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Back in the early days of the irrigation system and rice farming, rice farming was very crude and mostly done with mules, horses and manual labor. Water was very insufficient at times, we depended on rain and the help of the river. There was at one time around 25 canal companies in Matagorda County and they were later consolidated into one irrigation system. The times back then were--the beginnings were real hard--the people had to work hard and irrigation water was pumped by steam pumps out of the river into the canals and distributed out. The canals were built with mule slip fresnos and such as that and they tried to build them large enough to make small reservoirs out of them. They built them some 150 feet wide. They could pump a few days and while the river was on a little rise pump and store up enough water in canals that would get them through a short dry period. The only time the river was on a good rise was when they had had rains up the river, a few rains or whatever. Then they had to depend, get their timing just right to run these pumps, fill up these canals and feed out to the different farmers as the rice needed it. Everyone tried to hold all the rainwater that they could, plus the river water to make a rice crop. There were times when we had a drought that rice was hurt real bad. They didn't make a good crop, it would be dry, no rain. About the time they got a little water in the river and a good rain it also came a rain and washed all the levees away and they would lose all the water again and they had to get out there and work, put the levees back in shape and hope the river stayed up long enough to where they could pump a little water and get back in shape with the rice. These factors caused different amount of yields on rice back in those days. If they had a good year, a wet year, they made a good 18 or 20 barrels per acre which at that time they considered a sack of rice. They didn't weigh it out or anything, it weighed so many pounds and that was it. The most amusing thing back then was how people would try to get water from one another. One man would get water and they would get out at night and change the diversion locks in the canals where they hold up water for one man they would pull it out and go so they could get water to another place--the people that was on the lower end that was out of water. They would come up take all the boards out of the checks at night and try to get some water and they would get maybe a 12 hour rush of water and maybe their rice was dry and burning and I can remember days when all the rice farmers carried a Winchester--they threatened one another but they always hoped that neither one used the gun. But it was back in the days when everything was done the hard way and their rice crop was their life existence and all it was back then was a good meal ticket and they had to have it to exist, so they went to any means and manner of doing the best they could to provide for their families. In those days most everybody lived on the farm. If people lived in town to farm rice, they moved out and set up camp, built buildings and everything. During the planting of the year, working up the ground, they hired a lot of extra what they called "day labor" then, they would pickup and use to plow and plant to get the crop in. Once they got it to- -the levees up to the watering stage, they cut down to just a few men to handle the levees. Cutting the levees with a shovel, filling them back up by hand, then the fall of the year they hired an abundance of labor, they required wagons and teams, men to run the binders, shock rice, they had to cut it into bundles, they tripped these binders. They had a binder then that was mule drawn, they cut the rice, put it into bundles, kicked it out. The crew came along and picked up the bundles and put it into shocks, they stacked it on the ground with the grain up so that the wet ground would not destroy it and they let it set 7 to 14 days. Rice will go through a sweat and it dried out before they put it in a trashing machine to thrash it. Then they hired all the people they could get that had wagons and teams to come in and they hired men what they called bundle pitchers. They would go out and take a pitch-fork and throw this rice up onto the wagon, a man would drive his wagon and team. The man would haul it up to the separator, the separator would trash the rice out and it would take a big crew to run a separator. Back in the early days the only power they had was steam engines later converted to gasoline driven tractor engines. A good day and a good machine and everything working proper, they could put out about 200 sacks a day. There has been times where they had good weather and everything was fine, good big crew and no breakdowns they would go 400 sacks a day. They was an exception among the farmers and the farmer that had the biggest trashing machine and the biggest crew. The rice, after it was trashed in the field, had to be carted to town by wagon or truck whichever was available and very few trucks in those days, back in the Model T-Ford and the old little Chevrolet trucks, the method of bringing it to the warehouse and storing it. They had warehouses scattered different places in the County. They stored this rice in the warehouses then the buyers come in and bid on it later. The irrigation system then during their idle months when they quit irrigating they spent their time re-doing the canals, cleaning out the canals, building checks in the canals, bridges across the canals, water boxes for the next year that they knew about - -general maintenance--overhaul the pumping plant, tearing the pumping plant down, redoing shrouds and impellers, working over the old steam engines, overhauling the boilers. Each year it took all winter long to overhaul the pumping plant as the years changed and they came up in the 28 and 29, they put in the electric pumps that was when V. L. LeTulle had taken over and these canal companies started consolidating them in 1927. He bought out, he owned a big…  After all the consolidation of the canal system and the electric pumping plants put in, the big electric motors, they figured that would solve a lot of these problems beings they would have good horsepower, good pumps that would pump a lot of water. There was still, until they built the dams on the Colorado, above Austin, there was still the chance of running out of water during the summer, which they did several times. After these pumps were put into operation in 1934, the river went dry and the Gulf Coast Water Company with the, that had been bought out by Mr. V. L. LeTulle in 1931. They went in with the other canal companies, Eagle Lake, Lakeside Irrigation, Wintermann. Garwood Irrigation Company made a deal with Brownwood Water and Improvement District to get water out of their lake, they agreed for so many thousand gallons for $10,000. The farmers signed some petitions that they would help defray this cost to the canal company for this $10,000 price which was divided up amongst the canal companies. The gates were opened at Brownwood, water started down the river. At the time the gate stuck at Brownwood and they could not get it closed and they were afraid it was going to drain their lake dry. They went for several days, and we got quite a bit more water than we had bargained for which was a real good deal. They were conversing back and forth on telephone and the canal company did not know that the gate was jammed and they were wanting to sell more water so as it wound up they found out about it they said that they had enough water that they could cut it off and the water just kept coming, so they got ample supply of water to fill up their rice fields. The Gulf Coast Water Company had a dam, sack dam, built across the river below their plant, they were going to try to hold all of this water that they could. With this gate getting stuck up there, there was more water coming down the river than they could pump, therefore it washed their dam away. So they had a losing factor too and lost some of their water. It was a very bad year, just a year or two before that in 1932, they had a bad storm to come and it wiped out one of the rice crops. In 1934 they had a drought and were about to lose the rice crops, they got water in time to make a pretty good rice crop but it still was short of what it should have been. Farmers back then had real hard times making a go out of it, they made living and went into debt, pay that off and go into debt again and they were strictly farming on borrowed money, just trying to make a living. So after the dams on the Colorado in 1935, then water got to being a little more certain and the control of the river and it put the rice farmers in the best position that they had ever been in. Modern practices machinery coming in, combines come in the 1940s, they kept improving their way of getting the crop out. They could go in with a combine and within a few days, they could harvest 200 acres of rice and that helped very much in machinery days. Tractors to plow with tractors to plant with, the combines, the trucks hauling the bulk rice to a rice dryer where your rice had to be dried and stored it had to go through a drying process. But farming was really on the upgrade as the acreage kept on increasing, more farmers got into it, it was a good business to be in and all during the ‘30s up to the ‘40s, rice kept on 'improving, acreage on the canal companies kept going up and the canal companies got to where they could make more money and make the expenses and that helped everything until the ‘40s. Also back during the early days, to help the pumping there was a raft in the river to keep the river full of water all the time. It was a raft of trees and things that had come down the river over a matter of time and had stopped up the river from Wharton to the mouth of the river. Then in 1927-28 they started a dredging project to dredge all the raft out of the river and in 1928 they accomplished this. Therefore, it made it hard for some of the west side of the river was on gravity and the east side had what they called a gravity irrigation system and when the river was up pretty good they could gravity water into the canal down here. Cleaning the raft out, the electric pumps really paid off for those times because some of the steam plants were sitting back away from the river far enough that they couldn't even get water to the pumping plants. In fact all the old steam plants were in little inlets or sloughs off of the main river, therefore the new electric plants were built right on the Colorado River. There were a few of the old steam plants that sit right on the bank, but very few of them, most of them were back off a little ways. This was part of the water problems that they had all during the years. The water was always a great job to get it to the rice farmers at the right time and at the right place a lot of real hard hazards come along --as the floods come through, you couldn't pump water while a big flood was on fear of trashing up and collapsing your suction pipe on the pump and such as that which made it very difficult, everything was against the farmer back in those days. But after the 1930s and up in the ‘40s everything with the river clean and good control and in 1939 the Gulf Coast Water Company built a flash board dam just below their last pumping plant which helped hold the water level up to cut the cost of pumping down and get the pumps where they could pump on a very low river with water just what water was coming down just for us to pump. Those things helped and improved and assured a water supply all during the ‘40s--everything was on the improvement as I said the machinery was coming in and ‘42, ‘43 and ‘44 we from ‘41,’42 and ‘43 we had several gulf storms in here that didn't wipe the rice crop out but made it very hard to harvest, they blew it down. With the old binder types, you couldn’t hardly cut rice that had been blown down and tangled up, with the new combines, you can get in and take it very slow and easy and pick up this rice, they have pickup wheels that you put on combines that kinda pulled the rice up off the ground where the grain table could take it into the machine helped very much in assuring the rice farmer that he could at least get his expenses out of the crop during a storm. Everybody was worrying about a total loss. The one storm that we had that really wrecked Matagorda County was the last one during the 1940s was 1945 and it was a very disastrous storm and it caught most of the rice in the field a few of the early crops had been cut out but most of the blue rose variety and brixora [Rexoro?] we call soup rice in those days was blown down and it really taken a lot of combining to get them out of the bin there was very few combines. These farmers were out trying to help their neighbors that didn't have a combine and people went to Oklahoma and rented combines and brought them into South Texas trying to get this storm devastated rice in the ware house all that they could. These hazards which taken men with real fortitude and a lot of guts to get out and try to make a living doing this with all the hazards that they had and it made some real hard times and they really appreciated the good times.     

As I didn't mention it to begin with, I should have given my name I am Earl Eidlebach, I have been with the canal companies all my Life. My dad started with the irrigation system here in 1909, I'm 62 years, old and I have been working for the irrigation company since I was 9 years old. I worked as an errand boy under V. L. LeTulle from the 29 to 31 when he sold out and when the Gulf Coast Water Company was taken over, Mr. E.J. Crowfoot put me on a salary of a $1.00 a day 12 months out 'of the year for an errand boy to work at any and all times that I was needed and whatever I could do. In·1940, when I got out of high school, I started to work for Gulf Coast Water Company at a monthly salary of $100 per month. I have been with the irrigation company during the Gulf Coast Water Company's time that they had it on through to the day that LCRA bought the irrigation company in 1960. I have been with LCRA's Gulf Coast Water Division for 23 years. I am now a canal superintendent of all canal operations. Back in the early days, there was a story that goes along, 1928-29, they had taken the raft out of the river. In 1929 the river...they took water on the west side of the river of the gravity at a creek that they had diverted into a canal and the river was…the raft was out the river was down and there was no water running through it so there was a dredging company, Howard Penning? Dredging Company that had cleaned this river out and they had this dredge setting up on the river where the head of this creek was. Mr. Victor LeTulle commandeered the thing and borrowed it from the dredging company and took it over sunk it into the river to build a dam to put water out this creek to supply water to the farmers on the west side. They were dry and burning up and about to lose a rice crop and the Wharton County heard about the irrigation company damming the river they had just had it cleaned out and Wharton County was one of the main factors in cleaning the river that was flooding bottom land in Wharton County so the officials in Wharton County called the Texas Rangers to come down and proceed to stop the canal company and the farmers from putting this dam in. They sunk this dredge, they cut holes in the bottom of this dredge with an ax, sunk it, cut trees and built a brush dam with sacks of dirt, trees and whatever they could gather up to put in there. The farmers had all their laborers, canal company had all the labor they could get in Matagorda County, and I was there at the time that they came in with the Texas Rangers and arrested everybody took everybody to the Wharton County jail and registered them and Mr. V. L. LeTulle had Will Davant a lawyer of his from Bay City to come up and make bond for everybody and get everybody out of custody of the Wharton County sheriff. Then as we were coming back to Bay City that night they arrested them about dark one evening and about 10:00 that night when we were coming pack to Bay City Joe Mangum, the sheriff from Matagorda County stopped my dad and told him "Y’all go on back and go to work and complete your dam". So they went back and went to work and every day the Texas Rangers would come down and they would arrest the farmers and foreman around and so they had a crew hid out in the river bottom and when they would arrest one crew the others would come out and keep going and keep building the dam and so between all that they got to get their dam in and got water down to their rice. Some of the names of the canal companies over the years that I can remember, the old canal companies like the starting up the river on the east side was the Gravity Irrigation Company, which was called the Gravity Irrigation and East Side Intake, The Bay City Canal Company, The Matagorda Canal Company, The Colorado Canal Company, The Nile Valley Irrigation Company, The Security Irrigation Company, Stewart Brothers Irrigation Company. The Savage Irrigation Company was the last one down the river on the east side of the small farm. On the west side of the river it was the Moore-Cortes, The Northern Irrigation Company, The Texas Irrigation Company, The Beadle Irrigation Company, The Collegeport Irrigation Company which we also had different names for different canal companies after some had bought and changed during the times they were all bought and sold to different farmers, owners and such until the consolidation. In 1926, 27 & 28, Mr. V. L. LeTulle which was an owner of the--originator of the Bay City Irrigation Company, he bought the Markham Irrigation Company which had acquired the Northern and Moore-Cortes Irrigation Company. Consolidated all these irrigation companies into what was the Gulf Coast Irrigation Company then went up into Wharton County at Lane City and bought the Lane Brothers Irrigation system brought that down to Wharton County and tied it into the Gulf Coast Irrigation Company. These canals are all still in use today, they have been redone and revamped where they all hook up and irrigate the same land they were intended to and having been improved, water higher and different land. But it is a real nice system today to see how it was operated back in those days with all those little individual land owners, even at that time, the individual canal companies tried to cut one another's throat as far as making them stop their pumps so that the next man down the river could get water when there wasn't very much water in the river to be had. See some of them would go out and dynamite their structures, their plumes, their underdrains and such as that where they had to shut down to repair, and while they shut down to repair this other canal system would get their acreage watered up and that was always a fight. Always a fight for water back in the old days, the water was the main thing you had to have it to raise rice. Then there is a little story about the old days about the Huebner Brothers that owned Central Irrigation Company which is part of the Nile Valley south of Bay City here now. The canal company furnished the land, water and seed to some farmers for half of the crop or they would furnish land and water for 1/4 or they would furnish water for 1/4 of the crop, land water and seed for 1/2 of the crop, which was a good deal for the farmers and good for the canal company. In the days back then, everybody was trying to help thrash and sack rice and one of the Huebner Brothers had a special knife that he used for cutting and his cattle operations and he was using this knife to cut string to sew the sacks up with and somehow it got misplaced and he lost it and as they were filling the sacks at the trashing machine he someway this knife got lost and the following year they bought some registered seed from New Orleans that was supposed to have been Cuban raised, that was one of the big things back in the early days was getting good seed rice. You always had to go out of state or out of county so when New Orleans the rice raising country, they would buy real good seed from Louisiana and they bought this seed. Mr. Huebner bought a bunch of seed for his farmers and in putting the seed in the endgate seeder, back in those days, one of these sacks he dumped out and here was this pocket knife in it and come to find out it was Mr. Huebner's pocket knife. It was the same rice, they had shipped it to Louisiana and put it in different sacks and sent it back and sold it to them for certified seed.

 

Then there is another story that goes along with this that back in the ‘30s. Mr. V. L. LeTulle had sold his canal company to Gulf Coast Water Company and in ‘33 or ‘34 he went to Rosharon in Brazoria County,  a county just east of Matagorda County, and put in an irrigation system on the Brazos River and took the farmers away from the Gulf Coast Water Company. This was done with the intention that he would carry the notes on this thing if the farmers couldn't pay the notes then he would get this canal company back but so happen that they borrowed money, formed a stock company and paid him off and didn't have to lose the canal company which he intended so that is one of the reasons for Rosharon Canal Company that is now owned by TENNACO Company. They are still in operation and doing real good.

 

There was a lot of stories back in the days about the farmers during the ‘30s and after the depression a man moved to Matagorda County and bought a little piece of land and went into the bank to see Mr. Jim Lewis about a loan. He would sit down and tell him about how much equipment he had, how many plows and how many tractors and when they got through listing to all his equities and equipment Mr. Lewis would ask him how many acres of rice was you figuring on farming? The man said "I wasn't going to farm rice, I was going to farm cotton.”  Mr. Lewis closed his book, shoved it in his desk and he said "I’m sorry, we don't make loans to cotton farmers.”

 

During the ‘30s the main thing for the rice farmer was the water, lower reaches of the Colorado River and the water supply was almost certain for a rice crop. The farmers didn't have to---during the ‘40s worry about the storms. Every year or two they would have a gulf storm and wipe the crop out. All during the ‘40s the storms were devastating to the rice crops. The water supply had been taken off the list as critical and with the dams up the river they always had a fairly good supply of water outside the ‘50s they went into the drought years and water got very low and very scarce for a while, but there was still enough to make a good rice crop. The dams were the great things in the Colorado River back in the ‘30s the canal company build sack dams to lower pumping plants. Every little rise in the river would wash the dam out and the river would get back to normal, small supply of water the dam would have to be put back in so quite a bit of time and labor was spent sacking up sand and building sack dams across the river. In 1939 they decided to build a dam across the river…permanent concrete floor, flash board style, steel gates. That was a real good thing, you could let it down in the winter time and put it up in the spring of the year for pumping season. Then in 1960, LCRA bought the following year the dam washed out underneath, it was quite a bit of time spent trying to hold the water up for the pumps while they were trying to figure out what to do and they finally decided to build a rubber inflated dam across the river which is now--never did operate and now is a flash board dam. As much tautant? can hold it 7 or 8 foot high which gives us a good supply of water for our lower pumps. During the ‘60s after the dam was built and the rubber tube was put in, the rubber dam was experimental. There was four to five tubes put in before we decided that it wasn't the thing. They were very troublesome and were good as long as the river wasn't on a rise, as soon as you got a rain up the river and a rise down the river it was just like running a flat tire, it didn't last anytime. Later we finally did away with it and went strictly to steel gates, flash boards and had very little problem with it. Rise come along, break a few boards out, replace them after the rise and everything is fine. We had a good dam, but it had to be manhandled. All during the ‘60s, the water was good, the dams were getting fixed so that we could handle the water after the river rises. The dam got to be a small problem, good water up the river, LCRA built up the river gave us real good water practically guaranteed a rice crop as far as water was concerned where back in the ‘30s and ‘40s it was very hard to get enough water to make a good rice crop out of the Colorado. The river furnishes a good supply of water it's a guarantee of a crop on the coast.

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Back during the days that they had the raft on the Colorado River, that held it up for all the old pumping plants, steam plants that were on here and it made a real nice thing when the rains came down and we had a little flooding problem. That was the cause to build a little protection levee to keep each side of the river from Wharton County down to the Gulf of Mexico. Then these counties decided that they would try to get somebody to clean the raft out of the river which was an accumulation of trees and debris over a period of years during the ‘19s and ‘20s and they finally got a dredging company to take contact on it--Howard Pennion? Dredging Company and they started dredging up at Wharton County where the raft started and they worked on it for several months and they finally decided that they way under bidded theirself and they were about to go broke so they heard of a big rise -- a lot of rains came up the river and so they decided that they would use a new technique and they went and bought a lot of dynamite and scattered it up and down the river and when this rise hit they went to dynamiting and they dynamited this massive raft that was in the river--moved it out into Matagorda Bay and filled up Matagorda Bay and that is where today you have a road from Matagorda to the peninsula. After a period of years they went in and took a dragline during the ‘40s and built a road out there after so much sediment had settled on these trees. Today there is a lot of land down there that is caused by this raft being moved out into Matagorda Bay.

 

[Additional interview]

 

Lower Colorado River Authority
Gulf Coast Water Division
Bay City, Texas

 

Originally, there were 27 irrigators on the Colorado River who constantly fought with each other over the water available from the River. There were 365,000 acres of water rights and barely 10% of that amount ever available in anyone year. Initial rights were given without considering availability of supply. Later improvements, the most important being the dams constructed by the Lower Colorado River Authority, the modernization of farm machinery and the development of rice drying operations began to eliminate most of the severe problems experienced by the farmer.

 

The system of the Lower Colorado River Authority's Gulf Coast Water Division has approximately 372 miles of main canals and laterals in Matagorda County. This system, constructed under present day cost and prices would be virtually impossible to duplicate and operate at a profit. The management and employees of the Gulf Coast Water Division efficiently operate an irrigation system which to some farmers is considered one of the best irrigation systems in the rice industry.

 

The station here on the west side of the River is known as Pump Plant 3 and is comprised of four pumps - two 48" centrifugal type, each powered by a 1000 HP electric motor; one 42" vertical propeller type, powered by a 700 HP electric motor and a 36" vertical propeller type, powered by a 450 HP electric motor. These pumps can be operated individually and collectively to provide the amount of water required at any particular time. With all four pumps operating, the plant is moving approximately 200,000 GPH, more or less, depending on the river stage. This amounts to about 880 acre-feet each 24 hours. A certain portion of this is lost through percolation, seepage and evaporation. Between one and two days of pumping is required to fill the canals prior to delivery of water to customers and with more than 20,000 acres planted to rice on the west side of the river, it can easily be seen that it would require ten to twelve days to water-up all fields.

 

The two stations on the east side of the river, Pump Plant 2 at Lane City, with a capacity of approximately 190,000 GPM, or 840 acre feet and Pump Plant 1, next to the Highway 35 bridge over the Colorado River west of Bay City, with a capacity of 60,000 GPM, or 260 acre-feet are operated in a like manner, and water some 20,000 acres planted to rice on the east side of the river.

 

Water Bosses, of the Water Distribution crews, patrol their assigned areas daily, keeping in contact with farmers as to their water requirements. Farmers can also call in to the Water Division office or the Pump Plant to make their requirements known. The Office, Water Bosses, Pump Plants and Repair Crews are all in 2-way radio communication and can quickly contact personnel as required to fill any particular need. Rates for the current year are $l8.50 per acre watering charge: $1.50 per acre for each flushing; $3.00 per acre for water planting and $7.50 per acre for second crop watering.

 

In 1897 Ross Sterling secured the right to water rice on the Colorado River and formed the Lane City Canal Right-of-Way from Pierce Sullivan Cattle Company. The Bay City boys being vitally interested in getting something going where they could make a profit, they were unable to sell cattle as meat, mostly for hides and leather market, and they

needed the money.

 

This continued along and finally, with the main assets being the fact that we had three railroads serving Bay City, the G. H. & S. I, the T. & N. O. and the G. C. and S. F., they did get rights on the Colorado River to water rice and different land owners were willing to contribute land if they could get a contract with a responsible person who would water their rice, and they would furnish the land for the canal. The first monster they had was a dredge and they started the Bay City Matagorda Canals using this dredge and dredging out the dams and made the Gulf Coast System the finest system in the world then, because they had plenty of land to operate on, and some of those old canals are wide and big, but with all the three railroads and lots of transportation help weather conditions in the rice area were so severe, blackbirds, root maggots and other problems seemed to be insurmountable at times. The real thing that kept the industry behind was the fact that they did not have hard surfaced roads and the farmer could not get his rice from the field to the warehouse, and they did not have the modern improvements we see today. The rice had to be thrashed in the fields, sacked in bulk and taken to the warehouse and stored until sold to the mills. Adverse weather during a harvest could mean virtually a total destruction of the shucked rice.

 

Early irrigation companies in Matagorda and Wharton Counties were

 

Lane City Canal Company

Pierce Sullivan Pasture and Canal Company

Bay City Rice and Irrigation Company

Gravity Canal Company

Matagorda Canal Company

Gulf Coast Irrigation Company

Colorado Canal Company

Sexton Rice and Irrigation Company

Lake Austin Canal Company

Peyton Creek Irrigation District

Stewart Canal Company

 

On west side of the River:

Northern Canal Company
 

 

 

Copyright 2013 - Present by Matagorda County Historical Commission
All rights reserved

Created
Dec. 27, 2013
Updated
Dec. 27, 2013
   

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