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Dickinson looked on in amazement as Adams called his Lincoln-Mercury dealership and asked how much such a door was worth. After he was told that it could bring about $150, Adams phoned his Waller ranch and ordered a hand to rip the door off of Adams' '74 Ford pickup. Then he phoned the party who needed the door and asked if he pay $160. He would, and Adams sealed the deal. Then he turned to Dickinson and said, "I sold too cheap."
By the mid-1980s, Adams' dealmaking acumen had landed him on the "Forbes Four Hundred" list of the country's richest people. Forbes estimated Adams was worth $160 million. His assets included the "troubled" Adams Resources, his oil marketing and production company; more than 10,000 acres of Texas ranches; 15,000 acres of California vegetable farms; and the largest Lincoln-Mercury dealership in the country.
But the '80s were not necessarily kind to Adams, although the most serious financial setback he suffered wasn't due to the collapse in oil prices. Amid the enthusiasm for alternative energy sources that President Carter stirred in the late '70s, Adams had sunk money into coal mines in Kentucky and Tennessee. But, as he told his audience during his 1993 speech at Culver Academy, coal prices were headed down by the early '80s. Adams said he held on to his mines for four years, losing $65 million. Luckily, he said, his other businesses remained successful and he started selling off oil and gas properties and real estate to cover the losses.
"I've been one to gamble. I've lost a lot of money. I've made a lot of money," he confided in his Culver speech. "It's impossible to be right all the time."
But one constant key to success, Adams related, is to "sniff the winds of change and adjust to the changes in a timely fashion." It was in the late '80s that Adams' nostrils began to twitch from the winds of change blowing in professional football. Al Davis had moved his Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles, and owners of other teams long identified with their home cities were considering relocation or angling for better quarters.
So Adams -- who had long considered the Astrodome to be ill-suited for football and the rent he paid to landlord John McMullen and later Drayton McLane to be exorbitant -- threatened to move the Oilers to Jacksonville if Houston couldn't offer him a better deal. And, after business and civic leaders scrambled to meet his demands, Houston did: Harris County floated $67 million in bonds, backed by property taxes and a doubling of the hotel tax, to add 10,000 more seats and additional luxury boxes to the Dome.
At the time, some who know Adams couldn't believe he was serious about moving the Oilers to Jacksonville or anywhere else, because his son Ken loved the team so much. At one time, Adams had placed Ken on the Oilers board, although he was seldom seen at the team's headquarters on the third floor of the Adams Petroleum Center. The younger Adams eventually became vice president of agriculture for Bud Adams Ranch Inc., managing his father's interests on the family's Waller ranch.
It was a beautiful day in Galveston when geologist Jim Snyder looked out across the canal at Pirates Cove and saw his neighbor, Ken Adams, sitting on a pier fishing with this two young sons. The 29-year-old Kenneth had never looked happier, and Snyder made a mental note of what a perfect Norman Rockwell picture the father and sons made.
"He didn't look like the kind of guy who was going to kill himself," says Snyder, whose friendship with the Adams' family goes back to Bartlesville.
But a few days later, on June 27, Ken Adams laid down on a bed at the Waller ranch and fired a Colt .45 automatic into his right temple. Bud Adams was in Jacksonville, negotiating to move the Oilers, but flew home to be with his family.
According to the autopsy report, Ken Adams' body was discovered by his mother and his wife, Susan. There was one live round in the barrel of the .45 and five live rounds in the clip. He was wearing a checked shirt and brown shorts. The autopsy report revealed traces of cocaine, the anti-depressant Elavil and alcohol in his blood. "His fingernails were extremely short," a medical examiner wrote.
Ken Adams is remembered by those who knew him as a decent but troubled young man. As a child, he had been diagnosed as having a learning disability. His two older sisters attended the prestigious Kinkaid school, but Ken went to Memorial Hall High School, a school in Spring Branch for children with learning disabilities. "Bud tried to protect him," says Spencer Murchison, the former Adams Resources and Energy president.
One friend of the family suggests that Ken just wasn't the son Bud had envisioned.
"He didn't have brass balls and smoke a big fat cigar," he says.
Murchison takes a more compassionate view. Adams, he says, was "shaken to his roots" by the suicide of his only son. "He kept saying, 'Maybe there was something more that I could do ... maybe there was something more that I could do," Murchison recalls.
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