This weekend, I drove out to Shamrock Texas for the International Route 66 Festival, “Texas Welcomes the World.” I’ll have a lot to say about my time here later, but today I want to share with you a little place just on the Okie side of the border in Texola.
By the time the Post Office was built in 1901, Texola had already been through several names (Texokla and Texoma) and had switched from being a part of Texas to Indian Territory multiple times; it seemed to change every time someone surveyed the area. Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and forever placed Texola on the Oklahoma side of the border. Route 66 was established in 1926 and the little town grew to nearly 600 people by 1930.
However, the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era stunted the growth of this little town. Today, Texola is home to 36 residents spread out over less than one square mile. In early 2013, a new business sprung up in this quiet ghost town: the Tumbleweed Grill and Country Store, also known as Water Hole #2.
“There’s no other place like this place anywhere near this place so this must be the place.”
Artist Masel Zimmerman moved to Texola from Florida some years back. She completely renovated a 1930s-era building and created a restaurant within spitting distance of the Lone Star State. Her little building is the modern day equivalent of a classic general store. You can get groceries, clothing, motor oil, necessary items, and of course Route 66 swag — much of it customized for Texola or the Tumbleweed itself. But there’s also the cafe, which is what brought me through the door.
When you walk into Water Hole #2, you greeted by a handful of simple tables. The food is traditional roadside fare, all freshly prepared. I’d heard the burger was good, so that’s what I ordered. As my lunch was being prepared, I sat in the relative silence and admired Masel’s artwork on the walls. It was comforting to enjoy my iced tea with only the sound of the ceiling fans and the distant sound of a spatula scraping a skillet. There was no waitstaff; Masel handles everything herself.
The burger was, in a word, tremendous. The beef was fresh and the fries were hand-cut. The top bun had been quite literally branded with a Route 66 shield. The flavor was pure and simple. I’ve had a great many burgers in my life and this was one of the best. Afterwards, I browsed the gift shop and met a traveling trio that stopped in as they traveled from Nashville TN to San Francisco. The Mother Road calls to them all.
Masel and I talked for a few minutes before I headed back to Shamrock. She said business was really down this year and lamented the loss of Gary Turner in Missouri a few years ago. He’d been a big supporter, making sure travelers know to stop at her border cafe. She said that she has some days where she doesn’t have a single customer walk in the door.
The Tumbleweed isn’t visible from the interstate and the vast majority of her business comes from Route 66 tourism. Even then, getting the word out can be difficult in the modern age. I took her card and told her I’d tell everyone: stop in and see her if you’re in the area! You won’t regret it.
Needless to say, I’ll be stopping in to see Masel any time I’m out this way. Here’s a great video my friend KC Keefer put together in Tumbleweed’s first year. Very little has changed!