The Waldmire U-Haul

Originally posted to the Oklahoma Route 66 Association blog on 11/7/19

When it was announced this summer that the contents of Afton Station were going to be auctioned off, I was tremendously sad. Afton Station had been a great asset to Route 66, not just in northeast Oklahoma but throughout all 2400+ miles. It wasn’t just the old D-X station and the impressive Packard automobile collection inside that endeared it to everyone, but it was owner Laurel Kane and her loyal volunteers that really set the place apart.

I didn’t know Laurel very long, but we became friends in record time. In fact, it was Laurel that stood on the stage at Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom in 2015 and served as the officiant in my wedding. Her unexpected passing in early 2016 was a real heartbreak, both for me personally and for the Mother Road at large. I feared that Afton Station was not long for this world without her passion in residence. The shop and museum remained open for a time, but when David Kane also passed suddenly in late 2018 that was the end of the road.

Afton Station in 2016 with Ron Jones’ 1956 Chevrolet out front

On June 29th 2019, the day of the auction, I took the day off work and drove up to Afton. I hoped to secure some artifacts for the Oklahoma Route 66 Association and perhaps a small something for myself. Alas, my pockets were not deep enough to compete with the likes of Barrett-Jackson auctions out of Arizona and a few of the other attendees. I left that day disappointed on many fronts.

Imagine my surprise when I received a message in late August telling me that the item I most wanted to secure for Oklahoma Route 66 was once again available: the Bob Waldmire U-Haul Truck.

The U-Haul at Afton Station in 2019

Bob Waldmire was an artist and who I consider to be the prototypical Roadie. He spent a lot of time wandering the country (especially Route 66) creating artwork and speaking out in support of preservation. He turned the vacant Hackberry General Store into a Route 66 destination in the 1990s and was the inspiration behind the Volkswagen Microbus character ‘Fillmore’ in Disney/Pixar’s Cars

Bob adding the finishing touches in 2008 – photo courtesy of Josh Friedrich

In 2008, Bob painted a giant mural on one side of an old U-Haul truck for Ken and Marian Clark of Tulsa. According to Ken, Bob originally used the truck to move some items from Illinois (where his family runs the Cozy Dog Drive-In) to his off-the-grid home on the New Mexico/Arizona border. The truck was donated to the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, but they ended up not having room for it. In 2012, it was given to Afton Station, where it sat until this summer.

Arriving in Afton in July 2012 – photo courtesy of Laurel Kane’s blog

The Oklahoma Route 66 Association is so proud to announce that this artifact has been secured in Chelsea, Oklahoma: Project Chelsea has stationed it near the restored Pedestrian Underpass. Travelers and roadies can continue to experience this beautiful work by one of Route 66’s most enduring artists.

Many thanks to Sylvie Kane, Samantha Extance, and Route 66 Germany for their donations that made this possible. Thanks also to Pam Stanbro and Project Chelsea for coming together and taking stewardship of this treasure. Through continued donations and support, we hope to restore the truck to working order and potentially restore the faded parts of Bob’s artwork. One step at a time…

The next time you’re in Chelsea, stop by and take a selfie with this one-of-a-kind Route 66 Artifact and tag #ok66!

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The Centennial State

Every year for our wedding anniversary, Samantha and I plan to take a trip. Not that I ever need an excuse to hit the road for a few days, but the celebration of our marriage (and our first date) is a great reason to spend a little time away from home. This year, we went to Colorado. It’s a state I’ve explored a bit over the years, but it was Samantha’s first time. Autumn is a fine time to visit!

We flew out of Tulsa at 6:00 AM on Friday, October 11th. I hate getting up that early, but it would essentially leave our entire Friday open for exploring. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a much more nervous flier, too. The sooner I can get it out of the way, the better. Though I’ve learned not to drink coffee before flying…it makes the anxiety that much worse. I forgot my headphones, too, so I just kinda sat there for two hours as the sunrise chased us westward. We gained an hour in flight, so it wasn’t even seven o’clock when we landed.

Although Denver had received quite a snowfall in previous days, all that remained on the ground when we arrived was a dusting. For that, I was thankful. I didn’t relish the idea of driving through the state in a four-cylinder rental car on poor road conditions. The sun had just broken the horizon as we departed the Denver airport and headed south.

I’d last visited Cañon City in the summer of 2013; my friend DeeDee and I were on a trip to Salt Lake City. I hadn’t yet developed (ha) the eye for photography I have now and I was amazed at all the sights I didn’t capture six years ago. We ate at a little diner on Main Street and walked around the downtown district, admiring the frontier-style architecture and vibrant community. I particularly loved a little sign that betrayed an evolution from a Motel to a Motor Court — though the place clearly didn’t accommodate anyone anymore.

At around noon, we boarded the Royal Gorge Route Railroad and took a scenic ride. The train snaked through the canyon alongside the Arkansas River. Unlike the Grand Canyon, this natural wonder wasn’t formed by centuries of erosion. The rocks here were pushed up by volcanic activity and had a sharper, jagged appearance. It was awesome in the true sense of the word. Even though it was still a bit cold outside, I made my way to the viewing car and spent most of the ride snapping photos in the open air.

The railway itself has an interesting history. Two companies (Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway and Denver & Rio Grande Company) each planned to build the line through the gorge and warred for the right to do so. The companies even hired gunfighters like Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday. Most of the battles were fought in court and eventually D&RG won the right, but you can still see remnants of stone fortifications in the gorge. The detailed history is really fascinating and I recommend you give it a look.

On the opposite side of the river from the tracks, an old water pipeline weaved in and out of the canyon wall. The pipe, originally made out of redwood, was built by prisoners from the territorial prison in Cañon City in the early 1900s. It was in use until 1973, which explains why so much of it is still there. It still had quite a few wooden sections, though most of those had collapsed by 2019. The old caretakers house still stood, too — the pipeline had to be inspected, which meant a 16 mile round-trip daily.

The train tracks pass underneath the famous Royal Gorge suspension bridge, of course. The bridge was built in 1929 and was the highest suspension bridge in the world for seven decades. I tell you what, when the train horn echoed through the gorge, I felt like a ten year old boy again. The train also goes over an 1879 hanging bridge, which is anchored into the rock wall itself. At that point, the gorge is only 30 feet wide and the walls go straight into the river.

Once the excursion was over, Samantha and I drove up to the TOP of the gorge. Although I have a crippling fear of heights, she encouraged me to walk over the bridge with her. Last time I was in the area, the forest around the gorge had just suffered a terrible fire. The bridge and the park itself were totally closed. This time, I crossed over on my own two feet. As soon as Sam mentioned you could see through the planks, 955 feet below, the walk became more difficult…but we both made it! We were greeted on the south side by a ram, who was more interested in eating the decorative pumpkins anyway.

We crossed back over the bridge on the tram; I didn’t have another slow walk across in me. We departed victorious and headed back north towards Colorado Springs. We were saving Garden of the Gods for Saturday, but I did make stop to photograph a sign that’s long been at the top of my must-see list: Johnny’s Navajo Hogan. The bar/restaurant dates back to 1935 though I don’t know the age of the sign itself. Sadly, not all of the neon was lit, but it’s still a beauty.

Our destination that first day was nearby Manitou Springs; my cousin Amanda had suggested it after they visited earlier in the year. It’s a quaint little town..and a Gold Mine for sign geeks! Many of the motels had their original signage in good working order; I wasted no time in capturing what I could. We stayed at the Villa Motel, which had a lovely old-school lodge feel to it. I greatly enjoyed looking at the historic photographs in the lobby and in our room.

All in all, we had a packed Day One in Colorado, even though I’d expressly scaled back our drive time from my original itinerary. There’s just so much to see and do!

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Going West with Mom (part four)

Driving from Bluff, Utah to Raton, New Mexico makes for a long day. When Mom and I woke up on October 2nd, we had to decide whether we were going to drive back into New Mexico, through Taos, or take the road through southern Colorado. Mom left the decision up to me so I picked the road I’d not yet traveled…Highway 160 across the The Centennial State.

We crossed the border and headed into higher elevations. As we climbed, I looked for the beautiful yellow Aspen trees that Colorado is known for in autumn. Yes, we did see a few of them here and there on the drive, but I was shocked by what I saw the MOST of: dead pine trees.

The national forests of Colorado have seen widespread decimation of spruce pine trees caused by the spread of the spruce beetle. It started in 1996 and has, so far, covered over ONE MILLION acres of forest. There’s not anything that can be done to save this particular kind of tree from this beetle. Eventually, the forest will be rebuilt from other types of pine…but today, entire mountainsides are blanketed with gray, empty trunks and branches. It’s heartbreaking.

The highest elevation we reached was 10,857 Feet at Wolf Creek Pass. The high mountain pass also happens to be along the Continental Divide. This now marks the fourth spot on the Divide I’ve visited and they all have their own particular charm. My favorite is still on old Route 66, where hand-carved wooden signs and a cheesy gift shop welcome travelers that pull off the highway to mark their progress.

We continued through several small towns, stopping occasionally for photographs of old neon or cool buildings. West of Alamosa, we passed a freight train with Iowa Pacific railroad. Incredibly, the freight was being pulled by an EMD E9 locomotive, which were built between 1954 and 1964. I pulled over and took some photos, the conductor sounding the horn as I snapped away. What a beauty!

We arrived in Raton, NM in early evening. The Raton Pass Motor Inn is a classic little motor court on the north edge of town, very close to the Colorado border. The lobby is delightfully vintage, complete with mid-century furniture, round-top Westinghouse fridge, console turntable, and one of those fireplaces that look like an Apollo space capsule. Our room for the night was basic, comfortable…and quiet. I had no qualms about leaving Mom there for a bit while I went to take photos of some of the town’s neon signs.

As sunset approached, it looked like the sky might put on a show. I drove to the south edge of town just in time for the clouds to light up with vibrant shades of pink and orange. I took a side road to find a clear spot to photograph the distant mountain range and came across a family of deer having dinner not fifty feet from the road. I pulled over slowly and got out of the car carefully – they didn’t seem to mind me or my camera and stayed put. It was a stroke of luck and a perfect end to the day.

Our drive on Thursday, October 3rd wasn’t quite as taxing. We stopped at an old drive-in theatre in Trinidad, Colorado that I’d seen the day before but had talked myself out of photographing. I’m glad I stopped the second time around; the low clouds gave the place a real spooky vibe. It’s been closed since the late 1980s.

For most of the day, we followed the Santa Fe Trail. There’s a small overlook near Rocky Ford, CO with interpretive panels from the National Park Service that try to give modern travelers an understanding of how frontier migrants would feel when the Rockies came into view…or, conversely, how eastbound families might feel at having an expanse of prairie in front of them after the hardship of crossing through treacherous mountain passes. For us, it was just another mile marker.

It felt like an immediate change when we crossed into Kansas. Of course, the landscape was a lot flatter (no need to mark the elevation on each town’s welcome signage) but the towns felt a lot more isolated. Many of them, to their credit, still had old school cinemas in business and active agriculture business.

Even though it was a much shorter day, we were exhausted when we arrived in Dodge City for the night. On Friday, we only had one real stop on our way to Wichita: Hutchinson, KS.

I wanted to stop and visit a vintage toy shop on Main Street, which was actually rather hard to get to thanks to multiple road closures to prepare for the town’s upcoming Oktoberfest. It was worth the hassle, though, as I found many toys that I hadn’t seen or thought of in decades. Since we were in town, we had lunch at the R-B Drive-In, the state’s oldest drive-in. The onion rings alone were worth the drive.

We stayed with Mom’s cousin on that last night in Wichita. After so much time on the road, it was nice to just sit and visit a while. Additionally, it was fulfilling to hear stories about Mom’s home town of Barnsdall, OK from people other than her. I just listened and took it all in.

We returned home to Tulsa the next day. Our little road trip took an entire week, turning 2,782 miles through seven states. The time we spent together is something I’ll treasure forever. I have to say I’m very glad I didn’t try to squeeze another day of sight-seeing. As I get older, I’m really starting to appreciate rest days before going back to work!

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Going West with Mom (part 3)

After a stunning day at the Grand Canyon, the first day of October marked a literal turning point in our journey. The day began with a re-entry into the National Park and a slow drive east before turning north into Utah. But on the way, we would be stopping at the place that Mom had looked most forward to when the trip was taking shape: Monument Valley.

The fastest way from Tusayan to the Utah border was on Highway 64 and through the Grand Canyon National Park. Once more, I was treated to views of the Grand Canyon I had not experienced on my previous visits. It’s incredible how the shape of the canyon changes, even just from our views along the south rim. At Lipan Point, a large crow stood on the ledge and stared at us. It reminded Mom of her brother’s pet crow, George, back when they were young. Mom’s amazement was just as fresh and authentic as it had been the previous day.

Mom was content to stay in the car as I explored the Desert View Watchtower near the eastern edge of the park. It’s four stories tall and looks much older than it is. The tower was built in 1932, one of several structures designed by Mary Colter for the park. It provides a beautiful view which includes the eastern edge of the canyon and a vast expanse of desert beyond the rim. I wondered what the pioneers felt when the saw this landscape for the first time, unprepared for the indescribable splendor.

Between the Canyon and the Valley, we came across an old Standard Oil service station. I’d seen this station once before, back in 2013 when I was first starting to find my artistic eye. This time, I lingered a while and took photos of the graffiti on the crumbling walls. The old stone fireplace had a small block of text stenciled on one of the rocks. “Let’s be better humans,” it suggested. Another bit of writing said, “Remember who you are…” with Native America scrawled beneath it. It’s a unique spot that won’t last forever. But, then again, what does?

Monument Valley is certainly a place that FEELS like it’s been there forever. It’s my favorite place on Earth. Not just because of its majesty and undeniably Western aura, but because I have so much memory tied up in it. First and foremost, I remember my father. Dad admired John Wayne’s cinematic image, going so far as to collect a great deal of art and memorabilia. I grew up SURROUNDED by imagery of the valley. It continues to be a filming location for movies I adore, but my mind always goes back to the classic movies that made the world aware that the valley was even there.

I remember my first visit with my friend, DeeDee, and the tour we took with a Navajo guide. I remember bringing Samantha here in 2016 and spending the night looking up at the stars, shining brightly above the darkened outlines of the landscape. And now, added to those memories, is Mom smiling broadly and gazing at natural wonder with pure awe.

Although we didn’t take a formal tour, the SUV we’d rented was hearty enough to brave the dusty trail. We spent the afternoon dodging tour vans, appreciating the quiet moments nestled between those spectacular red buttes. I felt so thankful to be in that place again, with the opportunity to share it with someone that is so special to me. We stopped on the way out just to be in the moment and admire the singular beauty of the valley again before continuing our drive.

Our destination was but an hour away in the community of Bluff. When we arrived, it was easy to understand where the name came from. Our hotel was at the base of a long, beautiful rock formation and the nearby cafe was at the base of another one. Combined with the cooler temperatures, it made for a relaxing evening.

Just before bed, I went outside and looked at the stars. Even though we were in town, I was blown away by the sheer volume of celestial representation. I went inside and brought Mom back out with me. When she looked up, she gasped.

On the back porch of that motel room, Lory Martin became little Lory Grim again. It was the sky she saw when she went camping with her family and when she stayed out too late on a school night. The sound of her Dad’s fiddle and her mother’s singing voice came out of the open window of her memory. It was a step back in time before things got so busy and complicated. She put her head on my shoulder and said thank you. It was just a moment, but it was everything.

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Going West with Mom (Part 2)

(part one is available here)

On the morning of Monday, September 30th my mother and I woke and had breakfast at the Globetrotter Lodge in Holbrook, Arizona. Peter Hoeller, the owner, is an excellent host. The small dining room attached to the lobby was full of travelers; each group had a place setting ready for them when they arrived, complete with a small flag to identify their home. I saw several nationalities represented when we sat down.

We immediately struck up a conversation with the couple sitting next to us. She was from Vancouver, he was from New York – though he was originally from Scandinavia. They were taking a long road trip west to their new home in San Francisco. That morning, they were headed to the Painted Desert before continuing west. When I mentioned my involvement with Route 66, they asked if I had any advice. “If you do nothing else on Route 66, stop in Seligman to visit with Angel Delgadillo. Hear his story. And then take the Oatman Highway west of Kingman. It’s the most scenic segment of 66 on the entire stretch,” I said. They sounded excited and we parted in good cheer.

Our journey that day wasn’t nearly as long as our previous days, but we still got rounded up and headed out early. For the most part, we headed directly to the Grand Canyon…but I couldn’t resist driving through Williams, AZ to show off their vibrant downtown. We drove Highway 64 north from there, passing the Grand Canyon Railway train as it headed towards the same destination. Seeing the train brought back strong memories of my time aboard the same train with Samantha in 2016.

When we passed by Bedrock City, a Flintstones-themed amusement park, I noticed a moving truck and people packing up the last of the closed attraction’s gift shop after 47 years. I wasn’t surprised, as I’d heard this would be their last year…but Mom was sad. She had fond memories of watching the Flintstones as a youngster, during their prime-time days. Alas, nothing lasts forever. It will soon be a new attraction called Raptor Ranch.

The park ranger that welcomed us to Grand Canyon National Park couldn’t have been nicer. He saw Mom’s drivers license and mentioned that his girlfriend was from Broken Arrow. When he saw the handicapped tag in the car, he gave us a sheet of paper that allowed us to drive in restricted areas so that Mom didn’t have to struggle on-and-off the shuttle buses with her walker. It was a kindness that made a huge difference in our day.

Finally, we had arrived. We parked and took a short walk out to Mather Point, the first overlook from the gate. At the moment the grandeur of the canyon came into view, I could hear Mom quietly say, “Oh…wow.” I remembered that overwhelming feeling the first time I saw the Canyon; it brought me great joy to help Mom have the same experience. We stayed there for a while, standing silently and taking it all in. I could tell the walk had taken a lot out of Mom, and recommended we go back to the car and see how the drive was thanks to our special access pass.

Although I’ve been to the Grand Canyon several times now, I hadn’t really explored the full South Rim. On this day, Mom and I were both able to experience views for the first time. All told, it was a magnificent experience. Several of the turnouts allowed us to pull up right to the rock wall, where Mom could look out into the canyon unobstructed without leaving the car. One of the overlooks was so lovely that we returned to it that evening for a sunset viewing. I will forever be grateful to the park ranger for providing that experience.

Overnight, we stayed at the Red Feather Lodge in Tusayan (the town just south of the park entrance.) I chose it because they had a distinctive neon sign out front, just like the old days, though I first viewed it digitally from many miles away. During our stay, I learned that the hotel’s founder had quite a history. R.P. “Bob” Thurston moved to Williams in 1927, one year after Route 66 was established. He became a well-known businessman in town, eventually becoming mayor before buying a ranch near the Grand Canyon. Bob persuaded the state to pave the road from Williams, after which time he built the first service businesses for tourists and established the community of Tusayan itself. Red Feather Lodge was built in the mid-1960s, making it the first lodging available outside of the National Park boundary. What a story!

We rested comfortably that night, knowing that the next day we would start our journey back east. But we had a lot of sights to see yet, including my favorite place on the planet: Monument Valley.

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Going West with Mom (Part One)

A few months ago, I realized I had a week of vacation I had to take this year and Samantha didn’t have matching time available. I wanted to take a long road trip but I didn’t feel like spending that week alone. So, I called my mother. “Where have you always wanted to go?” I asked. When she mentioned she’d never been to the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, I knew where I would be spending my week. And with whom!

I picked Mom up early on the morning of Saturday, September 28th and hit the turnpike west. We had a lot of miles to cover to get to Arizona and back! Mom was giddy with excitement. Although we’d explored Washington DC in 2013 (goodness, has it been THAT long?) this would be our first road trip together since I was a kid. I was just as excited to share the journey with her, which included a few stops on my beloved Route 66.

Our first major stop was in a small town in the Texas panhandle: Pampa. Mom lived there when she was very young and this would be her first time back since moving to Oklahoma in the mid-1960s. A lot had changed, but a lot hadn’t.

We stopped at several houses in Pampa where she’d lived with her Mom, Dad, and two brothers. As we drove by them, she recalled memories of her childhood. When she was nine, she asked her older brother if she could help stir potatoes he was cooking for dinner; from that day on, she was expected to cook meals for the family. She laughed as she pointed out the highway off-ramp where she crashed her bike by going too fast (she had thought it would make for a shorter ride to school.) She spoke of her father’s service station and the hotel coffee shop where her mother worked. I just sat and listened.

That first night, we stayed in Tucumcari at the incomparable Blue Swallow Motel. Kevin and Nancy always take good care of their guests and it was great to have a visit. After dinner (at Del’s Restaurant, my Tucumcari go-to) the fire pit was lit and we made s’mores, solving the problems of the world while the neon buzzed happily nearby. It was perfect.

Sunday was another long day of driving, but we made time to stop off at interesting spots along the way. In Santa Rosa, I diverted off of 66 and went south. Mom happily rode along as I photographed some old ghost towns along Highway 60. She was surprised when I turned off the highway onto a side-road seemingly in the middle of nowhere. That’s when she noticed the giant, white satellite dishes in the distance.

The Very Large Array is made up of 27 radio telescopes which can be ferried across the array on rails, which cover roughly 22 square miles of land. They are arranged depending on their current use; when we visited, the dishes were scattered as far as the eye could see. Although Mom’s mobility issues kept her at the Visitor’s Center, I walked out to a nearby dish to get a closer look. It’s mind-blowing how large these things are! The VLA is a magnificent testament to scientific achievement and man’s insatiable curiosity.

We continued west into Arizona, exploring the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. Mom was amazed not just by the views in the park, but at the dinosaur skeletons on view in the little museum. Somehow I didn’t know she loved that kind of thing; she had the biggest smile I’d yet seen on the trip. We finished up right as the park was closing and sped out to the Jackrabbit Trading Post in Joseph City. The owners had stayed late so we could say hello. Thank you Cindy!

Sunday night’s accommodations were at the Globetrotter Lodge, my favorite place to spend the night in Holbrook. I seriously cannot recommend the place enough: the staff is very friendly, the rooms are comfortable, and the vibe just feels like home. On the way to dinner, we pulled into the Wigwam Motel so Mom could see the quirky concrete tepees for herself. The fading light of sunset encouraged me to linger a few minutes and take some photos.

We’d only been on the road two days, but so many memories had already been made. I knew our Big Ticket days were just ahead, though. I was eager to be there with Mom as she saw the Grand Canyon with her own eyes for the first time.

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The Eng Family

While researching my book, Lost Restaurants of Tulsa, I met and interviewed a lot of people. During that process, I learned a lot about various family histories tied to eateries of the city’s past. One of my favorite stories is that of the Eng Family. Their journey weaves in and around generations of family, friends, and communities…but the centerpiece has always been food.

The Mandarin Cafe; photo courtesy of Jean Eng

Although the Tulsa part of their story begins in 1930 with the opening of the Mandarin Cafe (the city’s first Chinese restaurant) it actually starts quite a bit earlier. The Engs emigrated from China to the Honolulu Territory of Hawaii around 1880. Even then, the family was known for their cooking skills and worked as chefs and caterers. Albert Eng was born in 1893.

Honolulu Chinatown fire of 1900; photo courtesy of HawaiiHistory.com

In 1899, the plague came to town. Attempts to control the outbreak escalated to burning houses of the dead; in 1900, one of those fires got out of control and the entire Chinatown district of Honolulu burned down. The Eng Family recovered, though, and opened a new restaurant a few years later on the corner of Hotel and Mounakea Streets, across from the famous Wo Fat building.

In June of 1915, Albert (21 years old) left the island and traveled to San Francisco. He spent a whole month exploring the World’s Fair and worked at a Chinese fruit orchard east of town. During his time there, family in St. Louis wrote and asked him to join them as they opened the Grand Inn on Grande Avenue, about half-a-mile from the Mississippi River. In late 1915, Albert did just that. He stayed there until the next year, when more of his family wrote and asked for his help running the Golden Pheasant Inn in Chicago. Albert moved once again.

The Golden Pheasant Inn was on the corner of Clark and Madison Streets. It had a large dance floor; a ten-piece orchestra played three times a day. It was a prosperous time in a rapidly-growing city. When the US entered World War I in 1917, Albert moved back to Hawaii and enlisted in the National Guard. It was then that he met Violet Tseu, who he later married.

Former site of the Golden Pheasant Cafe in Okmulgee

During this time, the Golden Pheasant Inn in Chicago lost its lease. Several partners from the restaurant (Albert’s brothers Yuen, Pui, and Phillip Eng along with Joe King) moved to Okmulgee, Oklahoma in 1919 to serve oil field workers. They purchased the Busy Bee Restaurant at 219 E 6th Street and renamed it the Golden Pheasant Cafe. It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; in fact, business was so strong that the Engs sent for the rest of their family in Honolulu.

The Eng House in Okmulgee; photo courtesy of Andy Eng

Pui Eng had a huge house built on Rogers Avenue for the entire family. It had seven bedrooms, a sun porch and large living room, a dining room table big enough to seat 22, even a chicken coop. Under that roof lived Albert and his wife Violet, Pui and his wife Margaret, Phillip and his wife Elizabeth, Buck Eng, Joe King, and others. Business was good there until the oil wells went dry in 1929. The Great Depression hit later that year, closing the doors of the Golden Pheasant for good.

Eng’s Cafe in Bartlesville moved several times; one of their locations is now the Painted Horse Bar and Grille

When the restaurant in Okmulgee closed, the family split up. Some of the Engs moved to the Houston, TX area. Albert and his family moved to Muskogee and operated the Yangtze Restaurant for a few years. In 1939, they moved to Bartlesville and ran a number of restaurants (notably Eng’s Cafe) and enjoyed success. Albert retired in 1962 but lived to the ripe old age of 106. He passed away in 1999.

The Mandarin Cafe in the shadow of the Exchange National Bank Building; photo courtesy of the Beryl Ford Collection

Back in 1930, some of the partners from the Golden Pheasant moved to Tulsa. Brothers Pui and Phillip Eng, along with their wives Margaret and Elizabeth, Buck Eng, Margaret’s brother Loy Pang, and Joe King settled downtown and opened The Mandarin Cafe at 118 E 3rd Street, across from the bustling Hotel Tulsa. Here, too, the restaurant was open all day, every day and enjoyed strong business. Those early years also had more than its fair share of family tragedy. Pui Eng died in 1933; his brother Phillip died five years later.

Margaret and Elizabeth Eng, along with Joe King at the Mandarin Cafe in downtown Tulsa; photo courtesy of Andy Eng.

Their wives, Margaret and Elizabeth respectively, took over the front-of-house restaurant operations while Joe King and Loy Pang helped run the two-burner wok in the back. The women worked rotating 12 hour shifts and became fixtures of the downtown dining scene. Margaret’s daughter Peggy and Elizabeth’s boys (Clarence, Lawrence, and Donald) helped out as they could since the entire family lived above the restaurant. Margaret later married Joe King. Peggy met Jimmy Char on a trip to Honolulu and fell in love.

Elizabeth Eng with her boys Donald, Clarence, and Lawrence; photo courtesy of Andy Eng

In 1963, the Mandarin Cafe building was sold to the National Bank of Tulsa for a new drive-up facility. The restaurant closed and Elizabeth Eng retired.

Image courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

Peggy and Jimmy Char, along with Joe and Margaret King and other family members, opted to keep the family tradition going. The next year, they opened the Pagoda near 51st and Peoria. It quickly became a Tulsa favorite and stayed in the family until 1979 when it was sold to Ben and Virginia Torres.

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

In 1969, Joe King’s family (the Jow’s) opened Ming Palace at 21st and Yale. In 1979, the next generation of the Jow family opened The Golden Palace, just down the street from The Pagoda. Over the years, members of the Jow family became known for their other restaurants in Tulsa (such as Ming’s Noodle Bar) and other eateries in Houston, TX.

The final day of business at the Golden Palace

After forty years, nearly to the day, The Golden Palace closed in mid-2019. The tradition continues, however: the Jow family is currently working on opening a new restaurant near 6th and Boston, just a few blocks away from where Joe King helped establish the city’s original Chinese restaurant.

My wife and I with Jean Eng and two of her daughters

It’s been an amazing journey for me, personally. I’ve gotten to know Jean Eng (wife of the late Don Eng) and her daughters. I’ve met the Jow brothers and had multiple conversations with various family members across the country. In short, it’s been a blessing.

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