Last Monday, I hopped on a plane to Chicago for work. Although I was there for several days and had my camera with me, I boarded the plane back to Tulsa on Wednesday without taking a single picture. It was a bit depressing to spend all that time in Illinois without doing any sight-seeing. I had Thursday off, though, so rather than relax at the house (after a turbulent flight home, no less) I decided to hit the road and make up for my lack of exploration in the Land of Lincoln.
There’s a stretch of western Oklahoma that seems entirely filled with towns that start with the third letter of the alphabet. Carnegie, Custer City, Cordell, Canute, Caddo, Cogar, Cyril, Colony, Cement…it’s as if the settlers had a contest. My first stop was in one of these towns: Clinton. It’s a Route 66 town and home to the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, considered the best Mother Road museum on the entire Route by some. I had never toured the exhibits, so I took the time to experience them this time around. I also made a point to meet the woman that managed the site and gift them one of my 2017 Route 66 Calendars. The gift shop was bustling with activity, so I didn’t bother them for long. Rain had moved in while I was inside. I tried not to feel discouraged as I took a few photos from the car and headed south on Highway 183 with the windshield wipers on. (At about the same time, though, Tulsa was getting hammered with high winds and a tornado warning. Could have been worse!)
Believe it or not, I’m not the best when it comes to taking unexpected detours. It’s easy for me to set a destination and head straight for it, neglecting things along the way that catch my eye for the sake of “getting there”. However, when I passed a sign calling out a historical monument in the town of Bessie, I listened to the better angels of my nature and turned around. Supposedly the town has a population 181 but I saw none of them, even though the rain had slowed to a sprinkle. Although it was the middle of a weekday, Main Street sat silent. Many of the buildings appeared shuttered for good, ghosts in the shadow of the grain silo. There was a beautiful mural on the side of the old high school, though, and across the road from it stood the aforementioned monument in the form of a granite obelisk.
It was dedicated to Ben Kiehn, a bank teller & WWI veteran that was killed in a bank robbery in 1928. The marker was built by the State Bankers Association the following year. It also had what appeared to be an old ammo container at the base.
Onward I drove to another C town: Corn. It was also pretty quiet, though downtown had a little activity. I pulled into a parking spot across the street from an old general store, the reason I had the town on my map in the first place. Someone had spent a lot of time and energy to partially restore an old set of buildings in downtown Corn, including a facsimile service station complete with vintage Ford truck.
As I looked around, a lady and her child walked by en route to the Post Office. She asked if I was with a newspaper, which made me smile. I replied that I was just documenting small town Oklahoma on my own. She told me that she was originally from New Mexico and encouraged me to look into the town’s history, which I did. Corn was founded by German-speaking Russian Mennonites & originally named Korn, but anti-German sentiment during the early 20th century caused the town to update their name. They even had a German-language newspaper at one time called the Oklahoma Vorwärts…but it shuttered for the same reason. Corn is also credited by the National Weather Service as the first place a tornado was captured in movie form, thanks to a local with a home movie camera in 1951.
It was past lunch time when I rolled into Weatherford, another Route 66 town. I headed that direction thanks to the provocatively-named ‘Dead Women Crossing‘ just northeast of town. Aside from being able to check-in on Facebook, there wasn’t anything there to speak of….which I suppose I should be thankful for! After a good lunch at Lucille’s Roadhouse Cafe (inspired by the vintage Route 66 service station just down the road) I continued east. In the town of Hydro, I stopped at the city park to see an old truss bridge. It was originally the connecting span across Deer Creek, which brought Route 66 travelers into town proper. Instead of being demolished when it was time for an upgrade, the townspeople saved the truss and installed it in the park as part of their Centennial Celebration in 2007. Aside from the city pool nearby (which had quite a few kids splashing about) the rest of the park was empty. A few fair rides sat empty around the property, baking in the summer heat and waiting for their annual time of festivity.
I continued east towards Oklahoma City, stopping again in Calumet at an Indian Trading Post. They have a Native American ‘Muffler Man’ statue standing tall out front, which I’d somehow missed on my previous trips through the area. I also took the opportunity to take a photo with my ‘Flat Driller‘ that I’d brought along. Last month, the Tulsa World Magazine featured a cut-out version of the Golden Driller statue in Tulsa and encouraged people to take photos with him on their travels, inspired by the Flat Stanley series of children’s books. Pictures have been shared on social media as far away as Beijing, China! I was very happy to contribute.
It had been an enjoyable day, but my entire week of traveling was beginning to weigh on me. I hopped on the turnpike in Oklahoma City and headed straight home, returning wearily to Tulsa at around 6:30. I was ready for some couch time. My trip through western Oklahoma was invigorating & worthwhile, but even I have my limits!