Renewal in Osage County

On Friday, I got shot.

har har har

My second COVID-19 Vaccine shot, that is! I spent most of Saturday feeling like I’d just barely avoided hangover and didn’t quite make it. That’s good – and today I woke up feeling completely normal. Normal enough for a little bit of driving – so I set out for familiar territory: Osage County.

I miss the days when that barn on the left was a great red wooden structure.

As I’ve written about before, the drive from Tulsa to Pawhuska is my favorite drive in the world. It was the road to my extended family (Mom’s folks lived in Barnsdall, Dad’s folks were in Pawhuska). It was the road of holidays and weekends at Grandma’s. It was one of the first places I took a road trip specifically for photographic reasons. It is a road full of joy and sorrow – because it is also the road to the final resting places for my own parents.

I stopped at the Ethel Reese Cemetery in Barnsdall to tidy up Mom’s marker a bit and say hello. It is SO hard to wrap my mind around the fact she’s been gone a whole year already. 2020 has totally thrown off my sense of time. My uncle Andy, who lives a few blocks away, just went into the hospital (get well soon, Andy!) so when I felt satisfied I headed on up to Pawhuska to do the same thing for Dad. He’s been gone ten years now, also a hard number to compute.

I was glad to have my mask, that’s for sure

When I got back to the car, I noticed some strange clouds to the north – so I went to investigate. I quickly realized they weren’t clouds but smoke – it’s grass fire season. For those not familiar with the practice of controlled burning, this is very common. It helps reduce the chance of uncontrolled fire later AND helps everything grow back greener. It’s hell on the lungs though. I quickly turned around and headed back to town. By the time my day was done, though, the entire sky was a haze of smoke.

Uncle Jody told me those second-story windows have been covered since he started working there in the 1970s

Pawhuska is going through an exciting time. In a few months, a movie is being filmed On Location right in downtown: Killers of the Flower Moon. It’s a true story about the brutal murders of Osage people for the oil rights to their land – and Martin Scorcese is filming it right in the part of the country where it all actually happened.

This is actually not far from where the original train depot stood

They’re sprucing up Kihekah Avenue so they can convert it to what it looked like in the 1920s, which includes my uncle Jody’s Hometown Appliance store. They’ve also started putting railroad track down and bringing in period automobiles for later use. It’s amazing to see the changes that are already occurring – I’ll be back A LOT this year to keep up with developments.

Pond Creek Bridge

I’d heard that a few old truss bridges were in danger a bit further north, so I continued up OK-99 . Sure enough, two old bridges near the Kansas state line have replacements that are very nearly finished. Both bridges were built in 1935 and feature a K-Truss design – you can see the letter K in the way the side beams are angled. This was a very popular type of bridge for Oklahoma – they were built extensively from the 1930s to the 1950s. More and more of them are being replaced and demolished, though. I’m sad these two will soon be gone.

This looks abandoned, but … is it?

I continued into Kansas so I could pull a big U-Turn and head home through Bartlesville. I didn’t expect to see anything interesting, but that’s when the magic happens isn’t it? On the outskirts of Peru, an ornamental building caught my eye; I turned around to get a closer look. It seemed out of place and I wondered if it was some local guy’s passion project. Alas, no! There was once a company that designed metal building facades (among other things) called Mesker Brothers Iron Works based in St Louis. They started in the 1880s and by 1915 claimed to have fabricated storefronts in every state. From what I can tell, they went out of business in the 1950s/60s but there are still over 100 scattered throughout the Sunflower State and thousands around the US. This one was originally in the town of Elgin, but I’m not sure how it ended up on the side of Highway 166.

The Tattoo Man of Route 66 and his famous 1956 Chevy

As I was leaving Bartlesville, I started noticing clusters of people on the side of Highway 75 holding American flags. It seemed like a strange time for a parade (let alone the folly of having it on a large, four-lane divided highway) so I knew there had to be something else to it. I saw the unmistakable colors of Ron Jones’ 1956 Chevrolet on the side of the road so I pulled over to see if he could educate me.

A few days prior, a deputy with the Washington County Sherriff’s Office died on duty and he was being escorted from Tulsa to Bartlesville. The motorcade was due any minute. Sure enough, soon I could see the red-and-blue lights flashing on the horizon. It took three whole minutes for the procession to pass.

Officer Kyle Davis’ escort from Tulsa to Bartlesville

It felt good to get out on the road again. In a few weeks, my immunization will be fully set and that will be a great sigh of relief. Maybe by late summer we can have the celebration of life for Mom that she truly deserves.

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