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When Barney Hubbs came to Odessa in 1926 to start a newspaper most folks assumed he would go broke. After all, nobody in their right mind would try to get into the newspaper business in a little cow town populated by only 750 residents. Others had tried and failed. That same year, "Josh" Cosden struck oil a few miles southwest of town but it would be two years before Odessa experienced its first oil boom. When Barney arrived, Odessa had a drug store, a grocery store, a bank, one restaurant, a movie theater and no newpaper. But that didn't deter Barney, he know what it was like to be broke. His family had lost everything when their cattle ranch went under in 1908.

Barney grew up in Pecos where he got ink in his blood. In these years, Pecos was twice as large as Odessa and had two newspapers. He befriended Billy Leeman whose father owned the Reeves County Record. Barney worked for the Record before and after school and during vacation learning how to set type in the printing office. A few years later, the Record merged with the Pecos Times and Barney worked for them. After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War I where he worked on a newspaper in France, Barney returned to Pecos hoping to get his old job back. But the Times had no openings. So he found a job in the oil fields building wooden derricks for a while. One of the wooden derricks he built now sits on display in the Monahans City Park.

In 1921, Barney opened a print shop in Pecos and started publishing the Pecos Gusher to compete with his former employer. His venture prospered and in four years he bought out the Times and merged the two newspapers. In the process of the merger, he acquired more printing equipment than he needed. Henry Webb, manager of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce, knew Barney had spare newspaper equipment and convinced him to start a newspaper in Odessa. Previously, a string of Odessa newspapers had come and gone including the Odessa Weekly, The Times, the Ector County Democrat, and the Odessa Herald. Going broke with a newspaper was nothing new in Odessa.

At first Barney didn't have time to transport his printing gear to Odessa. Since he only one Linotype machine, he printed the Ector County News in Pecos before hauling the papers to Odessa in the wee hours before the heat of the day. The trip took four hours because of the deep, drifting sand that covered the road at Monahans. Within a few months, Barney changed the name of the newspaper to the Odessa News. He hired Ruby Webb, wife of Ector County Sheriff Reeder Webb, along with Mrs. Tom Harris to write for the paper.

Odessa got its city charter in 1927 and started collecting taxes. The town had hundreds of lots with delinquent tax bills and Barney agreed to print tax sale notices in the paper in exchange for the lots that hadn't sold. It proved to be a profitable venture. He became the owner of some 100 lots up and down Grant Street with an average tax bill of about $12.50 on each lot. He sold one lot at 3rd and Grant for $25.00 to George Elliot who who built a three story brick hotel that is remembered as an Odessa landmark before it was torn down in 1983 to make room for a new police station. Barney did well enough off the sale of the lots to build a new printing office on two lots just east of the Ector County Court House.

Rivalry between Odessa and Midland existed even then. In recalling his newspaper experiences in Odessa, Barney told me in a 1991 interview that "Midland always looked down on Odessa as a stepchild in those days. Midland was regarded as a high-collared bunch and we were the poor boys over in Odessa, but it was friendly". When the Midland newspaper came out with a story announcing that the City of Midland had passed an ordinance outlawing the parking of oil field trucks on the streets of Midland, Barney saw an opportunity to promote Odessa. The Odessa News ran a special edition inviting oil field trucks to park anywhere they wanted to in Odessa. Barney distributed 5,000 copies of this edition.

By 1928 Odessa had grown considerably but Pecos called Barney home. He decided to sell the Odessa News because his family lived in Pecos. Barney found a buyer for the paper by the name of Frank P. Files. He sold the newspaper on credit with an escrow agreement that if Files missed a payment; the title reverted back to Barney. Then he ran into a political disagreement with the buyer. When Odessa's first mayor, Sam McKinney, tried to get re-elected, he found no support from Frank Files. Files supported a "newcomer" for mayor. Barney made an enemy of Frank Files when he went to Odessa to bolster Sam McKinney's campaign. McKinney won the election. Not long after that, Files defaulted on his note and Barney Hubbs found himself in search of a new owner for the newspaper.

Barney then sold the paper to Abe Whipkey from Colorado City. Whipkey wanted to his son Bob, and son-in-law, Rush Moody, into business. In later years, Bob Whipkey became editor of the Big Spring Herald. When the younger Whipkey and Moody had a falling out, they simply walked away from the Odessa newspaper. Abe Whipkey called Barney and told him he simply couldn't meet the payments and turned the newspaper back to him. Business in Pecos prevented Barney from running both newspapers so once again he searched for someone to take over the Odessa operation. Barney called Ralph Shuffler, a long-time newspaperman in Olney who had sold his paper and asked him if wanted to get back into the newspaper game. Shuffler accepted the offer and operated the Odessa News for several years before tuning the business over to his son. Henderson Shuffler ran the paper until 1945.

In the 1930s technology gave birth to a new competitor for the small town newspaper, when broadcast radio stations became reality. Until 1935, there were no radio stations between Fort Worth and El Paso but Barney changed that on October 23, 1935 when KIUN went on the air in Pecos. In Midland KRLH, later known as KCRS, began broadcasting two months later. This was the beginning of the Cactus Broadcasting network. Barny's first radio stations were primitive affairs. He hired engineers to build the transmitters. He fabricated radio towers out of drill-stem pipe, a considerable feat of West Texas ingenuity. To build the towers, Barney welded together 200 feet of drill-stem pipe, painted it, and installed warning lights before raising it, "like my dad used to raise windmills with a gin pole". A group of government engineers working in Pecos at the time to install a water system said it couldn't be done and stood in amazement as Barney raised the tower into the air. A short time later, a national engineering magazine published a story that the impossible had taken place in Pecos. Texas.

In 1946 Barney introduced broadcast radio to Odessa when KRIG went on the air. Barney's Cactus Network grew to include Pecos, Fort Stockton, McCamey, Alpine; Cortez, Colorado; Lyman, Utah and Tejas, New Mexico. When I interviewed him in 1991, Barney was 95 years old. In spite of his advanced age, he continued to spend several mornings a week at his desk in the Pecos Enterprise building on South Cedar Street in Pecos. His office was simple and unpretentious. On the walls hung photographs, newspaper articles and other mementos collected over the years. Barney sought no praise; he was a humble man in sprite of his many accomplishments. When I asked if he would do it all over again he was quick to point out that if he were a young man again he would, "get into newspaper work in some way". Barney Hubbs died January 7, 1993 in Pecos.

Glenn Justice
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