William Orville “W. O.” Bankston

William Orville “W. O.” Bankston

Birth
Winters, Runnels County, Texas, USA
Death
16 Dec 1993 (aged 80)
Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, USA
Burial
Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, USA
Plot
Hillcrest Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Adoration, D-52-D
Memorial ID
132907740 View Source

On January 1, 1932, 18-year-old W. O. Bankston arrived in Dallas, Texas, inside an empty box car with 18 cents in his pocket, after setting out from Brownwood. He was accosted by lawman Bill Decker, who told him to get back in the car and move on or go to the Hobo Camp. Bankston instead extended his hand and said: "Sir, I'm not a hobo. I've got money, and I've got a job," but really had no job. Decker, who was to become the legendary Sheriff of Dallas County, told him to stay put while he checked the rest of the train—an unstated opportunity for Bankston to leave without any trouble, who was still there when Decker returned.

Decker brought Bankston to the county jail, where he spent the night out of the freezing cold. The next morning, Decker invited him to talk over breakfast in the jail kitchen. He learned that Bankston's father was injured in a 1917 railroad accident, couldn't work, left the family in 1922, that his mother divorced him, and that W.O. had been raised without a father. Decker arranged a night shift job for him at the local Ford plant for $8 a week—$416 a year—and to drive an ambulance for the Sparkman Brand Funeral Home on Ross Avenue, as W. O. had been trained as an embalmer's assistant. Decker soon became a father figure to the young man.

By 1935, W. O. was calling all the Dallas County deputies by their first names, and "in addition to riding with the deputies in his spare time, he had been selling cars by day and driving an emergency ambulance at night." He was also "an amateur lawman, and he finagled a police radio, siren, and flashing red lights from his law enforcement buddies . . . [and] involved in a number of chases and apprehensions."

W.O. found his lifelong vocation as an automobile dealer, opened Bankston Motors on Ross Avenue in 1938, and in entrepreneurial spirit expanded the business. When automobile production was halted during World War II, there developed a surplus of cars in New York City, where gasoline rationing was tight. In Texas, there weren't enough cars, and the gas rationing there was more generous because there were a lot of farmers and roads to bring crops to market. Bankston was soon bringing in automobiles by the trainload, and ultimately "created an automobile sales record unequalled in the history of the automotive industry."

But W. O. contributed more to the civic life of Dallas than just selling cars. His friend Bill Decker believed that criminals who paid their debts to society and reformed, deserved the chance to have good jobs, wives, and better lives, a notion that W. O. shared and embraced. One example: Alcatraz Island Prison escapee Floyd Hamilton—imprisoned for aiding Bonnie and Clyde's gang during the early 1930s, and later for other criminal activities—became the night watchman at Bankston's car dealership, a position he held for 16 years, and was pardoned in 1958 with the help of then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. W. O. urged Bill Decker to run for Sheriff in 1948, and managed and bankrolled his successful campaign for Sheriff in 1948—an office he held until his death in 1970.

W.O. was a major player in Dallas when gambling and associated vices were common as remnants of the frontier town it once had been, and saw those activities transition to Las Vegas after World War II, while building a successful business that continues to thrive after his death. He help many others by giving them a chance, and in so doing extended his network of friends and enabled better lives for many who would not have otherwise achieved them.

Sources: "W. O. Bankston Arrives in Dallas in an Empty Boxcar," "Bankston the Entrepreneur," and Floyd Hamilton's Story," in DECKER: A BIOGRAPHY OF SHERIFF BILL DECKER OF DALLAS COUNTY, Texas 1898-1970, by Jim Gatewood. Garland, Texas: Mullaney Corporation, 1999; and "The Good Ol' Boy," in "Tough Guys," by Tom Peeler, D MAGAZINE, November 2004.

On January 1, 1932, 18-year-old W. O. Bankston arrived in Dallas, Texas, inside an empty box car with 18 cents in his pocket, after setting out from Brownwood. He was accosted by lawman Bill Decker, who told him to get back in the car and move on or go to the Hobo Camp. Bankston instead extended his hand and said: "Sir, I'm not a hobo. I've got money, and I've got a job," but really had no job. Decker, who was to become the legendary Sheriff of Dallas County, told him to stay put while he checked the rest of the train—an unstated opportunity for Bankston to leave without any trouble, who was still there when Decker returned.

Decker brought Bankston to the county jail, where he spent the night out of the freezing cold. The next morning, Decker invited him to talk over breakfast in the jail kitchen. He learned that Bankston's father was injured in a 1917 railroad accident, couldn't work, left the family in 1922, that his mother divorced him, and that W.O. had been raised without a father. Decker arranged a night shift job for him at the local Ford plant for $8 a week—$416 a year—and to drive an ambulance for the Sparkman Brand Funeral Home on Ross Avenue, as W. O. had been trained as an embalmer's assistant. Decker soon became a father figure to the young man.

By 1935, W. O. was calling all the Dallas County deputies by their first names, and "in addition to riding with the deputies in his spare time, he had been selling cars by day and driving an emergency ambulance at night." He was also "an amateur lawman, and he finagled a police radio, siren, and flashing red lights from his law enforcement buddies . . . [and] involved in a number of chases and apprehensions."

W.O. found his lifelong vocation as an automobile dealer, opened Bankston Motors on Ross Avenue in 1938, and in entrepreneurial spirit expanded the business. When automobile production was halted during World War II, there developed a surplus of cars in New York City, where gasoline rationing was tight. In Texas, there weren't enough cars, and the gas rationing there was more generous because there were a lot of farmers and roads to bring crops to market. Bankston was soon bringing in automobiles by the trainload, and ultimately "created an automobile sales record unequalled in the history of the automotive industry."

But W. O. contributed more to the civic life of Dallas than just selling cars. His friend Bill Decker believed that criminals who paid their debts to society and reformed, deserved the chance to have good jobs, wives, and better lives, a notion that W. O. shared and embraced. One example: Alcatraz Island Prison escapee Floyd Hamilton—imprisoned for aiding Bonnie and Clyde's gang during the early 1930s, and later for other criminal activities—became the night watchman at Bankston's car dealership, a position he held for 16 years, and was pardoned in 1958 with the help of then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. W. O. urged Bill Decker to run for Sheriff in 1948, and managed and bankrolled his successful campaign for Sheriff in 1948—an office he held until his death in 1970.

W.O. was a major player in Dallas when gambling and associated vices were common as remnants of the frontier town it once had been, and saw those activities transition to Las Vegas after World War II, while building a successful business that continues to thrive after his death. He help many others by giving them a chance, and in so doing extended his network of friends and enabled better lives for many who would not have otherwise achieved them.

Sources: "W. O. Bankston Arrives in Dallas in an Empty Boxcar," "Bankston the Entrepreneur," and Floyd Hamilton's Story," in DECKER: A BIOGRAPHY OF SHERIFF BILL DECKER OF DALLAS COUNTY, Texas 1898-1970, by Jim Gatewood. Garland, Texas: Mullaney Corporation, 1999; and "The Good Ol' Boy," in "Tough Guys," by Tom Peeler, D MAGAZINE, November 2004.


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