ARKANSAS OIL AND BRINE MUSEUM

This is the Oil and Brine Museum on the highway 7 bypass in Smackover. The French rivermen named this town Sumac Couvert, meaning "covered with sumac," a wild shrub which lines the riverbanks. The English, who came later, took Sumac Couvert and made it Smackover. The museum here preserves various technologies related to drilling, pumping, refining, advertising, distributing and selling oil and brine products.

Outdoors, they have several derricks of wood, tubular steel and angle iron, each reflecting advances in construction techniques from one oil-drilling era to the next. Alongside or underneath each derrick is the pumping technology that was used at the same period. This big gasoline engine at the right has a single piston the diameter of a basketball and powers several pieces of field machinery. Indoors there's lots of standard educational stuff like core samples, history of oil and brine boom times, wild-west, and depression era history. They've even built a replica of a section of the main street of 1920's Norphlet, a small oil town located nearby. Nobody at the museum knew how Norphlet got its name. I can't make any sense out of "little Norph."

The best stuff they've got indoors are all these gas pumps from all parts of the country and all decades of this century. They must have fifty of them tucked away in every nook and cranny of the museum, many of them bearing trademarks I've never heard of.

The museum itself is still under construction, but many exhibits are open. Of special interest is the Goat Lady's carnival wagon (sorry, no photo), a depression-era glass-cage RV built on a Ford Model A chassis. The museum is soliciting donations to renovate the wagon, so there's no fixed completion date. I got a peek at it. It needs lots of tender loving care, but it's a really fascinating bit of custom carriagework. It's made to look like a glass cage of iron bands. Living space occupies the bed of the truck, and a performance area opens from the tailgate.

P.S.--Here's your amazing Arkansas fact for the day: Two-thirds of the worlds bromine is extracted from brine sucked out of the earth right here in southern Arkansas.

RTJ-3/18/97

UPDATE: The Oil and Brine Museum has changed its name to the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum. RTJ-9/20/97

UPDATE: I got a note from Robert Harper about the origin of the name of the town of Norphlet.

"Well, I stumbled across you article about the Natural Gas Museum on Hwy 7 near Norphlet,Ar. How did it come to be called Norphlet? It was named Nauphlet after Nauphlet Goodwin but due to poor penmanship on the application for a US Post Office it became Norphlet. I graduated from Norphlet HS in 1974 but now live in England...."

RTJ--11/21/2001


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