Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989 Page: 22
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By Alex Apostolides
T hey called themselves the
McGinty Club, and they romped
through the streets of El Paso at the turn of
the century, blowing happy music and raising
merry hell. Who belonged? The El Paso
Herald put it this way: "Everyone who was
anyone in El Paso in the latter 80s and 90s
either belonged to the McGinty Club-or
was dead." One of their most talked-about
tricks had to do with a rainmaker who came
It was 1891, not the wettest year El
Paso's ever seen. "It kept on gettin' drier and
drier, and finally it never did rain" was the
way one writer put it. The El Paso Weather
Bureau logged 2.22 inches of rain by the
time that year was over.
Top: The government was hoping the rainfall experiments
in Texas would produce rain. Here
dynamite charges are being set off on Mt. Franklin.
Bottom: General Dyrenforth, a Washington patent
Courtesy Harpers Weekly, vol. XXXV, no. 1816,
October 10, 1891.
But in August-time, tall tales came in
from Midland. The Government, they
said, was setting up an experiment in
making rain. Chief honcho rainmaker was
a gentleman with the impressive name of
General Robert St. George Dyrenforth. He
was a Washington patent lawyer obsessed
with the possibilities of making rain by
setting off huge explosions, and with government
backing he'd come with his crew
to Midland to turn the dry year wet.
The general studied his history, and he
knew that after every big battle you got
rain. The noise must have something to do
with it. Senator C.B. Farwell of Illinois was
convinced by Dyrenforth that if you made
noise loud enough and long enough, you
could, by God, bring rain to places that
never saw the stuff before. It didn't happen
overnight. Farwell tried to get bills passed
to raise the money, starting in 1874, but the
estimated price tag for experiments was
some $161,000, and the whole thing died
Fourteen years later, they were still discussing
the project, and in 1890 the good
Senator was able to raise the magnificent
sum of $2000 for the Department of Agriculture,
which was going to oversee
Dyrenforth's experiments in making rain.
The Senator had put up some money of his
own, and Dyrenforth had sent up balloons
filled with various gases. They were exploded
at high altitudes, and the results had
Farwell and Dyrenforth beaming.
The experiments were successful
enough to send Farwell inning to recommend
Dyrenforth's appointment as a special
agent for the Agriculture Department,
charged with making rain.
They really went whole hog this time;
the Senate appropriated $7000 for the
experiments. The two thousand bucks
they'd appropriated the year before hadn't
been spent, so Dyrenforth now had the
wild sum of $9000, with which he began his
noisy career in February of 1891. He even
got himself an assistant, one Prof. John T.
Ellis, of Oberlin College. Washington now
had a rainmaking team. The next problem?
Where to hold the experiments.
Washington was having itself a very
rainy year, so messing about the Potomac
wasn't going to prove a thing. Summer was
coming up, and the project hadn't even
gotten off the ground. And then help came
The 'C' Ranch, out in the middle of
nowhere, 23 miles from Midland, was suffering
from the drought. The expedition
22 HERITAGE * WINTER 1989
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989, periodical, Winter 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45430/m1/22/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.