The Lincoln County Express

Since I started traveling around Oklahoma with my camera, there have been a few things I’ve seen that have stopped me in my tracks and filled me with a child-like sense of wonder.  The abandoned high school in Skedee, the old Bird Creek bridge in Avant, and the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School immediately come to mind.  There’s one thing that stands out to me above all others in this regard, though, and it sits on old Route 66 outside of Stroud.

Old Route 66Just east of town sits a small collection of metal memorabilia, including a cactus, a Martian, a pair of cows, and the jewel of the set:  a child-sized locomotive called the Lincoln County Express.  The first time I saw the little rusted relic off to the side of the highway, Samantha and I were returning from an all-day trip on Route 66.  I’d been driving all day, from Sayre on the western state border heading back home to Tulsa. Since I had been on the stretch of road between OKC and Tulsa before, I was somewhat on auto-pilot.  I had missed the train previously, as it’s hidden by trees when driving westbound…so when I saw it out of the corner of my eye, I was shocked.  I slammed on the brakes as if a child had run out into the road.  My surprise was exceeded only by my giddiness as I turned around & pulled over to the side of the road.

Abandoned Route 66 artifactsI hopped out of the car and dashed over to the little train, breathless with excitement. It was originally painted green, though there’s a significant patina now.  It sat on a little facsimile bit of railroad track and was surrounded by tall grass and trees.  I must have spent half an hour snapping photos and admiring the collection.  I thought for sure someone was going to appear from the bushes at any moment and tell me to scram, perhaps trying to confiscate my camera in the process. It felt like I’d stumbled across a secret that was closely guarded and fiercely protected…but there were no fences, or signs telling me I was trespassing. The surrounding countryside was quiet aside from the occasional car that sped by, no doubt wondering what the heck I was doing.  This was in June of last year, and the foliage nearby threatened to overtake the area.  I’ve stopped a few more times over the last few months to observe it in the winter.  For me, the little train represented the whole of Route 66 and the state of the historic highway.  It was a reminder of a bygone era, when a trip was as much about the journey as the destination.  If one takes the time to truly look around, you will find something amazing.

Abandoned Route 66 artifactsLast month, I shared one of my photos on Facebook.  A few days later, I received a message from the daughter of the man that built it; someone had shared my photo on their wall, who then shared it with her.  A few days after that, we had a lovely phone conversation and I learned more about the train’s history.  Paul Hicks was born in 1921 and worked as a pipeline welder in northeast Oklahoma.  In the mid-seventies, he used his metal sculpting skills to assemble this wonderful little roadside attraction.  People have been stopping at his little expression of pride for decades to take pictures while children play in the field it calls home.  Over the years, various groups have shown interest in this Mother Road gem: Volvo came out in the early nineties and took photographs for one of their automobile catalogs, the Children’s Miracle Network inquired about buying it, and Paul himself was even featured on a local PBS broadcast.  Sadly, Paul passed away in 2001. Although the collection has fallen into disrepair, it hasn’t halted the flow of travelers showing interest…like myself.

Paul’s family is planning on refurbishing the train this year so that children can once again come by and play on the Lincoln County Express, ensuring that Paul Hicks’ legacy remains intact for years to come.  I also plan to meet up with them this spring to meet in person and perhaps pick up a paint brush myself.

Linc-2

About rhysfunk

Rhys Martin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. In 2009, he sold everything he owned and left the country, living out of a backpack for ten months. He discovered a passion for photography while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. After returning home, he looked at his home town and Oklahoma heritage with fresh eyes. When he began to explore his home state, Rhys turned his attention to historic Route 66. As he became familiar with the iconic highway, he began to truly appreciate Oklahoma’s place along the Mother Road. He has traveled all 2,400 miles of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has also driven many miles on rural Oklahoma highways to explore the fading Main Streets of our small towns. Rhys has a desire to find and share the unique qualities of the Sooner State with the rest of the world. Cloudless Lens Photography has been featured in several publications including This Land, Route 66 Magazine, Nimrod Journal, Inbound Asia Magazine, The Oklahoman, and the Tulsa World. Rhys loves to connect with people and share his experiences; ask him about enjoyable day trips from Tulsa, locations along Route 66, and good diners or burger joints along the way.
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8 Responses to The Lincoln County Express

  1. A great find and nice collection!

  2. Oh wow! I have got to see this myself. I know where Stroud is. I know Rt 66 in Stroud. East or West? Fantastic find!!!

  3. Pingback: All aboard the Lincoln County Express - Route 66 News

  4. Genora Brooks says:

    What a fantastic ‘find’. I grew up in Chandler, and knew a few people in Stroud, but never heard even a whisper of this wonderful little locomotive. We must take care of our ‘history’.

    • Janice Davis says:

      I also grew up in Chandler and never heard of this although my grandparents lived in Stroud for a short time. This is the first I’ve heard of it too and I’ve driven that stretch of highway numerous times and never knew it was there. I’ll have to try to find it now!

  5. Leslie says:

    What a grand centerpiece of our history to find. Very glad the family is looking at restoration. Would be a fabulous and wonderful project. Wouldn’t mind doing what I could to help as we as I am from Tulsa and have many wonderful memories from childhood. I have family in Stroud, Chandler, and Tulsa. Would love to know when restoration begins and if I would be welcomed to help. Just let me know.

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