BBQ and Texas Tea

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Like most people looking for some adventure, the Crazy Train often overlooks the little gems that are closer to the homestead. Yesterday, the clouds had finally cleared, the sun appeared after several depressing days of cold and dampness, and we had a few hours to kill. So we set our sites on the towns of Lockhart and Luling. Lockhart is famous for Texas BBQ, and Luling for Texas Tea—OIL. We decided to squeeze in both.

Since I’ve been avoiding shopping for the past way-too-long, our cupboards were bare, so we jumped in the SSPhelps and hit the road, our sites set on Caldwell County. Our first order of business would be food. Rumbling tummies always take top priority.

In Lockhart, there are four Q joints, three of them rising to the coveted status of the Texas Monthly Top 50 List. Kreuz (pronounced “Krites”), Black’s, and Smitty’s. (If you’re not a friend of the Crazy Train, then you should know that one of the driving forces of the Train is Texas BBQ, and we’ll drive for hours to stand in line for the good stuff!) We’ve recently been to Black’s and Kreuz, so we decided on Smitty’s—and we were NOT disappointed.

My first foray into Lockhart BBQ was back in the early 1990s. As a photography major at St Edward’s University in Austin, we’d occasionally trek to Lockhart for lunch and picture taking. Back then, I remember two choices: Kreuz and Black’s. The only differences between them (that I could remember) were that Black’s had plates, sauce, and silverware, and Kreuz had butcher paper, no sauce, and no silverware—but they had knives that were chained to the tables. I think we usually ended up at Black’s because of the whole silverware thing, but the knives-on-chains thing at Kreuz was always fun too.

So when the Crazy Train hit Kreuz a few months ago, I was confused. It was NOT like I remembered. NOTHING. Not on the square, it was new, and it was WAY big. And where the heck were the knives on chains? Clearly I’d lost my mind.

Having graduated from college and no longer living nearby, I was unaware of the events that had unfolded in my absence. Since I HAVE to know, I nosed around and got the skinny.

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In 1900, German butcher/grocer Charles Kreuz Sr. set up shop in Lockhart. Refrigeration being what it was (and Germans hating waste) Kreutz devised an alternative to trashing unsold meat—he made sausage from the lesser cuts and smoked the better ones, then slow-cooked it all over BBQ pits he built out back. He sold the meat wrapped in butcher paper, and customers often ate it with nothing but a pocket knife and their hands.

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In 1948, Kreuz Jr sold the whole kit and kaboodle to his longtime employee, Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt. Smitty kept the status quo until the 1960s when he closed the grocery, keeping only a few “side” items that customers enjoyed with their meat. In 1984, he sold the business to his sons, who ran things just like dear old Dad. Until 1997, that is. Word on the street is that one son decided to retire, and a kerfuffle arose as to how to proceed. After some in-family negotiations, one son got the building and the other son’s kids got the then 99-year old business name “Kreuz.” The Kruez kids hauled some of the original hot coals ¼ mile north where they built a ginormous BBQ palace. The kids with the building kept the original pit fires roaring, re-christened the historic joint “Smitty’s,” and the Health Department 86’d the chained knives. Some baloney about sanitation and safety.

2015/01/img_1481.jpgAnyhow, the Crazy Train (minus Mags) decided on Smitty’s. We arrived just before the lunch rush, and I am giddy that we did! The ribs were unbelievable. I’m usually a brisket and beef ribs girl, but the pork ribs were fanfreakingtastic. Still no silverware, still no plates. The atmosphere was great (as I remembered!) and the employees made us feel just as at home as Tootsie and Kerry do in Lexington. I chatted with one employee about how I hadn’t been in since my college days and that I wanted to take some pictures. She told me to make myself at home, and if I wanted a tour or to go into the kitchen or ANYWHERE, to just let her know and she’d take me ANYWHERE. Love, love, LOVE.

After filling our tummies with delicious Q, we strolled around downtown for a bit before heading south to Luling.

One thing about Luling is that you know you’re getting close because you can smell it. So whenever we’re headed that way, I start singing “it’s beginning to smell a lot like Luling!” to the tune of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” The kids hate it, which makes me sing it louder and more enthusiastically than I would if they’d just keep their yaps shut.

2015/01/img_0043.jpgBefore the railroads and cowboys arrived, the heavily wooded land where the San Marcos River and Plum Creek converged was the place where the warlike Commanche Indians set up their winter camps. Here, they fought with other tribes, Mexican silver miners, and Republic of Texas settlers. In 1874, the advance crew of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad came to a halt when they had difficulty building a bridge over the steep gorge of the San Marcos River. This bottleneck forced a town to spring up literally overnight, leaving no time for the sheriff, located 16 miles away in Lockhart, to establish adequate law enforcement.

The shantytown quickly descended into chaos, becoming infamous as a place of lawlessness. Like moths to a flame, outlaws, gamblers, felons, gunmen, desperadoes, cardsharps, bandits, and other ne’er do wells were drawn to “The Toughest Town in Texas,” a town with more than 40 saloons—more than twice the number of other businesses—and no churches.

By 1877, the sheriff hired some no-nonsense deputies, and quickly, Luling became a law-abiding community. When the great cattle drives ended in the 1880s, cotton farming took over as the leading source of income.

Enter Edgar B. Davis. In the 19teens, this eccentric millionaire businessman sold off his majority shareholdings of the United States Rubber Company, gave most of his fortune away, and came to Luling to manage his brother Oscar’s oil leases. Edgar was religious, and believed that God sent him to Texas to save the town from its one-crop farming oppression and to lead it to prosperity through oil. In 1921, Oscar died, and Edgar bought up his oil leases. Although geologists told him there was no oil in Luling, Edgar insisted on listening to the advice of the bluebonnets instead. Seriously. Legend has it that he got down on the ground, put his ear to the bluebonnets, and the flowers told him the geologists were wrong.

Turns out that the bluebonnets were right. The first six of Davis’ oil wells were, in fact, dry. However, oil gushed from the seventh. On August 9, 1922, the Rafael Rios No.1 opened up the 12×2 mile long Luling Oil Field that immediately produced tens of thousands of barrels of oil. In 1926, Davis made what was, at the time, the biggest oil deal in Texas history. True to his generous spirit, he gave huge bonuses to his employees and made considerable philanthropic contributions throughout town. The Depression was unkind to this generous man, and he spent his final years paying off debt. Edgar B Davis died in 1951, and was buried beside one of his former homes in Luling—the same site where, 15 years later, a hospital would be built and named in his honor.

I’m sure you want to know why I spent all this time telling you about Edgar, don’t you? Well, here you go:

2015/01/img_1490.jpgOn June 11, 1926, just after completing his legendary oil deal, Edgar B Davis threw the biggest and most lavish appreciation picnic for his employees and friends. The BBQ drew an estimated 30,000 guests, and cost about $5 million. That’s upwards of $35 million in today’s dollars. At the picnic site, Edgar had a Bath House constructed as a gift to the City. The Bath House’s thick, steel-reinforced walls would provide a cool shelter for swimmers and parents, be a great gathering place for teenagers, and be sturdy enough to withstand temperamental flooding of the San Marcos River.

At the big picnic, Mr Davis supplied a bazillion bottled drinks to accompany the gazillion tons of BBQ he had served up. Unfortunately, a jillion of these bottles ended up smashed in and around the river, leaving enough broken glass to bloody visitors’ feet for decades.

2015/01/img_1489.jpgThis pillbox of a building, cool in the summer, and perfectly perched between the park, the golf course, and the river, fell into ruin, unusable for all the broken glass. In the 1940s, the decorative wrought iron was cut away and scrapped for the war effort. Vandals began to deface it, creating an eyesore. The decision was made to raze the Bath House, but, Mr Davis’ brilliant construction saved the structure from becoming a footnote in Luling’s history. They COULD NOT BULLDOZE IT. It was impenetrable.

So rather than continue to watch the Bath House suffer further degradation, the city buried it. With dirt. Soon, the dirt sprouted grass and weeds and plants and trees and became a little hill in the park. The City of Luling had sent Edgar Davis’ gift to its grave by the river. But, the little Bath House wouldn’t go down without a fight. That brilliant construction that was intended to safeguard the Bath House from flooding ultimately allowed it to arise from the grave. As rivers in Texas are prone to doing, the San Marcos flooded and the dirt and grass and weeds and trees and most of that broken glass was just swept down stream out to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Now, Edgar Davis’ little Bath House is above ground—mostly. It’s covered in graffiti with trees growing out its windows, but it’s as strong as ever. With a little elbow grease (and maybe a little of the philanthropy that Mr Davis was so well-known for) the Bath House could actually be used for its original purpose. Maybe a staircase down to the water, some old-fashioned shoveling, and a power-wash, and Luling could use Mr Davis’ generous gift. (Personally, We’d like to see a Texas Historical Marker on it—it kinda deserves one.) But, until a Lulingite with a few extra coins takes the lead, the Bath House will sit there, waiting for people like us to find it and give it a little respect.

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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Happy, Texas

When the Crazy Train sees a speck on the map called “Happy,” it’s pretty much a given that we’re going to make it a point to stop there.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1302.jpgLegend has it that around 1890, a team of parched cowboys found a stream in the area and named it “Happy Draw” because they were, well, happy to have found some water in this otherwise arid land. A post office and stagecoach exchange station set up shop by the draw, but when the town of Happy was laid out in 1906, they decided to move it two miles to the west to be closer to the new Santa Fe Railroad extension.

Unfortunately, the natives were restless in the back seats of the Crazy Train. Once again, the all-you-can-eat “free” hotel breakfast a few short hours earlier was not enough to sustain them for more than 120 minutes. (I’m starting to think that when food is included in the price of anything, it doesn’t matter how much the kids eat, they’re still hungry six minutes after we leave, thus requiring me to either buy them a snack or listen to them slowly, and loudly, die of starvation in the back seat.)

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1295.jpgWe drove down (literally) every single street in the town of Happy in search of food. We crossed our fingers and toes, praying for a diamond-in-the-rough mom and pop diner or a gas station with an ample selection of edible garbage. But, alas, Happy made us categorically unhappy in the victual department. So we bid a fond farewell to The Town Without a Frown (or, The Town Without A Dairy Queen) and hit the open roads, in search of sustenance and adventure.

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A Short Story about Wichita Falls’ First Skyscraper: Everything’s Bigger in Texas…. Welllllllll….. Almost.

In researching Rt66, I came across a little stop that wasn’t on the Mother Road, but had a funny story nonetheless. I read it and had a chuckle, and then went on my way, thinking it wasn’t in the cards for this trip. This is usually the kind of thing we’ll drive WAY out of our way to see, but by the time we were headed in that direction, I’d forgotten all about it.

So as we wandered the deserted streets of Wichita Falls on Thanksgiving Day hoping to luck into an open mom and pop restaurant, I was only thinking about turkey. But when I saw a familiar silhouette peeking out over a dumpster near the train depot, I squealed like a little girl and navigated the hubs towards it, briefly forgetting about food.

Mark: “What is that?”
Me: “It’s a SKYSCRAPER!”
Mark: “What? No it’s not.”
Me: “Yes it is! It’s the world’s littlest skyscraper!”

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Here’s the skinny:

Once upon a time, Wichita Falls was a bonafide boom town with something like 20,000 hopefuls streaming in to seek their fortune in oil. This sudden tsunami of people, jobs, industry, and money happened a little too quickly for the small town, so infrastructure was lagging. Oil companies and brokerage houses had hastily pitched tents for temporary office space and brokers were frantically doing business deals worth thousands of dollars on street corners. This frenzy created the ideal setting for one of the most fascinating con jobs in American history.

In 1906, Wichita Falls and Oklahoma City Railway Company director August Newby built a one story office building near the train depot. The Newby Building, as it was called, was never at full occupancy until the discovery of black gold nearby. Then, the modest office building swelled with seven tenants.

Enter JD McMahon, a fast-talking East Coast businessman, engineer, and oilman. McMahon was one of the Newby Building tenants, and he had an idea. He drew up plans for a high rise unlike anything Wichita Falls had ever seen. The late-neoclassical style “skyscraper” annex to the Newby Building would overlook the oil fields, and help usher the sleepy town on the plains into the future. He quickly set about selling $200,000 (that’s about $3 million to us) in stock to eager investors looking to get rich quickly. The investors, many of whom were city officials, blindly handed over their money, their eyes too clouded with dollar signs to pay much attention to the details.

Once McMahon had the cash, his crew began to build. By the time the investors realized what had hit them, it was too late. The “skyscraper” was nearly complete. In a stroke of evil genius, McMahon had clearly drawn his high-rise plans in inches rather than feet, rendering the perceived 40-story skyscraper to a mere 40 feet tall– not much larger than an elevator shaft.

The angry investors dragged McMahon into court, demanding that the film flam man be punished and their money returned. But the judge ruled against them, teaching them an expensive lesson: read the fine print. Other than building the annex on property that he didn’t own, without the owner’s permission, McMahan had done nothing illegal. He had built the building EXACTLY according to the blueprints– the blueprints NONE of the investors had bothered to look at. So good ‘ol JD headed off into the annals of history with his millions, never to be heard from again.

Embarrassed by their gullibility (ie: the proposed building site was only 10′ x 16.75’) or that the double tick marks next to all the measurements on the blueprints (rather than the single tick marks) indicated inches, the investors had no choice but to accept defeat. The contracted elevator company even backed out, either out of pity for the investors or because an elevator wouldn’t actually fit in the building. Until an internal staircase could be added, an external ladder had to be used to access the upper floors. Since office space was still in high demand, oil companies squeezed desks into the 118 square feet (per floor).

When the Depression hit and the boom ended, the silly little skyscraper at the corner of Seventh and LaSalle was boarded up and forgotten. In 1986, the City of Wichita Falls deeded the building to the Wichita County Heritage Society, and they attempted to preserve it. But, shortly thereafter, the little skyscraper was abandoned again. There were plans to have it demolished, but the architectural firm of Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter was hired to stabilize the dilapidated structure. The partners fell in love with it and partnered with Martin Groves Electric to buy it. They spent a bunch of money restoring it. They admit it probably wasn’t the smartest financial investment, but they found the little skyscraper’s true value was in its unique place in local history.

Plus, it’s a great conversation piece and draws a steady stream of curious tourists… like the Crazy Train! I told the kids the story, and, wide eyed, my daughter asked how so many people could be so gullible. I told her that this building is a great lesson: always read the fine print before signing anything or investing your money.

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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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The JNJ Line– Girls Day Out! (or, Girls Day PigOut!)

Vitáme Vás!
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Yesterday, I got to do one of my favorite things in the whole world– I got to introduce awesome people to awesome people! Since Jess and Nicole and I had so much fun on Tuesday, we decided that a trip to West was exactly what we needed. We loaded up the Littles and hit the open road for Kolacheville so the JNJ Line could feast on some delicious Czech baked goodness.

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Before April of 2013, most non-Texans had never heard of West, the little Czech town off of I35 between Dallas and Austin. The 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company put West on the national radar, but those of us Texans who’ve been up or down the I35 corridor more than once know all about it. (I’d even stopped in West in the early 90s on drives between San Antonio and Denton for kolache and to look for vintage cameras at the local antique shops.) Unfortunately, most don’t venture very far off the highway, but if you’re willing to drive less than a mile out of your way, you’ll have a foodie experience like no other. Mark and I knew there were three kolache bakeries in West, and we were determined to try all three so we could give one of them the Crazy Train seal of approval. We have tried them all, and YES–there IS a clear winner.

The town can trace its history back to the 1840s, but it wasn’t until the 1880s when the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad (also known as “the Katy”) came through that West started to flourish. It was in this boom that the first Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas. By the turn of the century, Czech businesses were everywhere in West, and the town became the center of commerce in the area.

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But it wasn’t until 1952 when the brilliant pharmacist from the Old Corner Drugstore and his equally brilliant Czech wife caught lightening in a bottle. Before the Montgomerys opened the Village Bakery, you had to have Czech friends to get your hands on a kolache. Other than home kitchens, the only places you could find them were at church bazaars or Czech family gatherings. They just weren’t commercially available. Knowing they had a great idea, the couple opened a bakery and used family recipes to share their amazing pastries with the public. But (Mark loves it when the pharmacist is the hero of the story!) it was the PHARMACIST who first thought of putting sausage into that delicious sweet dough. Kolache (koh-la-chee) has fruit, klobasniki has sausage–and thanks to a PHARMACIST, this deliciousness is available in nearly every donut joint in Texas. But make no mistake– nothing, and I mean NOTHING– compares to the original.

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It was on a regular Crazy Train roadtrip that we met Mimi Montgomery Irwin, the brilliant pharmacist’s daughter and current owner of the Village Bakery. After five minutes with Mimi, I felt like I’d met my long lost sister. She is so amazing. We spent hours in the Village Bakery, and we could’ve spent several more if the kids hadn’t been feasting on sugar and bursting at the seams to burn off some of that energy. For months I’d told Jess and Nicole about Mimi, and I couldn’t wait to take them to the Bakery. The Littles were ready for cookies and kolaches, and, well, so were we. The Village Bakery is 90 minutes from my house– a short drive for something, and someone, so awesome. (And for anyone who knows about my obsession with poppy seeds, it’s Mimi’s poppy seed buchta that will allow me to check “test positive for opium on a drug test without ever actually taking opium” off my bucket list! Her poppy seed buchta is simply the yummiest pastry on the planet.)

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One bite of the Village Bakery’s kolache, and Jess and Nicole knew that from that point on, donut shop kolache would be forever ruined. The Littles had a blast playing “ring around the rosie” eating cookies and kolache, drinking milk, and giggling and laughing. (And we even put them to work for a few minutes too!) The JNJ Line roared in like a freight train and had the BEST time with Mimi and her staff. We ate kolache and klobasniki and buchta and drank coffee and chatted. After several hours, we had to return to reality and say our goodbyes. It’s never fun to end a visit, and, once again, I felt a twinge of sadness leaving my long lost sister. BUT, I know, without a doubt, that the Crazy Train, and the JNJ Line will be back again…. sooner rather than later! It took us more than one trip to shuttle our delicious Czech haul out to the SSPhelps. Kolache, cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls, buchta, cookies, twists, pastries, and more made the trek back down I35. I have a feeling it won’t last very long! I brought home a sausage, cheese and jalepeño buchta that is simply indescribable it was so good. (Post Script: Said buchta is already history. The P5 devoured it in 2 sittings. It’s great for dinner AND for breakfast!)

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…and my little ladies man got to sneak in a few kisses before we left. Before he went to bed last night, he said, “Mamma, I kissed Mimi! And hugged her too! I wanna go back!”

Vega, Texas and Adrian, Texas

Remember how I said that I was disappointed in how Texas has failed to maintain much of our Rt66 history and landmarks? (See post “Preface to Route 66.) Here’s what I meant: IMG_1049.JPGAmong the disappointments on our Rt66 journey was our trip west of Amarillo to the towns of Adrian and Vega. Adrian is also known as “Midway” or “Midpoint” because it is EXACTLY half-way between Chicago and Los Angeles on Rt66–1,139 miles to either. And, we were excited to learn that the inspiration behind Flo’s V8 Cafe in the Pixar movie “Cars,” had been none other than the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas! We knew the cafe itself didn’t look like Flo’s but we’d heard that the owner and the inside were pretty awesome. Rt66 memorabilia was on display in the 1950s-esque diner, and the owner was reportedly the inspiration for FLO HERSELF! “Cars” fans in the backseat rejoiced in excitement!

IMG_1046.JPGAfter leaving Cadillac Ranch, we went west, first to Vega. We saw some of the old neon signs– which, we learned, is what mostly remains of the Mother Road. We parked at the Courthouse and used their facilities to try to scrub the spray paint off the kiddos. No dice. My boys were blue. The paint wasn’t coming off. So we checked out the old restored Magnolia Station (pretty cool) and then headed across the street to Roark Hardware. Of all the places we stopped on our trip, Roark Hardware has got to be filled with some of the nicest people we’ve met. Not only did we want to see the oldest operating hardware store on America’s Main Street, but we needed help getting the paint off the boys. The shop was pretty neat. Filled with modern hardware items as well as some cool vintage stuff on display, Roark’s looked a lot like an old-time general store. Everyone jumped in on helping us find a way to un-paint the boys, and when we wanted to BUY the supplies, they were surprised that we didn’t just want to use some! We insisted, and left with clean kids and a happy feeling because we LOVE supporting small business.

IMG_1044.JPGHowever, our joy was short-lived. Everything else in Vega was closed! Every Rt66 attraction we’d read about, every place our new friends at Roark’s recommended, everything on Trip Advisor and Yelp and our Rt66 app…. Closed. We passed up the restaurants because, well, the Midpoint Cafe was just a few miles down Rt66. So, we took some pictures around the Magnolia Station, and made our way west to Flo’s. I mean The Midpoint Cafe.

IMG_1047.JPGWhen we arrived in Adrian, we were a little surprised. (We have since learned that ANY town with a population of less than 1,000 is more than likely to be pretty sparse, so make a note for future reference!) As our second “destination city” on Rt 66 (after the county seat in Vega), we weren’t prepared for a virtual ghost town. After all, the online sites boasted 12 local businesses, a population of 150, and the Midpoint Cafe! We passed by the Bent Door Trading Post– Closed. The Antique Ranch– Gone. Tumbleweed actually blew across the road in front of us. Yet, optimistically, we pressed on. As we pulled into the parking lot at the Midpoint, our optimism quickly turned to sadness. It was closed. Closed. For the season. The handwritten sign on the door said, “Closed for the 2014 Season! SEE YOU IN JANUARY!” Sigh… (See note at the bottom.)

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However, we did take a little “scenic” drive through the town of Adrian, and saw some hilariously strange road signs. Since they were mostly in people’s front yards (and residents looked at us like we were nuts for cruising through the residential area) I didn’t snap any pics with my Professional Fancy Candy Apple Red Picture-Making Magic Box (or the iCheese). But now I regret it because NOW I know these were some of Stanley Marsh 3’s bizarre road signs, erected in tribute to the eccentric millionaire when he died this past June. HINDSIGHT PEOPLE!!! DO YOUR RESEARCH!!! I SHOULD’VE BEEN PREPARED!

IMG_1048.JPGAnd, well, I did enjoy the Bent Door Trading Post, even though it was closed. I jumped out and took some pictures (and poked around, like I love to do in old, broken down, scary-looking, dilapidated, ghost-town looking buildings). There was some interesting “rusty gold” as Mike and Frank on American Pickers say, and the gas station fixtures out front were pretty neat. Not to mention the cool front door, which is, in fact, “bent,” as the name implies. It was originally a cafe, souvenir shop, and gas station. Built in 1947 by Robert Harris, it was actually called “Midway Station,” but everyone just called it the Bent Door Cafe” because the recycled doors and windows from a WWII USAF watch tower were “bent.” In 2009, the name was officially changed to “The Bent Door.” It had been saved from demolition, and I’d read that it was in the process of restoration, but, unfortunately, I could see no trace of this when we were there. Sad.

IMG_1050.JPGUnable to take any more disappointment, we turned the SSPhelps around and did what the Crazy Train does best….. We implemented PLAN B! The kids were STARVING (my sarcastic emphasis because apparently, the all-you-can-eat free waffles at the hotel couldn’t have sustained them for another half hour so we could see the TX/NM border) so we turned around and headed back to Amarillo, sights set on the infamous cheeseburgers of the Golden Light Cafe– CONFIRMED to be open and ready to flip some burgers!

(END NOTE: Since we are HUGE proponents of mom and pop businesses, we applaud their decision to take a vacation! One of the best things about owning your own business is having the choice to open whenever you want. Now, we know that if there is a specific place on our “must go to” itinerary, we need to call ahead and check on the hours! Kudos, Fran Houser, for taking the holiday season off! We hope we can catch up with you next time!)