Throwback Article – Claud’s Hamburgers

While researching my upcoming book about Lost Tulsa Restaurants, I came across a decades-old article about a Tulsa burger institution that is still going strong in the 21st century.  It’s one of my all-time favorite local burger joints, Claud’s.  I got a kick out of it and thought you all might enjoy it, too!

Claud’s Family-Owned Hamburger Haven Still Heavenly

by Suzanne Holloway / World Food Editor / Tulsa World / Friday, December 12, 1980

Hamburgers were invented 80 years ago at Louis Lassen’s Lunch in New Haven, Conn., according to “Roadfood,” a guide to regional restaurants. Some rowdy sailors from Hamburg, Germany, contributed the name, the story goes.  Today the building that housed the tiny restaurant is a New Haven landmark and Louis III still broils the same style burger and serves it on toast with cheese, Bermuda onions and tomato. (2017 Edit: not so fast, Connecticut!  A burger needs a bun, not toast.  Here’s a little more about the invention of the hamburger as we know it…)

Claud’s, 3814 S Peoria Ave., came along 54 years later and it’s part of a fading genre – a family owned hamburger restaurant that has survived the competition of fast food chains.

Claud’s has a counter with 12 stools, a big carry-out business and a clientele that includes both truck drivers and Mercedes owners.  The hamburger, now a national institution, is the great leveler. “That’s what I like about it,” owner Claud Hobson admits.  “I see people every day from every walk of life and every educational and income level.”

“His hamburgers are the old fashioned greasy kind you hardly ever find anymore,” one loyal customer explained. Hobson thinks she means “juicy” instead of “greasy.”  He takes pride in buying good grade chuck and grinding it without removing any fat.  That adds flavor and moisture, he believes.

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We visited Claud’s the day after Thanksgiving and his plain cheeseburger tasted wonderful after a surplus of rich holiday foods.  We were lucky to find two adjoining seats, but customers were soon standing behind us waiting to be seated.  It’s fun to watch the fast moving production line at work in the narrow cooking space.  Hobson has the meat patties stacked to his left, buns in a stainless steel box and the cut French fries under the counter behind him.

When a patty “hits the grill” he sprinkles it with salt and nothing more.  No fancy seasonings.  The bun halves are warmed on a separate section of the grill and the finished burger is passed on to his son Larry who covers the bun generously with mustard and garnishes it with a pickle and onion slices.  He also sacks orders for carryouts.  Another son, Clifford, comes in early to order food “to set up.”  Everybody knows his job and nobody crosses over unless an emergency occurs, Hobson said.

Patties are thin and Hobson presses them down with a pancake turner.  This isn’t a California style kitchen and you needn’t expect hamburgers to be topped with everything from avocado slices to bean sprouts and piccalilli.  Hobson will “work with the customer” and you can have onions cooked with the meat, a tomato slice and mayonnaise instead of mustard, if you insist.  But never lettuce.  “I respect people who like lettuce, but it chances the taste of a hamburger,” Hobson said.

The plain hamburger is 85 cents, a double meat burger, $1.65 and a cheeseburger, $1.05.  Even if you like thick burgers with all the extras, you’ll find Claud’s hamburgers delicious.  French fries have a fresh taste and the creamy coleslaw, made from a family recipe, has a slightly sweet flavor.  Hobson once was a cook for Bishops, a restaurant fondly remembered by longtime Tulsans.  He opened his first hamburger place in 1954 at 6102 E Admiral Place and moved to his present location in 1965.  Claud’s has stainless steel equipment, freshly painted white walls and a neat look.

37 years later and the Claud’s I know is exactly the same.  Here’s a snapshot of another article I found, dated almost a year later (10/8/1981).  Thankfully, the stools were replaced at some point after.

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Palace on the Prairie

It feels like it’s been a lot longer than three weeks since I’ve taken a road trip.  The end of August was pretty busy:  my article in Tulsa People came out, I prepped a selection of my photography for display at a local coffee shop, and I spent Labor Day weekend at DragonCon in Atlanta.  I woke up today with a blank calendar and a strong desire to spend some time in the driver’s seat.  It didn’t take long for Samantha and me to decide on a destination, and before 9:00 AM we were heading northwest to Ponca City.

I’ve been to Ponca several times before; however, it’s always been a quick stop without much exploration.  Several friends had recently spoken very highly of the Marland Mansion and we were both game for a historic home tour.  Not far from our destination, a sign on the highway grabbed my attention and diverted our path.

101 RANCH NATIONAL
HISTORIC LANDMARK ->

Michael Wallis had told me several fascinating stories about the ranch when we spent time on the road together earlier this year.  Similar to the Marland Mansion, it was a place I’d heard about for ages but had never actually seen myself.  We took the rough county road through the countryside to the remains of the Miller Bros’ 101 Ranch.

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The ranch had been an enormous operation consisting of a refinery, cafe, dairy operation, & general store.  When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the ranch was most known for their Wild West Show that included the likes of Bill Pickett, Tom Mix, even Buffalo Bill Cody himself.  Oil was discovered (with the help of E.W. Marland, who we’ll talk about in a minute) and the ranch flourished. Around the time Route 66 was established in 1926, it was the largest diversified farm and ranch in America at 110,000 acres.  Michael calls it, “the epicenter of where the West of imagination collided with the West of reality.”

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By the Great Depression, though, things had changed.  Two of the three Miller brothers had died, the Wild West Show was no longer a big attraction, and eventually bankruptcy was declared.  All that’s left today is a collection of historic markers, the foundation of the magnificent White House, and a few scattered outbuildings.  Several colonies of fire ants are the only modern occupants at the 101.

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Ponca City wasn’t far away.  We had some time before the daily Mansion tour, so we stopped in at the Pioneer Woman Museum.  Boy, am I glad we did!  The museum is small but packed with some really cool stuff.  The main exhibit is a showcase of prairie life from back in the Land Run days; the lady at the front desk even showed how the old turn-of-the-century looms worked!  The temporary exhibits were tailor-made for Samantha: one on quilting and one on notable Oklahoma women in the news!  We could’ve spent hours poring over the artifacts and detailed profiles, but we had to get to the tour.

Now, I’ll admit something here.  I had always thought the “Marland Grand Home” was the mansion everyone was talking about.  The Grand Home was built in 1916 and sits close to Ponca City Hall.  It’s nice and all, but, it’s not the Marland Mansion.  The Mansion was built a decade later in a more secluded part of town and is a LOT MORE IMPRESSIVE.

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The Mansion looks more like an Italian castle.  It consists of 43,000 square feet spread out over 55 rooms on three floors.  12 of those rooms are bedrooms and 3 are kitchens.  In addition to the main house, the grounds contained a game sanctuary, a T-shaped swimming pool (each section being Olympic-size in length), a chain of five lakes, a boathouse, stables, a garage, a golf course, and polo grounds.  The Mansion took three years to build; it’s massive.

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E.W. Marland himself had an interesting life.  He grew up in Pennsylvania and became a self-made millionaire by the age of 33 thanks to his work in the oil industry.  However, E.W. lost his fortune in the financial panic of 1907.  He moved to the new state of Oklahoma and he struck it rich again; by 1920, he was worth $85 million and controlled 1/10th of the world’s known oil reserves.  He parlayed his riches and industry into the founding of the Marland Oil Company; unfortunately, less then a decade later, he lost his fortune a second time. Banker J.P. Morgan Jr. bribed the board of Marland Oil while E.W. was away and forced him out; Morgan turned the empire into CONOCO and Marland was once again without cash flow.

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Though he never regained massive wealth, E.W. took what he had left and went into politics.  He became a representative to the US Congress and the state’s 10th Governor. Because of his loss of income, he only lived in his extravagant Mansion for two years. He moved into the chauffer’s cottage and eventually sold the grounds to Carmelite Monks.  Sisters of the order turned the place into a girl’s school, which it remained until the Mansion was sold to the city in 1975.

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The most interesting part of Marland’s story, though, is his personal life.  He’d married in Pennsylvania but didn’t have any children.  After moving to the Sooner State, he and his wife Mary Virginia adopted her sister’s two children (George and Lydie).  Virginia suffered from a chronic illness and died in 1926; two years later, E.W. had Lydie’s adoption annulled and he took her as his second wife.  She was 28, he was 54…and they were together until he died in 1941.  Needless to say, their relationship was a topic of much discussion.

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There’s a LOT more to these stories; I need to sit down and read The Real Wild West and watch the new documentary based on Marland’s life.  As it was, though, walking through the grand mansion was quite a treat.  I highly recommend going on the guided tour; we learned a lot and were given access to rooms that are normally off-limits.

Full photos from the Marland Mansion here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cloudlesslens/sets/72157688831273455

We wrapped our day in Ponca with a terrific meal at the local-owned Garrett Wrangler Restaurant.  I had breakfast, Sam had turkey and dressing, and we both shared a slice of pie.  A day trip from Tulsa doesn’t get much better than that.

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DragonCon 2017

2017 marked my eighth year as an attendee at Atlanta’s DragonCon.  For the uninitiated, DragonCon is one of the biggest pop-culture conventions of the year.  Most people have heard of Comic-Con, and this is kind of like that — but it covers so much more.  It started as a celebration of fantasy culture (hence the name) over 25 years ago.  At some point, the content expanded to cover everything in the geek/nerd world:  television, anime, comics, puppetry, science, writing, art, cosplay, and so much more.  The convention itself became a chapter in the book of pop culture.  No matter what your nerdy heart is passionate about, you’ll find a family at DragonCon.

That’s what brings me back every year:  family.  It’s interesting to look back and see how things have changed in my life since that first, somewhat spur-of-the-moment road trip I took in 2010.  Six of us piled into my friend Brad’s van and we drove overnight from Oklahoma to Georgia for the festivities.  Our traveling group has fluctuated through the years, but there’s always been a friend from home that has joined me for the journey.  The Con itself, though, just continues to grow.  The crowd estimates from my first year were about 35-40k.  This year they estimated over 80,000 people descended on downtown Atlanta.  Some days, just walking from A to B is a challenge.

My Con family also continues to expand.  I spend most of my time each year wandering the halls of the host hotels, snapping photos of people in costume and being a part of some of the best conversations.  There are many familiar faces now, some of which I don’t know by name.  We know each other by sight (and sometimes, by costume.)  We light up, say hello, & talk about how life has been over the last twelve months.  We talk about our fandoms and remark to one another about the amazing craftsmanship on display from the heavy-duty costume creators.  It’s the largest family reunion you’ve ever heard of.

Most years, I don’t go to any panels.  There are always celebrities that attend and host Q&A panels, but it’s rare that I’m so excited about one that I’m willing to sacrifice hours in line just to see them in person.  With many, I’m able to visit the Walk of Fame (the autograph room) and just chat for a minute during a slow time.  And, if I am wandering at the right place at the right time, I may just run into someone in one of the many lobby areas.  That’s how I’ve met Walter Koenig, Richard Hatch, David Warner, Carol Spinney, and others.  Those names may not mean anything to some people, but to the fans of their particular genres these names are well known.

So, I wandered.  I visited with old friends and took the time to make new ones.  As you can imagine, I took hundreds of photographs over the four day event.  I’ve embedded a few of my favorites at the end of this post.  The entire photo set is uploaded to my Flickr account here:

Flickr

To my Con friends:  thanks for the good times and I’ll see you all again next year.

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Samurai Darth Vader

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Arya from Game of Thrones

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Twister!

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Taco Belle and Chihuahua Beast

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Hades from Disney’s Hercules

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Ganondorf from Legend of Zelda

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Lady Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas

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I Love Lucy

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Vietnam era soldier; the backpack played era-specific music and radio broadcasts

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‘Fork the Patriarchy’ Ariel

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Oklahoma Route 66 in Tulsa People Magazine

I’m so very proud to announce that the September issue of Tulsa People is out – which includes a four-page article I wrote that highlights some of the sights to see along Oklahoma Route 66!

It’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it inspires people to get out and experience the road for yourself.  The magazines are free and available at many places around town:

Google Maps Link of Distribution Locations

If you’re not in the Tulsa area, there’s a digital version of it here:

Tulsa People – Oklahoma’s Mother Road

Oklahoma Route 66

Oklahoma Route 66

Also, in the month of September I will have a photo exhibition at Fair Fellow Coffee in Tulsa.  It’s a great little coffee shop in the Kendall-Whittier District, right on the original alignment of Route 66.  Stop in and support a small business if you’re in the area!

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Sunshine and Storm Clouds: Part II

After enjoying lunch at the Cozy Inn on Saturday, I set out to explore more of Salina, Kansas.  You can read about the first part of my day here.

Salina KS-4

For a town of about 50,000 it has a TON of beautiful architecture.  The United Building, just a few doors down from the Cozy Inn, was built in 1929; the terracotta facade reminded me a lot of Tulsa.  The downtown district had several cool neon signs, a few sculptures, and a GORGEOUS old theatre!

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The Stiefel Theatre was built in 1931 as the Fox-Watson, which was a movie house for sixty years.  It also served as a live venue, something which continues today.  The art deco gem was restored in 2003 and operates as a non-profit.

Coronado Heights-2

After a few circuits of downtown Salina, I drove south to Coronado Heights.  A fellow at the Cozy Inn had recommended it and I’m glad he did.  Atop a hill outside of Lindsborg KS sits a little limestone castle, built by the WPA in the 1930s.  Many people were taking advantage of the walking/biking trails that surround the hilltop park but I just walked around the main building and took in the scenic view.  The clouds I’d seen in Salina looked a lot more impressive…or perhaps they had grown a lot in the last hour.  They were far away, so no big deal.

Lindsborg Bridges-2

I made a quick stop in Lindsborg afterwards.  It’s known as Little Sweden thanks to the nationality of the original founders and the town’s continued embrace of that heritage.  Gentle music flowed from hidden speakers as I walked Main Street; murals and storefronts all gave a strong Nordic vibe.  The old truss bridge on the south side of town (now a pedestrian crossing) proudly exclaims VALKOMMEN!  I gotta bring Sam back here for a weekend, perhaps in the winter.

Wichita Minisa Bridge-4

The storm clouds I’d seen at a distance weren’t so far away when I arrived in Wichita, but the sun was still shining.  I pulled into the empty parking lot at the Wichita North High School and stared in wonder at the architecture.  It was somewhat reminiscent of the Will Rogers High School back home with the intricate design elements, which consisted of Native American imagery.  Likewise, the historic Minisa Bridge next to the school was lined with bison and Native American motifs.  They were sculpted out of Carthalite, a local material made of sand and crushed glass.  When the bridge was replaced in 2008, they saved the historic artwork.  I’m so glad they did!  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

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By the time I left Wichita, it had started sprinkling.  I was hammered with an intermittent deluge as I continued south; thankfully, it quieted down for a few minutes as I drew closer to my final stop. The Ninnescah River Bridge near Belle Plaine was down four miles of gravel road; with the rain, the lane had turned to rocky slush.  I drove the Mustang carefully, avoiding areas that looked eager to claim a vehicular victim.  I made it to the bridge and was able to take a few photos before it started raining again.  After a stressful multi-point turn in the middle of nowhere, I headed back down the saturated street and made it to pavement without getting stuck.

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Right as I returned to I-35, a big storm hit.  I had to pull off to the shoulder several times due to poor visibility and/or hail.  Once it would clear, I’d drive on for a few miles and encounter another pocket of storm.  At one point, I was driving at a steady 40 mph (hazard lights on, of course) when I saw a peculiar flicker of light in front of me, at the edge of my visibility.  It happened again, and then I realized it was a car spinning out-of-control.  It slammed into the concrete guardrail and came to a stop, sitting horizontally across the southbound lanes.  The left front end was completely smashed.  I was prepared to stop and offer aid, but the driver pointed the car in the right direction and kept driving, albeit much slower.  I guess everything inside was okay.

Kay County Sunset-4

Storms continued to fire after I crossed the Oklahoma border, but I-35 was spared from them. I pulled into a rest area to get a shot of the beautiful sunset.  It had been a wonderful day of travel, one that exceeded my expectations.  By the time I arrived home at 9:30, I’d been on the road for fourteen hours.  Sam had baked a cake, a piece of which I eagerly devoured before going to bed.

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Sunshine and Storm Clouds: Part I

“It feels good to not set an alarm,” I told Samantha Friday night.  She smiled a knowing smile and said, “Doesn’t matter.  You have road trip brain; you’re gonna get up early anyway.”  She was right.  Since I was planning a day trip through Kansas on Saturday, I woke without aid before 7:00 AM.  By 7:30 I was gassed up, cup of coffee in hand, & headed north on Highway 75.

Burlington

Though I hadn’t driven 75 north past the Oklahoma border much in the last ten years or so, that highway holds a lot of memories for me.  I lived in Topeka Kansas in 1999-2001 and drove back to Tulsa frequently to visit friends.  Since my family stayed in Topeka for a time after I moved back to Oklahoma, I continued to drive up there to visit them through at least 2005.  Forgotten memories came to the surface as I turned miles: places where my ’88 Merkur Scorpio broke down, the spot in New Strawn where I ran out of gas in the middle of the night with my first girlfriend, stretches of road where I frantically passed lines of cars in a race north to convince my father he had a lot to live for.  In all those years, I never ventured off the highway to explore; this time, I weaved through a few small towns and was delighted at what I found.  I’ve changed a lot since those days of destination driving.

Neosho River Bridge-3

North of Burlington, I turned off of Highway 75 and headed west.  I took gravel roads through the Flint Hills Wildlife Refuge to my first stop, a marsh arch bridge over the Neosho River.  I’d never seen one of these bridges so covered in graffiti.  Most of it was tied to graduating students, undoubtedly from the nearby town of Hartford.  The oldest tag I could find was from 1980; spray-painting the old bridge has been a Write of Passage for some time.

Neosho Rapids Bridge-8

Not far away, my second destination was one I was really looking forward to.  The bridge that spans the same river in Neosho Rapids is a rare cantilever design, meaning the bridge is anchored only on the ends; support comes from continuous structural steel construction. The bridges often have a differentiating shape, too; as you can see in the photo, it definitely looks different than the normal truss bridges I post.  It’s the last of its kind in the Sunflower State.  I waved at the occasional pickup truck that passed while I buzzed around.  In the distance, a train horn sounded.

eclipse highway

Once I was finished, I continued northwest.  When I merged onto I-35 N, I was surprised to find myself sandwiched between no less than a dozen RVs.  License plates were from all over the place:  Florida, California, Louisiana, Texas.  When I saw a KDOT billboard, I realized why.  Eclipse Traffic!  Nebraska was in the totality zone for the solar eclipse, just two days away.  All these folks were motoring north to camp out for it.  Traffic was heavier than normal all the way to Salina, where I exited.  Good luck to them!  I’d hate to travel that far to be thwarted by overcast skies.

Salina KS

Salina KS is home to the Cozy Inn, which has been serving hamburgers for nearly a century.  The owner was inspired by the brand-new White Castle and started serving his own slider-style burgers in 1922.  They still have a walk-up window and lots of outdoor seating, but I went inside and sat at the end of the counter. I took the last of six stools.  The owner greeted me warmly and asked, “First time?”  I said yes, which promted him to give me the run down:

Burgers are slider-style and served with onions cooked-in; no exceptions.  No cheese, so don’t ask.  They come with pickle, which can be left off.  Ketchup and Mustard on the counter.  People normally eat four to six.  You can order a batch to go or just order them a few at a time until you cry uncle and we’ll settle up.  Chips are over there, soda is also available.  Now, how many do ya want?

Salina KS-2

I ordered a Pepsi & pair of burgers, which were served to me within a minute.  They were, indeed, small but super tasty; I can see why they’ve been rated as one of the best burgers in Kansas.  I ended up eating four total, though I could’ve eaten more.  While I sat and enjoyed my lunch, folks came up to the walk-up window and they also took a few phone-in orders.  Most of the call-ins were for huge numbers, I’m talking 36 burgers in a single order.  When you factor in the small size, though, that makes sense for a family.  Heck, my brother would probably eat a dozen all on his own.  I thanked them for an excellent meal and set out to explore a bit more of the town.

The temperature had settled somewhere in the mid-nineties; the sunshine beat down on me as I walked, but I could see a few clouds forming on the horizon.  Those would come into play as I headed back south, which I’ll talk about in my next post…

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Coasting to a Close

After Lucy the Elephant last Wednesday, the family met up at the boardwalk in Ocean City.  I figured it would be more of the same since I’d seen the boardwalk in Wildwood…and it was, really, but the shops and attractions in Ocean City gave off a different vibe.

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Ocean City was better designed for children, that’s for sure.  There were more candy/ice cream shops, miniature golf courses, and a couple of clearly kid-friendly ride areas.  They had a ton of t-shirt vendors, just like Wildwood, but they were scattered between a greater variety of other shops.  After a dinner of great local pizza, we spent most of our time in Wonderland, the biggest concentration of kiddie rides on the boardwalk.  It dates back to 1929 and boasts one of the largest Ferris wheels on the east coast!

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The last time I rode any kind of fair rides, I got super dizzy and sick.  (I blame the blood pressure meds I take for my migraines.)  I was happy to buzz around and take photos as everyone else split their time riding with the kids.  The girls loved every minute, dragging the nearest adult onto the kiddie coaster, the carousel, and the Dumbo knock-off ride.  The adults laughed and screamed aboard the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Himalaya.  Tyler and Mom even braved the Drop Ride on their own.  Everyone had a spectacular time; we didn’t make it back to the house until after dark.

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Our last two days at the Shore were filled with time at the beach and in Sea Isle City.  Samantha made apple pie, we got ice cream at the family’s traditional place in town, played dominoes, went to the Arcade, and went for walks along the water’s edge.  When Friday evening descended, it was hard to believe that a whole week had gone by.  Saying goodbye to family when you know it’ll be a while before you see each other again is always tough.  We took solace in the many new memories we’d made together.

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Saturday morning, everyone parted ways.  Our group (me, Sam, Mom, and Tyler) drove to Philadelphia and returned the rental car, leaving us more-or-less stranded at an airport hotel all day.  It did allow us to make it to the airport early on Sunday, though, as our flight left at 7:00 AM.  After another mad dash through DFW, we were once again home.  I was able to see some of the tornado damage for myself and was shocked that our home escaped the storm.

My next big trip is only a few weeks ago, when I return to DragonCon for my eighth year!  I’m excited to see my friends again and take photos of all the awesome cosplayers.  Though I don’t have any local trips planned between now and then, you never know where weekend restlessness will lead me…

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