George Franklin LeBus’ story begins December 14, 1876, in Flora, Clay County, Illinois. He was the second child of John and Lucy Ann “Annie” Leyburn LeBus. George’s father was a blacksmith in this small town in southeastern Illinois. By 1880, John, Annie, and their family were living in Loudon, Tennessee. Perhaps they moved there to be near her siblings. From information on the 1880 United States Federal Census, John (J.A. Lebus), is continuing his trade as a blacksmith.
Unfortunately, I know little about George’s childhood and youth, but sometime between 1880 and 1899, he made his way to Texas and settled in Bonham, Texas. There he met and married Ethel Cleora Calk, November 5, 1899. He was operating a blacksmith and machine shop. Eventually this business developed into the LeBus Rotary Tool Works. Family lore tells us that George was an inventive man with an entrepreneurial spirit. This must have been the case because in the early 1900’s he developed a thriving business manufacturing and selling “specialty tools for the booming west Texas oil fields. Tool pushers and/or owners would see a specific need for a new tool and LeBus would forge the new tools on demand.” (http://www.lebus.us)
On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, George and Ethel were interviewed by Frances Hyland, a reporter for the Wichita Daily Times. George’s comments add a little color to the story of his arrival in Bonham and his early life there.
A blacksmith by trade, he had chosen Bonham as the scene of his operations because of the horse racing activity there at that time. ‘Did you tell the reporter that I rode the rods into Bonham?’ Mr. LeBus asked his wife with a sly grin. Then, he hastened to explain that ‘Oh, I had money all right, but I didn’t want to waste it on the cushions.’
Thus it was that the thrifty 24 year old blacksmith was financially able to take a bride.
‘I had my trade,’ he says, ‘and as my responsibilities grew I was able to prove my theory that God doesn’t expect anything from us which He does not equip us…He has given us the tools with which to do the job if we are willing to do it.’
While living in Bonham, George and Ethel started their family with the birth of Frank Leyburn, September 9, 1900. Their first son was followed by two daughters, Hazel Annabelle, born January 23, 1902, and Archie Carlisle, born December 1, 1904.
Sometime before 1906, the LeBus family moved to Madill, Oklahoma. Undoubtedly, George’s business required that they move there. While living in Madill, two more babies were born. Jack Blackburn arrived on April 17, 1906, and Irene Clementine was born February 17, 1908. The LeBus clan was growing!
At the time of the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, George, Ethel and their family were living in Henrietta, located in north central Texas. While there, two more children were born. Roy Henderson arrived on April 10, 1910, and Laura V. was born January 18, 1913.
George went where his work was needed and after their move, he opened another tool company in Henrietta. On the LeBus International website there is a brief history of the company with a few old photographs. One picture is of workers at the old Henrietta plant.
By 1917 George and Ethel had moved again, taking their family to Electra, Texas, located in Wichita County about 15 miles northwest of Wichita Falls. This little town grew somewhat after oil was discovered in 1911 and the Electra Oilfield developed. It is likely this was one reason George decided to bring his tool manufacturing business to the area. His machine shop and blacksmith shop later developed into the LeBus Rotary Tool Work and the LeBus Motor Company.
While living in Electra, the LeBus family continued to grow. George Franklin, Jr. was born May 10, 1917, and Ethel Marie arrived on August 6, 1919. They had one more child, Donavel Calk, born March 13, 1925 and died March 22, 1925. I do not have any information about the death this child, but I imagine it was a sad event in the life of George, Ethel and their entire family. Donavel was their last child.
A world event that must have impacted the LeBus family and their community was World War I. Even though George was not drafted into the military service, he was required to register. Like all United States citizens, he must have felt the effects of his country at war. It is possible that his business and the oil industry, too, may have played a part in providing supplies for the war effort. (This is speculation on my part. I have no documentation.) This conflict involved most of the world’s great powers and was centered on Europe. It has gone down in history as one of the largest and most deadly wars with more than 15 million people killed. It was also known as “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars.” (George F. LeBus WW I Draft Registration (click link) george-f-lebus-ww-i-draft-registration-scan0001.
The LeBus family lived in Electra for about fifteen years which seemed like a long time for this family to be in one location. George had established a good business and provided very well for his family. Undoubtedly, this large family required a lot of care and attention. On the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, there are fourteen people in the LeBus household, including one daughter-in-law (Frank’s wife, Thelma) and two servants. That was one busy home!
By the time of the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, the LeBus household was much smaller. George and Ethel are listed with three children and one servant. The older children had married and started families of their own. The LeBus family continued to grow but now grandchildren were added into the “fold.” I imagine they enjoyed their new roles as grandparents. They were affectionately called “Pa and Ma” by the little ones.
George LeBus knew he had to go where there were business opportunities, so when the East Texas oil boom occurred, the LeBus family moved to Longview to open a machine shop in 1934. This company later developed into LeBus International.
When deep oil was discovered at Kamay in 1938, George decided to move back to Wichita Falls. After turning the LeBus Rotary Tool Works over to some of his children, he entered the oil business.
One interesting note – Frank, the oldest son, was a machinist and became involved in George’s tool manufacturing business at a young age. Eventually, it was Frank who was one of the founders of LeBus International in Longview, Texas.
Upon their return to Wichita Falls, George and Ethel bought a large home on Harrison Street. It was magnificent and became known in the family as the “Big House.” In her autobiography, Lucy Ann Nance Croft shares her memories of this house.
As I try to recall memories of Ma and Pa LeBus’s home (Mr. and Mrs. George F. LeBus, maternal grandparents) in Wichita Falls, Texas, the word that comes to mind is “palatial.” The house I am referring to was the one I remember visiting as a small child; they called it the Big House. They purchased this thirteen-acre estate in the early 1930s and lived there for about twenty years. Amid my mother’s memorabilia, I found the newspaper clipping from the Wichita Falls Record News about my grandparent’s home.
‘George F. LeBus, who left Electra a few years ago to enter competition in the East Texas oil field at Longview, made his return to this area auspiciously significant when he purchased the baronial home name by which the estate is known to Wichitans, covers an expanse of 13 acres on Harrison Avenue in southwest Wichita Falls. The construction of the home is of brick and reinforced concrete, towering three stories and supplied with 19 rooms and six bathrooms . . . the architecture is English colonial. An ornamental iron fence surrounds the grounds, on which are, in addition to the luxurious home, tennis courts, tea house, greenhouse, rose arbor, rose garden, lily ponds, fountain and a four-car garage over which are comfortable quarters for two servants and laundry room.’ (Wichita Falls Record News)
I recall that even though my grandparents were quite wealthy, lived in a lovely mansion with a high-profile life, and had many children and grandchildren, they were both very loving and caring to each and every one of us. There was a lot of laughter, visiting, and hugging in the Big House. Large family holiday gatherings, lively dinners, reunions, birthdays, and dances in the ballroom in the basement were not unusual in such a large family. As Ma said, “it takes a lot of living in a house to make it home.” My grandparents certainly accomplished that. (Croft, 25-27)
George and Ethel along with their children and grandchildren loved that big home with its beautiful well-tended grounds. Even thought larger groups gathered at holiday times or on special occasions, many enjoyed the times when a few family members or friends gathered around a dinner table or in the den to discuss a myriad of subjects and concerns. I imagine some of those discussions may have become heated as they tried to solve all the world’s problems! Many in the LeBus family were known to be opinionated and outspoken!
Both George and Ethel gave their time and resources to the communities in which they lived. His obituary in the Wichita Falls Times had this to say.
A firm believer in the theory, ‘God doesn’t expect anything from us for which He does not equip us,’ LeBus gave freely of his time and money in an effort to prepare youthful citizens of the area for productive careers. In 1953, LeBus and his wife established a perennial scholarship fund amounting to approximately $6000 annually at Midwestern University. The fund provided for eight scholarships annually – four for men and four for women. In addition to establishing the scholarship fund, LeBus has contributed heavily in the past to Midwestern University building programs.
In 1945 George LeBus wrote and published a small book entitled, Think It Over. I am amazed at his eloquence and depth of expression. His intent in sharing his thoughts is found in an excerpt from The Author’s Preface.
But time is valuable and life is short and one does not have the opportunity to say all he thinks and to explain all the implications. However, upon extended requests, I pick up my pen to add clarity to the bits of philosophy that have made my life happy and triumphant. I do so with humility but with definite conviction; I do so trusting that this little book may contribute something worthwhile to the world. (Page vii)
The book concludes with some LeBus Proverbs. They are quite revealing of the man.
He who expects little things in life will only find little things…He who gets dollars in his eye and six o’clock on his brain is an unhappy man…A man is nothing more or less than what he thinks…The best formula for failure is, ‘Don’t put your heart in your work’…If you are a Son of God then act like one…He who worships his ancestors is half dead already…A machineless machine is as intelligent as a loveless faith…Just as the beach is near the sea; so brotherhood is near God…If you don’t want to get well then don’t go to work; idleness will kill you…Give people the flowers while they are alive so they can enjoy them…You cannot solve life’s problems with hate just as you cannot put a square in a round hole.
The time came when Pa and Ma LeBus decided to sell the Big House. I do not know the reasons, but perhaps they reached a time and age when they wanted a change of lifestyle. That change came in about 1946 and it was a big one. After vacationing in California, they decided to move there. Other family members moved out west at the same time, so Pa and Ma either led the way or followed the family pack. Chances are they led the way! Some of us have memories of taking summer trips out to visit and join them in seeing the sights and basking on the beach. There were tales of them meeting some movie stars, but of course, it is possible the stories were embroidered a bit! Nevertheless, George and Ethel enjoyed their time in California for about one year and then decided to head back “home” to Texas.
Both Pa and Ma were beginning to have some health issues and that was probably a consideration in deciding to return to Texas. They built a lovely home on Miramar Street in Wichita Falls. It was a large house but not like the Big House. The architectural style was traditional with many features that made it very manageable and comfortable for an older couple. With its spacious living room, kitchen, and dining room, their home continued to be a gathering place for family and friends.
After a full, rich life, George Franklin “Pa” LeBus died on December 24, 1956, in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was buried in the Garden Section of Crestview Memorial Park. Here is an excerpt from his obituary in the Wichita Falls Times.
One of Wichita Falls leading oil men and civic leaders, George F. LeBus, Sr., 2204 Miramar, died Saturday night in a Wichita Falls hospital following a heart attack suffered early Saturday afternoon.
LeBus, 80, suffered a heart attack at 1:45 p.m. Saturday while in the Petroleum Club in the Kemp Hotel.
A resident of Wichita County for 45 years, LeBus was a retired oil man and machine shop operator, having begun his long and colorful career as a blacksmith in Bonham, Texas.
In her autobiography, Lucy Ann Nance Croft remembers here grandfather, “Pa,” this way:
Pa LeBus was an outgoing, friendly man, but I was told that he was quite dogmatic at times. His favorite subjects of discussion or debate were politics and religion, and I understand he could be very opinionated. Even so, Pa was a loving person. He was small in stature but big in spirit. I think of him as being a “doer,” very energetic and involved. He took great pleasure in people and having his large family gathered to eat, visit, and enjoy each other.
I know very little about how Pa LeBus made his fortune except that it was in the oil equipment business. He was a self-made man, working early in his life as a blacksmith and then developing his company during the oil boom in East Texas. During that time he invented some drilling equipment that was patented and used on every oil-drilling rig. (Croft, 41)
Ancestry.com. 1880 United States Federal Census. [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census. [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census. [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2006.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census. [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Ancesty.com World War I Draft Registration Card, 1917-1918. [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry Operations, Inc., 2005.
Croft, Lucy Ann Nance, Looking Back: Reflections On My Life, 2007.
Fannin County, marriage certificate no. 103410, vol. L, p. 508, Fannin County Clerk’s Office, Bonham, Texas.
George F. LeBus, death certificate no. 68553, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
Heritage Quest Online. 1930 United States Federal Census.
Hyland, Frances, “Mr. and Mrs. George F. LeBus Recall Events in Life Together During Fifty Years Since Marriage,” Wichita Daily Times, November 6 1949.
LeBus, George, Think It Over, 1945.
LeBus International, Inc. (website), “The LeBus History,” http://www.lebus.us
Wichita Falls Times, obituary for George F. LeBus, December 30, 1956.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, “World War I,” www.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_WarI
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2010
George F. LeBus Pedigree Chart (click link) george-f-lebus-pedigree-chart