Chris Pate works in the same wood-paneled office on Fort Worth’s north side where his great-grandfather A.M. Pate Sr. founded Panther Oil & Grease Manufacturing Co. in 1922.
Much has changed since. The company was renamed Texas Refinery Corp. in 1947 since customers outside North Texas wouldn’t relate to the “panther” reference. Environmental Protection Agency rules changed the way the company does business. And in November 2015, as the Trinity River Vision Project moved into its neighborhood, the company moved its grease and lubricant production plant from Fort Worth to Mansfield.
The headquarters, however, will stay on North Main Street in Fort Worth, where Chris Pate — a fourth-generation company man — will run the business. An accountant by trade, Pate has worked other jobs, from running hospitals to banking, but oil and grease feel like home to him.
“Having a history of it being my family, I didn’t want to be the generation that let this thing go,” said Pate, who came back to Texas Refinery six years ago to become its president and CEO.
Having a history of it being my family, I didn’t want to be the generation that let this thing go.
Chris Pate, Texas Refinery CEO
For 94 years, the company has manufactured grease, oil and lubricants that keep gears and motors going throughout North America. Texas Refiner will fulfill orders of all sizes, no matter how small, an important niche that’s allowed it to build a solid fan base over the decades.
Its iconic red, white and blue barrels have become a staple of barrel racing at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, one of the few businesses in Fort Worth that have been around longer than Texas Refinery.
The company celebrated its 94th anniversary on Friday with a grand opening for the new Mansfield plant.
‘Rejuvenated the company’
The company’s founders probably never envisioned that the old Panther Oil & Grease Manufacturing Co. factory would someday be displaced by the Trinity River Vision Project — including the Panther Island development — nearly 100 years later.
The project prompted Texas Refinery Corp. to sell its plant and look for a new home.
Dennis Parks, executive vice president of Texas Refinery, said company officials originally wanted to stay in Fort Worth. But that changed when they found an old glass factory in southwest Mansfield.
The idea of moving had been in the works for a decade, but Pate’s return really accelerated the process, Parks said.
“It wasn’t that Texas Refinery Corp. was stagnant, but he brought all these fresh, new ideas,” Parks said. “In the last four or five years he’s really rejuvenated the company. We were under the gun to get this done not only on time but at budget.”
Panther Oil and Grease Manufacturing Co., now Texas Refinery Corp., was founded on Sept. 9, 1922, by A.M. Pate Sr. and Carl Wollner.
It took years of engineering and problem solving to build a plant that could conform to EPA regulations, said Patrick Walsh, executive vice president of Texas Refinery.
“How do you scrub that air so you don’t release the pollutants into the air?” Walsh said, describing one issue. “It’s got the latest and greatest state-of-the-art technology for containing spills.”
The plant has an intricate pipeline grid that moves chemicals, oil and grease to various kettles and storage tanks. Outside are 29 storage tanks with a total capacity of 890,000 gallons.
‘You’re your own boss’
The Pate family has done whatever it takes to keep Texas Refinery viable through the decades, through the Great Depression of the 1930s, the rationing of gasoline during World War II and the ups and downs of the oil industry.
At one point things got so tough that the founder’s wife, Marie Farnsworth Pate, affectionately known as “Mama Pate,” had to borrow money against her wedding ring to make payroll. She called her employees her “kids” and cared about them like family.
That mentality continues today as many of the employees have logged 30, 40 or even 50 years with Texas Refinery.
“The company actually sought out those types of people,” Walsh said. “We don’t toss you out to pasture once you turn 65 years sold. We find there’s a lot of tread left on the tires once people turn 65.”
Texas Refinery also has an army of 575 commissioned salespeople in the United States and Canada. They sell to loggers, farmers, construction companies — the sky is pretty much the limit.
How many people in today’s world would like to be their own boss and not have a limit on how much they can earn?
Patrick Walsh, Texas Refinery executive vice president
“You’re your own boss; you hold your income in your own hand,” Walsh said. “How many people in today’s world would like to be their own boss and not have a limit on how much they can earn? Anywhere you have products that need lubrication or need to be cleaned or maintained, we’re there.”
‘We saw an opportunity’
Texas Refinery has also continued its tradition of giving back to the community. Before closing in 2009, the Pate Museum of Transportation in Cresson displayed historical aircraft to the public.
As Texas Refinery moved into Mansfield, company owners learned about the efforts to build a concert venue in the city’s historic downtown.
“They had a great vision; they had a great plan,” Walsh said. “What they didn’t have was a driving force to get that vision off the ground and moving. We saw an opportunity to help them.”
Texas Refinery made a “sizable donation” to The LOT, which opened this year and now hosts mostly free concerts, movies and other events. The Texas Refinery logo is displayed prominently on the LOT sign.
The LOT, or Live Outdoor Theater, draws visitors to downtown Mansfield and could spark other new development in the historic area.
“The LOT was going to be the linchpin of that entire change,” Walsh said. “This was a fantastic way for us to show our appreciation to the city of Mansfield.”