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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In the mid-seventies while the nation was in a gas shortage and energy crisis my family was pulling a Terry bumper-pull travel trailer around the USA. In my mind we were always traveling somewhere, in hindsight I realize my blue-collar dad only had off a couple of weeks per year making this memory of constant transcontinental travel impossible.
Today, I know many memories were the product of photo albums and stories that saturated my mind. It really does not matter to me how these reflections of family vacations got in my head, they are there and that is what is important.
Oh – most of my memories are at KOAs
So In the summer of 2019 Tab across Texas hit the road and to check out a few KOAs to determine if they still held the power to create memories.
Spoiler alert, to our surprise, they did.
Our summer journey began in Oklahoma and we would ultimately stay in four Oklahoma KOAs.
KOA just east of Oklahoma City
KOA with horse track right in front
KOA in Durant Oklahoma
Each KOA offered a different experience with similar vibe, a friendly vibe. No matter if we just showed up to get a spot or called ahead, the KOA staff seemed authentic in manner and customer service.
As for the experience – right on the mark for memory making. From fishing ponds to game rooms, on-site horse tracks to casinos, not to mention the swimming pools and wonderful restroom and shower facilities Oklahoma’s KOAs are A OK.
Our KOA experiences continued on into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.
The KOAs in places such as Abilene, Texas and Grants, New Mexico we used for quick overnight spots. Even for these stays of less than twelve hours the KOA offered easy setup, attentive staff, and quite neighbors.
Breakfast included at KOA in New Mexico
Melissa and Friend at Mesa Arizona KOA
The Las Cruces, New Mexico KOA was an experience that will not be forgotten. A pleasant staff greeted us on arrival and we settled into a spot with a great view of the Organ Mountains. A wonderful sunset and a brilliant night sky made for a wonderful experience.
View of Superstition Mountain from KOA site
Las Vegas – KOA
Our KOA experience in Mesa, Arizona was just as pleasant as New Mexico. Our site had a great view of Superstition Mountain and was surrounded by Saguaro cactus. The busy season in Arizona is definitely winter, while during summer reservations would not be required for an RV site, many attractions and restaurants are closed for the season.
Las Vegas – KOA
View of Superstition Mountain from KOA site
Tab across Texas made it all the way to Las Vegas during the summer of 2019. We found a KOA at Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino and set up for a couple of nights. At first we were a bit leery about a KOA on Bolder Highway in Las Vegas but our concerns quickly dissipated as we entered into this desert oasis. While the RV sites are nothing to write home about the pool and facilities are great. With the Tab only a few yards from these amenities we would spend the day by the pool before venturing over, easy walk, to Sam’s Town for and evening of entertainment.
Tab across Texas stayed in a total of nine different KOA in five different states over the course of the summer of 2019. The KOAs offered a consistency in operation that allowed us to not worry about what to expect from each overnight.
While the prices ranged from thirty to fifty dollars per night, Tab across Texas believes that quality comes at a price and from our experiences, KOA is quality.