To the Chickasaw Capitol

My rotating weekend schedule gave me Thursday off.  Having a weekday off has its pros and cons.  It sucks to not be able to spend time with my friends and family, and often the events I want to attend occur on the weekend.  But, it does afford me the opportunity to hop in the car and zoom around the state when most other folks are working.  And, since my 2-11 shift hasn’t fully taken hold of my sleep schedule, I still wake up relatively early.  I briefly considered staying home yesterday, considering I have a BIG TRIP planned next week, but it was never a serious consideration.  Right after Samantha left for work, I grabbed my own car keys and hit the road.

SeminoleI’ll admit that my nerves were heightened as I left Tulsa city limits on I-44.  Just a few weeks ago, I was driving that same corridor when the Mustang broke down, leading to a tow home.  By the time I reached Stroud and took Highway 99 south, I was feeling more relaxed.  The countryside was lush and beautiful thanks to the recent rains and I enjoyed looking at the farmland as I drove past.  The first town that really caught my attention was Seminole.  They have a lovely brick-road downtown district and some great old buildings.  My favorite discovery was the Union Bus Station, which has been converted into a cafe!  They still had some old neon and the building is in good shape; the food must be good, also, as it was really busy.  I wasn’t quite ready to eat yet, though, so I just made a note to return when I was hungry to give it a try.  You’d think that the town would be the seat of Seminole County, but alas it is not.  That is evidently the town of Wewoka, which I haven’t visited yet.

Konawa (1)Continuing south, I took old county roads to the small town of Konawa, which held the reason I took this particular drive in the first place.  On the north edge of this town of 1,500 sits an old National Guard armory.  The thing that makes this armory significant is the fact that there are two swastikas emblazoned on the front of the building.  Back in 1938, when this armory was built, the swastika was still used as the symbol for the 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma National Guard.  The symbol had been used in various cultures around the world for centuries (dating back to Neolithic times) including Native American culture as a ‘whirling log’ symbol denoting order and stability.  Unfortunately for the rest of history, the Nazis appropriated the symbol and have now forever tarnished it.  As such, the symbol of the ONG was changed to a Thunderbird in 1939.  Thankfully, the armory was not destroyed or defaced and it still represents the state of the Guard at the time it was built.  There’s a nice little playground on-site, too, and a park that evidently gets some good use.  As I was getting back into the car, a local police officer pulled up and asked if I was lost.  He was rather nice and we talked a little bit about the recent flooding before he waved and wished me well.

FolgersI checked my map and saw that Ada wasn’t far away, so I put the Mustang in gear and continued on.  When I arrived, I was finally getting hungry & stopped in at Folgers Drive-In.  I can’t remember where I first heard about the place, but it had been marked on my map for a while.  It’s one of those little diners that has a lunch counter, a few small tables, and accepts cash only.  When I walked in, the waitress greeted me with a smile and a look that told me she was trying to remember my name, even though I’d never been in.  I could see two old guys working the grill in the back corner and probably had been for decades.  Three of the counter stools were occupied, all by older larger men that were on a first name basis with the staff.  I ordered a burger took in my surroundings.  “Are you from California?” the waitress asked.  I smiled; I’ve had this question before due to my OUTATIME license plate.  I told her I was from Tulsa and talked a little bit about my photography trips around the state, learning that she was an amateur photographer also.  As the counter conversation picked up with the old timers, I sat and listened.  I didn’t know much about the new Chevrolet pick-up, or the river flooding, or fishing, or any of the other local goings-on…but it made me smile to be a fly on the wall for the Important News of Ada.  My burger arrived shortly, and I thoroughly enjoyed it while making small talk.  The cash register sits on an old candy counter; I resisted the urge to get a Hershey bar for the road as I thanked everyone for their hospitality.

Tishomingo (2)I had another star on my map further south, so I kept going.  I arrived in Tishomingo and was greeted with several closed roads; the creek had swollen with our recent rainfall and several parts of town were still impassable.  Downtown was in good shape, though, and I enjoyed looking at their old brick buildings on Main Street and an unexpected jewel:  an old Chickasaw Bank building!  It reminded me a lot of the architecture in Guthrie.  I’m very pleased it has been saved and turned into a museum.  Across the street from the bank is the Chickasaw National Capitol Building.  It served as the main government center for the Chickasaw Nation from 1898 until Oklahoma statehood in 1907.  It’s served a variety of official roles over the years and has been remarkably well-kept.  I was impressed with monuments on-site and the overall condition of the grounds.  It reminded me a bit of the Cherokee Capitol in Tahlequah, actually.

Ardmore (6)My last stop was the town of Ardmore.  Although I spent a little less than an hour there, I was awed by what I saw.  There is obviously a lot of history to the town, and it was much larger than I expected.  They have a beautiful restored train station and some great neon signs downtown, but the thing that really took me in were all the ghost signs on the brick buildings.  I didn’t see a lot of obviously abandoned sites, but it was clear that a whole lot of re-purposing had gone on.  Ardmore is also the only other place I’ve seen an outdoor Robbery Alarm box on an old bank; there’s one in Pawhuska, too.  A block away from downtown sits a regal old High School building, which I’ve learned is no longer in use.  A real shame, because it’s a beautiful structure.

ToArd-12Unbeknownst to me, I’d wandered so close to the Texas border that it was going to take me three hours to get home!  I took interstates all the way back so I wouldn’t be late for my dinner date with Sam.  Just east of OKC, I came across a terrible accident.  A big rig had swerved and crashed about five minutes before I drove up.  It had overturned and the entire cab was engulfed in flames.  I saw people carrying a man away from the wreckage; it was so early that no emergency personnel had arrived yet.  There were easily a dozen cars pulled over, so I didn’t add to that commotion.  It did make me pause and be thankful for my safe travels…as tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

Overall, I drove 550 miles and the car performed admirably.  I won’t be taking it on my Route 66 trip next week, sadly, but hopefully I get a chariot that I enjoy driving at least half as much.

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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