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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Bartlesville, Bridges, and Buddy

When I woke up this morning, I wanted to go somewhere. I also didn’t want to go anywhere. My day-to-day has been so busy lately that I haven’t had much of an opportunity to take any road trips and I’ve been fiending for more time behind the wheel. I’m also just plain worn out…so a day on the couch sounded wonderful. It took about an hour of talking to myself before I finally decided to get out of bed and make something of the day. What better motivation is there than the promise of a delicious meal? I hadn’t been to Bartlesville in quite a while, so after I made myself presentable and got into the car I ventured north.

Today-2

I arrived in downtown B’ville an hour later, but it wasn’t quite lunch time yet. I bought some coffee beans at Outpost Coffee, a local roaster that has restored a vintage Brilliant Bronze service station. It’s beautiful! I still had some time before lunch & wandered over to the library to look through some of their old phone directories. Yes, I did have a purpose. I don’t look through old phone books for fun.

Well, I kinda do, but, never mind that now.

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Once the clock ticked over to 11:00, I drove to my delicious destination: Murphy’s Steak House. This humble little spot on SW Frank Phillips Blvd is legendary. It was started by Melvel and Lorene Murphy in 1946; although it’s been through a fire and a tornado over the years, the food hasn’t changed a bit. The specialty of the house (and my consistent selection) is the Hot Hamburger: a patty of meat on toast, covered in fries, with brown Gravy Over All. Like all diners of its era, there’s a counter near the kitchen. Of Course that’s where I sat and enjoyed my meal.

Today-3

Satisfied and (a little too) full, I re-entered the sauna of the outside world. I walked around downtown, seeking a specific address I’d found in the aforementioned phone directories. Back before Murphy’s opened their doors, there was a restaurant downtown called Eng’s Cafe. It was owned and operated by a member of the same family that ran The Mandarin Cafe from Tulsa’s past; I’d featured The Mandarin my book Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. The building that housed Eng’s Cafe still stands, and it’s actually still a restaurant: The Painted Horse Bar & Grille. I will have to see if I can find a picture of the old place.

Today-11

I had plenty of day left, so I opted for a little bridge-hunting. Northwest of Dewey, beyond the Caney River, is a favorite span of mine. The Mission Creek Bridge dates back to the late 1920s and looks like a portal into another world thanks to its placement at the base of a thickly-wooded hill. I could tell the area had suffered from the recent floods as the road was full of potholes and ruts. The Mustang made it fine, though, and before long I was heading back to the main highway.

Today-15

When I looked back at my map, I noticed a marker for a bridge nearby that I hadn’t yet explored. I set my GPS and went east. My path took me through Wann, technically a town but there isn’t much to it aside from a post office and a collection of houses. The remnants of a convenience store sit behind a simple roadside attraction: Six Flag Poles Over Wann America. It’s exactly what it sounds like. There was also a cool abandoned stone WPA-style building, which from what I could find used to be the school gym.

Today-16

Eleven miles farther east, I made my next stop: the Hickory Creek Bridge. Although it supposedly once carried old Highway 169, it was hard to imagine serious traffic on the pitted gravel lane. I took photos for maybe five minutes before a tired green minivan approached me from the south. It came to a stop near me and a man’s voice called out: “You like old steel bridges, do ya?”

The driver’s name was Buddy. He was a sixty-year-old retired employee of the county, a learning blacksmith that also restored old cemeteries in his free time. He turned his car off and I knew we’d be chatting a while. In between spits of tobacco, we talked about the craftsmanship of steel truss bridges and he tried to think of other bridges he could point me to.

At one point, a truck came up behind him, then came alongside. “Hey, Buddy! Everything okay?” the driver asked, looking at me warily.  Everything was indeed okay, and Buddy immediately engaged his friend’s help to come up with a list of bridges. I stood there and smiled as Buddy and his friend went back-and-forth on various topics, including the fact that the road to the church Buddy attends needed to be graded in a bad way. By the time the truck driver drove off, Buddy had come up with three bridges.

Today-17

“West side of Coffeyville,” he said. “There’s a new bridge there now, but the old bridge is just sitting there. Now, go north on the main highway. Go until you get to the main drag, uh…” He thought a moment. “I think it’s 11th Street. Anyway, there’s a stoplight there. Go west. Drive until you pass the old Wal-Mart. You know where that is, don’t ya?”

I did not, but I said that I did.

“Good. Turn south the next chance ya get. It’s just sitting there next to the road.”

Buddy’s other directions were similarly colloquial, to my great delight. We shook hands, Buddy went on his way, and I headed to Coffeyville.

Today-20

His directions were perfect! I had actually photographed the bypassed Onion Creek Bridge before, but not in the summer time. It’s a beautiful, unique bridge. Shame it’s just rusting to the side of a county road.

As I crossed back into Oklahoma, I noticed storm clouds gathering. I made my next few stops quickly; the skies opened up on me right as I got to the Winganon Space Capsule. After that, it was a straight drive home.

Today-24

I’m so glad that I got myself out of the house today. I saw some new things, some old things, and made a new friend. I hope I run into Buddy again some day.

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Gilligan’s Spring Tour (II)

If you missed my previous post that covered the journey from Paris Springs to Joplin, Missouri — check that out here.

As I ate my breakfast and visited with my New Zealand traveling companions in Joplin, I noticed they were all wearing small red pins. At first I thought they were little guitars, but I soon realized they were poppies. I knew that poppies were a common symbol for World War I, but I didn’t quite understand the significance of wearing them on that day. I asked one of the gents sitting across from me and he told me it was ANZAC Day.

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ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The holiday and remembrance marks the anniversary of the 1915 landing by ANZAC forces at Gallipoli, the start of an eight-month campaign that marked the first major losses for the two countries in the first World War. Since that time, ANZAC Day has evolved into a day remembering losses in all wars. Before we set out for the day’s journey, everyone gathered outside for solemn remembrance punctuated by “The Last Post”.

You can read more about the traditions of ANZAC Day here.

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Our first stop that morning was a delightful mural in downtown Joplin. It featured a map of Route 66 along with a fabricated half-Corvette stuck out from the wall that folks could pose around if they so desired. After a few quick pics, we continued west into Kansas and the town of Galena. The New Zealanders loved getting to pose with the collection of Pixar-esque vehicles at Cars on the Route. As everyone wandered about, several local vehicles drove past and gawked at the crowd. Several honked and waved, surely wondering how far these people had traveled to see their little corner of Kansas.

Gilligans-2

We had one more place to visit in The Sunflower State: the Brush Creek Bridge in Baxter Springs. I’ve photographed this concrete Marsh Arch bridge many times, but never with such a collection of cars on it! We were joined by Sam’s other vintage automobile, a 1966 Oldsmobile, which had broken down on the way to Chicago a few days before the tour started. Although the group boisterously encouraged me to do so, I did not scale the sides of the bridge for more photos.

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Our first stop in my home state was the Dairy King in Commerce, OK. The Dairy King occupies an old Marathon service station, which originally opened in 1927. Although it has traded gasoline for burgers and ice cream, it has operated continuously for 92 years. Today it’s operated by Charles Duboise and his mother, Treva. Charles is known around the region for his knowledge of local history, which he tells with great gusto; notably the time that Bonnie and Clyde killed a local constable. Dairy King is also known for serving the “one and only” Route 66 cookie. They are pretty tasty! I’ll definitely be back when I can stay longer, I just gotta remember to bring cash. No cards or checks!

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Not far down the road in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh) we made our next stop: the Coleman Theatre Beautiful. I am excited any time I step into this gorgeously-restored 1929 theater and listened intently as our group was told about the history of the Coleman, from the early Tri-State Mining days to the restoration that took place in the 1990s. The stage was being set up for a performance to take place that evening; the main set piece was a giant radio dial!

Clantons

I skipped ahead past the Ribbon Road alignment to get everything set at Clanton’s Cafe, our lunch stop in Vinita. Everyone was starving by the time they arrived, which was a good thing: Clanton’s always takes good care of their guests. Sam purchased a few orders of their famous calf fries and offered them to the group before telling everyone what they actually were. To my surprise, it was mostly a non-event. It was a much bigger deal when we all surprised Sam with a piece of cake and a room full of people singing him Happy Birthday.

Whale

The rest of the journey to Tulsa was more of a free-form experience. The tour booklets and hand-programmed GPS units gave travelers the option of any-or-all of several attractions, including Totem Pole Park in Foyil, the J.M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, and the Blue Whale in Catoosa. I headed straight for the Blue Whale so I could chat with Linda Hobbs, who runs the gift shop. Kiwis came and went in a piecemeal fashion as I wandered around the familiar old roadside attraction and had a nice visit.

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That evening, I joined the gang for a final meal together at Baxter’s Interurban, conveniently right next to their hotel. The next morning, I waved goodbye to my travel companions at Route 66 Village in west Tulsa. I headed back to work as they continued west towards Oklahoma City. It was a fun couple of days & I’m envious of their experience as they progress towards Texas and New Mexico.

It occurred to me that leading tours is something I’d like to do more of in the future. I’ll have to look into that…

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