Manuscripts Texana

The Iron Orchard


This week the movie adaptation of Tom Pendleton’s epic 1966 novel, The Iron Orchard, opens in theaters. His book tells the story of Jim McNeely’s rise from oil roughneck to wildcatter in mid-twentieth century Texas, and is based on the author’s experience in the oil business.

Edmund Pendleton Van Zandt, Jr. 1948 SMU Rotunda


Tom Pendleton was a pseudonym for Edmund Pendleton Van Zandt Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas. Van Zandt graduated from SMU Law School in 1949 and served as editor of the SMU Law Review. In the mid-1960s he was vice-president of Fort Worth National Bank and wrote three novels. Iron Orchard shared the Texas Institute of Letters award for best fiction in 1969 with Larry McMurtry’s novel, The Last Picture Show.



Lon Tinkle described the book in the Dallas Morning News:

“For people in the industry, a further delight will be the astonishingly deft page-or-so passages that occur from time to time to locate the reader in oil evolution: proration, geophysical developments, the role of natural gas, the effect of discovery after World War II of Kuwait and of foreign oil on our own, etc. None of this is pedantic. The author rivals Max Ball as a model explainer of technical stuff. And the industry will be tickled at the weaving in, though in a purely factual way, of many names famous in Texas oil, such as DeGolyer and MacNaughton and, delightfully, DeGolyer’s great protégé, Ben Belt.”


Edmund Van Zandt then sent Tinkle a thankful letter for the review:


Lon Tinkle’s papers contain numerous letters from authors like Van Zandt, since Tinkle was a book critic for The Dallas Morning News for over thirty years. Researchers interested in the history of the oil industry are encouraged to study the collections of Everette Lee DeGolyer Sr., Leo Horvitz, Lewis MacNaughton, and others in the DeGolyer Library.

[Roughneck connecting drilling pipe, Jones & Laughlin Steel Co.] Part of the Robert Yarnall Ritchie Photograph Collection.


Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. “Van Zandt, Edmund Pendleton, Jr.,”accessed February 19, 2019,

The Rotunda. Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1948.

Tinkle, Lon. “Brilliant Novel On Oil in Texas.” Review of The Iron Orchard, by Tom Pendleton. The Dallas Morning News, November 20, 1966: page 11. NewsBank/Readex.

Lon Tinkle papers, MSS 130. Finding aid available at