Justiss Oil Company History
The name "Jick” Justiss is well-known in the oil industry of the Gulf South.
Although James Fowler Justiss, Sr. is now deceased, it was he, along with Carroll G. "Cal” Mears, who founded what is known today as Justiss Oil Company. Born in 1896 in the South Arkansas community of Cairo, Jick was the son of college-educated parents--notable for the day. He had three brothers and five sisters, but when his father died of pneumonia, it was 14-year-old Jick who was able to care for the family, run the farm, and only occasionally attend school.
In January 1921, "black gold fever” spread throughout Southern Arkansas when the discovery well of the El Dorado Field blew in, soaking trees and countryside. Jick began working as a muleskinner in the oilfields, moving drilling rigs and oilfield equipment. It wasn’t long before he owned his own team, and then bought six additional mule teams with wagons.
With this greater moving capacity, he became a regular contractor for several big operators around Smackover, an area rich in petroleum. While operating his mule team contractor business, Jick met legendary oilman H. L. Hunt during the boom days. Hunt realized that Justiss was hard-working and conscientious, and Justiss became Hunt’s preferred moving contractor.
When the boom at Smackover began to cool in 1926, Justiss sold most of the mules. With little-to-no income, he couldn’t afford to feed the animals. A year later, when Hunt returned to inspect his properties, he learned that Justiss was experiencing tough times. He encouraged Jick to sell the remaining mules and offered him a job as a roustabout in Tullos, Louisiana.
Justiss sold his business, moved to LaSalle Parish, and began working for Hunt. Later, he was promoted to oil treater and pumper on the Urania "A” lease in the Tullos-Urania Field. Justiss was a fast learner, and shortly thereafter, was promoted to assistant production superintendent under Tom Carter.
Upon Carter’s untimely death, Justiss became superintendent, in charge of overseeing Tullos-Urania operations for Hunt Oil Co. In 1928, he proved himself to his employer by reducing costs on equipment, manpower, and work-overs.
Hunt was shipping some 500 railroad tank cars of oil per month from the Tullos area, and he was quite pleased when Justiss also slashed the shipping budget. Justiss, despite his limited experience in the business, was charged with the recompletion of previously abandoned wells. He performed his tasks successfully and gained the confidence of his boss and the respect of his peers.
In 1929, Justiss married Wilma "Mac” Morphis. In 1930, oil was discovered in East Texas. Hunt finished negotiations with lease owner, Dad Joiner, promoted Justiss to general superintendent, and transferred him to attend the newly discovered field. Many others followed Hunt to Texas, where they lived in provided lodging, much like mill villages, enjoying camaraderie, baseball, retail, and professional services provided by migrant vendors.
Justiss managed Hunt’s entire field operations there, including the supervision of a dozen drilling rigs and the first pipeline gathering system to serve the East Texas Field. From then on, Justiss was in charge of all of Hunt Oil Company’s varied field operations, but his primary interest was in drilling.
His devotion to this phase of the business paid dividends, and he gained fame throughout the region as a "can do” operations manager. The states in which Justiss supervised the drilling of discovery wells include Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. Some of those fields bear such well-known names as Magnolia, Bear Creek, Cotton Valley, Olla, Nebo, North Carterville, and Chapel Hill. While living in East Texas, the Justiss’ had two children, James, Jr., and Paula.
In 1937, the family moved back to Louisiana to develop Hunt’s drilling operations in the Cotton Valley Field in Webster Parish. It was there that Hunt encountered a pay-sand which he named the "Justiss” after his superintendent. (Today, Justiss Oil Company geologists still encounter this Justiss sand and smile at the physical reminder of the man they never knew, but whose relevance to Justiss Oil and the industry is perpetual.)
World War II placed petroleum in high demand, threatening the supply of oil, and the post-war economic boom continued to provide a strong demand for petroleum. Jick Justiss was confident that he could make a better living by starting his own business. On April 16, 1946, he partnered with Cal Mears to form Justiss-Mears Oil Company.
Mears, a well-known entrepreneur and investor, had the ability to arrange financing for the venture. Both Mears and Justiss invested $25,000 in working capital to form the company. Justiss’ character, along with his reputation of having extensive knowledge of and success in the oil industry, helped cinch the loan for $50,000. (The Justiss’ were blessed with a third child in 1948, Eddie Justiss, but were devastated only fourteen years later to lose him in a tragic accident.)
Since the partners purchased the first abandoned well, re-worked it, and placed it back on production, the company has grown to be one of the oldest, most experienced independent drilling contractors in the nation under the management of James F. Justiss, Jr.
Today, Justiss Oil Company, Inc. provides contract drilling, exploration, and well and lease services across the Southern Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama. The company remains a privately-owned, family-operated business with six drilling rigs with depth ranges up to 16,000 feet and fourteen work-over units.
Also under the Justiss umbrella are two manufacturing divisions operating in the domestic and international markets. Baker Tank Company specializes in the design, fabrication, and field erection of petroleum storage tanks, production equipment, and API code vessels for onshore and offshore applications. Altech is an aluminum technology division; designing, manufacturing, and installing internal and external floating roofs.
Justiss Oil Company, Inc. continues to be a leader in the industry, expanding areas of interest and service regarding exploration, technology, safety, and environmental and governmental issues. A new generation is continuing the tradition of growth and change to meet the demands of today’s market.
Management's commitments of fairness and concern for employees and of support of community are enduring, as is gratitude to employees, past and present, whose service has played an integral part in the longevity and success of Justiss Oil Company.