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
Next month we will continue to focus on the people and places that make a Bankhead journey special.
We also are working on a trip itinerary for the Bankhead Highway. Our intention is to create a guide that will help the traveler discover some incredible people, places, and things along the Bankhead route.Please follow tabacrosstexas.com to stay up on Bankhead Highway News. Links below.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Warm and cold air mixed last night. The sky wrote messages of love as the electrons and protons showed their attraction to each other. Air rose and fell, uplift, downdraft, strong, weak, hot and cold. Energy.
Today the air is cool and a strong north wind will keep my machine dancing all over the road as we begin our adventure down the Bankhead Highway.
Before this journey can begin we, the machine and I, must get to the starting point. In Texas the Bankhead starting point is Texarkana, Texas.
Today will be spent quickly, and safely, navigating space between tractors and trailers, UPS and FedEx, vans, parents, pets and wildlife.
Texarkana, emotional mile marker one for the machine and I. In the upcoming days we will cover almost 900 miles, four regions of climate and geographic change, revitalization, decomposition, long tall tales, colorful characters, myth and legend.
Our guide is Dan Smith book Texas Highway No. 1 – The Bankhead Highway in Texas. I will attempt to follow the maps as close as possible, staying true to the actual “original” route.
Tomorrow is a big day. The start of an epic journey across the State of Texas. A toast to the unknown with a pour of Texarkana’s own Pecan Point brewery’s “State Line Blonde”.
Greetings from Tucumcari, New Mexico. A very pleasant morning in New Mexico, the cool dry air echoing nothing, as this Route 66 town has not yet awakened. The calm and cool air will be missed later this afternoon as the summer sun of the Texas Panhandle and the ambient heat of the v-twin will create an uncomfortable yet rewarding ride east across the top of Texas.
This ride is a quest. This ride has a purpose. That purpose is to search for a lesser-known Route 66 roadside attraction, the Quanah Parker Arrows.
Who’s Quanah Parker?
Quanah Parker was the last Comanche Chief. The son of a Comanche father and Anglo mother. Quanah’s life would develop into a saga of struggle and survival. Quanah would become an ambassador for his People, he would negotiate and mediate written and verbal agreements between the Native Americans and Anglos that would be of greater benefit than any before.
Quanah personified the Native American image that media and pop culture has embedded in the American psyche. Stoic with masculinity in demeanor and physique that transcends time and place. Quanah would learn to navigate the political waters of the Anglo culture, befriending old enemies and creating new alliances in his pursuit to preserve the Comanche Culture heritage.
I did not get off to an early start due to a conversation that started up with my motel neighbor as he packed his car. We exchanged our pleasantries and then went down the rabbit hole of Route 66 itineraries. He and his wife were four days into a run to Los Angeles and they would soon turn north to Las Vegas, New Mexico, following the old route up the Santa Fe Trail. I always get a bit envious when I meet people heading west.
He inquired about my journey; I mention the name Quanah Parker and an unaware look overtakes his face and our conversation ends.
Eager to get rolling, I top off with fuel and accel rapidly down Interstate 40 letting the flat-topped Tucumcari Mountain fade in my mirrors. Condensation begins to form in the speedometer of the bike. A sure sign of a changing of temperature and humidity.
The morning sun’s blinding rays directed right in my eyes as the sun rises on the rail that is interstate 30 running east. This requires me to gaze to the left and right, allowing my thoughts to be carried to the far horizon. Some are left on the horizon while others return to mind to be discarded at another time.
A bit of sadness overtakes me as I approach the Texas Stateline, knowing that soon I will pull up and out of the scarred and colorful land of New Mexico and find myself sitting on top of the cotton fields and windmills, the Texas Plains. I extend my time in New Mexico with a pitstop at Russel’s Travel Center to take advantage of the free car museum and air conditioning.
Where did these giant arrows come from?
The arrows were created by Charles Smith a Lubbock, Texas native. Charles never set out to create what would become, some argue, the largest art installation in the world. Charles did not intend to be honored and adopted into Quanah Parker’s family and given the name Paaka-Hani-Eti, meaning “Arrow Maker.” Charles was a welder who built metal palm trees at his home, an hour south of Lubbock, in the heart of the Texas Plains.
Charles Smith stumbled into this honor by doing a favor for a friend.
These 22-foot-tall tributes tower over Texas as token reminders of the impact of Quanah Parker. Piercing the Earth in over 80 spots across the Texas Panhandle, these arrows give perspective of the extensive and enormous size of what was once Comancheria, the area the Comanches called home.
Before Charles’ passing, he created and placed over eighty arrows in more than fifty counties in the Panhandle-Plains Region of Texas. These arrows became The Quanah Parker Trail.
Today I will be visiting three along the Texas section of Route 66.
Vega, Texas, is my first stop, but before I get there, I will make a stop in Adrian and the Midpoint Café. It is about 10:45 am and I am one of two tables in the café. I have a cup of coffee and the Elvis pie, a peanut butter, chocolate, and banana slice of pure bliss.
The Midpoint Café sits on a lonely strip of Route 66, but it does have a certain warmth and comfort about it. I watch out the window – cars stop, photos are taken, faces peer into the window, and then return to the road. I should go outside and tell them to come in and have a piece of pie.
Texas towns, like Adrian, dot the Texas map and are more numerous than the stars in an urban sky. Small towns whose arrested development and progress stall is apparent in not only infrastructure and development but in the citizens’ attitude. An attitude of the community that embodies the posture, perspective, and position that epitomizes the idea of small-town Texas.
Charles Smith was from New Home, Texas, south of my current location in the panhandle. Miles away on a map, but as close as my nose, when it comes to similarity of community.
Community is easy to define in New Home, Texas. With a population of around four-hundred Texas Tech Red Raiders alumni, family, and fans that know each other by name and neighbors who still look to help each other out.
This sense of community would ultimately create what is known as the Quanah Parker Trail Arrows. Over eighty-eight arrows pierce the Texas Plains. Each denotes a particular site of Comanche and Quanah Parker’s history.
It all began in The Spot Cafe in New Home.
Gid Moore, New Home’s local insurance agent, was looking to create an area for local school children to learn more about literature. He imagined a yard full of art that allowed the children to experience words through a large three-dimensional permanent art display.
He shared with Charles his idea to materialize Longfellow’s, The Arrow and The Song and Inspired 88 with a large arrow. Charles, a welder and metal worker, loved the idea and got to work. This was 2003.
Charles Smith’s one-off piece would stand in New Home, Texas, for many years before being discovered by a group of individuals looking for that particular piece that would become the monuments on the Quanah Parker Trail.
In 2010, his creation would become the model and inspiration that would become the Quanah Parker Trail markers.
The hunt for arrow number one
A couple of miles of interstate later, I am in Vega. Excited to find my first Quanah Arrow, I make a right toward the courthouse. Still early in the day and the rumble of the bike’s exhaust vibrates the small-town square. Looking right and then left I travel a block or two past the town square and began to feel a bit uneasy about how successful I will be on this arrow hunt.
I make a loop around the courthouse and there it stands. Proudly protruding from the ground and seeming somewhat out of place. While not hidden, the arrow is placed behind a renovated Magnolia Gas Station, a currently utilized tourist information center.
I park the bike and take my photo.
One down, two to go.
I pass the Cadillacs that are digging their way to China. My peripheral vision picks up the trail of tourists marching like ants toting cans of spray paint to leave their mark while building layers of paint. Paint like a sarcophagus or possibly a chrysalis, surrounding and protecting the Caddies for a possible new life. Maybe someday I will pass by and see the iconic American iron breaking open and exposing a morphed, magnificent, modern, machine.
Traffic is light and I can maintain a constant speed until some construction gets in the way on the east side of town. The Big Texan Steak Ranch is calling, but I avoid the trap and take a break at the Texas travel information center. The sun is high in the sky and my oil temp is holding steady.
What lies ahead is pure Texas plains, some serious heat, a relentless dance with semi-trucks and two more arrows. I lean the bike into the wind and let the speedometer increase to inappropriate numbers to get to my next destination, McLean, Texas.
McLean is full of Route 66 stops and photo opportunities. The Phillips 66 station and the Devil’s Rope Museum along with several shut down and decrepit relics and road signs of yesterday.
I am looking for one thing in McLean, and that is the arrow. I am so excited to find that this one is not hidden behind a building. It is set out in a field at the crossroads of Ranch Road 2695 and “Route 66”.
The quickness of this find was a bit bittersweet. I only had one arrow left to find. The last arrow was somewhere in Shamrock, Texas.
One arrow to go.
I exit off the interstate. The long grey stretch of business 40 depresses me with decay and dilapidated buildings overtaken by mother nature. An icon soon appears ahead, The U Drop-In.
The U Drop Inn and the work that the community has put into developing and maintaining this incredible art deco masterpiece is appreciated by this Route 66 traveler. I circle around the station and drive up and down the streets of Shamrock.
No arrow to be found.
I finally stop to ask a local. I follow the main street south and there it is thirty yards off the road in a freshly mowed field. I pull into a parking lot and walk over to the arrow.
Looking up at the faded arrow I become overwhelmed with the vastness of Texas and time but satisfied with the ability to celebrate the freedom of our American highways, the past cultures, and diversity that has created the state I call home.
“If you went on a family road trip during the 50’s, 60’s, early 70’s, you pretty much had to stop at Stuckey’s…they were the only ones…miles and miles and Stuckey’s was the only thing you saw” – Tim Hollis (author)
As The Great Depression placed strain and stress over millions of Americans, W.S. Stuckey Sr. was developing an idea that would change the American roadside forever. Although times were tough, W.S. was an innovative individual with a D.I.Y. attitude and can-do spirit. A life long entrepreneur, W.S. utilized what was around him, the seed of a native species of tree and tourists on their way to Florida. With these two, he would create and build what would become a roadside empire, the Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe. Growing into a franchised model that would reach a number of over 350 stores with pitched aqua roofs located across America.
With a thirty-five dollar loan, he secured a truck and W.S. went to work collecting, gathering, and shelling the abundance of commodity that was falling from the sky. While unsure of how advantageous the pecan would be, by the mid-thirties, W.S. Stuckey had opened his first roadside stand selling the nuts.
The rest is Pecan Log Roll history.
Well before Stuckey’s red and yellow signs lured the tourists and travelers off the highway, pecans grew native in the southeastern United States. The pecan tree, (Carya illinoinensis) a species of hickory, called North America home long before W.S. Stuckey Sr. and his wife Ethel, utilized the seed to produce “Fine Pecan Candies”.
Centuries prior to the European migration, Native cultures made use of pecans, for both nutrient and trade. It is believed that Native Americans used the pecan in a variety of ways including brewing a fermented drink. While the Stuckey’s did not create beverages with the native nut, W.S. and his wife Ethel would produce the item that would become their trademark, the Pecan Log Roll.
The idea to sell candy was born out of the ever-innovative and non-static mind of W.S while tending the pecan stand. With fervent excitement, W. S. burst into Ethel’s and her sisters’ bridge game and vetted the candy idea. With no previous candy making experience, the duo got to work at making Pecan Candy.
A variety of candies such as divinity, pralines, and taffy would soon fill Stuckey’s shelves, shoulder to shoulder to the popular shelled pecans, but the Pecan Log Roll would rise above them all to become the totem of Stuckey’s.
Stuckey’s did not invent the pecan log roll, in fact, pecan log rolls were common in the south, but it would be the Stuckey’s recipe that would become the benchmark in which all others would be measured.
Stuckey’s would start with a maraschino cherry nougat dipped into melted caramel. This goodness would then be encased with pecans. These portable pecan pleasures picture would be plastered on Stuckey’s billboards around the country, and become Stuckey’s signature candy.
The building of the Empire
W.S. had grown his business from roadside stand into three brick and mortar locations before the beginning of World War II. Stuckey’s growth proved that his business filled a need but America’s involvement in the war would hamper Stuckey’s growth and actually result in the closing of two stores, but this set back did not break the spirit of W.S.
As soon as peace returned so did his business. Veterans returning from the Pacific and European Theaters found an America full of growth and opportunity. A transformation had occurred. Suburban neighborhoods developed bring norms and standards to the masses with all-electric ranch-style tract homes. America was experiencing luxury. Deep chest freezers did away with the need for the ice houses and food lockers, and while taut wire clothe lines provided adventurous backyard child play, automatic clothe washers began to find their way into homes across America.
Automation aided in not just housework but in all aspects of life. America and those living the dream found themselves in routines, forty-hour work weeks, alarm clocks, and t.v. dinners. Soon a break from the regimen of suburban life was developed, the vacation.
America set out to take advantage of this golden age of travel. Amusement parks, campgrounds, and beaches called and the masses answered. Station wagons filled with picnic baskets and gear began transporting war-weary veterans, exhausted housewives, limp loggy labors with baby boomers in tow to vacations of leisure and luxury.
Stuckey’s was there waiting on the roadside to offer respite for the road-weary. Tim Hollis states, “(Stuckey’s was) somewhere to break up the monotony.”
In a time when travel could be a little less comfortable than today, Stuckey’s locations were an oasis for thirsty V-8’s, filled with wide-eyed children, and parents that could use a break, all with a need to Relax, Refresh, Refuel.
Miles of roadway created an artery carrying families across the voids of America. This deluge of travelers down pavements of progress created possibilities of profit. W.S. Stuckey Sr. found profit along America’s highways and turned a name into an iconic brand that would become synonymous with cherished memories.
Stuckey’s helped create family moments and memories on the side of the road.
Stephanie Stuckey, W.S. Stuckey Sr.’s granddaughter, and current CEO believes that, “What is woven throughout those (memories) is a warmth and sense of being with family and a fun time.”
Stephanie Stuckey hears stories from people who remember the talking Myna Bird, who would say, “My name is Polly and I’m not for sale,” as well as other memories of the store. The mechanical pony ride in front of the store is also a well-remembered memory. Stephanie believes Stuckey’s was a place where travelers could, “find highway happiness.”
Initially, W.S. would offer franchises to husbands and wives. These couples and families would set up a life in the Stuckey’s and actually live in the store. Stephanie has met quite a few people who grew up in a Stuckey’s store. Stephanie feels that the husband and wife teams took pride in the stores, “creating a special feeling.” W. S. Sr. believed that this concept would give the franchisee an interest in the store being successful.
Stephanie enjoys sharing the story about a family traveling from New York to Florida. Along the way, a winter storm and a flat tire had stranded them on the side of the road. The family walked to a Stuckey’s where they found a franchise family that welcomed them in for the night and aided in getting the flat fixed the next morning.
W. S. Sr. was very hands-on and, “cared very much about the look of the store,” Stephanie explains. He would conduct impromptu visits but conduct research first to assure he would know the names of all the employees at a location.
“We were an experience…we were the first,” Stephanie proudly proclaims.
Stephanie Stuckey describes her grandfather as a “visionary thinker.” W.S. Stuckey Sr.’s vision resulted in creating the first store on highways and interstates to offer gas, souvenirs, clean restrooms, and snack-bar. As Stephanie puts it, “first to offer that roadside experience.”
Sr. is remembered as a generous man. An early riser who was constantly investing and reinvesting in a multitude of businesses. W.S. Stuckey Sr. business ventures included furniture-stores, motels, Dodge/Plymouth Dealership, tractor dealer, sold railroad cross ties, drilled for oil in Texas, African-American night clubs, a timber company, and Stuckey’s Stores.
Even with all these irons in the fire, “Stuckey’s (stores) was front and center,” Stephanie explains, “(he) carried candy everywhere constantly giving it out,” promoting the brand and passionate about the success of the store he created – “America’s Stores”.
Stuckey’s was an American store, a store for every traveler, no matter their race.
Stuckey’s began in Georgia, at a time when Jim Crow Laws where firmly indoctrinated into everyday life. W.S. Stuckey Sr. offered his roadside experience to all regardless of race. This should have been economic suicide but did not hamper any growth. Ultimately the ’50s and ’60s found Stuckey’s expanding at an exponential rate. W.S. Stuckey Sr. has been quoted, “Every-highway traveler is a friend.”
W.S. (Billy) Jr., W.S. Sr. son, was asked by author Tim Hollis how Stuckey’s got away with allowing all travelers to use facilities at a time when it was not just personal it was judicial. Billy feels that Stuckey’s were located far enough away from communities that people did not notice. They were welcoming everyone into their stores to relax, refresh and refuel. Today the Stuckey’s family is extremely proud of their openness to everyone in an era full of prejudice.
Growth and decline of the brand, roadsigns, and innovations
Stuckey’s has, “more inventory in billboards than candy,” W. S. Sr. would exclaim.
W.S. Stuckey credited billboards as the real secret to the success of his stores. Large yellow and red signs with quirky slogans such as “eat and get gas” would appear every few miles.
Billboards were not a Stuckey’s idea. Burma Shave and others had exploited the billboard long before Stuckey’s had any dreams of manifest destiny. Stuckey’s signs did induce excitement in the travelers especially the children.
W.S. Sr. was not only a visionary he was an innovator. Today gimmicks and giveaways are common among businesses. With every new competitor, a need to stand out is required.
In Stuckey’s heyday, there was no competition. Stuckey’s iconic red script on yellow signs stood proud across America. Confident that no other would be offering Pecan Roll Logs, Fine Pecan Candies, or talking myna birds on the roadside. This confidence and lack of competition did not limit Stuckey’s innovation of promotion, marketing, and growth.
Some of the most remembered are the Stuckey’s Coffee Club. The coffee club cup was an aqua, red, and white Fire King brand cup. In addition, was loyalty discounts on gas and giveaways for the kids. Stuckey’s even introduced travel computer kiosks as well as Stuckey’s branded motels and campsites, Gold Rush Certificates, and who remembers the Stuckey’s jingle with the catchy chorus, “every trip’s a pleasure trip when you stop at Stuckey’s.”
W.S. Stuckey Sr. would stay in the leadership role of Stuckey’s until his untimely passing at the age of 67 in 1977.
Stuckey’s would enter into some transition during the next seven years. Between 1977 and 1984 there will not be any family involved with the running of the company. A merger with the PET Dairy company for 15 million in PET stock removed ownership from the family.
In 1984 W.S. (Billy) Stuckey’s Jr. purchased the company back with plans to restructure. Billy had served in Congress for 10 terms and was a successful businessman in his own right. Billy had acquired the sole right to place Dairy Queens on interstate highways in the continental United States.
He incorporated the Dairy Queens and the Stuckey’s. Slowly the iconic roadside stop began to morph into a DQ Stuckey’s hybrid. Billy also create a Stuckey’s express and began offering Stuckey’s products to be sold in larger chain grocers.
W.S. Stuckey Jr.’s intervention surely kept the brand alive and kept it from fading into obscurity like many of the other brands of the time.
“(Stuckey’s was) woven in with the whole roadside Americana…with Howard Johnsons, Sea Rock City…we were part of that era and experience” Stephanie Stuckey
Stuckey’s was the alpha and seems to be omega of the original group of roadside establishments of the mid 20th century. Stuckey’s peers such as Howard Johnson’s and Big Boy’s, while each numbered more than 1000 in 1979, today they’re a limited presence. Others like Bonanza Steakhouses and Burger Chef have all but faded into memory.
A few of these icons still exist in some transmuted form, none have weathered the storm of change as-well-as the Stuckey’s brand. In fact, Stuckey’s footprint is larger than it was before with products being sold in a variety of travel plazas, gift shops, and groceries across America.
Tim Hollis reports, “In reality, their products are being sold in more places now than when they were at their peak.”
Stuckey’s weathered the storm of oil embargos, recessions, and an overwhelming market of competition. While not as predominant on the roadside, the brand still produces the Fine Pecan Candy’s.
The Future of Stuckey’s
Several years ago W.S. Jr. stated in an interview with Tim Hollis, “What the company needs is some young person with the vision and energy to revive it.”
W.S. Jr’s daughter, Stephanie Stuckey, has taken the reigns and looks to improve, promote, and expand the Stuckey’s brand. She also has a mission to visit every Stuckey’s store in the year 2020.
“I want to know the good, bad, ugly…what can be done jointly with owners to bring the stores back to more of what they were in the heyday.” And just like W.S. Sr. she plans on doing her homework before the visit.
Stephanie believes that the brick and mortar Stuckey’s store is the “last bastion of experiential opportunity for retail”. She wants to, “restore some of that nostalgic feel”… and “pay homage to all those families that stopped at our stores in the 60’s and 70’s”…by bringing “that good feeling back.”
Stephanie, like W.S. Sr. and Jr., is a visionary thinker and as author Tim Hollis refers to her, a “dynamite stick…who certainly has big plans”.
Stephanie Stuckey, a lawyer, environmental advocate, and expert in sustainability looks to incorporate environmentally conscious protocols into the Stuckey’s business practices. Beyond manufacturing, there is talk of placing EV charging stations at Stuckey locations.
As for her plan, she hopes to improve e-commerce and business to business sales. There is also a desire to bring the production of the candy back to a family-owned manufacturing facility. While there is no plan to change the original Pecan Log Roll, variation to the icon is being discussed as well as offerings that fit the unique diets of the twenty-first-century lifestyles. Of course, she would love to expand the franchise operation.
Stephanie realizes that Stuckey’s is part of a “collective history of so many families that vacationed in a certain era… I am proud but also feel protective of that.” She wants to, “make sure I am doing dignity to their memories.”
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A train horn blows loud, rattling the wooden french doors that open to the narrow perch overlooking the courtyard.
Once-upon-a-time the train would have stopped and allowed a respite for the rail weary travelers. Once refreshed the passengers would return as the big engine would let out a “psssssssht” while a “clunk and clang” would indicate that the massive metal monster would soon be pulling out.
Today, the train horn blows loud, not stopping, multi-engines maintaining a speed that will soon pull its links of load over the Delaware Mountains and into the fertile lowlands of the Rio Grande River, an international border that creates an oasis in the desert.
Today, passenger trains do not stop in Van Horn, Texas. No trains stop in Van Horn, Texas. The trains just blow horns and rattle the windows, acting as an early morning alarm clock in this far west Texas town or reminding the town, who is responsible for its establishment.
I sit in a room, in a hotel, that has witnessed world wars, economic collapse, and midcentury prosperity, and whose own life has been a series of up-downs, repurpose and renewal.
A hotel whose sister property, Hotel Paisano, hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean during the filming of the motion picture, Giant. A hotel whose architect Henry Trost, arguably, designed every structure in downtown El Paso, Texas, in the early 20th century.
The courtyard’s fountain’s song is muted by the train’s announcement.
The water sprays over the wall of the fountain. The fountain works against the wind and freezing temperature to maintain its purpose, fighting to hold the water against the north wind that blows hard and cold.
Tonight I find myself in the iconic Hotel Capitan in Van Horn, Texas. The third historic hotel I have stayed in, in as many days. All three have been west of Dallas/ Fort Worth, and all have been located on the old Bankhead Highway.
A slow wifi connection has me pondering and wandering through my thoughts. I wanted to love this hotel. I love Van Horn, Texas, the desert and southwest Texas. I wanted my journey to end with experiences that would be transcendental as-well-as transformative.
Am I different than when I started? Do I have an appreciation of what century-old hotels can offer to today’s traveler? Would I do it again?
I guess I should start at the beginning, or at least three days ago my first hotel, my first stop, my first night, The Eastland Hotel, in Eastland, Texas. Two blocks from the railroad tracks and one block off the town’s square.
The Eastland was built in 1918 as a rooming house, a time when Eastland county was booming. An oil strike in neighboring Ranger, Texas, ushered in wealth, prosperity, and roughnecks. Roads were laid, buildings built, and fortunes found.
The oil boom memories are scribed on historical markers while murals depict the area’s historical events in faded full-color glory.
I linger outside the property appreciating the longevity of the building that has withstood so many years. While the structure is a century-old the amenities are 21st century. My room is large with five windows and a kitchenette as well as a deep tub with jets. The hotel boasts a pool and conveniences such as heat and air, luxuries never imagined in 1918.
Looking out the rear window of the second-floor room, I can view the location where, ninety years ago, a vigilante mob hung the Santa Claus bank robber. Tonight there is no activity on the corner where justice was found. I try to imagine two-thousand individuals packed into the side streets and alleyways and find peace that I am unable to create an image of what the window bared witness to.
The Eastland Hotel does not have a full-time desk. The guest is given a front door code when checking in, an easy code I still remember. Wonder how often they change it? This setup does have the feel of what I would imagine a rooming house would be like. Come and go with your own key, sharing everything but a bed.
Creaky steps up to the second floor announce my return after wandering the town’s square and visiting Old Rip, the zombie horn toad. Legend has it that Old Rip was revived after a thirty-year slumber, hence the Old Rip (Van Winkle) name. Today the legend’s body can be found “lying in state” at the Eastland County Courthouse.
This evening I was unable to find any restaurants within walking distance and settled on a microwave meal from the grocery two blocks away.
As for breakfast, The Eastland Hotel offers coffee and pastries to guests but I have my heart set on a classic two-egg breakfast. Luckily there is a breakfast place just up the street.
Louise’s is everything I could hope for and more. What breakfast should be, a time to gather thoughts, make plans, enjoy endless cups of coffee, devour starches and fats without guilt, while listening in on the familiar gossip and goings-on of people in an unfamiliar setting. Perfect.
I am satisfied with my night’s accommodations in Eastland. A quiet night in a hotel that felt like a rooming house. A true step back in time. An experience I would return to. A hotel I would frequent.
Now on to the next historic hotel, the Hotel Settles, miles away in distance and a world away in appearance and purpose from humble yet perfect Eastland Hotel.
The Hotel Settles appears like a large lum over the town of Big Spring, Texas. The odd monolith towers high. At one time the tallest building between El Paso and Fort Worth, Grand in appearance and attitude it seems that no one has let the edifice know anything has changed regarding its status.
In 1930, the Hottle Settles opened, designed by David Castle, and built by oil revenue of the Settles family, its future was soon in limbo with the onset of the Great Depression and the drying up of the oil reserves.
The hotel would go through several owners and be the accommodations for political, and pop-cultural royalty, including President Hoover and Elvis Presley.
The oil and energy demand would ultimately be the downfall of the hotel. By the late 1970’s, Big Spring, a town built by oil, had succumbed to what many other parts of the nation faced, an energy crisis coupled with a West Texas oil bust.
In 1982, the hotel shut its doors, the playground of vandals’ mischief, and property decline for the next thirty years. In 2006 the hotel came back to life with a 30 million dollar renovation.
Tonight my room is on the third floor with a view to the north. Only two blocks to the railroad track. The room is well-appointed with a desk that faces the window. A window that looks upon a town that has seen better times, but offers more than meets the eye.
While the hotel offers an incredible restaurant and lounge, a vibrant nightlife has sprung up around the grand hotel. Multiple restaurants and lounges are tucked away in obscure buildings presenting an eclectic mix of class, culture, coexisting in a perception of calamity.
Lumbre, a restaurant, nestled beside an abandoned theater plays host to a packed house and offers up a menu of five-star dishes.
Big Spring, Texas, is sure to surprise. And offered a night to remember combining refined dining and lodging with classic Texas hospitality.
Now here I sit. Hundreds of miles away from home listening to the train’s horn blow loud. The winter sun has set early and the courtyard glows in the chilly air. The wind has subsided, the old Bankhead Highway is void of traffic.
I venture downstairs to the dining room, surprisingly packed. I sit at the bar and order the signature dish, a pistachio-crusted chicken fried steak. I enjoy the meal around the company of fellow travelers. We discuss historic hotels attempting to one-up each other on our experiences.
I return to the room and open the french doors. The air is cold but the soothing sound of the fountain convince me to deal with the temperature. The experience of the three hotels have not changed. I have learned a great deal about the towns I visited and their struggles.
What I realize is these hotels, when built, were the hub of the communities. As revitalization continues, in towns across Texas and America, it becomes apparent that these hotels return to the original purpose, establishing themselves as the hub of the communities. The epicenter of energy where commerce and life radiates from.
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.