Dublin, Texas

For those Crazy Train loyal followers, I heartily apologize for our absence of late. We’ve been doing the responsible thing over the last few months—homework, scouts, student council, soccer… laundry…. And I have been working on my research for my book (and you can see my progress at itsabeautifultree.com).

The whole Crazy Train in front of one of the many Dublin Welcome signs on the roads into the town. Perfect spots for family photos!

But now that the weather is looking brighter, the bluebonnets are popping up on the roadsides, and summer vacation is within our reach, we have started thinking about road trip possibilities. Mostly, we are thinking about all those fantastic little dots on the map we’ve blown through on the way TO somewhere else. We’re going to start working on making those THE destinations!

And, in my family chaos, I neglected to report on our latest road trip! As our most ardent friends and followers know, it’s not the destination that holds all the fun, it’s the journey. It’s taken me awhile to get it posted. I promise to do better!

This year, we decided that since the Hub had St Patrick’s Day off, why not spend the Irish holiday in DUBLIN? Um, DUH. What red-blooded American of Irish descent wouldn’t want to spend the feast day of St Patrick—the High Holiday of all things green—in DUBLIN? Having received my early education from Irish Catholic nuns FROM Ireland, I spent every single St Patrick’s Day—from kindergarten in the St Bridgid’s Convent semi-basement classroom to the gym or cafeteria stage at St Luke’s Catholic School singing songs about corned beef and cabbage and smiling Irish eyes. It seemed almost a sin to forego to opportunity to celebrate the holiday anyplace else. So, we decided that on the dull and rainy day of March 17th, we would pile into the land yacht and head on over to Dublin.

Did I mention we were going to Dublin, TEXAS?

Um, yeah. Not the same.

Dublin, Texas, has always had a little bit of fame here in the Lone Star State as the home of Dublin Bottling Works—the place where the amazing Dublin Dr Pepper was bottled until the heartless giants of corporate conformity decided that the little guys in Texas who still had their original contract with Dr Pepper couldn’t keep doing their thing. If you don’t know the Dublin Dr Pepper story, here’s the skinny:

At the “end of the line” at the Dublin Bottling Plant. Here’s where the bottles come off the vintage bottling machinery and are checked before going out into the world.

Once upon a time, a tasty carbonated beverage called Dr Pepper appeared on the soda market. It debuted in Waco, and was originally only available there. But in 1925, an independent bottler in the little town of Dublin obtained the first bottling franchise with Dr Pepper to bottle the goodness outside of Waco. Dublin’s distribution territory was limited to a 44-mile radius of the town, which was just peachy until Dr Pepper was eventually sold to Snapple. Weeeelllll…. Snapple quickly learned that people from everywhere were flocking to this little town in Texas for “Dublin Dr Pepper” because they had never changed their formula to include high fructose corn syrup. Dublin Dr Pepper always stayed true to the awesomeness of pure cane sugar, and their loyal followers showed their devotion with their wallets.

This was my most favorite part of the tour. This is the sophisticated dating apparatus on the machine. See the orange highlighter? Since they only bottle maybe once a year on the vintage machinery these days, our tour guide told us that they use whatever color is handy that year. This is the most modern part of the machine. FABULOUS!

So when big ol’ Snapple came along, they saw that this little independent distributor in Texas was making money hand over fist on Dublin Dr Pepper. People were selling it online (not necessarily the bottler) and it was being sold outside the 44-mile radius stipulated in their contract (again, not necessarily by the bottler). Well, big ol’ Snapple didn’t like this one bit, so, although Dublin had less than 1% of the entire US Dr Pepper sales, it was time for them to stop. In 2011, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group sued Dublin Dr Pepper for trademark dilution and stealing sales from other Dr Pepper distributors by selling outside their territory. In 2012, Dublin Dr Pepper ceased to exist.

This part of the machine is the fancy dishwasher. The bottles are recycled, and since they don’t make this size anymore, they are reused again and again. THIS is real recycling! Loved it.

Thanks, Snapple. Thanks for ruining it for all of us. I hope the $7 million in annual sales you recouped from Dublin helps y’all sleep better at night.

Anyhow, now the old Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Plant bottles their own sodie-pop in their super-cool vintage machinery in the same plant where the delicious Dublin Dr Pepper used to be bottled. The new stuff is called Dublin Bottling Works, and it’s not bad. The tour is pretty cool and you can see all the vintage machinery and Dr Pepper collectibles in the Plant and in the accompanying museum. Not a bad way to spend a rainy St Patrick’s Day afternoon. It wasn’t the Guinness Brewery at St James Gate in Dublin, Ireland, but it was much cheaper and took a fraction of the time.

The Dublin Bottling Works was the highlight of our trip. NOTHING else in Dublin was open! NOTHING! There were a few shops in town who’s signage said they’d be open until 5:00 or 5:30, but most places were closed. There weren’t really even any restaurants in town, and NO PUBS! What?!?!? I messaged an Irish friend of mine and said that if the Dublin in Ireland found out that there were no pubs in Dublin, Texas, the entire population of Dublin, Ireland might charter an Aer Lingus jumbo jet and fly over here and beat up the town of Dublin, Texas.

(Let me interject about Dublin Bottling Works for a sec here. As we were finishing up—right around closing time, I noticed a family pull up in front of the Plant with out of state plates. They tried the door, but it was already locked. One of the young employees opened the door and told the mom that they had already closed. “Darn!” said the mom, “we just got to town and we are continuing on and we really wanted to take the tour!” Well, THANK YOU SMALL TOWN, TEXAS for showing them what Texas hospitality is all about! I noticed that you let the family in, and I assume you stayed late and gave them a tour anyway. I just wanted to say, even if you don’t ever read this, that your gesture did not go unnoticed, and this Texan would like to thank you for your kindness. It really made me happy to see something like that. You could’ve just ignored them, but you didn’t. KUDOS!)

Anyhow, back to me. A simple Google search would’ve told us that Dublin, Texas celebrated St Patrick’s Day over the weekend preceding the 17th. Oh well. You’d think I’d have learned by now. But it definitely didn’t stop us from our photo ops, because we ALL know that the hilariousness of trips like this lie in Facebook statuses like “Happy St Patrick’s Day—from Dublin, Texas” and then everyone replies “OMG what are you doing in Dublin?” and I respond, “um, St Patrick’s Day! DUH!” However, I was quite sad that I was unable to obtain a Guinness on the Irish High Holy Day. But I did wear green. And blue (St Stephanie—I always wear blue for you!).

I’m tall and I have long arms, but getting 5 people in a selfie AND the sign in the background in the rain is HARD WORK! Caution: you will receive no Guinness as a reward after your efforts at a selfie in Dublin.

Although Dublin claims to be the Irish capital of Texas, the origin of the name isn’t 100% in support of that theory. Could’ve been for the term “double-in” that the settlers used to yell as a warning cry during Indian raids. Or for the double log cabins the settlers built. Or for the capital of Ireland. Regardless, it’s been there since about 1860. It’s mostly and agricultural town, and sadly, most of the businesses and buildings in the downtown area are in need of some TLC. The Ben Hogan Museum was closed the day we were in town, as was the Dublin Historical Museum. And, like I said, most of the other shops were closed for the day too. Would’ve been nice to have seen all the sights since we LOVE to immerse ourselves in the entire culture of a town while we are there.

Perhaps next year, we will check ahead of time and go on the festival weekend. And we won’t assume that stuff will be open in Dublin just BECAUSE it’s St Patrick’s Day!

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Top Ten 2014 Crazy Train Destinations I Haven’t Blogged About… Yet.

We’ve been backroads road-tripping since before the kids– I only just started blogging about it. There are countless places I haven’t written about yet. With all the end-of-year lists emerging, I wanted to share my Top 10 Texas Destinations of 2014 that I haven’t blogged about yet. This is just the tip of the iceberg!

These are in no particular order since they’re so different, so I’ll just list ’em as I think of ’em!

10. Bandera
We went to Bandera for the National Day of the American Cowboy. We had a great day and wanted to spend the night, but learned a valuable lesson: Sometimes advance hotel reservations are necessary, or else you find yourself at Buckees at 3am for coffee.

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9. Shiner
One of these days, we’ll make it to Shiner on a weekday when the brewery is open. Until then, the “Antiques Art & Beer” place is my favorite spot. Especially the ladies room.

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8. Cuero
We had no idea there was a Pharmacy Museum in Cuero (heck, we’d never even heard of Cuero either). From the outside, it looked cool. The lady in the liquor store across the street said it’d been in the works for ever, but still hadn’t opened. Once it is, we’re there!

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7. Mason
For Mag’s birthday, we went on a topaz dig on a private ranch in Mason. It was pretty awesome. Then we explored the downtown square, although everything was closed for the day (weekends are tough for roadtripping to small towns). We’d like to go back and do the whole thing again…. minus the crack.

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6. Hallettsville
We’d heard that Hallettsville is a great little town, but we’ve never been on a day when everything was open. We’ve been through on a Sunday, and we went back for their Kolache Festival where William took the title of Kolache Eating Champion, 10 & Under Division. THAT was a day to remember!

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5. London
Raina and I had High Tea in downtown London. Yes, I’ll blog about it. Not sure if we’ll be headed back, but at least we can tell everyone that we went to London and had tea.

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4. Gonzales and Goliad
Who knew that the “Come and Take It” cannon was still around and that you could actually see it? Both Gonzales and Goliad had a lot of interesting historical spots, and they’re pretty close together. I’m really looking forward to blogging about both places.

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3. Huntsville
I’ve always thought of Huntsville as the prison town. But it was fantastically beautiful. With Sam Houston State University, countless cool historic sites, and all the cool antique dealers on the square, we are definitely planning a return trip.

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2. Walnut Springs
Out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Meridian and Glen Rose is a little ghost town called Walnut Springs. A short trip into a junk shop turned into one of the most memorable Crazy Train afternoons yet. Definitely looking forward to a return trip. Sometimes you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

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1. Phelps
Is there a more PERFECT spot for a family photo than in front of a city limits sign for a town bearing your last name? I know, right?!?!? But, to quote the poet Robert Burns, “But little Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be in vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!” In other words, no city limits sign, no ghost town, no family photo…. nothing but a dot on the map. Literally.

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I could go on and on and on. But, why give y’all preview snippets when there are full stories to be told? Here’s to a fantastic upcoming year filled with more fun and adventure with the Crazy Train!

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Just outside of Liberty Hill, Texas

Today, I took the Crazy Train to the mall to see Santa Claus. I tried to find a place that was a little less mall-ly, but with Christmas only one week away, I didn’t want 2014 to be remembered as “The Year Without Santa Pictures.” Rather than continue my fruitless search, we just went to the mall.

Although I acquiesced on the mall thing, I refused to get there via the interstate. So, in true Crazy Train form, we took the backroads. It’s about a 45 minute trip anyway, so why not make it a relaxing, traffic-free, scenic drive? My littlest kiddo needed a power nap before visiting with the Big Guy, so a short drive seemed like a good idea.

In all our years of driving the back roads of Texas, we’ve seen a lot of cattle. A lot of cattle. A WHOLE LOT. Black ones, brown ones, orange ones, and white ones. Cows with big spots, cows with little spots, and cows that look like Oreos. Fat cows, skinny cows, girl cows, and bulls. Cows with no horns, cows with twisty horns, cows with stubby horns, cows with long horns and Longhorn cows. We’ve also seen all kinds of other farm animals like goats and horses and donkeys and chickens and sheep and llamas and even less common animals like buffalo and elk and ostrich and emu and peacocks.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1191.jpgBut today… TODAY I saw something I’ve never seen on Texas soil. What I saw today, I haven’t seen since my honeymoon in 2002 in the Scottish Highlands…
Today I saw a Heilan’ Coo. A HEILAN’ COO– IN TEXAS.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1188.jpgI didn’t realize there were Heilan’ Coos outside of the Scottish Mothership. I mean, I guess I never thought about it. I suppose I just thought they lived in the Highlands and nowhere else. Now that I type those words and think about it, I realize just how naive it sounds, but I guess it’s like picturing an American Buffalo anywhere other than the North American grasslands–it’s just not something you expect to see.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1193.jpgWhen I saw her, OF COURSE I turned the land yacht around to take a closer look. When we parked, we had the chance to chat with her owner for a few minutes and take a few pictures. It turns out that “Scottie” was a gift from a woman who was no longer able to care for her. Thankfully, Scottie is more of a pet, and not the alternative.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1192.jpgSo, what’s a Heilan’ Coo? It’s a Scottish Cow– a Highland Cow. The Scots accent sounds like “Heilan’ Coo,” so it’s the way they actually write it. It’s pronounced “hee-lan coo.” And they are pretty awesome looking animals. The breed is perfect for the Scottish Highlands because they are hardy and well suited for the harsh, cold, rainy, and windy Scottish Highland climate. Their long, thick, wavy hair gives them protection against the elements, and they are especially adept at foraging for food in the steep, mountainous areas. They are excellent grazers, and they’ll eat plants that most other cattle won’t eat. That doesn’t really translate to the Texas climate or landscape, but since Scots and Texans are both badasses, I can see how this combination makes sense!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1186.jpgScottie seemed like such a sweet coo. Since she is still relatively new, her owner didn’t want any of the kids to touch her, but she seemed to really enjoy the attention. She stayed close to us the whole time we were there, and she followed us to the car and gave us a sad, pouty, coo frown when we left. I’m thinking it’s good that we don’t own acreage or we might also own a coo right now too!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1190.jpgSince Scottie is a pet, and since I live in a dreamworld where delicious hamburgers and brisket come from a magical place called the “meat market,” we’ll just end our Heilan’ Coo lesson there. Enjoy.

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Fort Phantom Hill

IMG_8531-0.JPG Just north of Abilene, Texas on FM600 lies the remains of Ft Phantom Hill, a little gem of a ghost town that began in the early 1850’s to protect westward moving settlers from the Commanche.

IMG_8537.JPG The Fort is at the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. It was originally planned for Elm Creek, but a new general, changed the plan. This new spot had brackish water, no wood for construction, and…. isn’t that enough? They hauled in stone from Elm Creek, 2mi away (ironic, huh?) and brought oak logs from about 40mi away.

IMG_8532-0.JPG Though never officially named, the Fort was referred to as “The Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos.” (But I bet the soldiers called something more colorful.) The name “Fort Phantom Hill” refers to the apparitions inhabitants have claimed to have seen there from the start.

Life at the Fort– for lack of a better word– sucked. Elm Creek (2mi) was often dry. The Clear Fork’s water was brackish. The 80ft well was unreliable, and hauling water from a spring 4mi away (again) SUCKED. With this water supply, gardens couldn’t be kept and the men got scurvy, fever, pneumonia, and dysentery. The most common pastime was desertion. They say the ONLY positive thing about the Fort was the view.

IMG_8538.JPG Since virtually all Commanche encounters were peaceful, the Fort was abandoned in 1854. As troops left, the Fort was ablaze. The official report was that the Indians set the fires, but it was more likely the soldiers torched it in celebration.

IMG_8533.JPG In 1858, the structures were repaired so they could be used as a way-station for the Overland Mail Stagecoach Line. In the Civil War, it was used as a field ops base, and in 1871, it was a sub post of nearby Ft Griffin. In 1876/77, it was a buying/shipping point for buffalo hides, and by 1880, the town that had sprung up had over 500 residents. Jones was named County Seat, but 6mos later, County government had moved to Anson and the Texas & Pacific Railway was routed 14mi to the south, thus ending the run of Fort Phantom Hill.

In 1928, the site was bought by private interests, and in 1969 it was deeded to the Ft Phantom Hill Foundation to ensure its preservation.

Today, it’s one of Texas’ most pristine historic sites. Strolling among the dozen or so chimneys and buildings on the 22 acres is a spiritual experience. Entrance is free, and they have brochures and clean bathrooms. Everything is clearly marked. Don’t trust your GPS or any addresses or other directions. The site is about 15-20 minutes up FM600 from Abilene. Just keep your eyes open and you’ll see it. If you miss it, you’re not paying attention.

IMG_8529.JPG Don’t miss it. It’s a fantastic piece of history.

IMG_8535.JPG Oh yeah. If you want a family photo, bring a tripod. Finding things to make a camera stand was NOT easy. I couldn’t even find stuff to raise my fancy-schmancy little candy apple red picture making magic box… I can’t imagine trying to find stuff to build a FORT!

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Take only pictures,
Leave only footprints,
Keep only memories,
Kill only time,
Waste nothing,
and
Always leave a place
better than you found it.

2014 Thanksgiving Trip, Day One

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We left during a storm– a huge rainstorm that brought with it a massive cold front. Driving towards it, we could watch the storm system move towards us, unobstructed by urban growth and progress. It was fun to watch the sky as we drove northward, and to see the temperature steadily drop. Unfortunately, once we met up with the clouds, the sky opened up and it rained buckets and buckets. Cold + Downpour = No Pictures… for awhile, anyway.