My original plan for this weekend was to venture north to the Tallgrass Prairie with a few friends for a cleanup project, but that didn’t pan out for me due to a high chance of rain and a cold that was trying to gain strength. Still, I had already taken Saturday off of work and found myself restless at home after Sam went to man the Tulsa World booth at the Sand Springs Herb and Garden Festival. I decided that I could perhaps take a short trip to Sapulpa…but if you’ve known me for long you know that a ‘short trip’ usually ends up stretching a bit. The fact that I bought a new camera last week may have had something to do with my restlessness.
Sapulpa is a Route 66 town southwest of Tulsa. For a long time, their major contribution to the area was in glass manufacturing and as the home of Frankoma Pottery. As such, there’s a nice little tribute sculpture on the way into town. Their downtown district is in pretty good shape, and the signage points to an attempted revitalization of the area. It makes my heart happy to see towns capitalize on their Mother Road heritage, and the copious amount of newly-painted brick billboards definitely recalls the heyday of Route 66. There are a variety of Mom-n-Pop shops, antique stores, and other businesses with festively decorated storefronts. The company that took my senior pictures still has a shop there, too. There’s a restored Barnsdall Oil service station a block south of the Route in honor of Waite Phillips; actually, it’s also a mini-museum, though it wasn’t open when I was there. My favorite find was a decorated locomotive belonging to the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway company. Behind their office, on a little stretch of switch-track, sits Engine 911. It’s painted as a memorial to 9/11 primarily, but has a mention of several American tragedies in memoriam. It’s a touching little red-white-and-blue piece of Americana and representation of empathy that the heartland is famous for. As I was taking pictures, a freight train went by on the active track nearby, giving me a moment to stand and listen to the soothing clickety-clack of the train cars.
When I got back to my car, I considered my options. I could go back home…or, I could drive down to Okmulgee. Considering it wasn’t even noon yet, I figured “Why not?” I was feeling good and it wasn’t that far away. Okmulgee is the capital of the Creek Indian Nation and their town square is occupied by the Creek Council House, the building that served as the tribe’s capital from 1878 until Oklahoma statehood in 1907. The town also has a rich variety of brick architecture and some fabulous ghost signs scattered around their downtown. I had a little star on my map 25 miles east of town, and after I grabbed a bite to eat I headed that way. Halfway to my destination, my low fuel light came on; somehow I’d missed the fact I was almost out of gas. I was tooling along rural Highway 62, wondering what I was going to do when I ran out, when a marker told me I was two miles from the town of Boynton. It hadn’t been on my map, so I was delightfully surprised. My delight faded back to concern as I entered the town and found it to be quite ghostly.
There were still a few buildings on Main Street, but they all appeared to have been shuttered for some time. An old brick armory was nestled among tall trees and weeds. There was a small grocery store, but was nothing more than a shack of corrugated metal; it, too, was closed for good. On the edge of town, thankfully, an oasis in the form of no-name gas station appeared. I pulled in to one of their two pumps relief; as I did, two brothers pulled in to the opposite side on a four-wheeler. They were arguing about who was paying to gas up as I walked into the little store; it was a pre-pay only establishment and the pumps were clearly installed before the debit card revolution. An older lady tended the counter and was questioning two different boys when I came in. She didn’t know their names or if they lived nearby, and this bothered her. Once she was satisfied with a brief history of her patrons, she turned her attention to my and my nine dollars for pump two. Part way through our transaction, something started beeping behind the counter. The woman excused herself to dump some ‘fresh’ chicken tenders from a fry basket to her little warming station, and as she saw to this I examined a few old photos under glass on the counter. The town once boasted a brick factory, oil fields, and even an air strip. The photos showed a much more vibrant main street…but today, the town only had about 250 people and a lot of empty streets. I suffered no questioning when the woman returned, and soon enough I had enough fuel to get home. The brothers were trying to push start their off-road vehicle as I returned to the road.
The star on my map that had brought me to this tiny town was an old truss bridge across Cloud Creek, not but a mile east of Boynton proper. It had been closed to all traffic relatively recently, as evidenced by the steel bars and tall gravel piles at each end. The early spring foliage had not yet overtaken the structure, and I happily buzzed around the wooden deck of the old bridge. I listened to the sound of the creek below me and the birds chirping in the trees; it was a very peaceful spot. I wondered how long it would be before this old bridge was completely lost.
On the way back, I stopped at a few other bridges I’d visited before: one across the Arkansas River in Haskell and another little railroad bridge near Leonard. Both stops were primarily to see how my new camera captured these familiar places, and I was impressed on all counts. A few of those photos are below.