayed at home and played school with my brother who was only 5 at the time. We used the mail-order catalogues to cut out paper dolls, and I always chose the prettiest ones. Sometimes, though, he would get mad at me and tear off all the paper dolls’ heads.
In September, 1933, I started to school in Sunray, only 3 years after Mr. Collins staked it out. I was in the 6th grade, and my brother was in the first grade. A ranch neighbor, Mrs. Merritt Sweeney, had a son, Dean Sweeney, who was a year older than my brother. We all rode to Sunray through all kinds of weather and my father paid $17 of his $40 wages for our school transportation. We always valued education and our folks encouraged us to study and learn as much as possible.
The sturdy brick school building in Sunray had only 3 rooms. A wooden roll-up partition was raised between two of these when we had programs and plays. The stage was at one end, and the small library was at the other end. A very active, supportive PTA sponsored many parties, programs, and events. Some of the classes were held in the teacher’s house adjacent to the school which had formerly served as the school building before the brick one was built.
The year I started school a young couple, Tilden B. & Kathryn Armstrong began teaching there. He taught 5th through 10th grades, and she taught 1st through 4th. In 10th grade that year we had twins. The Armstrongs were a wonderful couple and befriended my family—visiting in our home for Parchesi and “42” games. A year or so later they took us to Amarillo to the Tri-State Fair. That was a very special trip for me since I had never been to a fair before.
After a couple of years on the Flores Ranch, we moved to the Bert Gordon place which was about a mile south of Sunray. From there we walked to school in Sunray most of the time. Everyone attended the Presbyterian Church and the young people had a “42” party there every Wednesday night. Especially well-attended were all the musical programs, vacation Bible school, church picnics, and summer camps at Ceta Glen near Palo Duro Canyon.
When I finished the 7th grade, our teacher planned a week of entertainment as a treat for us. I attended the first two nights, but on Wednesday night at the “42” party I broke out with 3-day measles and missed the rest of the week. This was in May, 1935.
Sunray was first incorporated in 1937, and later re-incorporated in 1945 when a mayor-council form of government was established. Lots in the 1937 addition sold for $50 to $5 down and $5 a month while lots in the original townsite were $10 each. One-room houses were brought in on skids when the oil boom began, and dry land wheat was a prosperous crop. Wages at the Shamrock Plant were 55 cents and hour, and everyone had jobs.
Sunray became a boomtown after oil and gas wells in the area became productive, and construction of a pipeline plus three carbon black plants an the Shamrock Oil & Gas Refinery were begun. Population quickly swelled to over 2,000 in 1935 and 1936. Tents and shacks quickly spread over the townsite to house the overflow of people who had come to work on the construction jobs. The town became notoriously wild with all the drifters and gangs of workers coming in. A rooming house on Main Street had call girls, and two night clubs—the Oasis Inn and the Black Cat popular spots. Later the Black Cat Club Building was purchased by First Baptist Church and moved to the present site of the church.
As to churches, the Presbyterian Community Church was formed in 1931, and served all denominations until 1935 when the Baptist and Methodist churches were organized. About the same time an Assembly of God congregation was formed, and in 1939 the Church of Christ was established. In 1950, Bible Baptist Church came to town, and in 1954, the Apostolic & Pentecostal Church. Also, the Catholic Church was formed in the early fifties, and masses were held in the movie theatre. Main Street and streets to early churches were paved, but it wasn’t until 1950 that all our present streets were paved. The present highway with all the angles to Dumas was paved in 1937.
One of the earliest business establishments was Womble Grocery Store. This is the store where my father rode his horse to purchase our provisions in 1932 and 1933. In 1935 a Womens’ Study Club was established and the Lions’ Club came to town in 1936. Baseball games were a favorite pastime in summer and there was even a woman’s team. “42” Parties, Bridge games, PTA events, picnics, fishing trips to any available place, and shopping trips to Amarillo, Dumas, Borger and Dalhart filled leisure hours.
A modern air-conditioned movie theatre was constructed in 1938, and quickly became a popular attraction. Drawings were held weekly in which groceries, dishes, and household items were given away to lucky winners. Other special events took place at the theatre—once the wedding of a black couple was a highlight of the week.
This was also the age of the Dust Bowl. It came rolling in every mid-day in dark, ominous clouds that obscured the sun most of the afternoon, and it deposited tubfuls of dirt in our houses. Every night we swept up the best we could and every day was a repeat performance of wind and dust. The worst dust storm I remember was on spring Sunday afternoon when most of the folks were attending a baseball game. The black clouds rolled in and we had to abandon the game. Driving was hazardous even with lights on and the lights in our homes gave out only a dim glow.
But Sunray prospered, and buildings were constructed. At one time the east side of Main Street had a number of buildings including Houck Department Store, a variety store, a filling station, and the DeSoto Hotel and car agency. These all burned in a spectacular blaze and the area was left vacant for many years. We had a skating rink in the Mason Hall at one time before the theatre was built, and we kids spent a lot of time rolling around inside on a hardwood floor. The Post Office has been located in five places, and we had a telephone office with one operator who served our town in the early days.
Few of the early day homes had indoor plumbing. People came to Sunray to make money, then move on—never to stay. At the height of the boom it wasn’t unusual to see a man passed out in an alley when morning came. There were lots of liquor stores and a lot of rough people. But there were also good people. Some of these owned a Nite Club, and one café was run by woman who were trying to make an honest living for their families. Maybe everything wasn’t done according to law, but by and large the folks who lived in Sunray had hearts of gold, helping to feed and caring for those in need.
One man said he lived in a little building before he brought his family to Sunray that had slides on each side. One day he went to work and when he returned at the end of the day his house wasn’t there. It had been moved to another location. He hound it in another part of town—on a different lot. This illustrates the temporary existance of the early day people. Every time the town would grow and prosper, disaster seemed to strike. Fires and Mother Nature were the enemy, and finally the boom petered out. The population dwindled to 750 by 1940.
The first graduating class of Sunray High School was in 1938. In 1937, we had to ride the school bus to Dumas since we weren’t accredited. I graduated from High School in 1939. Katthryn Bassham was the only other graduate, and ceremonies were held in the First Baptist Church for both grade school and high school. My brother and I were both valedictorians. Later, in 1943 he, too, graduated, and the members of his class were Geneva Cartrite, Betty Burton, and Gaylon Couch. By that time a nice brick addition had been constructed on the south side of the original 3-room building, but high school classes were still held in the old rooms.