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!

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.

The Time we Took Our 9-Year Old Daughter to a Bar. On a School Night.

Yep. You read that right. We took our daughter to a bar on a school night. But we had a really, really good reason. And no, it wasn’t because we couldn’t find a babysitter.

You see, one of the best things about Texas is that we’ve got some amazing musical legends right here in our backyard. The Crazy Train is based just spitting distance from the Live Music Capital of the World, so we’ve got plenty of concert opportunities.

In 2012, The Hub and I crossed Willie Nelson off our bucket list, but our eclectic little GirlChild was furious to have been left out. You see, Mags isn’t like most girls her age. We’ve not been tortured (yet) with whatever tween chipmunk helium techno bubblegum earworm death sentence that some parents suffer through. She’s got a heterogeneous musical palette that is admirable for a 10 year old girl. Her playlist has everything from Neil Diamond to Taylor Swift.

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(The afternoon before the show.)

So when Willie and Family brought the legendary bus back through our neck of the woods in 2013, we had to go. The 80 year old Redheaded Stranger might not have too many touring years left, so we decided to carpe diem and spring for tickets. Seeing Willie at Floore’s in Helotes had always been on my Bucket List, but the folks in Luckenbach say Gruene is best. Unlike Floore’s, Gruene Hall’s stage is elevated, and it’s a lot bigger, so you’re not packed in like sweaty sardines.

Willie 9If you’ve never seen a show at Gruene Hall, you should. The historic dance hall was built in 1878, and is known as “the oldest continually run dance hall in Texas.” Not much has changed in the last 135+ years. It’s something like 6,000 square feet of wooden dance floor history with the kind of bar that only serves ice cold longnecks. I think if you ordered something pink with an umbrella, they’d be forced to call the Texas Rangers on you. The fact that it’s un-airconditioned is really irrelevant. The design keeps it fairly comfortable year round.

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Tickets went on sale about a month out, so I made sure to be online and ready to pony up with my plastic at the instant tickets went live. In under a minute, I was $312 poorer, but I knew I’d have one excited little girl on my hands.

On the day of the show, we prepared as best as we could.

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Brothers at Grandma’s: Check!

Comfy jeans and boots: Check!

Cooper’s brisket in the belly: Check!

In line at 5pm sharp: Check!

While we were in line, we schooled Mags on the concept of General Admission Seating. There’d be a lot of standing around and waiting, but if she played her cards right, it’d be worth it. We told her that once the gate opened and they took her ticket, she’d need to high-tail it to the stage—front and center—and park it there. Don’t wait for mom. Don’t wait for Dad. Park it front and center and DO NOT MOVE.

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When the doors opened, she flew to the stage and anchored herself right behind a lady in a wheelchair. BRILLIANT move, Grasshopper. She watched, wide-eyed, as Willie’s road crew prepped the stage. When they set Trigger up directly in front of her, she realized that she had the best spot in Gruene Hall.

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About an hour passed before Paula, Willie’s daughter, took the stage. Paula Nelson is a joy to watch. She seems to really enjoy singing both solo and with her brothers and her dad. She has a great voice, and she’s just plain fun to watch. But after a few songs, Mags was tired of waiting for the REAL reason she was there.

But when Paula finished and she saw those braids for the first time UP CLOSE and IN PERSON, she knew that the wait was worth it. She sang. She jumped up and down. She danced. She took pictures. And when Willie threw his bandanas at the end of the show, she freaking caught one. SHE CAUGHT WILLIE’S BANDANA. He threw 2 of them, and she caught one!!! (How do I NOT have a picture of this?!?!?!)

I am SO not kidding. Holy crap. My daughter, age nine, had the most amazing first concert experience ever. She got to see a living legend at an historic venue. She got to stand front and center, and she came away with the ULTIMATE souvenir.

Since thWillie Notee show was on a Sunday night, we chose to crash at a nearby hotel and head back on Monday morning. Knowing that I am not a good enough liar to pull the “she was sick” card, and I am trying to teach her honesty and integrity, I told her it was OK to go ahead and tell her teachers the truth as to why she had missed school on Monday. And I sent a note. With a picture.

A couple weeks later, I saw her teacher and the principal at school. When the principal saw me, she just laughed, telling me that in ALL her years in education, she had NEVER seen such an awesome absence excuse letter. We laughed about it and I shared the story. Only in Texas is taking your 9-year old to a bar on a Sunday night to see a Willie Nelson concert an acceptable excuse from 4th grade!

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Unfortunately, I am afraid I have completely ruined the entire concert-going experience for her for the rest of her life, but I am so happy to have given her this awesome memory. Now she has her sights set on meeting him, but I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as she seems to think it’ll be. But then again, she’s a pretty lucky girl! She just might find a way to make it happen.

(In case you can’t read the note, it says: Dear Mrs 4th Grade Teacher: Please excuse Mags from school on Monday… She had a ticket to the sold out Willie Nelson concert in Gruene on Sunday night and she had to stand in the front row and catch one of Willie’s bandanas! I am sure you understand this once in a lifetime opportunity was too good to pass up. Thank you! Mrs CrazyTrain)

And yes. All these photos are mine. Please be cool and don’t copy ’em.

Balneotherapy–Texas Style; Taking the Waters in Marlin, Texas

Whenever I get a superlative case of the vapors, and miasma brings along coryza, the grippe, and quinsy, or I need relief from my lumbago, lethargy, the ills of overconsumption, or female hysteria, I just need to take the waters. Since Texas is lousy with sulphuric-rich mineral waters, you’d think easing nervous tension and dyspepsia with some old-fashioned balneotherapy, promenading, and repetitive quaffing of foul-tasting water would be a piece of cake, but no dice. There ain’t a single mineral spa in the Lone Star State where a girl can relax for a few days of massages, hot mineral baths, drinking stinky water, and socializing.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1430.jpgMost people speeding up and down I35 pass the Marlin exit with little more than a glance. I mean, really? A landlocked town in Central Texas named for a big saltwater fish? Hmmm…. Sounds, well, fishy.

Marlin is one of those dots on the map you’ve probably never heard of, but who’s history will surprise you. It wasn’t named for a fish, but for John Marlin, an early pioneer and Texas patriot who settled nearby in the 1830s. Marlin was incorporated in 1867 and became the Falls County Seat, guaranteeing its initial growth. Then the railroad came and people followed. By 1892, there were 2,500 residents.

But that was nothin’. It was around then that a surprising discovery put Marlin on the map, making it one of the top tourist destinations in the state.

No. I’m not kidding.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1422.jpgIn 1892 while digging for an artesian well, a hot, sulphur rich mineral spring was discovered. Rumor has it that 174° water shot 75 feet into the air. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, mineral spas were all the rage, so a medical/resort town sprung up (pun intended). Before “germ theory,” antibiotics, and sulfa drugs, doctors thought “taking the waters” was a cure-all for whatever ailed you. All that stuff I said earlier would’ve been cured by taking the waters. Miasma (that “something funky” in the air that caused sickness) like coryza (a cold), the grippe (influenza), and quinsy (tonsillitis). The waters also cured lumbago (low back pain), lethargy (exhaustion), the ills of overconsumption (hangover), female hysteria (PMS), nervous tension (stress), and dyspepsia (tummy-ache), arthritic, and most skin diseases. Remarkably, some physicians claimed it could cure liver disease, mental disorders, and cancer via osmosis during balneotherapy (soaking in the stinky water) and by drinking it.

Hotels and sanitariums went up everywhere. A hospital, various clinics, a “crippled” children’s clinic, and a pavilion with public fountains and a foot bath were built. Tens of thousands of people flocked to Marlin to take the waters ever year. Some say as many as 100,000 visitors a year came to Marlin to take the waters. The Cincinnati Reds held their spring training in Marlin in 1907, and from 1908-1918, the New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants) called Marlin home. Legendary Baseball Hall of Fame player and manager John McGraw batted left, threw right, and swore by the healing waters in Marlin. Did I mention that the Giants won the Pennant in 1911, 1912, and 1913? See? Magic water!

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/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1438.jpgWhen the stock market crashed in 1929, a grand, nine story hotel on Coleman Street was only half completed. The Crash had little effect on Marlin. In May of 1930, the 110-room hotel, which featured a ballroom that could hold 300 guests and an underground tunnel to the Marlin Sanitarium Bath House, became the eighth hotel opened by Conrad Hilton. Yeah. That Hilton.

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/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1401.jpgThough Marlin held on longer than most mineral spa towns, science and circumstance finally caught up with them. Fires in some of the hotels and spas forced their closure, and advancements in medicine made rebuilding them seem inappropriate. The extravagant claims made by charlatans (eg. sulphur baths as a cure for cancer) annihilated their credibility. Some clinics held on through the 1960s because they incorporated hydrotherapy into a physical therapy tool. But eventually, the stink water craze went bust.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1394.jpgSadly, the town of Marlin is a ghost of what she once was. Marlin is by no means a ghost town, but time hasn’t been kind to this former resort town that once hosted hundreds of thousands of health-seekers. Various murals boast snapshots of the once-vital spa town. Virtually nothing was open on the Saturday of our visit. Keith’s Hardware is one of Marlin’s oldest continuously operating businesses– housed in an awesome 114 year old building. Keith’s employs some awesome people who graciously showed us the massive pulley and lift system that was used to hoist buggies, wagons, farm implements, stoves, and furniture up to the third floor over a century ago. The ghost sign on the building’s west side still stands testament to the history contained within.

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/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1395.jpgThe only place to take the waters in Marlin these days is at the Fountain Pavilion adjacent to the chamber of commerce. All that remains is a small marble fountain and an empty foot bath.

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/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1392.jpgAnd yes. The water is warm. And yes. The water stinks. I can’t vouch for how it tastes because the kids were too chicken to taste it, and, well… there’s three of them and only one of me. Plus, I heard that drinking the sulphur water makes you poop, and, well, we were over an hour from home…. so… better them than me.

Kinda sucks that there hasn’t been a rich entrepreneur looking to invest in an historic little town. The crunchy granola alternative health market just might line up for some 19th century nostalgia and turn of the century medical cure-alls. Too bad. I’ve got a girls weekend on my calendar in January, and a weekend of sulphur rich balneotherapy, promenading, and repetitive quaffing of foul-tasting water might be just what the doctor ordered.

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****nb: the pictures that look like I took them, are mine. The ones that don’t look like I took them–the ones from a hundred years ago– I did NOT take. The Marlin pics are from the Marlin City website, and the baseball pictures are from the New York Giants websites photo archives pages (1911-1913).****

Huntsville, Texas and the Greatest Christmas Gift in the History of EVER

We love to browse in vintage/antique shops and local boutiques in the small towns we visit. They’re usually filled with things we haven’t seen before and aren’t likely to see again. It’s fun to talk to shop owners who are usually pretty engaging characters.

On our infamous trip to Phelps, we ended up in Hunstville. We couldn’t do much outside exploring because a huge downpour began once we arrived in town.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1350-0.jpgFor some people, junking/antiquing is boring. But for us, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. The kids enjoy talking to shop owners about shop items (or, as in Goliad, the owners thrilled them with local ghost stories). My kids are “Antique Shop Trained,” meaning they don’t touch (many) things, they don’t run, and, when they follow the rules (which they always do) they can explore on their own. Some owners (like one in Buda) who force us to constantly hold CJ’s hand do not have the opportunity to sell to us because we leave. A child struggling for independence is more likely to cause damage than one who’s learned to respect others and behave accordingly. So, each time we enter a shop, I say loudly, “you know the rules!” and they respond, “yes, Mom!” I then briefly, and conversationally, tell whoever has greeted us our rules, and we’re usually given a wide berth.

There are some shops we fall in love with, and in which we can explore all day. They’ve seen so many cool things. And one bonus of shops, unlike museums, is that we can pick things up, show them to the kids, and buy them if we want. It’s fun for them, and sometimes, if the mood, price, item, and phase of the moon are in alignment, something cool follows us home.

Occasionally, we find something that conjures a memory, and we love sharing those stories. On this trip to Huntsville, I found one such item. This would turn out to be my best gift purchase ever. This NEEDED to be wrapped up with a bow and put under the Christmas Tree for my brother.

You wanna hear the story, huh? Yeah, I thought so.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1340.jpgBack in 1977, McDonald’s was a BIG deal. HUGE. And no one loved it more than my brother, Jimmy. He loved McD’s so much that once when my mom was pumping gas, he slipped out of the station wagon and toddled across a busy 4-lane road, headed for the Golden Arches. He even he had a birthday party in their party room.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1323-0.jpgThis was pre-Happy Meal (1979) and McD’s were geniuses at marketing. So, when they offered 10” melamine dinner plates featuring McDonaldland scenes, YES we bought them, and YES we used them. ALL THE TIME. And, as many kids in their terrible 2s and 3s, Jimmy went through a phase where he’d ONLY eat off of his McDonald’s plate. Since we always ate at home back then, our dishwasher ran daily, and Jimmy’s favorite plate was always clean.
/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1337-1.jpgWell, almost always.

One fateful night in 1978, Jimmy’s plate was not clean, and Mom had set the table with the Franciscan Ware flower pattern dishes my parents had chosen when they married in 1970. They were a sturdy, off-white stoneware with a green stripe, and flowers in the middle. They were pretty, and when I saw a set last year, I almost bought it. But I only wanted a few pieces and I didn’t have room… and, wait, I’m getting off topic here…

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So Mom set the table with these dishes. Jimmy looked at his plate and firmly stated that he wanted HIS plate. Mom said it was dirty and he could use it tomorrow. Like a rational 3year old, Jimmy then flung the flower plate across the table, and it hurdled though the kitchen, smashed, and broke. Mom was mad, Jimmy was surprised, Dad must not have been home yet because I KNOW I’d have remembered his reaction.

Days later, Mom and Jimmy were in the kitchen when she saw something on the floor and went to pick it up. Anger flashed across her face as she sternly held it up. “Do you know what this is?” she barked, hoping he would feel some remorse. “A twiangle?” he answered, sweetly, sending my mom into reluctant giggles.

This story has become one of those family legends that gets told whenever we think of it because it’s funny. We laugh because it was cute that he didn’t see the shard of broken plate as a reminder of his tantrum—it was a triangle. The exchange made Mom laugh then, and it makes her laugh now. It’s now legend, and one of those things we collectively remember and laugh about together.

In 2007, Mag was about three, and one night when the whole family was at my folks’ house for dinner, Mom served Mag’s dinner on Jimmy’s McDonald’s plate. After several moves, Mom had come across the plate in a box and thought that letting Maggie use it would be fun. Jim cracked up, recalling his history with the infamous plate, and we retold the story for the millionth time.

After dinner, as Mag brought the infamous dish to the kitchen, she dropped it. The brittle, 30 year old melamine plate broke in half. Jim was devastated. The plate he’d loved so dearly, the plate that had faded into our collective memory and then miraculously resurfaced, was now gone. Traumatically gone. Mom didn’t think Jim would take it so hard, but he did. And as grown ups do, he got over it and moved on, eventually forgetting about the plate that had made such a brief reappearance into his life.

It was on this trip to Huntsville when I saw it on a table in an antique shop. A 37-year old melamine plate with Ronald McDonald frolicking in the leaves with Grimace. It’s not the first thing one imagines when thinking of vintage dishware, but, oh well…. In 1977, I this plate was purchased over a Mc Donald’s counter for about $1. In 2014, I was going to give an antiques dealer exponentially more than that, but it’d be worth every penny to see my brother’s face on Christmas.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1351.jpgWhen we got home, I tucked the plate away, and on Christmas Eve, I made sure it was all wrapped up so I could see Jimmy’s face reaction when he opened it. I couldn’t wait. I suck at keeping secrets, so keeping this under my hat for six months was torture. It was SO worth it. The Crazy Train had never heard the story (since we didn’t want to rub salt in Uncle Jimmy’s wounds after the tragic event), so we laughingly retold the story for the first time in years. And Jimmy carefully wrapped up his plate and stored it where it could not be broken right away.

I only wish I had thought to find a Fransiscan Ware Floral Pattern plate for my mom. I searched eBay after everyone left, but serendipitous encounters with objects are more my style. Someday I’ll run across a single plate somewhere, and when I do, the epic family story will come full circle.

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The Most Awesome Photo-Op Ever! (Or Not.)

About six months ago, a tiny little dot on the map caught my eye.

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Deep within the Sam Houston National Forest in East Texas lies the town of Phelps.

I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!?! I was giddy. Like, pee-your-pants excited. The Phelps Family Crazy Train would have the most legendarily, awesomely, fantastically EPIC Christmas Card Family Photo in the HISTORY of staged family photo cheesiness, and absolutely ZERO Photochopping would be necessary.

Visions of this monumental achievement danced in my head. I was already deciding where I would hang the custom art wrap canvas print of the family photo at the homestead. I had outfits planned, and a date blocked off on the calendar for the Crazy Train’s most celebrated road trip to date. We were going to OUR TOWN!

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Photo Idea #1

Finding a town bearing your last name is pretty flipping cool. After almost 13 years of being asked if I’m married to Michael Phelps (spoiler: I am not) I’d finally found something non-Speedo related that we could commandeer and claim as our own. (Since our kids are swimmers, this is pretty fun during swim season, but I digress.) For all intents and purposes, it’d be OUR town, and when people ooohed and ahhhed over our magnificent family portrait in front of the Phelps city limits sign, I could haughtily chortle, “No… It’s NOT photochopped,” and everyone would be really jealous and when they were out of earshot, they would hurriedly whip out their phones and google their own last names to see if they could find their own namesake towns so they could attempt to replicate my brilliant idea.

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Photo Idea #2

Basic online research told me that Phelps, Texas had been established around a train depot and telegraph station in the early 1870s, and was named for the Phelps-Dodge Company, builders of the railroad. Within four years, there was a post office, a general store, a church, a hotel, and a school. When a spur of the railroad connected Huntsville, sawmills opened up and families poured in. By the late 1930s, the sawmills were closing up and the town dwindled to around 100 citizens, which is about where it was as of the last census.

Now, this is where I violated the first guideline in the Crazy-Train Bible of Road Tripping. If you have a very specific destination in mind, Google it first.

But no. The dream of the perfect family photo had its grip on me, and there was nothing that could penetrate my fantasy. So on a Saturday morning, we loaded up the Crazy Train and headed eastward into the rising Texas sun. Our legendary trip was beginning, and it really would be truly magnificent. Epic, even. We blew through small town after small town, speeding past historical marker after historical marker, and ignoring countless fabulous looking points of interest, making mental notes of all the places we would return to on another trip. We were too impatient to stop, and, well, we were burning daylight!

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Photo Idea #3

After almost three hours on the road, we entered the borders of the Sam Houston National Forest. My heart was pounding. As a documentary photographer, I was salivating over all the photographic opportunities I would have. As a mom, I was so excited and restless and overcome with enthusiasm about what I just KNEW would be the most sensationally unique family picture in the history of EVER.

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All five of us had our noses pressed up against the windows as we entered the forest. The tall dense trees and lush green foliage would make for fantastic pictures! It was even overcast—my FAVORITE weather conditions for portraits because the light is so pretty. We drove and drove… and drove… and… drove. No sign. And finally, Mark said, “You said 6 miles. We’ve gone 8. Check the map.” So I did. We had passed it? What? What the WHAT? Not possible.

So we turned around and I followed the blue dot on iMaps as it completely passed through the word PHELPS on the map.

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Fantasy                                             Reality

You’ve got to be FREAKING KIDDING ME. My heart sank.

We saw a side street, so we turned. Again, nothing. We crossed the railroad tracks. Nothing. We saw one church (that wasn’t particularly old or picturesque) and one street sign atop a leaning, rusty, stop sign.

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The ONLY building in Phelps

Ssssssssssssssssssssssssss…. (That’s the sound of the wind blowing out of our sails).

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The other picture I took in town

No town. No sign. No ice house, no gas station, no ruins, no ghost town, no bones of a former train depot. NOTHING. Nothing but a (maybe 30 year old) church and a dilapidated stop sign with a street sign on top. We drove down every street, every dirt road, every railroad access point. We checked iMaps and MapQuest and GoogleMaps and all of their satellite images. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Bupkis.

My family photo fantasy was completely annihilated. My plans for the deluxe custom printed art wrapped wall canvas were as wiped out of our future as the town of Phelps had been wiped off the map. Three hours of driving. All the places we bypassed without stopping. The envy-enducing Christmas cards that would not happen. All gone.

I was shattered. I didn’t even want to think about a Plan B. I wanted to salvage my Plan A! Just where was this town of Phelps, population 98? Where was the cool, rusty, roached out old city limits sign? Where was the pristine Texas Historical Marker? I wanted to fling myself onto Old Phelps Road and have an epic tantrum, complete with banging my fists in the dirt and kicking my feet.

The “Voice of Reason” behind the wheel made the executive decision that continuing to search the same roads and bit of railroad track over and over would be futile and a waste of time. So he began the journey out of what I now felt was the World’s Most Disappointing Forest.

As we drove along, I saw a sign that read “Dodge: 2 mi”

Me: “Honey, we must go there.”

Him: “Where?”

Me: “To Dodge.”

Him: “Why?”

Me: “So we can take a picture.”

Him: “Ok then…”

So we went to Dodge (which looked EXACTLY like what we THOUGHT Phelps would look like) and we took this picture and posted it on Facebook with this caption:

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 “We’ve gotta get the heck outta here!”

After we finished laughing hysterically at our really, really campy joke, (and our daughter informed us that we were totally stupid) we decided to head over to Huntsville so we could, I don’t know, check out the bail bonds offices and pawn shops and whatever else there was to offer in that po-dunk little prison town, famous the world over as the place where capital punishment is delivered in Texas.

But we were pleasantly surprised. Huntsville was amazing. It was a picturesque little historic town with so many charming old buildings, a cool old courthouse with a Town Square, tons of state historical markers, and Sam Houston State University (which is absolutely stunning). We spent awhile at Sam Houston’s historical estate and checked out some of the antique shops on the Square.

In the end, we had a legitimately fun day filled with so many places on our “return to” list.

And we learned an unquestionably valuable lesson: If you’ve got a specific destination in mind, never, never, NEVER neglect your preliminary research. And always, always, ALWAYS have a Plan B.

(Full post on Huntsville will appear in a future post. And oh yeah, stop laughing at my super awesome drawings. I am a photographer, not an artist.)

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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