TL Sloan, with beard at right, and Jimmy Percy, in hat, survey land at Cow Creek where an oil rig was erected in the 1970s.
in an otherwise sunny summer afternoon, rapid change is on
the horizon for the ranch, and it isn’t good.
TOO MUCH SPENDING
On the outside, the Palm Beach Post series may have given
the appearance of success at the ranch. But as Jimmy Percy
settles into his job as general manager of Cow Creek, he finds
problems in a different place: the books.
TL and Jo Ann, he concludes, are spending too much
money, with profits from the ranch and Raulerson Building
rentals not covering the business and the couple’s expenses.
“Jimmy told them, ‘Y’all can’t keep spending like this or
you’re going to run out of money,’ ” Debra recalls.
As time went on, the issue grew as a source of conflict, with
Jimmy eventually leaving and working at St. Lucie County
Bank as a loan officer. With Jimmy gone, TL had to take back
management of the ranch at a time when his other businesses
were pulling him in a different direction.
He begged Jimmy to return. “And then Tommy wanted my
dad back and he said he’d come back and he did, and stayed
there for multiple years,” says Jamie Percy, Jimmy Percy’s son.
Nevertheless, the return of Jimmy — who gained the title
of vice president of Cow Creek — didn’t seem to temper TL’s
spending. But then, as luck would have it, TL had a new card
to play in 1973. That’s when Shell Oil came calling.
SEARCH FOR OIL
Shell had been conducting seismic explorations in the fourcounty
area and to great fanfare, with the permission of TL
and Jo Ann, announced that it planned to drill a test well on
the western side of Cow Creek, a quarter mile over the St. Lucie
County line into Okeechobee County. A derrick 15 stories
PERCY FAMILY ARCHIVES
high, visible for miles,
is erected with the
intention of drilling to
a depth of 11,300 feet.
But after months of
hope that oil would
bring new riches to
Cow Creek, the well
PERCY FAMILY ARCHIVES
comes up dry. The
discovery of oil wouldn’t be the Hail Mary needed to pull TL
from his mountain of debt.
Darren Robertson says that while some of TL’s investments
went sour, others panned out. Both he and TL’s daughters
lack specifics because TL rarely shared details with them.
“I think he did well on some stuff and not well on other
stuff,” Darren says. “But again, he would tell you, ‘It’s none
of your business.’ ”
Debra has a different take. “With TL supporting three
families, mother and our family, Diane and her family and
Tee and his mother, plus Honey, the monetary hemorrhaging
was an inevitable fate of the collapse of the ‘empire’ TL
thought he created,’’ Debra says. “It could have been done
differently, but the way the money was managed meant that
the money that was my mother’s was wasted on far too many
nonbusiness things. TL never learned to make money work to
At the same time debt was mounting, TL was also battling
medical issues. In 1976, while treating what he thought was
an ear infection, he used a solution that was absorbed by his
eardrum, which unknowingly had been previously perforated.
The episode caused permanent damage and balance
issues, causing him to give up flying and boating. That same
Jimmy Percy’s business card.