With the wedding so close, my days have been getting busier with planned preparation and unexpected considerations. Everything is going smoothly; any issues that arise are quickly resolved. With all of that, though, comes a lot less time/money to hit the road and give my camera some exercise. I was starting to feel restless. I was overjoyed last week when a friend reached out and offered tickets to Saturday’s “Cow Thieves & Outlaws Reunion” party at Woolaroc.
Woolaroc is the ranch retreat of Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Petroleum. It’s situated between the towns of Barnsdall and Bartlesville in Osage County. Though I’d visited a few times as a kid, I haven’t really been out there as an adult to see the buffalo and tour their museum. I jumped at the opportunity to visit during what is arguably their most popular event of the year. Samantha and I dressed in our western best and took the hour drive north. Unbeknownst to me, Woolaroc had a new addition; a restored 87-year-old Phillips 66 station greeted visitors right inside the entrance to the park. A man was standing outside of it, dressed like Frank Phillips himself, waving to party goers as they arrived. I took a few photos of the station, happy to see this relic in full glory. I later discovered this station was moved to the grounds less than a year ago, spending its life at the Bartlesville airport as the company’s aviation office. Restoration on the interior is ongoing, with hopes to have it eventually be a complete experience for visitors.
As we drove further into the park, we passed multiple men on horseback. They waved and hollered, leading me to believe some of them had a head start on the party’s libations. Parking was a snap and we walked down the stone steps to Clyde Lake. It’s more of a pond, really, but the atmosphere is what really matters. The Cow Thieves & Outlaws Reunion Party started in 1927, when the oil baron hosted all manner of cowboys & socialites at the ranch. There is a little pavilion next to the water, which was currently surrounded by large tents and dozens of tables for guests. A stage was set up and live music was echoing through the valley. Several local restaurants had set up tents, too, and they were offering all manner of tender vittles. It was the party’s 88th year and it showed no signs of age. Vendors were scattered around, including Tulsa artist Chris Mantle. I took great pleasure in not only visiting with his family but watching him create; he was working on a giant buffalo canvas in his inimitable abstract style. It seemed that everyone there knew everyone else; the place had a real Osage County family feeling to it. Even though the party would stretch long into the night, Samantha and I decided to head home around 9:00 PM, as the last light from the sun faded from view.
Although that decision was borne from mutual weariness (and some unexpected anxiety on my part), it had a positive outcome. On the drive back to Tulsa, I received a message from Bob ‘Crocodile’ Lile, my Route 66 buddy from Amarillo. He was currently engaged as the roadway historian for a tour group that was in the middle of a Chicago-to-LA road trip, and Saturday night they were staying at the Mayo Hotel. We diverted to downtown upon entering city limits and ended up spending about two hours not only catching up with Croc, but meeting a collection of his tour group as they enjoyed a late dinner at Elote Cafe. They were all from New Zealand/Australia and were keenly interested in Tulsa’s history, which I was happy to share. It was also nice to share some of my experiences in New Zealand, though most of them were from the South Island (which I didn’t get a chance to see). It was a rejuvenating way to end the day. I had promised one of my Route 66 calendars to Croc, but since I didn’t have any on me I told him I’d come down and meet him before they left for the day on Sunday.
I woke up much later on Sunday than I anticipated. Since Samantha was preparing for the imminent arrival of her mother and niece (currently driving down from New York!) I took a bundle of my calendars and hit the road, knowing that Croc and his group couldn’t be far down the Route. I caught up with him in Stroud, just in time to enjoy another meal with a small group of their traveling party. The way their tour works is everyone flies into Chicago, where sports cars equipped with GPS are rented. They have a few points that everyone hits, but it’s very much a loose itinerary; some folks don’t see each other again until they reach the night’s hotel stop. There’s a head tour guide and a historian to provide insight at certain points, but personal exploration is encouraged. It was fascinating; I admit I dreamed of one day having a role similar to Croc’s. How fun would that be?! Once I’d polished off my burger (cooked on the Rock Cafe’s 75 year old grill, delicious!) I gave Croc his calendar…and proceeded to sell every one I’d brought with me! Roadie culture continues to be a blessing for my creative art.
I waved goodbye to Croc and his crew, wondering what else I could see since I was out and about. I spent the next few hours driving down to Arcadia (can’t pass up an opportunity to visit the Round Barn) and hopping off the route to see a few small towns I’d marked as potential interests. Although ‘town’ is a generous designation, I visited the towns of Kendrick and Shamrock. Both had a few old buildings that were still standing, though they were far from use. They had both been oil boom towns, their heyday long since past. Interestingly, the little town park of Kendrick was populated with old McDonald’s Playland toys, including a Big Mac climber cage. Shamrock had a delightfully unique stone skeleton of a building, which was built in 1927 according to an embedded stone. Ghosts of commerce past. One man was feeding his horse in the front yard of his modest home, undoubtedly wondering what a city boy was doing in his town.
I could’ve continued wandering the Oklahoma countryside, but I had some work to do back home. I hit the interstate and set my cruise control, satisfied with the weekend’s adventures. Sam and I spent the evening finishing the housecleaning chores and watching the lunar eclipse. The next day would bring the arrival of my future mother-in-law and niece; they’re staying with us for the next week before the rest of Sam’s family arrives in town for the wedding. It’s hard to believe the whole thing is only twelve days away! It’s gonna be a whirlwind until then.