A Hotel’s Grim History

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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.

Lots of work in downtown Texarkana

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.

Collector Items? Old doors from 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.

A vast improvement.

The Bankhead Highway Newsletter

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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. 

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Rosenda – The proprietor of “Sister Gift Shop and Rocks” – 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. 

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Bob Stogsdill – Bankhead Highway Hotel sign painter. 

 

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.

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Eastland, Texas. Celebrating the old road. 

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

 

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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.

Rockwall, Texas 

 

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1922 Bankhead Highway

 

 

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.

 

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Yes – That is the way it is speeled.

 

How fun is this. Wash clothes and learn about the history of washing clothes.

 

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A collection of antique washers on display.

 

It is not just antique washers on display, cases line the walls with trinkets and wonders of the washateria, including this hanger dispenser.

 

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50 cents?

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

https://www.amazon.com/Bankhead-Highway-Texas-Dan-Smith/dp/0615916619 

 

Also, check out the following article on Roadtrippers.

https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/bankhead-highway-dan-smith/

More information about the Bankhead can be found at www.tabacrosstexas.com 

What to look for in the next Bankhead newsletter
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.

Stay safe and travel well.

 

Across the State in Eight (part 6 – Abilene to Loraine) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure.

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“Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – The Main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

-John Steinbeck

 

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.

 

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A collection of Energies on the Bankhead. 

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.

 

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The Grace is located right across the street from the train station. 

 

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.

 

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Grace Museum visitor parking. 

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.

 

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Right on the original Bankhead alignment. 

 

 

Sitting right on, what was, the Bankhead the Burro Alley’s courtyard is a hidden gem only a few feet off the road.

 

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Heading into Burro Alley

 

The path to the restaurant, shops, and courtyard is very Santa Fe -ish.

 

 

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This picture does not do it justice. 

Surrounded by a collection of stores and a restaurant this oasis in Abilene is a must stop.

 

 

 

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Scrabbled Eggs and Pork Chili – Burro Alley 

 

 

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.

 

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Still the same after all these years. 

 

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.

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Texas and Pacific Railroad still representing in Abilene. 

 

Merkel, Texas. My favorite town on the Bankhead Highway.

 

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The birdhouse. 

 

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.

 

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Downtown Merkel – Follow the red brick road. 

 

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.

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Will it ever open?

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.

 

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Elvis played the stage twice.

 

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.

 

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Just hanging – waiting for the right time. 

 

A pendulum hangs motionless, without purpose, over the old Bankhead route in Sweetwater.

 

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An excellent museum. 

 

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 women of W.A.S.P were stationed in Sweetwater, Texas.

 

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West out of Sweetwater. 

 

 

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.

 

 

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Roadside Rex

Outside of Loraine, I find a prize. More glass marbles.

 

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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.

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Stay tuned for part 7 of the Bankhead adventure.

Across the State in Eight (part 3 – Sulphur Springs to Dallas) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure.

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“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.

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You call it breakfast with you call it pricing. Excellent all around. 

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.

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Don’t make assumptions – this place is perfect.

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.

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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.

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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.

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My favorite Bankhead sign.

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.

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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.

 

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Bankhead Brewery – Promoting the road. 

Unique art embellishes the walls of the Bankhead Brewery like this barbed-wire map of the route.

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Bankhead Highway Map – Wood and Wire. 

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.

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The iconic live music venue Trees. 

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.

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The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza 

Goodbye to Dallas. The west is ahead of me and the Machine.

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A Bankhead bridge across the Trinity River 

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.

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Stay tuned for part 4 of the Bankhead adventure that will take us further west – into the Big Sky country of Texas. 

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Please join us on our ride.

 

Across the State in Eight (part 2 – Texarkana to Mount Vernon) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure.

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BH map letterhead c (2)“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.

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Headed west on Broad St. (Texarkana)

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.

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The Grim Hotel getting a facelift

 

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”

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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.

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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.

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Abandoned Bankhead Highway (Maud, Texas)

 

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.

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Dennis and Connie Chartier (Athen, Texas)

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.

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The bridges will look the same for the next 800 miles (most will not be painted yellow).

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.

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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.

 

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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”.

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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.

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Please join us on our ride.

Across the State in Eight – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure

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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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Quanah Parker Arrows of Route 66

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The Quanah Parker Arrows of Route 66

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.

Kickstand up.

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.

my photo

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Or it could just be the heat.

 

 

Let’s spend the night together. Three nights, in three iconic century-old Texas hotels.

A train horn blows loud, rattling the wooden french doors that open to the narrow perch overlooking the courtyard.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.DSC_0564 (2).JPG

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

Breakfast can save the world.

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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.

Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker – A Poem Story Thing

She was taken from her family,

When she was just a child.

Lost her name and language,

Living in the wild,

Open spaces of Comancheria,

Was to become her home.

Never settled in one place,

Constantly did they roam.

One could ask.

One could wonder.

Was this good or bad?

Will the changes in Cynthia Ann’s life,

Forever make her sad?

 

 

She grew up and had a family.

Her children numbered three.

The events of her childhood,

Faded in her memory.

One day her boys were playing,

While dad hunted buffalo.

Mom and daughter worked in camp.

Little did they know,

People from mother’s past,

Were close by,

Waiting to attack.

After many lives were lost,

These people took her back.

To the life she had forgotten,

And to those who were her kin.

Once again, a new life,

Cynthia Ann would begin.

One might ask,

One might wonder,

Is this good or bad?

Will the changes in Cynthia Ann’s life,

Forever make her sad?

 

Her boys were now,

Without their parents,

On the vast plains all alone.

Looking for other Comanche Bands,

To adopt them as their own.

Their situation was difficult,

But soon they would find their way.

And Quanah’s life, would change drastically,

In his upcoming days.

One might ask,

one might wonder,

Is this good or bad?

Should the brothers’ situation,

Forever make them sad?

 

Quanah became a leader.

A warrior brave and strong.

But life in Comancheria would,

Not last for very long.

Buffalo Hunters,

Soldiers,

And Ranchers,

Drove the Comanche from their homes.

Moved the Comanches to reservation land,

Where buffalo did not roam.

One might ask,

One might wonder,

Is this good or bad?

Will the comanche’s situation,

Forever make them sad?

 

Quanah learned to live a life,

Much different than he knew.

And when he thought about his mother,

He knew what she went through.

Having to assimilate,

In a new world,

And hold onto his culture too.

Would be difficult,

But this was what,

Quanah had to do.

One might ask,

One might wonder,

Is this good or bad.

Will Quanah’s forced new life,

Forever make him sad?

On the reservation,

Quanah could have felt much bitterness.

Instead he looked to find new ways to live,

And not allow regress,

Of the Comanche Nation,

He would not allow to fall.

He made friends of his enemies,

For the good of them all.

One might ask,

One might wonder,

Was this good or bad?

Should Quanah’s compromise,

Forever make him sad?

 

In the end Quanah would find,

Success in many ways.

He would be loved,

Respected by many,

For the remainder of his days.

So, one might ask,

One might wonder,

Was all this good or bad?

Should the situations,

in one’s life,

Forever make him sad?