Sam Enderby was a young man with a good idea.
The 88-year-old Gainesville resident and long-time Cooke County businessman remembers he had an plan for bringing the first propane-powered tractor to this part of Texas.
In the 1930s tractors ran on gasoline. Enderby thought converting gas-powered tractor engines to propane power made sense.
He got the idea from his mother’s propane stove. His parents had just acquired the stove and Enderby’s mother cooked Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 100 people on it. The whole family was impressed by the efficiency of propane.
So when his father bought a brand new Farmall tractor, he wondered if he could make the tractor run more efficiently on liquid propane gas.
“I got to thinking how a tractor could be made to run on propane,” he said. “I had an idea and just thought it might work.”
He mulled over the plan with his brother, and they decided to start working on the project during the winter when the tractor was not in use. Enderby thought out his plan and brought the tractor to Gainesville where he told mechanics how he thought the engine should be modified. His plan worked.
A photo of that first propane tractor hangs on the wall of his office on West U.S. Highway 82 today.
His neighbors were so impressed with the tractor everybody wanted their own tractors converted from gas to propane.
“We did it for nearly everybody,” he said.
He said his father was also the first person in this area to use rubber tractor tires. Before rubber tires were used, tractor wheels were made of steel and had hubs that threw up dirt and debris onto the tractor driver as he or she plowed. Rubber wheels were an improvement.
Enderby was only 19 at the time he converted his father’s tractor and he already knew his way around the farming and propane industries.
He said he had been driving his father’s tractor since before he was even old enough to attend school.
He remembers when he just a little boy, his father let him haul loads of oats from the family farm to the grain elevator in Myra to sell. Enderby got five cents a pound for the oats.
One day when he arrived with a load of oats, the buyer told Enderby the price of the oats had fallen to four cents per pound. The news disappointed Enderby because he knew what his father’s reaction would be.
“My dad said ‘okay, we’ll just put ’em in the barn,’” Enderby recalled. Enderby’s days of driving his dad’s truck were over for a while.
That year an unusually hard winter drove the price of seed oats up to .50 a pound and the family made a pretty good deal to sell their oats.
“I think that was the best oat crop we ever had,” Enderby said, remembering how misfortune turned to fortune.
Enderby’s family has been in this area for over 150 years. His ancestors came here from England, settling first in Wisconsin and eventually moving to Texas where they found land that resembled the English farmland they had left behind.
Enderby said he went to England a few years ago and looked the countryside over. Sure enough, “it did look like our land,” he said.
The Charles Enderby family first moved to an area near Old Denton Road where they stayed for a few years. Then the family moved to western Cooke County.
A copy of the original title shows that the Enderbys bought a thousand acres of Cooke County land for $3,000.
“Where did they get that money?” Enderby wonders.
He reasons that maybe they brought the money with them from Wisconsin and kept it hidden, as was the custom in those days, in the bottom of a flour barrel.
Enderby said the trip across the country could not have been easy for his great-grandfather and his family who came to Texas in a wagon.
“There were no bridges, no roads,” he pointed out. Crossing the Red River with its quicksand and swiftly moving water must have been challenging, Enderby said.
When a bridge was finally built spanning Red River, Enderby said it was a toll bridge built by some wealthy private citizens. Motorists who wanted to cross the bridge had to pay $1. Enderby said at that time $1 was roughly one days’ wages for the average worker—a hardship for most.
“We had to pay it go see my grandmother,” he said.
David and Charles Enderby (Sam Enderby’s great-grandfather and great-uncle respectively) settled on land in two different parts of the county. David took the land to the north and Charles set up his homestead near Era.
“We didn’t see our cousins much because of the distance, I guess,” Enderby remembers.
The two families seemed to go in different directions. “Charles’s family went south to Era to buy groceries and our family went to Gainesville,” he said.
Enderby’s interest in propane led him to start his business, Enderby Gas, in the early 1940s. He said he sold the main part of the gas company some years ago and moved to Gainesville where he and his wife built a large home.
When his wife died, he grew lonely and tired of the upkeep on the home. He sold it and had another, smaller house built on the western side of the city where he lives today.
He still drives and enjoys an occasional visit from his grandchildren.
He reads three newpapers a day: The Dallas Morning News, The Wall Street Journal and Register.
He said he considers himself “almost retired” but still comes to his office every day.
Sam Enderby was a young man with a good idea.