Town has tough time selling free land

LEFORS, Texas (AP) — Lefors is having trouble even giving its land away.
There were 14 winners in a land giveaway put together by the tiny Texas Panhandle town in hopes of boosting its tax base and school population, but only one person responded by the Nov. 8 deadline to claim her lot.
Vera Rodriguez, a 70-year-old retiree from Bakersfield, Calif., has yet to visit Texas and see her roughly 50-by-125-foot parcel, and she is “still wondering if it’s good land,” she said.
“I was hoping that this place was in the country,” she told the Houston Chronicle by phone last week. “I understand that it is a city. And I hear that you have winds galore. But they tell me that we can have a vegetable garden and plant fruit trees. I don’t want to have cattle, but I would like to have chickens,” she added.
Surrounded by prairie, the town 70 miles east of Amarillo has declined since a devastating tornado 20 years ago and the 1980s oil bust. Most of its 600 residents are either retired or commute the dozen miles to the chemical plant or prison in Pampa, a town of 20,000.
Only two city streets are paved, not counting the old state highway that ends at the cemetery. A proliferation of trees, a rarity in the Panhandle, is the town’s saving grace. They shade it from the scorching Texas summers and lend a bit of charm to an otherwise remote, desolate place.
“Lefors is just a small quiet, oil field town,” a city letter to prospective residents read without apology. “Not a whole lot happens here.”
The giveaway didn’t excite everyone, with one professor predicting it would attract bums and losers like the Oklahoma land runs a century ago. In Antler, N.D., officials said a similar scheme 20 years ago brought out only the scum of the earth — the school closed anyway and the free land ended up a wheat field.
The Lefors giveaway requires winners to agree to build a house or move a mobile home onto the land within six months. So far, Rodriguez is the only one even considering making the move.
“This really is disappointing,” City Secretary Virginia Maples said. “We had so many entries, and I would have thought the winners would have been eager to relocate here.”
A former city councilman, 66-year-old J.C. “Curley” Callaway, said he wasn’t surprised by the indifference.
“We just don’t have anything to draw people,” he said. “There’s no way to make a living. I think all those people entered out of curiosity’s sake.”
Alternate winners will be selected if the 13 still aren’t interested after a telephone call, Maples said. And if the alternates aren’t interested, she said, the property may be put up for bids.