Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Tuesday, June 30, 1998
Freeport closes Culberson mine
By GREG HARMAN
In a move which has been long been rumored, Freeport McMoRan
announced today it would close its Culberson County sulphur
mine within the next three months, leaving nearly 160
workers out of jobs.
New Orleans-based Freeport is the third company to operate
the mine, which has provided Frasch sulphur products for
nearly 30 years. Company officials told employees today
Freeport would begin a three-month phase out of operations.
Sixty of the mine's 158 employees will find themselves
unemployed today as the company ceases all existent
production. The remaining 98 workers will be cut at various
intervals over the next three months as the mine plugs and
abandons the remaining 300 wells.
The news follows a steadily faltering domestic sulphur
market and a lagging sulphur price that has been reflected
by a series of layoffs over the past year.
As Freeport spokesman Bill Collier explained, "The price of
sulphur has been so low for so long that the mine is no
longer economically feasible." He added that while it was
unlikely that the Culberson County mine -- which has
produced 45 million long tons of sulphur since its opening
in 1969 -- would ever be a sulphur mine again, the company
was open to any offers on the 36,000 acre property.
The decision was formally announced to city and county
officials in Pecos at an 11 a.m. meeting today, and company
officials touring the mine today informed the employees of
the Freeport's ultimate decision.
Hours after hearing the news, Town of Pecos City Mayor Dot
Stafford was already speaking of pulling up bootstraps and
banding together. "One good thing about Pecos is that we can
really pull together. We can get through this."
City Manager Kenneth Neal echoed Stafford's sentiment,
saying, "This is a sad day for the employees of Freeport and
the city of Pecos. We look at this as the end of a chapter.
We need to work through this to make a brighter future for
The layoffs will affect not only Pecos but also Carlsbad,
N.M., where many of the mine's workers - including plant
manager Phillip Tyree - have long lived, as well as
Culberson County, which will lose a large part of its tax
base due to the mine's closure.
Located in the shadow of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point
in Texas, the sulphur mine's demise will shave millions from
the county's tax base.
After wrangling with Freeport over property valuation at the
mine for the last several years, the Culberson County
Appraisal District and Freeport ultimately agreed to a
valuation of $26 million for 1997, which brought in over
$710,000 out of the county's total tax base of $4.1 million.
This year's valuation of the mine is $18 million. According
to estimates by Chief Appraiser Sally Carrasco, this will
bring close to $500,000 to the county.
Carrasco, who was "still in shock" yesterday afternoon after
hearing the news, said only, "Hopefully someone else will
buy (the mine)."
Freeport McMoRan Sulphur Inc., the largest producer of
Frasch sulphur in the world, was created out of a merger of
IMC Global Inc. and Freeport McMoRan Inc. in December of
The company reduced overall production levels at the
Culberson mine by 22 percent, or 550 long tons per day, in
January, 1998. As production levels have continued to
decline over the last several years, so have the number of
full-time employees at the mine.
Fifteen employees were laid off in October of last year.
This was followed by the release of 12 contractual employees
in late April, 1998, and another 16 full-time employees in
Employees at the Culberson mine will be issued severance
packages, including two weeks base pay per year of service.
Long-term employees will receive a maximum of 12 months of
Exploration and leasing of sulphur prospects began in
Culberson County in 1966. It was Duval Corporation that set
up what is now Freeport McMoRan Sulphur Inc.'s Frasch
sulphur mine, located 40 miles northwest of Pecos, in 1969.
The mine became property of Pennzoil Sulphur Company in
1985, boasting 450 payrolled employees in 1990. A series of
layoffs over the next three years cut the total mine
employment to less than half that figure by Jan. 3, 1995,
when Freeport McMoRan Inc. finalized the mine's purchase
from Pennzoil's domestic sulphur market.
Freeport already ran a larger sulphur mining operation from
platforms in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, but
at the time of transition, company spokesman Jay Handelman
said, "We expect the mine to remain open as long as it can
continue to achieve results and remain profitable."
In a statement today, Robert M. Wohleber, president of
Freeport McMoRan Sulphur Inc., blamed the closure on adverse
market conditions. Sulphur prices, which ranged from
$120-$150 per long ton between 1984 to 1990, dropped to the
$50-$70 range in 1991. Sulphur currently brings $64 per long
Another factor affecting the sulphur industry has been the
increased reliance on oil and gas production to recover
sulphur as a by-product. In 1998, Freeport officials
estimate, only 10 percent of the world's sulphur supply will
come from mines.
Sulphur mining came to West Texas as supplies in the Gulf
Coast dwindled in the early 1960s. Odessa National Gasoline
Company was the first company to produce sulphur by the
Frasch method, producing 22 long tons in its first year.
The Frasch method was developed by chemist and engineer
Herman Frasch around the turn of the century. Frasch's
experiments proved that superheated water can be pumped into
porous limestone, where sulphur deposits lay embedded, and
the molten mineral may be pumped to the surface in liquid
Culberson County has hosted many mining operations through
the years, including mica, copper, marble, lead and salt.
`Judge' Dobbs featured in 1998 program
By ROSIE FLORES
Quail Dobbs, one of the best professional rodeo clowns for
over 35 years, will be featured in this year's souvenir West
of the Pecos Rodeo program.
"We decided to dedicate this year's program to Dobbs, who
has been coming to the Pecos rodeo for many years," said
rodeo committee member Jodi Exum.
The dedication is written by Dobbs, wife, Judy, his son,
Coley and daughter, Stephanie.
In the dedication, Judy writes, "In December of 1997, Quail
made a difficult decision to leave rodeo and try something
else. It has not been easy to give up something that has
meant so much, 1988 will be Quail's last year to rodeo full
"This doesn't mean he won't be returning to Pecos, because
this is one of the places he loves the most," said rodeo
committee member Bana Armstrong. "I'm sure he'll be
returning, he just won't be doing the rodeo full time."
Dobbs filed to run for the office of the Justice of the
Peace, for Precinct 2 in Howard County (Coahoma) and was
elected in the March 1998 primary election. He has no
opponent in the November general election and his first term
of office will begin in January of 1999.
This year's program will feature facts and figures about
Pecos from 50 years ago, taken from the Pecos Enterprise and
"We also have a lot of pictures," said Exum.
The program is filled with vital information and is not just
an advertisement booklet, according to committee members.
"In a lot of other rodeos, the program is filled with just
ads and we are proud to offer more than just that," said
The program does have sponsors listed at the bottom of the
page, but the rest is filled with pictures, stories and
interesting articles about the rodeo, Pecos and the
surrounding area, according to Exum.
The Pioneer Families, including the Anglo Pioneer Young Bell
Family and the Mexican-American Pioneer Family of Carlota
Recipes taken from Cindy Duke's Zavala Middle School class
are a part of the program. "Her class did a little cookbook
on recipes from Texas and this are included in the program,"
The Ligon Ranch, which will be celebrating its 95th
anniversary, is featured in another article, along with
memorials dedicated to those who have died who played a part
in the rodeo or who knew someone who is part of the rodeo.
Joseph Ortiz is also featured in the program and he will be
here for the Trade Show which will take place during rodeo
events. "He is a former Pecos resident and a very good
artist," said Exum.
The program is $7 and is available at both First National
and Security State Bank, the West of the Pecos Museum and
will be sold at the rodeo performances. It is put together
and published by the West of the Pecos Rodeo Committee and
is sold at all the rodeo performances by the members of the
Business and Professional Women's Club.
"Proceeds go back into the rodeo committee to be used for
the following year's issue," said Exum.
If anybody has an article, story or pictures they would like
featured in the 1999 program, they should submit them now.
"We start working on the program early and if anybody has
any ideas we would like to hear of them now," said Exum.
Sponsors are also needed for the pages and they can also be
To submit a story idea or to be a sponsor they can contact
Exum, Bana Armstrong or one of the members of the B&PW club.
Familiar names among rodeo's leaders
By JON FULBRIGHT
The defending All-Around champion at the West of the Pecos
Rodeo, and the current runner-up in the Professional Rodeo
Cowboys Association All-Around standings, both had a good
start to the 1998 rodeo on Monday, when the first go-round
was held during slack competition.
The second go-round in the timed events began this morning
at the Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena, along with the first
section of saddle bronc riding. Tonight at 7:30 p.m., a
special section of bull riding will be held, along with the
start of the second go-round in steer roping, while the
rodeo officially kicks off at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the
first of four nightly performances.
Rope Myers, last year's all-around champ in Pecos, came out
of the first go-round tie for the lead in steer wrestling,
while Trevor Brazile, second to Ty Murray in the PRCA
all-around standings, got a leg up on this year's West of
the Pecos Rodeo title with fifth place finishes in both the
steer roping and calf roping events.
Myers' 4.1 time tied him with Casey Callahan for first place
and was worth $1,634.82 to both cowboys. Keith Webster and
Brian Field were just behind with a 4.2 and 4.3 second
times, worth $1,292.65 and $1,064.53, while Jeff Lewis
placed fifth with a 4.5 time and Chantz Green was sixth,
with a 4.6 second effort. They picked up $836.42 and $608.30
for their finishes.
Steer roping and calf roping both had some familiar names
among the leaders after the first go-round. In addition to
Brazile, who earned $963.01 for an 11.8 second time in steer
roping, and $774.82 for his 11.1 time in calf roping,
12-time National Finals Rodeo steer roping champion Guy
Allen was in sixth place, with a 12.4 time, worth $700.37,
while Tee Woolman, also among the leaders in this year's
PRCA All-Around standings, tied Colby.
June busted out with 22 triple-digit days
BY PEGGY McCRACKEN
Rain has never been a frequent visitor to Pecos during June,
often the hottest month of the year.
This June was no exception, as the mercury climbed to
triple-digits 22 out of the 30 days in June, and only one of
those - 84 on June 6 - was below 90.
The high was 113 on June 26. Lows ranged from 57 on June 11
to 76 on June 23-25.
When all the stats were in, the National Weather Service had
recorded .05 inch of precipitation, and only .20 for the
first six months of the year.
June's rainfall has never been more than 2.59 inches during
the past 10 years. That fell in 1996, after the city
received less than 3/4-inch over the first 5 1/2 months of
the year, while only .18 inch fell in June, 1997.
Comparative amounts are:
-- 1988, .35;
-- 1989, .80;
-- 1990, .17;
-- 1991, 1.45;
-- 1992, 1.16;
-- 1993, .52;
-- 1994, 89;
-- 1995, 1.53.
Oldtimers look to the July 4 rodeo for relief. July is
normally one of the wettest months of the year, with much of
that falling during the annual rodeo.
Ten years ago, the weather service recorded 3.96 inches
during July, followed by .11, 2.53, 2.91, 1.23, 2.79, .44,
.01, 2.04, and in 1997, 1.21 inches.
While June rainfall was barely measurable, 1998 has already
had two months, April and January, with no rain at all.
February saw .11 inch fall, while .01 was recorded in March
and .03 in May.
Some say the current drought started in 1991. But records
show that the past three years were normal, with about 10.50
inches each year. In 1991, rainfall was 21.24 inches, and
1992 was again wet with 17.47 inches.
Both 1993 and 1994 were comparatively dry, with 8.20 and
8.65 inches falling, respectively.
Moisture for this area normally comes from the Pacific ocean
from the southwest by tropical continental air masses.
Drought occurs in Texas on a relatively regular basis,
creating hardship and economic loss in every decade of this
Ranchers have reported springs drying up, grass withering
and herds being liquidated to cut down on the feed bill.
June temperatures have remained hot, as well, with a high of
117 recorded in 1994. Other high temperatures over the past
10 years are: 1988, 106; 1989, 108; 1990, 111; 1991, 106;
1192, 102; 1993, 105; 1995, 102; 1996, 110; and 1997, 107.
Overnight low temperatures fell to 55 in 1988, 59 in 1991
and 53 in 1992, 58 in 1993 and 57 in 1997. Other lows have
also been above 60.
T-storms cover Texas coast
DALLAS (AP) -- Hopes for drought-ending summer rain are
drying up across most of Texas, except for along the coast
and far south where dying remnants of a tropical disturbance
An upper-level low in Mexico could also bring scattered
showers and thunderstorms to the Rio Grande Valley and
Permian Basin. And isolated storms could dampen North Texas
But, although a temporary help for lawns, it's not enough
for parched farmland and dried-out stock ponds to recover
from the drought that has settled over much of the state.
``Most of Texas is supposed to be above-normal on
temperature and below-normal on precipitation through July,
August and September,'' said Joe Harris with the National
Weather Service in Fort Worth.
``There's just not much relief out there,'' he said Monday.
``In North Texas, we'd have to get a system like what hit
the Houston area to feel better.''
As much as 8.3 inches of rain fell in the 24 hours ending
Monday morning in Matagorda County, with 6 inches around
Clute and up to 5 inches in eastern Chambers County as
remnants of a tropical disturbance swept through.
As the disturbance associated with an upper-level low
pressure system moved into northern Mexico, it dumped 2-3
inches of rain in Medina and Frio counties near San Antonio.
But away from the coast and South Central Texas, the picture
The Pacific's El Nino weather phenomenon that brought record
rain to California, with tornadoes and flooding in the
Southeast, is slowly yielding to sibling La Nina. It brings
dry conditions to the South and cold, wet conditions to the
Now about three months old, this year's Texas drought has
already dried up $517 million in crops, costing $1.7 billion
to the overall state economy, agricultural economists have
More than one million acres of cotton, the state's largest
field crop, have now been abandoned, according to unofficial
Carl Anderson, Texas A&M University cotton economist, told
the Houston Chronicle yields are expected to be one-half or
less of normal on dryland fields stretching from the Lower
Rio Grande Valley through the Blacklands of Central Texas.
``It would be awfully hard to find any dryland better than
half a crop through the Blacklands,'' he said, adding that
unirrigated cotton in the Lubbock area is in ``sad, sick
Cotton farmers are abandoning as much as 35 percent of their
acreage in the Lubbock area.
Scant showers in the South Plains on June 10 were ``just
enough to ruin the seed,'' said Shawn Wade, director of
communications for the Plains Cotton Growers association in
In North Texas, El Nino-driven storms dried up in April,
Harris said. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport,
where 3.5 inches of rain is normal in April, only 1.25
Only 2.38 inches of rain was recorded in May instead of the
normal 4.88 and June has been a similar story, with 1.75
inches instead of the usual 2.98.
``And that's during the time when the sun is heating up.
evaporation increases and vegetation is sucking moisture out
of the ground,'' Harris said.
Highs Tuesday 105 degrees. Low this morning 75. Forecast for
tonight: A 20 percent chance of evening thunderstorms, then
mostly clear. Low 75. Southeast winds at 5-15 mph.
Wednesday, partly cloudy with a 20 chance of thunderstorms.
High near 107.
Mac McKinnon, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
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Copyright 1998 by Pecos Enterprise