Visiting Spindletop on $100-per-barrel oil day

Reinactment of Spindletop discovery held in 2001. Ben DeSoto, Chronicle.

The Chronicle just happened to be in the neighborhood of the famed Spindletop oil field in Beaumont on Jan. 2, the day oil briefly hit the $100 per barrel mark. Spindletop is just a few miles up the road from the federal prison where Oscar Wyatt began his one-year sentence in connection with the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal.
The site known as Spindletop Park is easy to miss as you drive along West Port Arthur Road — there’s just one small sign in each direction. Look up Spindletop Park in mapquest you get a nearby RV park. Look it up on Google and it points you to a spot northeast of the actual drill site.
The park features a few old pumps, a viewing platform with about a dozen signs describing the gusher that sparked the modern oil era in Texas 107 years ago. The actual drill site is about a quarter mile away, among some swampy lands on the other side of a fence. Looking at maps it seems one can actually drive up to that site but we didn’t have time on Wednesday.
Think this 107-year-old oil field is tapped out? Think again. An oil pump bobbed its head up and down in a nearby field on Wednesday. The daily output may be small but it’s worth it at current prices.
There’s was a celebration marking the 100th annivesary of the Spindletop find back in 2001, and the Texas Energy Museum about a half-hour away in downtown Beaumont, and the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum at Lamar University both have more about its history.
But I was a bit surprised to see how run down the park was. The explanatory signs were well done but damaged, while the remains of some picnic tables or benches sat smashed and rotting nearby.
Of course the location has one drawback: you have to drive over an unsignaled railroad crossing to get to it. I got stuck for about 45 minutes while a locomotive shuttled dozens of tank cars back and forth arranging them on some side rails.