Bill Woodall

Bill Woodall

Skies were clear, it was cold and I knew almost nobody in the small cluster of 30 or so people milling around at the World’s Richest Acre Park.

I was still living in Bullard two weeks after I’d bought a business here. On a Saturday in November, I’d driven back to Kilgore for the evening, an observer of the annual derrick lighting ceremony.

The predecessor of 2020’s Very Derrick Christmas was uncrowded and lightly scripted.

On the sidewalk fronting Commerce Street, almost exactly at the center of that line of restored oil derricks, a wooden, make-believe “switch” about four feet tall stood ready. Across the street near the old depot a panel of electrical boxes offered genuine switches.

Several of those on hand offered thanks to Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation for resurrecting Kilgore’s historic, industrial skyline.

Under the derricks, a local celebrity connected to either the oilfield or KHPF or both, “threw the switch.” Across the street, in the shadows beside the depot, someone flipped the real switch and Kilgore’s resurrected derricks were suddenly a miniature galaxy of lighted stars.

I’m disappointed that I don’t remember who had the honor of lighting the derricks that year. My excuse is that I was new in town and I hadn’t yet figured out whose oilfield roots ran the deepest.

I do know the whole thing lasted about 15 minutes. I shook the hands of those I’d met earlier and was introduced to a few more, clambered back into my car and drove back to Bullard. It seemed a bit anti-climactic.

Over the next couple of years, the event grew. Under the direction of, first, Deanna Covin and then Debbie Dane, local entertainers performed on the Winter Elder Stage at the World’s Richest Acre, folding chairs were hauled in and then hauled away.

Parents and grandparents of the entertainers swelled the audience. The big, wooden switch was still the centerpiece and someone still stood in the shadows to turn on the lights.

Again this year a crowd many times larger than that crowd 19 years ago will gather to watch as one or two individuals – folks instrumental in the continuing success of Kilgore – will manhandle the 4-foot tall wooden switch.

Someone will still stand in the shadows by the depot. And again, downtown will be lit by the illuminated stars on 60-some derricks.

This year’s derrick lighting, guided by KHPF and the Kilgore Area Chamber of Commerce with an assist from Kilgore Main Street, will be the centerpiece of what has become the community’s signature festival.

An afternoon and evening of entertainment, food booths and purveyors of carefully-crafted holiday gifts will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14. At 7 p.m, that switch will be thrown again and the stars will light up.

Unlike in previous years, folding chairs will not be provided. Because of concerns engendered by Covid-19, you’re being asked to bring your own chairs and sit with your group, ideally a few feet from other groups. The giant, inflatable slide was also a victim of The Plague.

And unlike those earliest years – but in keeping with changes over the last decade – the wooden switch and the celebrants will be on a flat-bed trailer at the corner of Main and Kilgore Streets.

Derricks at the Word’s Richest Acre will still provide the backdrop and those with deep roots will again reminisce about the days when 1100 derricks provided a skyline like no other.

Watch the News Herald for details about the list of entertainers and other holiday events that will crowd the community calendar over the next six weeks.

The writer is a former newspaperman now a full-fledged Kilgoreo who regrets that he landed here so recently.

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