Cummings, James Dell (1895–1981)

By: Mary Compton

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

James Dell (Mr. Jim, Mr. Pipeliner) Cummings, inventor, son of James H. and Lula (Shaw) Cummings, was born on December 28, 1895, in Washington County, Kansas. He and his twin sister, Belle, and other sister, Clara, and brothers John and Willie attended a one-room log school built on land donated by his parents. Jim worked on the family farm north of Morrowville, Kansas, and was a farmer after he finished school. He was adaptable and was always able to envision ways of doing things easier and then to make the equipment necessary for the work. In 1923, while observing men putting a pipeline across his farm, he thought there must be a better way to fill the ditch than using teams of men with shovels and mules. Consequently, he built the first bulldozer and was able single-handedly to backfill one and one-sixth miles of ditch the first day, as compared to a team's average of 500 to 700 feet a day. He soon had a contract to fill the ditch, as well as orders for more bulldozers.

He continued to see the problems of the pipeline and oilfield industry and to invent equipment to solve the problems. By 1976 he held sixty-eight patents for machines to streamline the work and is sometimes given the credit for making it possible for the United States to win World War II. Other equipment he designed included a sidewinch to reach over steep embankments to move dirt, a sideboom that would lift 1,000 pounds of pipe, a three-roller pipe cradle to permit a heavy machine to move readily and easily along a line, a coating and wrapping machine to apply hot tar evenly around a pipe and wrap it with insulating material, an automatic pipe-protection processor, a machine for cold-bending pipe, a thermostatically controlled tar kettle to heat and agitate dope en route, a machine to clean and coat insides of pipes, and a mechanism to quickly apply weight material to line pipe in water jobs.

Mr. Jim was made lifetime counselor of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (later Texas A&M University). In December 1964 he was recognized by national and international pipeline contractors with an honorary lifetime membership in the Pipeline Contractors Association, marking the first time anyone other than a contractor had received the honor. He was married on March 6, 1918, to Ora Belle Frager. They had two sons. In partnership with two others he founded Crutcher-Rolfs-Cummings, Incorporated, in Houston, a firm that manufactured and sold his equipment and later expanded to include engineering. The company also worked on oil pipelines of its own in World War II and put in pipelines all over the world. Cummings received the Presidential E (Excellence) Award from the United States Department of Defense on October 12, 1964.

After leaving Houston the family moved to Victoria, Wimberley, and then to San Marcos in 1943, where Cummings used his creative mind to improve farming and ranching techniques. His Green Valley Farm, a showplace for demonstrating better ways to farm, proved that proper automatic equipment can feed many thousands of cattle as cheaply as one farmer can feed 100. His Green Valley Livestock Commission Company sold the stock in its own auction ring, where buyers sat in comfortable theater seats in an air-conditioned arena that seated 400. Cummings supported the 4-H, the Hays County Youth Association, and the Hays County Civic Center. He and his wife gave generously to Hays Memorial Hospital, where their donations provided modern equipment for the facility and a trust for continuing support of the hospital (the facility has since been closed). Cummings died in San Marcos on May 27, 1981.

Vertical File, Tula Townsend Wyatt Collection, San Marcos Public Library, San Marcos, Texas.
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Science
  • Inventors

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary Compton, “Cummings, James Dell,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994