Whether in the service of his country or in the line of duty as a landman, James Shaw has been in it for the long haul.
Retirement is not in the vocabulary of the 90-year-old Texas native who continues to tread the hallways of courthouses in his work as a landman. “I like doing this land work and God sees fit to keep me healthy,” said the longtime Midlander. His Maker also kept him safe through a Depression when his divorced mother struggled to make a living, through his teenage years, through two wars—World War II and the Korean War—and over thousands of highway miles in New Mexico and Texas.
With nine decades of living behind him, Shaw can talk about much of the history of the 20th century from first hand experience: the Depression, Pearl Harbor, boot camp, rationing, college, Korea, the oil booms in the 1950s and late 1970s, the changing West Texas petroleum technology. Despite all the ups and downs in his personal life, Shaw exudes an aura of calm and quiet contentment that attracts people to him.
Born in 1923, Shaw lived his early years at Baird and grew up running and playing with a friend in the pastureland behind his house. Before the days of television, video games, and computers, fun was whatever their imaginations could conjure.
At the age of 7, however, with the nation sinking into the Great Depression, Shaw’s parents divorced and he observed his mother’s struggles to put food on the table. He recalled that sometimes he ate a stewed tomato dish while his mother went without dinner. The two moved back with her parents in Missouri where she went to finishing school and then found a job in Fort Worth. While in high school, Shaw started running and earned a spot on the track team. His love of running carried him through many tough times later in his life and, he thinks, may have contributed to his longevity.
After high school graduation and a year of junior college, Shaw headed to the University of Texas at Austin to major in pre-med. He joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, where he made some lifelong friends and enjoyed those innocent years before World War II. Among his best fraternity buddies was Howard Parker, who later formed Parker & Parsley, the precursor to Pioneer Natural Resources.
The good times ended when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. Half the fraternity headed down to enlist at the recruiting center and Shaw was among them. While some picked the Army, Shaw said he selected the Marines. The mood to study evaporated as the war gained speed. The result was that Shaw lost his place in the school for pre-med students.
“Everyone was enlisting and the training camps didn’t have enough room for us. The Marines had a facility at Georgetown” where new enlisted men were to wait and that’s where Shaw was assigned. In the meantime, he enrolled at Southwestern University and waited. He finished his junior year there “but my mind was not on studying—at all. All of us were thinking we might not come back, so why study?”
He finally made it to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. “Boot camp was awful. I wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars,” Shaw said with a chuckle.
From there, Shaw headed to New River, N.C., for infantry training, then Quantico, Va., for Officer Candidate School, before going west to Camp Pendleton in California. Assigned to the 4th Marine Division, Shaw joined other Marines in Maui who were training to attack Japan. They were sent to the Mariana Islands of Guam and Saipan, which was to be the jumping off place for the planned invasion of Japan. The atomic bomb was dropped, the Armistice was signed, and the war was over before his division landed in Japan.
Shipped back to San Francisco, Shaw thought he was on his way out of the military. Forever. He was wrong. At a meeting “we were told we could fill out the application form for discharge but that they would all be thrown into the trash. ‘You can’t get out. You’re frozen,’ they told us.”
Finally discharged, but as a permanent member of the Marine Reserves, Shaw headed to UT-Austin where he earned degrees in chemistry and French. Even in those years, the Austin environment was difficult to leave and Shaw tried to find employment but came up short-handed. Eventually, a family friend advised Shaw “to quit being a burden to [his] mother” and to find a job. He headed to Fort Worth where he interviewed with Stanolind Oil and given his initial taste of the oilfield.
The first assignment was with a seismic crew in the Texas Panhandle, Shaw recalled. Stanolind eventually decided running its own seismic crews was too expensive and they were eliminated. Shaw then was assigned to the production department and transferred to the North Cowden Camp near Goldsmith. “I lived in a bunkhouse with all the single guys. I think they charged us $2 a month. There was a post office and we all ate at M & Ruth’s Café. We would drive to Odessa to drink beer,” Shaw said.
“I worked like the dickens. It was hard work,” he recalled. “I think the starting pay was $1.33 an hour and I probably worked up to $1.48.”
Shaw soon bought his first car—a 1949 Plymouth. He then was promoted to dash inspector and was in charge of inspecting all the meters in the field. He soon traded in the Plymouth for a 1950 DeSoto. Shaw felt he was really moving up in the world. Until the next year.
The Korean War broke out in 1951 and Shaw soon discovered the Marines had never lost his name. He was called back into the military and spent the next year and a half in Korea, returning to the States as a major and still in the Reserves. “I guess if the Marines get desperate, they might call up a 90-year-old dude,” he said, laughing.
Shaw returned to the oil field, this time in New Mexico where he attempted—unsuccessfully—to buy leases and put together some acreage. He moved to Midland for a job with Humble Oil in the land department, a position he soon developed into his niche. After less than a year in Midland, Humble Oil transferred Shaw to Roswell, N.M., which became his home for the next decade.
“I learned about federal and state lands and fee land with a little bit of Indian land throw in,” he said. In Texas, he utilizes his knowledge of fee land.
Shaw returned to Midland in 1965 and then “retired” from Exxon in 1977, taking a job with Coquina Oil Co. as vice president of land. Around 1981, Shaw left to become an independent landman. Soon after, the price of oil dropped and businesses left Midland but Shaw said he never had a problem finding work. In recent years, he did contract work for Veritas 321 Energy and finally joined as a full-time employee.
Les Honeyman met Jim Shaw right after starting work as a young geologist with Exxon in Midland around 1977. “He was one of the first landmen I worked for in Midland,” Honeyman recalled. He met Shaw at the office his first week on the job and then ran into him again on Sunday at church.
“All I have seen is top quality work from Jim,” he said.
“I’m still working at least 40 hours a week,” said the veteran landman, who can be seen going through the records in courthouses in Glasscock, Reagan, and Howard counties, just to mention a few of the locations. When land work needs to be done in New Mexico, Shaw often is the person sent because of his experience in that state.
Doug Tull with Veritas 321 has known Shaw for many years, both at church and work. “He is a great role model for all of us. All the younger people gravitate to him. If you didn’t know he was 90, you would think he’s maybe 75.”
He recalled that he kept seeing an older gentleman show up at his church with what Tull thought were the man’s daughter and grandson. He soon learned it was Jim Shaw with his wife and son. Tull also saw that Shaw “is not only a follower of Jesus Christ, but he gets it. He understands his role in and purpose in life, and his purpose is to share the good news of Jesus. He daily walks out his belief. As servants of Christ, Jim and his wife Vicky have opened their home over the years to young people needing help.”
Over the years (decades might be a better word), Shaw built a reputation for faithfulness to his friends.
Honeyman called Shaw “a good Christian example for all of us. He is one of my mentors. He shows us how to be a fortress during the good times and the bad. He is a special man. He’s been a friend to me during the good times, the bad times and in-between. He is the same, constant, stable man.”
Attorney Bob Bledsoe first met Shaw when both were living in Roswell. “He is the perfect good friend,” Bledsoe said. The two men were transferred to Midland about the same time, both started attending the same church, and both were involved in a Christian renewal movement. “He is very supportive and fun to be with,” said Bledsoe. “We’ve partied together, we’ve played golf together, and we’ve hunted together.
“He’s one of those fine people you don’t find every day. You can count on Jim if you need him.”
Shaw is considered “one of the old pros around town. He still checks records in county courthouses, which is one of the toughest jobs around. He does it the old way, which is the best way. His work is complete and reliable,” Bledsoe said.
Not only has Shaw served in many of the volunteer positions in his church and lted Bible studies, but he also has devoted years to the Kairos Prison Ministry.
Tull noted, “There is nobody else like Jim Shaw.”
Bledsoe added, “He’s like a good 2-by-4. He’s a tough old toot.”