Christopher Morley's "On Doors" Episode Four – Lost Essays
I top off the tank under the watchful eye of a fellow pumper. Like every other station in every other town along every other road, that one person is always there, always ready to start that conversation, “I had a Harley.”
“Oh yeah?” I respond.
“’85 FXSB,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.
“My buddy and I went coast to coast in ’88, over 4000 miles in two weeks.”
“Really, that’s wild.”
Securing the gas cap, I mount the machine and switch the ignition to on.
“Where you headed?” he asks.
He shifts his head and furrows his brow – “What the hell is in Mississippi?”
I hit the starter and allow the bike to help bring an end to the conversation; with a raised voice, I proclaim – “Spirit!”
I rumble down the road, east out of the hills of Arkansas, looking to find my way across the Mississippi River and into the lowlands of the Delta, with his question still in my mind.
What the hell is in Mississippi?
I believe that a spirit exists in Mississippi. A nonlinear spirit whose growth, like a plant, weaves and meanders in pursuit to find its sustenance, a spirit that accepts that we are of a single existence and our expression is pure when delivered without pretense.
I believe that that spirit exists in the Blues. A dissonant, inharmonious combination of rhythms and harmonies that, born from experiences deeper than my own, create a purer tonal expression.
But that is just my opinion, and who am I to talk about the Blues –
My life is linear.
Currently, right angles make up my order. Straight lines build my home, my relationships, my future. I am comforted by the order or the right angle. It maintains my uninspired infrastructure and keeps well-planned progress moving along.
I exit Arkansas by traversing the mighty river on highway 49.
The Helena Bridge spans nearly a mile and towers high above the water. Since 1961, its rigidness and strength have stood against the power of the current.
Impressive, but its form is soulless in its rivets, iron, and angles.
My destination is Clarksdale, MS. Known by some as the epicenter of the Blues, a town that lays claim to the Crossroads, the mythical intersection where Robert Jonhson sold his soul for a guitar tuning.
I enter into Mississippi, flanked by the fertile lowlands of the Delta and the random casino resort.
Clumps of trees divide the fields.
My machine rumbles, disturbing the peace and tranquility of emptiness; I ponder nonlinear expression in language and art.
An inspiration that is born from a tree’s random pathway of growth creating beauty that poets write about and an artist paints.
Without nerves or muscles, the tree pulls toward the sun, tearing through rock and twisting its form into a joyous tangled mess of life, unique and celebrated.
“I think that I shall never see – A poem as lovely as a tree” – Kilmer wrote.
Van Gogh’s Olive Trees, whose branches pitch dissident into the Yellow Sky, while those with the Alpilles in the Background curve softly, express years of emotion beset by a nonlinear life.
Do straight lines lead to an artist’s success, spiritual success, or is true and pure expression born from chaos?
Was Van Gogh’s style crude, Kilmer too simple, or the Blues not real music?
Or as Whitman stated, the “clearest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one”
What expressions make the greatest impact or leaves a lasting impression of influence?
Are the Blues the equivalent to Van Gogh?
Blues music, a nonlinear expression, created from inspiration and emotion, not just the systematic and safe practices of major, minor, and modal scale?
Vincent, an artist, self-taught painting from the soul creating abstract that stirs the spirit, was rouge in his expression but subsequently inspired the world after his death.
Robert Johnson, a blues guitarist whose music and presents, arguably, allowed the world to experience the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, expressed his emotions through the rouge music known as the Blues.
Is Robert Johnson as large of a contributor to the world of art as Van Gogh?
In Clarksdale, I secure my lodging in a shack on the main grounds of The Shack Up Inn. The Shack Up Inn is a collection of unique and eclectic lodgings, holding true to my nonlinear expectations.
My temporary home is the Pine Top shack named after the legendary blues piano man Pine Top Perkins, an individual who knew Robert Johnson and had a left hand that would “roll like thunder.”
An upright piano sits in the corner of the shack in desperate need of a visit to the crossroads.
Clarksdale, Mississippi, ground zero for the blues; I bum around the town and find only a few open joints on this weeknight.
The blues are alive, and I spend a few minutes and dollars on seeing Ike Turner’s cousin’s band play.
A make-shift stage and folding tables transform the abandoned store into a live music venue, and it could not have been more perfect.
Rain begins to fall, and I head back to the shack. Soft rain and road spray wick through my jean and into my boots. The road is dark on the way back to Pine Top’s shack; the shack is darker.
I sit on the porch and look intensely through the rusted screen. The clouds give way, and the rain subsides as my eyes look beyond the field and into the dark foreboding shadows of the trees.
Kilmer used his pen and Van Gogh his brush; those who called the Delta home used their voices.
The music was the medium. The inspiration was the world. The world is the spirit.
The Mississippi morning air is thick and heats up quickly as I top off my tank.
Securing the cap, a gentleman approaches me.
“Nice bike; I had a Harley once.”
“02 Sportster,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.
Seventy -four years ago Clark Gable was here, “cabin” number 6 – Boots Court, Carthage, Missouri.
Tonight, I sit a voyeur.
Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, fresh out of the service, still mourning the death of Carole Lombard.
I feel the movement of air – as his silhouette moves towards the door.
Eighty-four years of memories thrive in these four walls my senses discard all other and focus on Clark Gable’s visit seventy-four years ago.
I fight the bitterness.
Seventy-four years ago, 1947, Clark Gable was here, do I smell the Lucky Strike? Is blue smoke rising – drifting slowing before diverging.
I am olfactory overtaken.
Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, his voice, torn from tobacco, blustered firm statements between drinks.
I listen intently.
Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, tonight he is here, Boots Court is still here, that is why I am here.
Ah – the 1920’s – those were the days.
Prohibition – that is what I am talking about. Gin tasted sweeter, drunk was more drunken, and hang-overs didn’t hurt.
Outlaws were admired, cops were Keystone, and gambling was found behind hidden doors – fun!
Roads were being built and tourism became an economy.
Tourist camps, hotels and motels supplied the needed respite for souls journeying toward the God given right of Manifest Destiny.
Ah – the 1920’s – the decade that Texarkana, Texas, aspired to raise a grand hotel along the Texas and Arkansas state line.
The Hotel Grim would be spectacular and a spectacle.
The architectural firm of Mann and Stern, while borrowing heavily from the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, designed an impressive structure, grand in a subtle way. A variety of building material inside and out created, somehow, a seamless, and elegant structure loaded with 90-degree angles – final cost 700,000 – yes, in 1925 dollars.
Guest could dine on the roof top – a dining room and garden, eight stories high, towering above the debauchery below.
The Grim, or so the legend goes, was a haven for illegal gambling. There are also rumors of an elaborate tunnel system below the town – allowing for a convenient transport of women and whisky – and the tunnels terminus, always the Grim.
Her sins aside, the Grim lasted until 1990, better that what can be said for other hotels of the day – hopefully Texarkana found around 11,000 dollars a year worth of use from the hotel.
For thirty years the hotel was vandalized by mother nature and vagrants, teenagers and time. Ceilings collapsed and floors caved, as the once grand hotel became an eyesore.
Today – revitalization of downtown Texarkana is bringing the Grim back – well kind-of. Texarkana is not planning a luxury hotel but affordable apartment.
Never-the-less, Grim will be operating again and that is more that I can say about other hotels of the day.
Piles of your yesterdays are growing higher as I walk this road alone.
I kick through what we both don’t understand but to what we relate.
Piles of successes, suffocating god.
I exist within the most significant day ever – my day.
Piles of you exist around me – some blocking my path.
If you are the present, can you be the past?
I trample you, not out of malice –
I have nowhere else to step-
I exist during the most congested time ever –
Piles of you exist all around me –
Through denouncement, you have become the rule.
You are what you never wanted to be – hats are removed to you.
You are a burden to the soil and soul – reexamination to the meter and rhyme.
You impede my travel.
Piles of you, tangible and spiritual, bring praise and despise.
I gently scape you from my boot –
I leave you to the soil –
I teach you.
Piles of you will continue to build,
In future generation minds,
Along the pathways of tomorrow.
Piles of romance – of your written day,
Piles that bury the beauty of candor.
Sticks and stones might break our bones, but words, in particular antonyms, will certainly destroy us.
A war is breaking out, a conflict of opposing opinions centered around the acceptance of the division created by the antonym. While one side sees a necessity in the antonym, the opposing faction sees the words as destructive.
The latter identifies the antonym as a device that divides cultures, societies, and families due to the words’ decisive differences.
A recent event held in East Dover, Vermont, the free-thinking organization better known as The Liberation of Thoughtless Minds Coalition or (LTMC) presented the argument against the antonym.
Antonyms, in the LTMC’s opinion, create difference and an extreme divide among the population.
“This part (the anonym) of the English language is tearing us apart,” exclaimed Neil Burgess, an original member of the LTMC.
His sentiments were shared with the vast majority of the attendees, evident by the group’s t-shirts promoting anti-antonym.
“The antonyms are out of control!” the group chanted between speakers.
LTMC does not have an issue with all anonyms.
“We are fine with Complementary and Graded anonyms,” exclaimed David Delany, the acting president of the LTMC, “we only have an issue with the relational antonyms.”
According to the LTMC website’s FAQ page, the group does believe that opposites can exist, but the group is opposed to opposites being a necessity.
“If we eradicate relational anonyms from our language, we will eradicate prejudice and racial inequality from our lives,” Delany announced to an exuberant response from those in attendance.
“Relational antonyms lead to war and social injustice.”
“Without a master, there will be no servant; without borrow, there will be no lend, no slavery to man or money.”
Delany extended his rhetoric by proclaiming, “Anonyms have created the institutions that have led to destruction, the pathway to misery is pathed with anonyms.”, he shouted under the deafening roar of the crowd.
The LTMC acknowledges that the mission of exiting misery and division from society by removing relational antonyms will not be an easy task.
During a short break-out session, I sat down with Mr. Delany to discover more about the LTMC’s mission and the struggles to get more people on board.
“Our biggest struggle is pre-fixes,” Delany confesses.
“Any English speaker has the ability to create his or her own antonyms simply by adding a prefix to over one million words.
“A simple in-, un-, non-, etc. upfront will create opposition – Will create division.”
“We attempt to stay ahead of the antonym, but we find they (the antonyms) are growing each day exponentially.
The LTMC has, they believe, found a way to stay ahead of the antonym.
Delany explains, “We have created software that continually monitors social and political issues globally. An algorithm combines the identified issues with all possible combinations of antonyms and produces a report of future oppositions.”
“We can see the future.”
“We are continually adding antonyms to our list (found on the LTMC’s website) of the most detrimental words to the advancement of a peaceful society.”
Delany does admit that, if the LTMC is successful, peace with come with a price.
“To rid our lives of hate, we must lose love,” Delany expresses with a grim but confident tone and adds, “within a few generations, without the words, the emotions will come to pass.”
Redwater, Texas, the first town a Bankhead Highway traveler will pass through heading east out of Texarkana.
Redwater, Texas, is located in Bowie County with a population of sub-one thousand residents, small yet still more prominent than it was when founded in the mid -1870’s.
Redwater was initially named after the great oratorial expert, friend to the rich and powerful, and the “OG” Agnostic, Robert Green Ingersoll, reported by the Washington Post in 2012 as, “the most famous American you never heard of”.
Riding the Old Redwater Road – out of Texarkana.
Ingersoll’s legacy was short-lived in the town that would eventually become Redwater, Texas. A revival was held one night in Ingersoll, and the Spirit was in attendance. The evening resulted in over 100 people finding the Lord.
Quickly enough, the citizens felt that their highly spiritual town should not be named after “The Great Agnostic” and began searching for a new name. They settled on Redwater a homage to the tint of the water in the wells and springs.
Spring is quickly approaching, and Texas public schools are gearing up for the STAAR. The anxiety-building state assessment, loved by students, parents, administrators, and teachers, well, maybe not. The STAAR does not need to be feared or hated; it is a playable exam that any student can pass only knowing the correct response to five questions.
Keep reading if you would like to understand how.
The following “plan to pass” was developed with the collaboration of a group of my cohorts. I want to communicate what we found while compiling released STAAR data from the state of Texas.
This plan is designed to improve the scores of students and have a 100 percent passing rate.
This plan was devised for 5th-grade math students in a Texas public school. Please do your research and do what is best for your students.
Fifth-grade math success plan and how to get 100 percent passing.
Historically, a student must answer seventeen questions correctly on the STAAR fifth grade math test to pass.
Except for the grid questions, the majority of problems are multiple-choice. I will refer to these as A, B, C, or D, to keep confusion to a minimum for non-educator readers. Each year the correct answers are distributed among A, B, C, or D, consistently.
We found that “A” is the right choice 12 to 14 times, “B” is correct 12 to 14 times, with “C” and “D” following suit. So, if a student were to answer only “A,” he or she would have 12 to 14 answers correct.
Teachers are aware that this could show a vast improvement for some students who historically are sub-ten correct answers. This improvement would be celebrated but would fall short of the goal of having 100 percent passing being 17 correct is the magic passing number.
Teachers know what is assessed on the STAAR test and what the questions look like. We can use this knowledge to help “play” the test to get to 100 percent passing.
It is all about the TEKS’ verbs.
The STAAR will assess TEKS with the “simple” verbs. These TEKS require the student to perform simple one-step tasks like identifying. These quick questions, coupled with the consistent distribution of correct answers among “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” are the key to 100 percent student success.
All students, I believe, through rote memory and conditioning, can find success on these questions that consist of concrete knowledge and recall.
We found five to seven questions we considered “easy verb” questions each year while examining the released tests.
Playing the STAAR.
When a student receives the STAAR assessment, he or she will answer the easy verb questions first. The student will be able to identify these due to the conditioning and the familiarity of working with released questions focused on the same TEK during class.
The student will only answer the questions he is 100% confident of the answer. There must not be any guessing.
Once at the end of the exam, the student should have at least five to eight questions answered. Again, these concrete knowledge questions are the keys to passing.
With these questions answered, the student will close the test booklet. The student will now examine the bubble sheet, aka answer document. Once the student determines where the majority of his or her correct answer are on the bubble sheet, he or she is ready for the last step to passing the STAAR.
Last step to success.
Let us imagine that the student is 100 percent sure of six of his answers. Let us assume that these correct answers fell on the “B,” “C,” and “D” column of the answer document.
With our knowledge that historically “A” is the right answer twelve to fourteen times, if the student bubbles straight down “A,” excluding his right answers, he will pass the STAAR with 18 to 20 correct.
Does it work?
With lots of focus on those few TEKS and having students understand the plan, it can succeed.
Ted Stiger, by accident, created an iconic roadside oasis in the desert. The Buckhorn Baths in Mesa, Arizona, a mecca that denounced segregation, lured Hollywood stars, played host to the political elite, and arguably developed the Cactus League. Ted’s relationship with baseball ushered in the spring training of Americans favorite pastime to the East Valley – and all he did was dig a well.
Arizona was a no-mans-land for centuries, an arid desert, a harsh environment that few called home until the Granite Reef Dam’s construction. Completed in 1908, this early 20th-century engineering marvel on the Salt River diverted water via irrigation canals to Phoenix, allowing growth and development. Soon after, in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was constructed, providing the valley with affordable electricity.
While Phoenix thrived with its new wealth of utilities, America was on the move. The pursuit of mapping all-season and all-weather roads was in full swing. Routes such as the Bankhead Highway, Dixie Overland Highway, Old Spanish Trail, and U.S. Highway 80 trudged west, each claiming the title coast-to-coast.
Soon travelers filled the roadways. Cars needed gas, passengers needed groceries, resulting in mom and pop shops popping up all along the newly formed transcontinental routes.
In 1936, Ted and Alice Sliger purchased a parcel of property just east of Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona, a purchase that would set in motion a series of events that would culminate into the development of the Buckhorn Baths.
Initially, the couple’s space was occupied by a store, a gas station; in addition to these, Ted found space to display his extensive taxidermy collection.
By 1938 business was good, but there was a problem. Ted had to have water delivered, and with an increase in traffic and patrons, this was becoming impractical. Ted set out to dig a well to find some water beneath his feet. Ted did find water, but not water worth drinking; Ted opened a 120 degrees mineral-rich water well. Water that, at the time, was believed to have healing powers.
Understanding the unique opportunity flowing under their feet, the two built a 27 stone tub bathhouse that could serve 75 guests per day, added cottages, and ultimately employed a staff of 25.
The Cactus League
Bill Veeck, who owned a ranch in Arizona, purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946. Veeck also intended to introduce African American players to his roster. This would be problematic during spring training in Florida, where Jim Crow Laws still subjected African Americans to sever discrimination; he chose to move spring training to Arizona.
The big issue with this move was that there would be no other teams to play during spring training; Cleveland needed another Arizona team during the spring.
Horace Stoneham, the hands-on owner of the New York Giants, also wintered in Arizona. And as legend has it moved the Giants spring training to Arizona the day he discovered the Buckhorn Baths and the healing waters.
The Giants would call the Buckhorn Baths home each spring for the next 25 years. Legends such as Ty Cobb and Willie Mays would soak in the mineral baths, wander the grounds, and enjoy the mild desert winters.
During a time of racial inequality, The Buckhorn welcomed all players of all colors, allowing the team to stay together on site, something that was not allowed in Florida.
Today, fifteen professional baseball teams call the Phoenix area home during the Cactus League’s season.
Ted passed away in 1984; although it had been decades since the Buckhorn was the Giants’ home base, the baths were still opened and operated along with the motel and the museum, by his wife, Alice.
With Alice at the helm, she drew the last bath in 1999. The motel and museum shuttered around 2005. On November 10, 2010, Alice passed away at 103 years of age.
Today the Buckhorn Baths stand abandoned but well preserved. The mineral-rich still flows through the pipes. A roadside gem. A collection of Americana history.
A hint of smoke fills the cabin of the Douglas DC-3, 6,000 feet above East Texas.
Two crew and seven passengers, en route to the next show, be-bopping and energetic from previous engagements, three sold-out nights, a recently signed record contract, and the resurgence of the lead singer’s career, are unaware of the horror that lays ahead.
The plane’s owner and band’s leader is a rockabilly icon, teenage idol, television star, and a victim of his successes.
His rise and fall led him through many struggles, but the future was bright. New opportunities were certain, and at only forty-five, his life was beginning.
The passengers, concerned but not overly alarmed with N711Y’s situation, living was on their minds. Renewal and resurgence on the horizon.
Pilot and co-pilot bumble in their actions, every decision they make, as smoke drifts through the 14 seat aircraft, errors in their duties.
With the band’s future renewed, confidence is rebuilding, and his assurance of being a sober, respected, musician not just an aging teen idol.
His mind is on the future while appreciating his celebrated past of music and entertainment, millions of albums sold and memories of gold records, and starting a band as a teenager with an 18-year-old guitarist named James Burton.
N711Y, a moody machine.
Earlier that day, December 31, 1985, the passengers and crew loitered around the airport during a lengthy delay.
N711Y was having issues.
N711Y was always having issues, no cause for alarm.
These usual troubles were not accepted by all band members, who regularly voiced concern about traveling on the vintage plane.
December 31, and the air was cold.
The onboard heater, indiscriminately, blowing cold, blowing hot, overheating, a nuisance to both crew and the cold passengers in the magnesium tube.
New Years was only hours away, and a music starved crowd awaits the band to help ring in 1986.
For five decades, he entertained on radio, television, movies, and live. He was born with a pedigree for music and entertainment, a musician whose soul was tuned to Rockabilly and country roots, whose success veiled his loves and promoted Pop music and good looks.
He rose and fell but came out with a fresh look on life.
N711Y has issues but also a fascinating history.
She is a Douglas DC-3, vintage 1944. An aircraft whose history is rich as her current owners. Initially, Richard Dupont’s property and once Jerry Lee Lewis’s possession, this aircraft had taxied the rock-n-roll royalty along with the rich and famous.
Today the forty-five-year-old owner is only thirty minutes away from Love Field, in Dallas, Texas. His band and fiancé fill the plane with exuberance and merriment of the good life.
Last night his final words to the crowd were, “Rave on for me!” as he finished the band’s final song. Rave On, a Buddy Holly cover that, only posthumously, would weave irony into the story of this musician’s life.
Smoke becomes thick throughout the plane as the pilot and co-pilot radio for radar vectors to available landing strips.
As smoke fills the cockpit, radio communication becomes difficult, as the distressed pilots struggled for their words.
Choking for air, the pilot ditches the plane in a haphazard landing. Smoke turns to fire, and soon, N711Y’s fuselage is engulfed in flames.
The pilots, severely burned, escape through a window, and stumble about while the N711Y lays consumed in a fire in an East Texas farmer’s field.
Once the flames subsided, recoverers found all nine passengers’ lifeless and burnt bodies huddled around the plane’s door, a futile attempt to escape the inferno.
Today the tail of N711Y is on display in the community museum, next to Dollar General, in Del Kalb, Texas.
N711Y’s rudder was last seen at Air Salvage of Dallas.
My pupils, the size of a pinhead, take in the hustle of the valet attendants whose hurried motions cause nausea in my belly and pain in my head. Early morning in Las Vegas.
Some coming. Others are going. Many are looking to find Thompson’s American Dream.
Each day and night in this city becomes a bender, what starts as innocent toe-dipping in the pond of debauchery, can easily become a full dunk baptism in this city of sin.
“Where you headed?”, asks the perky young man, who can hail a cab, open a door, and complement one’s attire with a condescending tone that makes one feel obligated to tip. An individual whose rank on the ladder of success could never be aligned with his status of mind. An individual who can balance position, responsibility, and obligatory compliments with a suave and arrogant certainty of self.
“1712 W Charleston Blvd”, a state with certainty and pass my door attendant a well-deserved fiver for being a better man than me.
Rays of the morning sun, now well over the surrounding Mojave mountains, are quickly warming the dry desert air. Our cab turns to the west. The glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip fall behind. We are entering into the area of the Las Vegas locals.
Neighborhood bars and casinos cater to the everyday man. Transient individuals and down on their luck groups live their days here. In the shadow of wealth is want. Caught in the undertow of the ebb and flow of the powers that be. People wander, damned to serve a life sentence in a world they were born into without council, insertion without representation.
A quick lefthand turn and we have arrived.
Nestled between strip malls and gas stations, hospitals and homeless shelters is our destination. Frankies Tiki Room.
Exiting the car we make our way towards the door. The sun right above our heads. Blistering rays. Blinding light. We open the door.
Darkness. Pitch black. Like someone has placed a shroud over our eyes.
Our other senses heighten. Cool air and sound of conversation, unfamiliar music pulsates pleasantly within our ears.
We stand still, mesmerized by our surroundings. Naive and innocent. Expecting the worse but willing to experience any trauma and terror we have wandered into.
Our pupils dilate. We begin to see. Warm reds and cool blues shine like celestial bodies across the ceiling. The flaming cherries of cigarettes hung in the darkness, aloft, seeming to float.
Each ember intensifies and brightens with the inhale of the darkened individual escaping the realities of the outside world.
With a new sense of sight, we find our way to the bar and soon discover a world unlike none other.
The world of Tiki.
A variety of textures begin to grab the attention of our senses. Our eyes strained to view deep into the dark corners, where the glow of tobacco fire pulsated like beacons in the dark night. Our tounges confused by the multi ingredients of the drinks strained to find a hint of liquor, carefully disguised in the cocktails. Thick dark woods, burnt and scarred all around, nothing soft or smooth, but all inviting.
Then confusion set in. A product of the pours. Then numbness and peace. In this strange new wonderful world. We allowed ourselves to be enveloped into the embrace of the out of the way establishment on Charleston Blvd.
We did not want to leave.
So we decided to bring Tiki to our home.
There was a room in our home that really did not have a purpose. A computer and a couple of guitars called it home. The room felt cold and uninviting just wasted floor space. Today, it is our paradise. Our portal to ultimate escapism deep in the heart of Texas.
We had a lot of Tiki – ish items around the house. Our bar is actually an old workbench that my daughter and I made years ago. New top, some stain, little bit of carving, some light, and wallah.
The room really started taking shape once we got the bamboo in.
Scouring the local resale shops for vintage or new. Some homemade like this lamp thing.
The obligatory netted ceiling with random flotsam and jetsam was a must.
Thatch made a huge difference.
Mixing Frankies drinks right at home.
If the thought of creating a space like this has ever entered the mind – do it.
Vol. 1 Issue 5
The Bankhead Highway Newsletter
Your source for Bankhead Highway news and information – Texas’ section.
What is inside this month…
TabacrossTexas just completed the entire Texas’ Bankhead Highway Route. In eight days, we covered over 900 miles slow and easy, taking in as much as we could, while we stayed as true to the original century-old alignment as we could.
This month’s newsletter is dedicated to some of the unique stops and individuals we discovered while we Crossed the State in Eight.
Bankhead Highway People.
Rosenda – Sierra Blanca, Texas.
An opened door in a dead town.
Sierra Blanca is, less of a town, more of a collection of decay.
Random relicts, soon to be rubble, front the old Bankhead town’s Mainstreet.
The Sister Gift Shop and Rocks sit between long abandoned and forgotten theatres and gas stations.
Wistful Warm West Wind carries tumbleweeds through forgotten streets. Dry air has mummified the stone and steel, prolonging the deterioration process. Terracotta colored streets flow into warm stucco-covered buildings whose facade is cracked, exposing the masonry beneath.
Inside the opened narrow entry, I meet Rosenda.
We talk like long lost friends.
Two individuals in a lonely place. Removed, temporarily, from time.
Two individuals exchanging personal information. Sharing as if we were the last two souls on earth.
We could be the last to souls in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
The shop is full of random rocks and jewelry, trinkets and novelties, dusty odds and broken ends.
We chat about where we are going and where we have been. In only minutes I learn about her life, children, challenges, and successes. We ponder the changes that are inevitable and what lies ahead.
I wander out into the afternoon heat and stand in the middle of the road. Overwhelmed with the insignificance of things thought as important, realizing those things that are precious. Things miles away but still as close as a thought.
Bob Stogsdill – Strawn, Texas.
Bob Stogsdill repainted Strawn’s Bankhead Hotel sign. His time and patience brought the old hotel back to its former glory. Well, at least the hotel’s sign. One can find Bob in the Strawn community museum.
Bob is a great guy that will enjoy discussing the history of Strawn and the Bankhead with any ear that will listen.
Eastland Texas – Keeping the Bankhead Highway alive.
Eastland, Texas, has taken the initiative to support the Bankhead Highway by placing BH banners around the courthouse square.
I, for one, hope the signage and discourse about the Bankhead Highway push more heritage tourists, and adventurers, out of their homes and onto the old road.
Within the walls of that Eastland County courthouse, one will find Old Rip. A resurrection story of a Phrynosoma.
Epicurian Exelence in Brashear, Texas
No menu – just tell Betty what you like.
Located only a couple of miles beyond Sulphur Springs city limits is Brashear, Texas. Brashear was founded in 1868 and its population has declined ever since.
Recently, a California transplant has opened shop in the old Brashear Country Store. Betty is the chief chef and pot scrubber of the most relaxed restaurant in all of Texas.
Betty is not shy in her presentation of self or food. She creates larger than life plates that impress.
What does Rockwall, Texas, offer a Bankhead Highway tourist?
Some great old submerged bridges and an incredible 1922 railroad bridge and a great microbrewery on Mainstreet.
Mineral Wells, Texas.
The Laumdronat – Washing Machine Museum.
How fun is this. Wash clothes and learn about the history of washing clothes.
It is not just antique washers on display, cases line the walls with trinkets and wonders of the washateria, including this hanger dispenser.
Next month we will highlight more places we discovered on our Across the State in Eight trip.
Thanks for following along.
Want to learn more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas?
If you are interested in learning more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas, be sure to get a copy of Dan SMith’s book
Also, check out the following article on Roadtrippers.
More information about the Bankhead can be found at www.tabacrosstexas.com
“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin
Over a century ago, The Bankhead Highway brought together communities, political figures, and economic forces to make Manifest Destiny possible for every person in America. It created the first all-weather, all-season route from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Days ago, the Machine and I set out to find what was left of the Bankhead Highway in Texas.
A forgotten road.
A lost road.
A dead road?
Past Pecos, The Bankhead is now the service road for Interstate 20. We glide along the side of the big road and less than highway speeds. We are in no hurry.
Toyah, Texas, a haunting ghost town. Remembered for acts of violence, an expressively spooky abandoned schoolhouse, and the temporary home of Amelia Earhart.
Toyah is also where the original Bankhead Highway bridge that crossed the Pecos River currently resides.
Today the bridge is located on private land but can be seen from the road.
Soon the Davis Mountains will appear. First soft, with a purple hue, against the southern horizon. Gradually the flat land begins to roll. Foothills introduce me to a change in elevation and the Mountains grow taller with each passing mile.
Decay exist all along the road, such as The Joker Coffee Shop.
The Joker harkens back to the day of classic midcentury America.
A time when colorful comradery would cumulate between patrons and waitresses. Inappropriate comments would linger in the air, mixing with the blue smoke of Marlboros and Winstons.
Vinyl booth cushions – thick with dirt and grime. Broken springs. Thick duct tape repairing the rips and tears.
A place of curious locals. Investigating out of state license plates with due suspicions.
Depraved ethos and morals from America’s greatest generation – I love it!
Below, an abandoned stretch of the road – slowing being reclaimed by Mother Nature in this harsh and arid climate.
Van Horn, Texas, at the crossroads of multiple National Parks.
A town who owes its life to the Texas and Pacific Railroad, my traveling buddy.
Van Horn is full of friendly folks, vintage lodging, and Chuy’s Restaurant home of the John Madden “Haul” of Fame.
The Historic El Capitan Hotel is located in Van Horn. The El Capitan’s sister property, The Hotel Paisano in Marfa, hosted the stars of the Hollywood production of Giant. The guests included Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean.
Lindsey’s Cafe was also in a movie.
The location was used in the 2005 film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” starring Tommy Lee Jones. The iconic Sands sign has since been removed, but some memorabilia still exists inside.
Van Horn is a bit of an artsy town. Random sculptures and quirky art can be found all along Broadway, the Bankhead’s original route.
The Taylor Motel is one of several early 20th century courts. Serving the traveler with budget-friendly clean rooms with an attached garage.
West of Van Horn segments of the road appear – headed west on private property.
I take a moment to park and walk the road.
The dry morning air fills my lungs, easy to breathe. A cool north breeze creates a comfortable balance with the warm summer sun.
Desert grasses and yucca surround me, a world away from the pine trees, wild ferns, and assorted deciduous trees of East Texas.
Long stretches of pavement abandoned for decades, curving around the landscape, rising and falling with the topography of the earth.
Soon my path will drop into the Rio Grande Valley. Fertile lands where orchards thrive and produce an abundance of fruits.
I stop at the modern rest area. I view vast vistas of Texas, a view that has not changed in hundreds of years.
I pause to appreciate the determination of my forefathers.
In a time before service stations, cell phones, or bottled water, they would venture out into hostile and dangerous environments. Exploring, pathfinding, and creating, what would become one of the greatest system of roads the world has ever seen.
The Mountain Time Zone adds an hour to my life, I stop to spend it in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
The town is a collection of decay.
Random relicts, soon to be rubble, front the old Bankhead town’s Mainstreet.
The town is not Pop Star friendly.
Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Nelly, and Fiona Apple have all been arrested in the town of fewer than 600 residents.
Their crime, drug possession.
The “Sister Gift Shop and Rocks” is open and I decide to pay the store a visit. Inside I find a collection of random rocks and jewelry, trinkets and novelties, dusty odds, and broken ends.
I meet the shop’s owner, Rosenda.
We talk like long lost friends.
Two individuals in a lonely place, removed from time and existing within something greater. Something not of our making. Something we respond to. A world that we must respect. An entity we must exist in humbly, for it is too large and powerful to respond, or bow to us.
We chat about where we are going and where we have been. In only minutes I learn about her life, children, challenges, and successes. We ponder the changes that are inevitable and what lies ahead.
I wander out into the afternoon heat and she continues her business within her shop.
Sierra Blanca is a romantic West Texas ghost town.
Allamoore, Texas, in the 1988-89 school year had a total of three students – the smallest enrollment in Texas.
Below is a photo of the remnants of the Allamoore public school.
As close as I can get to the old road without being on private property is the service road. This allows me to adjust my pace and scan the roadside for the old road. I make frequent stops to enjoy the big sky and gorgeous views of the mountains that surround the huge valleys.
The services are few and far between. Many stops have limited services such as non-working gas pumps, empty shelves, and refrigerators void of beverages.
I turn south at Fort Hancock and head toward the border.
I will be on Texas Highway 20 all the way into El Paso. Within an arms reach of Mexican dirt and traveling through the most beautiful orchards in Texas, I meander in and out of Mexican culture and Texas agriculture, a balance that has existed for years.
Today green and white border patrol vehicles are perched along the road. Keeping an eye out of ner-do-wells.
El Paso. An international Texas city. An independent. Wild. Claimed by only those who live within its boundaries.
So here I am at Rosa Cantina. Over 900 hundred miles I have traveled. Changes in culture and climate, scenery and society, economics, and the environment.
An eclectic mix of people and places that all exist in Texas.
That cool morning days ago outside of Texarkana, Texas has brought me to this warm afternoon in El Paso.
Emotion hits me that my journey is over and I recall the first quote I borrowed from Henri Frederic Amiel – “The best path through life is the highway”. I asked if the best path through Texas the Bankhead?
Today, I declare that if you are not in a hurry to end your journey. If life is too short to rush through. If you think you could find a friend in an unfamiliar place.Iif there are things hidden in the trees that you would like to see. If the world is a large place that still has things to discover. Then yes, The Bankhead is the best path.
Thank you to all who experienced this journey with me. I hope that this will encourage you to set out on your own adventure to experience something new.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
Solo motorcycle touring in vast unpopulated areas can seem daunting. The what-ifs, and what then, circulate in my mind.
The Machine’s sounds have become so familiar to my ear.
I find a rhythm in the ticks and bings. While chugging in the jugs and pops in the pipes, fill out the rest of the melody.
A mile at a time we take it, me and the Machine. Neither expecting any more from each other than what we are.
To hell with the what-ifs, westward.
Bankhead signs aplenty.
This one next to a cemetery on the route into Colorado city.
The Colorado Hotel, aka The Baker. While not as grandiose as the other Baker properties she still has an attraction, at least to me.
Read more about the Colorado City, Baker, Hotel here.
Outside of Colorado City, Texas, the KVMC radio, larger than life mic is partnered up with a Bankhead Highway sign. Follow the link below to learn more about this history of this station and its owner.
The old Bankhead Alignment headed west into Big Springs, Texas.
Keep in mind, if you are on the interstate, you are not on the right road.
The Hotel Settles underwent a 60 million dollar renovation recently, repositioning its status as the greatest hotel between El Paso and Fort Worth.
More about the hotel here.
Big Spring, Texas, is a nightlife town. Great restaurants and bars sit below the Hotel Settles.
I still claim that Lumbre has the best fish tacos on the planet.
A stop at the oldest Harley Davidson dealership in Texas, that just happens to be right on the Bankhead Highway.
Keep an eye out for Quanah Parker Arrows along the route.
This area of Texas was known as Comancheria. The Comanche occupied this land for 100s of years.
Anglo settlers began to tame the wild west by relocating the Native Americans to reservation lands. This was a time of change for the Kiowa and Comanche.
Quanah Parker became a great leader of the Comanches during this time of transition. Quanah assimilated while maintaining his Comanche culture. He bipartisanly negotiated with Anglos and Native Americans to develop mutually beneficial understandings.
Several of these arrows, celebrating Quanah Parker, can be found in Bankhead Highway towns.
Right off the Bankhead Highway route is the childhood home of President George W. Bush, in Midland. I guess it would have also been President Bush’s, President Bush’s dad’s, home as well.
I find a great one-stop-shop on the route in Odessa, Texas.
Midland and Odessa are full of great sights. Vintage motels line the route as well as museums and shops.
I continue on down the Bankhead.
Just west of Odessa, the Machine and I fall off the Caprock. A dramatic difference in landscape and flora.
Now it seems like a desert.
There is my sign. Right next to my tried and true railroad track.
The Monahans Sand Dunes collect just north of my path. The sand dunes are home to the world’s largest, smallest, oak tree forest.
The forest is over 40,000 acres and the trees are not more than three feet tall.
Check out the link to learn more.
Next to my route is a water tank for the old Texas and Pacific Railroad.
I stay on the service road, the original alignment. Away from the motorists who are in a hurry.
From Pyote, Texas, I take a detour to Wink, Texas, to check out a museum.
Wink, Texas, is the hometown of Roy Orbison.
The small town celebrates its Rock-n-Roll legend with a museum right on Mainstreet.
Visitors can actually try on a pair of Orbison’s own glasses.
Back on the Bankhead, I find the Rattlesnake Bomber Base.
The second airbase we have visited out in west Texas that was utilized to train pilots and crew during World War II.
Rattlesnake Bomber Base was the B-17 Flying Fortress crew training base. After the war, the base became home for unused aircraft including the Enola Gay.
On December 2, 1953, the Enola Gay was flown out of Pyote, Texas’, Rattlesnake Bomber Base to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., the last time it was in the air.
On to Pecos, Texas, home of the first rodeo.
Yes, the first rodeo ever.
Big Boots in Pecos outside the museum with a little BH on them.
It is disheartening to find things turned to rubble. Sometimes it is Mother Nature reclaiming what is hers. Other times it is Man clearing the way for progress or to remove an eyesore.
All that is left of the Boulder Courts in Pecos is the sign and arch entry.
Why couldn’t they just have torn it all down?
I will end Across the State in Eight (part 7) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with the final pour from Cisco’s own, Red Gap Brewing “Gunsight Hefeweizen”.
Stay tuned for part 8, and the end to the Bankhead Highway Adventure.
“Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – The Main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”
West Texas is big!
Wind turbines are everywhere. Their uniformity is eerie. I wish they would paint them like pinwheels, giant pinwheels planted by Goliath in the Big Sky Country.
Or it could be that I suffer from Megalophobia.
Since Texarkana, the railroad tracks have been a constant companion. I can’t tell if I am chasing the engines or if they are chasing me. A game of cat and mouse across Texas.
Those rails witnessed the birth of the Bankhead nearly 100 years ago. At that time the tracks were operated by the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
Abilene, Texas, owes its existence to the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
In 1881 cattlemen began using the location to stockpile cattle awaiting shipment to market via the T and P. They name the town Abilene after Abilene, Kansas, the terminus of the Chisholm Trail.
My traveling companion is the reason Abilene exists.
Following my partner’s tracks into downtown I discover the historic Hotel Grace.
The Grace was built in 1909 and served the needs of travelers riding on the Texas and Pacific Line. The Grace was renamed The Drake in 1946.
As passenger-train travel waned the hotel began to decline and in 1973 it shuttered for good.
Today the building has been brought back to life and houses a downtown museum.
Abilene’s downtown has been restored with preservation in mind. Theaters and museums all conditioned to the standards of today, while utilizing the character of design and construction to make them interesting.
I head west down the Bankhead and pull in to Burro Alley for some lunch.
Sitting right on, what was, the Bankhead the Burro Alley’s courtyard is a hidden gem only a few feet off the road.
The path to the restaurant, shops, and courtyard is very Santa Fe -ish.
Surrounded by a collection of stores and a restaurant this oasis in Abilene is a must stop.
The food is great.
I find little history on Burro Alley but an old postcard shows that La Posada, as opposed to El Fenix, was the original restaurant.
Only a few yards east is the Ponca Motel.
The Ponca Motel was built in the 1930s.
Comparing the Ponca today to early 20th-century linen postcards, little has changed. Still operational and welcoming guests along the Bankhead Highway.
Several other Bankhead era properties can be found in Abilene, including the Abilene Courts.
The town deserves more time than I can give. I push on.
Merkel, Texas. My favorite town on the Bankhead Highway.
The Merkel Restaurant’s fabulous roof.
Abandoned with everything left inside, the restaurant has become a roost for pigeons. Hundreds of these feathered squatters are gathered in the cafe. Giving a real Alfred Hitchcock feel to the place.
While in Merkel, be sure to check out the Merkel Museum and learn about the Hollywood movie shot in Merkel titled “Independence Day”.
Yes, Independence Day was filmed in Merkel, Texas.
On to Sweetwater.
Again, the West Texas Music Hall of Fame is closed. I peer through the window and see a collection of music memorabilia. Maybe someday I will get to go inside, until then I will have to just look at the website.
Across the street is the Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium.
The Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium has hosted performances from Fred Astaire, Roy Acuff, Eddie Arnold, and the King himself, Elvis. Elvis visited Sweetwater in June and December of 1955 to put on a show.
A pendulum hangs motionless, without purpose, over the old Bankhead route in Sweetwater.
During World War II the majority of male pilots were actively engaged in combat overseas. This resulted in a shortage of pilots.
A need arose to shuttle planes to bases across America. With a lack of male pilots, the solution was to train females to fly, thus The Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S.P) was formed.
The Bankhead route will become the south service road of I-20 for a while. I enjoy this lonely stretch while I can.
A Recycled Rex is watching over his cement pillars.
Outside of Loraine, I find a prize. More glass marbles.
Hidden behind a more modern, and practical, reflection implement, these glass marbles have been embedded here since 1929.
I will end Across the State in Eight (part 6) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour from Midland’s own, Tall City Brewing Co.
Stay tuned for part 7 of the Bankhead adventure.
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”
The Bankhead Highway route out of Mineral Wells is the gateway to the Palo Pinto Mountains – well hills. A beautiful country where springs fed creeks that flow into the Brazos River, supplying life to the balanced collection of arid and semiarid flora throughout the region.
This was Native American land. Kiowa and Comanche roamed this section of Texas for centuries. Many nations tried to tame Comancharia and many failed.
Today the area is calm. Ranchers have staked and claimed the land, posting up the consequences for being on the wrong side of the fence.
Palo Pinto is named after a tree, a tree with spots. It is also the county seat of Palo Pinto County. Aside from the courthouse and other government offices are a few remnants of the old Bankhead Highway such as this Sinclair Station.
A number of Bankhead bridges still can be found in Palo Pinto, many with original glass marbles embedded in the cement. These were used as reflectors in the early 1920s.
On to Strawn, Texas. Home of the “world’s best” chicken-fried steak.
The Bankhead Hotel was built in the early 1920s on the Bankhead Highway in Strawn, Texas.
A 1924 photo can be found at the Strawn community museum of the bricks being hand-laid in front of the hotel.
Bob Stogsdill recently repainted the Bankhead Hotel sign. I found Bob in the museum and we spoke about the history of Strawn.
Many of these Bankhead Highway towns’ histories are kept in the minds of residents. When one of these little museums are open, they are worth a stop. The simple experience of sharing experiences is worth the time spent.
The Machine. Sitting pretty on 96-year-old road.
Now about that, “World’s Best Chicken-fried Steak”.
Mary’s has made that claim and by the number of cars and motorcycles in the parking lot – she might be right.
Ranger, Texas, is coming up next.
I have made a decision to travel about ten miles of interstate and check out a roadside rest area that is also a bit of a Bankhead Highway Museum.
Before I get there I see progress, or more precisely the evolution, of the Bankhead Highway. If you look to the right you see a little road “snaking” to the right side of the hill, which is the original Bankhead Highway.
As we created larger machines to make greater cuts, the four-lane grey road just next to the old route was built. For years this hill of I-20 caused headaches for tractor-trailers as they struggled up the incline.
Today, man and machine have all but flattened the hill. On the left is the new road: quicker, faster, safer.
At the top, I find the roadside rest area I am looking for. A section of original pavement along with the appropriate markers makes an ideal spot to let fido do his business. Watch your step – rattlesnakes and dog dung may be in the area.
Inside the rest area is a great group of exhibits discussing the Bankhead Highway.
On to Ranger, Texas, to ride some vintage brick pavement.
These bricks were laid for a reason. Ranger was an oil boomtown. Fortunes were made overnight and with the wealth came the population.
Ranger was busy with oil field workers running up and down the dirt streets around the clock. Soon Ranger, Texas, was stuck in the mud.
No fear. Thurber, Texas, now a ghost town, and a stones throw from Ranger, had 800 workers producing 80,000 bricks per day. The decision was easy to build those streets with brick.
Today the Machine is riding on some of those brick.
I make my way into Eastland and find that the town is supporting the old highway with some Bankhead Banners around the courthouse square.
Within the walls of that courthouse, one will find Eastland’s claim to fame, Old Rip. The zombie horned toad that visited the White House. Today his body “Lies in State” within the walls of the local government building.
In a more modest and traditional postmortem plot, one will find Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock. A cowboy and gunfighter, he is remembered as a founding member of the Regulators.
Scurlock rode with Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County Wars in New Mexico.
Scurlock died in 1929 at the age of 80 and is buried in the Eastland City Cemetery.
A vintage stop sign on the courthouse square.
Tons of brick roads, I am not tired of them yet.
In downtown Cisco, I pull into the Mobley Hotel. This hotel was Conrad Hilton’s first hotel. Today it serves as the Chamber of Commerce, although there are period correct rooms to view, it does not provide accommodations for today’s travelers.
Santa Clause robbed a bank on Christmas in Cisco. Google it. Very interesting story.
The bank and the historical marker.
West of Cisco, I take FM 2945, not sure if it is the right road. Quickly, I find that it is.
Again, the Bankhead Bridges don’t change.
This viaduct reassured me that I was on the right route. This rise in the road is to allow the train to pass without interference in travel.
Originally it would have the Texas and Pacific Rail Road running beneath the Bankhead route. We will get into more of that in the days to come.
The next town is Baird, Texas.
Crispy Cold Fruits and Vegetables. A vintage grocers’ prized possession, today scrap.
Couldn’t find that discount beer either. Deceptive.
I take Finley Road out of Baird. A mixture of pavement, dirt, and rock. The Machine stays under 20 miles per hour and in second gear.
I begin to wonder if I have made a mistake taking this section of Bankhead’s alignment.
This road pays off big.
We have stumbled upon a worn and weathered, beat and broken, severed and shattered, cracked and crumbling, beautiful bridge.
Rebar rise from the torn towers of the railing like exposed nerves. Hunks of the structure lay below in the shallow creek.
Still firm it stands, serving the purpose it was built to do, take travelers west down the Bankhead Highway.
The all-weather, all-season, all condition road.
I will end Across the State in Eight (part 5) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour, again, from Cisco’s own Red Gap Brewing “1878 Lager”.
Stay tuned for part 6 of the Bankhead adventure. Please like and share the Facebook posts.
About halfway there.
Please join us on our ride. Feel free to follow on Instagram and Facebook – links on this page. Thanks.
“There’s something about arriving in new cities, wandering empty streets with no destination. I will never lose the love for the arriving, but I’m born to leave.”
– Charlotte Eriksson
I stay as true to the original route as possible through Dallas, Fort Worth, and all the cities in between. Honestly, this is a tough part of the ride.
Start. Stop. Red light, green light.
Green, Yellow, Stop.
The knuckles of my clutch hand have had enough, the phalanges have become fused together and my thumb is stuck in an action figure pose.
Soon I am on the west side of Fort Worth heading down Camp Bowie Blvd.
A brick road, a wonderful brick road.
Camp Bowie Blvd. takes its name from the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division camp that was located in the area from 1917 to 1919. Camp Bowie was named after James Bowie, the Alamo defender.
Today Camp Bowie Blvd thrives with trendy shops and upscale properties.
Some mid-century motels remain in certain sections. While the signs might seem as fresh as ever, most of the properties provide lodging to long term rentals and a blind eye to shady behaviors.
The historic Ridglea Theater stands on the location where the Cottage City tourist camp once served Bankhead Highway No. 1 travelers. At the time the tourist camp was five miles outside of the city of Fort Worth.
Times have changed. Today, the icon seems to be in the middle of town.
On to Weatherford, Texas.
Miles of great Bankhead exist between Fort Worth and Weatherford. Curving and weaving, dipping and rising, among tilled fields, pastures, and those master-planned communities.
Some like this section seem hidden. Blind curves would have created dangerous travel in the early 20th century.
These Bankhead segments are not abandoned. Still utilized by locals for local business. Again, I am in awe that these roads have held up so well with little to no maintenance.
Weatherford, Texas, is home to the Vintage Car Museum that is right off the town’s square and right on the old Bankhead route.
I get a quick photo of the Machine in front of the pumps before I make my way inside.
The Vintage runs off donations and has several unique and rare rides.
This is a 1939 Alvis, it was manufactured by an English company until the factory was destroyed by a bomb during World War II. Check out the odd “new” induction system – it looks like it has a pre-war turbo.
Ready to find some more of that Bankhead Highway, I bid farewell to Weatherford and search out more forgotten pieces of the old road.
Soon a sign appears. A Bankhead sign.
They seem to be everywhere now. No need for me to get on the interstate when I have this seasoned blacktop headed in the same direction. More character and soul than an interstate could ever have.
Mineral Wells is my next stop. While the Baker Hotel is the big draw to the town, I select someplace a bit different, unique, and honest.
The Laumdronat – Washing Machine Museum.
How fun is this. Wash clothes and learn about the history of washing clothes.
It is not just antique washers on display, cases line the walls with trinkets and wonders of the washateria, including this hanger dispenser.
A quick stop at the Crazy Well for a drink of water infused with lithium and I am ready to roll.
And a photo with the recreation of the Crazy sign.
Oh – and a quick “World Best” burger at Woody’s
World’s Best? It certainly is good.
Woody’s is located in a Quonset hut – Google it if you need to. Serving the citizens of Mineral Wells and the veterans who once trained at Fort Wolters since 1951.
I will end Across the State in Eight (part 4) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour from Cisco’s own Red Gap Brewing” Big Chief Bock”.
Stay tuned for part 5 of the Bankhead adventure that will journey further out into West Texas.
Please join us on our ride. Feel free to follow Instagram and Facebook links on this page. Thanks.
“I can see the concrete slowly creeping – Lord take me and mind before that comes” – Ronnie Van Zant
Soon the Bankhead will carry me into the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, and all the adjoining communities that make up the DFW Metroplex.
Before that happens – breakfast.
Not just any breakfast, breakfast at the Brashear Store in Brashear, Texas.
Located only a few miles outside of Sulphur Springs, Texas, is the small out of the way Bankhead Highway community of Brashear. Brashear was founded in 1868 and its population has declined ever since.
One citizen has recently put the community back on the map.
Betty is the head chef and pot scrubber at the Brashear Store. This California transplant is creating custom culinary creations in this compact community.
I arrive early to stake my place in line. Betty serves until the food is gone, so best not to wait too long.
After we exchange our pleasantries she asks what I would like to eat. I simply state, “something savory.”
Enough said. I get a cup of coffee and wait.
Soon my plate arrives, savory indeed.
Conversation and coffee.
Too much food served with all the time in the world to enjoy it – the perfect way to start the day.
I stick with Hwy 67 as it closely follows the original Bankhead route. I enter into Greenville, heading west, the sun still on my back.
Securing my Machine tight next to the Texan Theater.
Bringing national acts into Greenville, Texas, The Texan is not just a renovated movie palace from the past – it is a world class entertainment venue.
The Bankhead is calling. I stretch my legs with a quick walk and mount the Machine for our next stretch of the Bankhead.
The next section of the Bankhead is now labeled as Texas 66, aka Route 66.
Texas 66, a wonderful section of road. A mishmash of farmland and masterplans.
The road has changed. The environment has changed. Texas has changed.
Only a few miles ago, dense trees and swampy lowlands surrounded me. Today the horizon has opened up. I can see farther than ever before. Heading west to the Big Sky Country. Soon the city.
The beautiful Bankhead town of Rockwall, Texas, respecting the old route with a great sign. The towns of Rockwall, Rowlett, and Garland have all done, due diligence in honoring the Bankhead Highway.
I plan to repay them with a stop at the Bankhead Brewery. Before that, there is one thing I have to see.
Yes, that is an original 1922 Bankhead Highway build. Today Main street east bound terminus is the lake, where the original Bankhead bridge rails peak out of the water, like snorkels. Never die.
This road IS alive.
I break at the Bankhead Brewery only a couple of miles down Main Street. I am pleased that this establishment that has borrowed the name that gives credit to the road.
Unique art embellishes the walls of the Bankhead Brewery like this barbed-wire map of the route.
Continuing on Texas 66 into Garland, I find the historical marker celebrating the old road. I position the Machine for a photo. Take a walk around the square and continue on into the city of Dallas, Texas.
I turn off 66 onto 76 and begin my descent into the city. Grand homes and gardens flank me while the sky line of Dallas presents itself grand against the blue sky. I enter into town beside Fair Park and find that the old Bankhead route travels through Deep Ellum, Dallas’ entertainment district.
I continue through the “Big D” staying true to the Bankhead route. I turn south on Jefferson Ave to find a way across the Trinity River and an original Bankhead bridge.
Before I cross the river, the historical “sixth floor” lingers over my shoulder.
Goodbye to Dallas. The west is ahead of me and the Machine.
I will end, Across the State in Eight (part 3) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour from Rowlett’s own Bankhead Brewery’s limited run brew.
Stay tuned for part 4 of the Bankhead adventure that will take us further west – into the Big Sky country of Texas.
Please join us on our ride.
“The best path through life is the highway.” – Henri Frederic Amiel
Is the best path through Texas the Bankhead Highway?
Today the journey begins and maybe, when complete, I can answer that question.
A chilly morning in Texarkana, Texas, and I attempt to get some shots of the Machine in downtown.
Texarkana is still asleep and I decide not to wake her.
Texarkana is a town on the brink of rebirth. A resurgence can be felt all around. The discovery of something old and interesting by the heritage tourist and urban explorers.
Effort all around the community excite the aging stone and iron, stirring the soul of the town that produced “The Father of Ragtime”, Scott Joplin.
Revitalization, no longer lip service, as crews, scaffolds, and engineers rework, redesigned, and reward a downtown that had fallen on hard times.
I drop by the Harley Davidson dealer and they are busy jockeying bikes. I discuss my trip’s plans with an interested employee. Before the conversation turns to bike purchasing I decide to get on my way.
Today will be a short day in the mileage sense. The point is not to get from A to B, it is to find a lost highway, The Bankhead Highway.
I have no plans to continue any further than Sulphur Springs, Texas, during today’s ride. This entire journey will be a slow ride, visiting towns, looking, listening, an attempt to find the pulse of the Bankhead Highway.
I know it exists, I know this road is alive.
Quickly outside of Texarkana I pick up “Old Redwater Road”
Old Redwater Road is original Bankhead Highway alignment. The road’s purpose today is to service a handful of homes and shade the motorcycle traveler with a canopy of trees.
As I travel toward Maud, Texas, I begin to see the old original Bankhead hidden in the trees only feet from the current pavement of Hwy 67.
Century old bridges and asphalt partially hidden in plain sight. I scout for a way to access the old road. Soon I find the spot.
The condition of the abandoned roadway is a testament to the longevity of the skilled craftsmen’s construction.
Maud’s main street still carries the name Broadway. An homage to the Bankhead Highway’s nickname, The Broadway of America.
From Maud, I turn south on Texas 8 toward Douglassville.
Deep in the trees of East Texas I pause to appreciate the colors of spring. A mixture of pine and oak crowd but do not overtake the needed space, nutrients, or sunlight from one another, while clusters of wildflower collectively create colorful roadside tussie-mussie.
I roll into Naples, Texas, nestle the Machine up next to a curb and look for a place to grab a cup of coffee. Unsure that I will find success in this small Bankhead town, I am pleased when I stumble upon Chartier’s Wine and Coffee Bar.
Chartier’s proprietors, Dennis and Connie Chartier, have built a comfortable cafe that was an unexpected surprise to find in Athens. While I enjoyed the coffee, I was able to learn more about the Bankhead Highway, a subject in which the Chartiers are well versed.
From Athens I find more original Bankhead Highway. One can tell the Bankhead by the bridges. The same style of bridge was used all the way across Texas. In the upcoming days the Machine and I will cross many original Bankhead bridges.
The old Bankhead route is incredibly, and surprisingly, smooth. A very relaxing ride.
Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon, come quickly. I make my way to the historical museum in Mount Vernon, Texas.
Mount Vernon was home to Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Don Meredith. The museum has an excellent exhibit with many personal items from the Dallas Cowboy’s legend.
The museum also has a permanent exhibit of bird eggs. A unique collection that contains eggs from extinct birds.
While picking up some “road” food I found the local convenience store celebrating both Meredith and the Bankhead Highway.
I will end Across the State in Eight (part 2) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour for Sulphur Springs own Backstory Brewery’s “Blonde Blood Orange”.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Bankhead adventure that will take us into Sulphur Springs, Texas, a dynamic East Texas community. We will visit a micro brewery and unique attractions before continuing on into Greenville and the big cities of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Please join us on our ride.
I sit at the apex of the boomerang shaped counter. The formica top well-worn from years of fidgeting coffee cups in the hand of patrons. Two heads bobble in the rectangular window across from me. The heads dance with a synchronized rhythm.
The hidden torsos, limbs, and hands create, build, and produce with a second nature muscle memory; two eggs, easy, up, over hard, bacon, crispy, burnt.
The atypical waitress’ tattooed hand hurriedly scribbles the order on the ticket. The ticket’s destination is a carrousel that lazily hangs in the rectangular widow. With a movement sharp and heavy she clips the ticket, seeming satisfied to give the bobbing heads something to do.
Suddenly an arm and hand appears, plucking the ticket and disturbing the balance of the carrousel. Random words, like an unfamiliar language, echo from the rectangle window. Suddenly smells and sounds tingle, tantalize, and tease the senses. Whipping, clanging, sizzling, the smell of pork belly.
Outside, drizzle and thick air produce a gloomy morning in Abilene, Texas, inside dry and comfortable accepting and welcoming.
The Dixie Pig Cafe shows its’ age with a thick build up of grease and gunk. A protective film that lets dust slide off, disinfects, and in the right light produces a great shimmer and shine. The gleam and glitter that epitomizes an All- American cafe.
Around the perimeter of the cafe, booths sporting vintage vinyl as smooth and satisfying as any silk allows for an easy and satisfying slide into the embrace of the booth.
Booths, the couches of restaurants.
This like many other breakfast mainstays across America plays host to a variety of individuals every morning. The patrons’ diversity reads like a Dr. Seuss book; some tall, some small, some happy, some sad, some homely, some hot, some rich, some not.
I sit in this hodgepodge of heredity awaiting what we all came for. What we all can agree on. Breakfast.
The framed heads bob and sway, creating, build, and producing. I eagerly sit while the waitress moves to and fro, like a shark, seeming to stay in constant motion in the moat between me and the window.
People enter, people leave. Some exchange pleasantries, others not. Egos, attitudes, and prejudices are check at the door. There is not room for that while we break breakfast bread. Aka Toast.
Soon the bobbing head’s hand appears. Gingerly, with light pressure, using only a thumb and two fingers presents the creation to the window. Once the plate is properly seated, the hand rings a bell and the head produces more unfamiliar sounds.
The waitress’ heavy and sharp movements deliver the plate. The perfect plate, the plate known as breakfast.
Breakfast unlike lunch and dinner, is a time we can all get along.
There is not hate with a hash-browns, or ego with eggs. No pompous with the pancakes or gripes with the grits. There is sincerity with the service and syrup and love with the lox.
Breakfast is patient, breakfast is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast.
It does not dishonor others.
Breakfast never fails.
Too bad breakfast is not served all day everywhere.
Fifty years have passed since—
I last fluttered and moved—
Oxygen and smoke—
Lie and truth—
Spit and phlegm —
Poem and Prose—
Whiskey and Prayer—
From the outside to the inside—
From the inside to the outside—
Non-stop without a period—
Rhythm of life—
Rhyme of thought—
All in tempo—
Con La Lengua de Jack Kerouac es—
I suffered through pages—
Burnt by coffee and cigarettes—
I suffered through life—
Burning with desire to be forgiven—
From the inside to the outside—
From the outside to the inside—
Heading west through the heat of a Texas sun with a destination north of El Paso in the Chihuahua Desert. Leaving behind what most school teachers hold dear, the summer, I pass through small towns and upper elevation villages until the two lane crests and I begin my descent into the Tularosa Basin. The purpose of this summer sacrifice – White Sands National Monument. The NPS has allowed me the privilege of working as a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher for the next 8 weeks. The time is intended to be a mutual benefit to both parties. Gravities’ pull accelerates me down the final miles to the entrance of the monument. The monument’s adobe visitor’s center sits baking in the sun while the basins surrounding mountains are veiled in a haze. I set up my camper and eagerly await the next day’s realizations.
National parks and monuments, too many visitors, are the scaffolding of an all-American road trip. These natural backdrops for Kodak moments provide grand itineraries to trip planners and fill the lines of life’s list destinations. For many years, I held the same tourist approach to the purpose of the National Park Service’s unique lands and monuments. I was unaware that these areas of beauty and awe held far more valuable lessons in environmental appreciation and emotional connection to nature until I was immersed in the NPS.
My awareness of NPS themes, or purpose, came through my participation in the Teacher-Ranger- Teacher program of the NPS. This program allows classroom teachers to work in a national park or national monument for 8 weeks during the summer. During this time I determined the NPS, just as a teacher, is attempting to make connections with people. I began to see WHSA as a classroom, a wonderland of geology, biology, and ecology. White Sands National Monument is an environment where adaptations occur before the eye and Earth’s cycles perform as if on stage. As a TRT I was able to entangle myself in these plays for the majority of the summer. This genuine experience showed me a purpose to the NPS I was unaware of, an incredible educational resource.
My experience has helped me not only as a teacher but a visitor to our national parks. My family and I will no longer be the “30 minute” tourist. We will stop and stay longer and instead of just taking the iconic photo or seeing the must see attraction, we will listen to a ranger talk or go on a guided hike. We will attempt to interpret the park on a personal level. This new purpose to our travels will allow a better connection to “our” national parks and monuments.
As my summer TRT experience comes to an end and I head east toward home. My vehicle struggles up the Sacramento Mountains one last time, I turn and look down upon the Tularosa Basin – I now know that when a visitor looks upon Whites Sands National Monument in the right light, at that particular time of day, when the mind is full of wonder and curiosity, that he will see the gypsum infused water flowing into Lake Lucero and evaporating just as quickly while the temperature, water, and wind relentlessly weathers and breaks down the selenite crystals into smaller and smaller pieces creating the sea of soft white waves.