Even though I just got home from my travels in New York (and the fact that trip was extended three days due to flight delays) I had an itch to do some more traveling. Combine that itch with the fact the weather this past weekend was going to be in the sixties, and that’s a recipe for a road trip. My most successful local trips start with a single destination: I work out a route to get there as quick as possible, then meander back home at my own pace. On Saturday, my destination was the Kumback Lunch Cafe in Perry, Oklahoma.
The Kumback has operated with the same name in the same location since 1926, the oldest of its kind in the state. It has been owned by the same family since 1976 and the walls are lined with articles and photos of local history. One interesting note is that Pretty Boy Floyd, the bank robber, allegedly came in one night in the early 1930s. He brandished a gun and demanded a steak. I was less aggressive when I arrived; I sat at the counter, asked for a recommendation, and ordered the chicken fried steak. The food was good, the staff was friendly and talkative, and the atmosphere was fantastic. All while I ate my lunch, people were coming and going and being referred to by name. It’s a place I’d eat at regularly if I lived closer.
Once I finished my meal, I wandered around the courthouse square. In addition to a commanding courthouse, the downtown district boasts the oldest continuously running gas station in the state as well as as bank building from 1902 that got my attention. It was designed by a man Belgian architect and the stone work was extraordinary. Once I’d wandered the square and visited the closed train station, I began meandering the state.
I drove north, towards Tonkawa. Any time I passed a sign alerting me to the presence of some small town just off the highway, I turned my blinker on and followed. I drove through the small town of Red Rock, home to a collection of houses, shuttered buildings, and a seemingly abandoned grain silo complex. I found the burnt remains of a mobile home and scattered, warped housewares. I took a dirt road (thanks to a closed bridge) that nearly bottomed out the car thanks to ruts created by the oil field workers. When I arrived in Tonkawa, I walked the main street and smiled at the familiar styles and Christmas decorations that had not been taken down.
After that, I drove to Ponca City. I hadn’t visited Ponca since I was little, and I didn’t really expect much. Much to my surprise, it was an embarrassment of riches when it came to downtown architecture, neon signs, and abandoned sites. I found an old drive-in, an old flour mill, a restored theatre, and more. I was sad that I didn’t have more time to spend, but the proliferation of antique shops means that Sam would want to visit…and I could make up for my lack of time then. I headed home and stopped at several small sites along the way, including a small abandoned schoolhouse simply labeled, “Dist 40 1921”. All that remained were stone walls, a chimney, and grass as tall as I was.
On Sunday, Sam joined me as I set off to Guthrie. We stopped at a few places on the way, but many of the small towns between here and there were either too small to have much in the way of old downtown districts or they had been redone to the point that I no longer found them interesting. In the distance, the smoke plumes grew from multiple grass fires. Sirens blared in the distance when we arrived in Guthrie as firefighters rushed to contain them. I recounted my time in the town this past summer at the Gentlemen of the Road music festival and realized (thanks to the numerous historical markers) that the buildings I liked most in town were designed by the same fellow that made the bank in Perry! His name is Joseph Foucart; Sam and I both fell head over heels for his architectural style and lamented his works that had been demolished over the last hundred years. I also found an abandoned hospital, but there was a guy on site that immediately advised us we couldn’t even walk onto the parking lot without trespassing. Oh well.
We stopped in a few antique shops before dinner, which consisted of some of the best BBQ burnt ends I’ve ever had. Dusk was falling, and the drive home was a straight shot of conversation and reflection. It doesn’t feel like I drove all weekend, which means it was a good weekend. The next Oklahoma hurdle is going to be driving out west, towards the panhandle. That part of the state is completely unexplored by me; I want to make a reservation at a bed & breakfast and take Sam out with me and experience it together.