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Jimmy Tibbs

From chasing down burglars in Dallas to living through a storm in the Gulf of Mexico on a boat with two drunk crewmates, Jimmy Tibbs said he’s had lots of little adventures in life. 

Born in 1948 in the former Nazareth hospital, Tibbs was the oldest of two boys. 

Tibbs worked at the sale barn on weekends and graduated from Mineral Wells High School in 1967. 

From childhood he rode in the trail ride from Weatherford to Mineral Wells before the annual rodeo. 

His ambition was to ride bulls and travel with the rodeo but Tibbs said he wasn’t very good and joined the Navy after several smaller rodeos. 

When the U.S. military sent Tibbs to take a physical in March 1968, he feared he would be drafted so he decided to join the Navy then and there. 

“They sent me straight to Vietnam and I was there for two years,” Tibbs said.

Officially, he was an “Asrock torpedoman,” Tibbs said.  However, since they didn’t fight submarines during the Vietnam war, he also worked as a spotter on land to help his ship accurately place the shelling. 

“It was kind of dangerous on the ground,” Tibbs said.

He also served on the small arms detail, which handled the guns a man could hold. 

They were once called to the deck to handle an approaching boat that would not identify itself, Tibbs said.

“The two of us were behind this shield,” Tibbs said. “That’s the first time I’d even had a gun pointed at somebody.”

Tibbs said he asked what to do and was told to shoot back if they started shooting.

“That’s the first time I was ever scared,” Tibbs said. 

He lost a friend when the helicopter Tibbs had just exited blew up as it lifted off.

“Somebody sabotaged it,” Tibbs said. “You didn’t know who those Viet Cong were.”

“It was a time I’d wish I’d never had to go and do,” Tibbs said about Vietnam.

He was allowed to go home for good after two years in Vietnam and returned to San Francisco.

“I was glad to get back home,” Tibbs said.

In California, Tibbs met and married his first wife before moving back to Texas and Fort Worth.

He attended Weatherford College for a month before quitting because he wanted to work, Tibbs said. 

He worked odd jobs from a fast food fish and chips restaurant “that was right up my alley” to running tear sheets around town for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 

The first of his five marriages soon ended. At his 40th year high school reunion classmates created Tibbs a special plaque for the alumnus who had been married the most times.  

Tibbs said he then moved to Dallas and took a job with Smith Alarm Company responding to alarm calls.

“That was a good, funny job,” Tibbs said.

He once responded an alarm that had been set off at Montgomery Ward in Dallas, Tibbs said. He arrived to find a Dallas police officer he’d grown up with in Mineral Wells and the older man who had accidentally tripped the alarm turned out to be a former high school teacher, Tibbs said. 

“I got to try to help catch them,” Tibbs said about the burglar calls. 

Usually the police arrived before him when there was a burglar, but one time Tibbs said he helped catch a fleeing suspect.

He drove up beside the running man and opened his door, knocking the burglar down, Tibbs said. 

“They didn’t like that too much,” Tibbs said about the police reaction. 

“I was fed up with Dallas,” Tibbs said, when he visited his cousins in the bayou south of New Orleans. 

His relatives ran supply boats to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and Tibbs said he went to work with them. 

He said he enjoyed it, working seven days in a row and taking seven days off, usually spending most of his time in Houston. 

“One time they sent me on a boat to Port O’Connor,” Tibbs said. It was just him, the captain and another man. 

The other two men drank a lot, according to Tibbs, and were drunk when a storm came up while they were tied to a oil rig. 

The wind and sea swung the boat all over the place and Tibbs said he feared for his safety.

“It was scary. I guess that was the second time I was ever scared,” Tibbs said.

He managed to climb the rig and call for a helicopter to pick him up, Tibbs said.

When he arrived on land, he hitchhiked home to Houston.

“I walked a long ways,” Tibbs said. He finally met a man at a truck stop and asked him where he was going.

“I said, ‘I need a ride to Houston. I’m not very good at hitchhiking,’” Tibbs said. “He said ‘Good, because I don’t pickup hitchhikers.’”

Tibbs can’t remember the older man’s name now but he remembers the man’s sense of humor. 

After he arrived home, Tibbs said he quit the job.

Over the next several years, Tibbs said he worked for the state as a correctional officer in Huntsville during the 1970s and began a courier service for companies in Houston.

He bought a van and did well delivering items to oil refineries, Southwestern Bell and other companies in Houston and eventually got into trucking. 

“My mother died in 1984. That really brought me down,” Tibbs said. “She was my best friend.”

His mother kept him out of trouble when he was a child, according to Tibbs.

He remembered hitting a neighboring police officer’s car with eggs when he was growing up in Mineral Wells and then begging the man not to tell his mother.  

He was more afraid of his mother’s punishment than any jail cell, Tibbs said. 

In 1985, Tibbs moved back to Mineral Wells and became a Christian the following year. 

“Things have changed for me,” Tibbs said. “I’m not as mean as I used to be.”

His job as a jailer was the one he most enjoyed and liked to wake up in the morning for, Tibbs said.

In 1998, Tibbs said he joined Corrections Corporations of America.

“I liked it,” Tibbs said. “It was the perfect job for me.”

“It’s not for anybody,” Tibbs said. “I was a pretty strong officer.”

Tibbs said he wasn’t wishy-washy like other guards and didn’t put up with anything.

He was often in charge of trustees who cared for the cemetery in Mineral Wells.

“Some of those guys worked hard,” Tibbs said.

Sometimes friends of an inmate would leave cigarettes in arranged places for the man to pick up as he went by with a mower but Tibbs would take them away, according to Tibbs.

The fact that he was the same every day earned him the respect of inmates, according to Tibbs, though, he said didn’t pity them because they made a choice to be there. 

“Sometimes it could get to you,” Tibbs said.

Tibbs said he often transported the inmates along with another jailer to Huntsville, leaving at 2 a.m.

He remembered one trip to Huntsville when the inmates were cussing and out of control. 

“They were being bad,” Tibbs said. When his partner lost it and began opening the door to the back of the bus to “go take care of it,” Tibbs said he pulled the bus over to the side of the road and pulled her back. 

It sometimes got hard to deal with the inmates and not do something stupid, Tibbs said.

Tibbs said he transferred to Colorado in 2000. 

Colorado was very different from working in a Texas prison, according to Tibbs.

“They aren’t from Texas,” Tibbs said about the correctional officers and there way of policing the prison.  “I wouldn’t let them get by with nothing.”

“They were selling drugs and these guards knew it,” Tibbs said.

The cold, constant wind and snow of Burlington, Colo., also got to him.

He complained that he hadn’t seen grass since October and it snowed in May.

After a vacation in Mineral Wells and talking with his best friend Ted Ray, the former Palo Pinto County commissioner, Tibbs said he drove back to Colorado during a huge snowstorm.

He plowed through the snow on highway that was closed before finding a place to stay with a friend that night. 

“I said ‘Ted’s right, I need to get the heck out of dodge,’” Tibbs said, and soon he transferred back to Mineral Wells. 

After losing his foot and then part of his leg to diabetes, Tibbs said he had to quit his job. 

“It was the first time I’d ever been down,” Tibbs said.

Wearing a special boot, Tibbs said he can still drive but he doesn’t walk much any more.

He still gets around, though, and often spends his time talking with other residents at the Crazy Water Retirement Hotel where he says he knows everybody. 

Christin Coyne can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3428, or at ccoyne@mineralwellsindex.com.

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