Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saint Jo, Texas

It was a beautiful and windy Saturday for our trek north to the lands which border the muddy, and yes, red adobe colored waters of the Red River. Along were our friends Debbie and Torrey. I had suggested the trip because Debbie and Torrey are working hard on their “project home” in Tom Bean, Texas and are antiquers and buyers of unique furniture and stuff Torrey can fix. Another friend, Glynda, had told me of her visit to an interesting combination general store and warehouse named Freight Outlet Plus, in a place called Saint Jo, Texas.

She assured me it wasn’t just any store but a curious combination of dry goods, grocery and wacky kind of museum and curio shop. All I needed to hear was the word “museum”; I was on Google to figure how to get there. I brought Debbie and Torrey because I knew we would end up eating somewhere different. I wasn’t disappointed.

We began our mission by joining up with Debbie and Torrey at their home in Little Elm, Texas right next to Frisco. Torrey and Debbie usually don’t take the direct route (this has many benefits) and we wended our way north on U.S. Highway 377 instead of the larger, faster Interstate 35 which parallels it.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves just outside Pilot Point, Texas pulling up to a little-known family run Mexican fast-food place called “The Taco Shack” right alongside the road requiring a quick turn onto the shoulder to the grassy knoll of the “Shack”. As the wives ordered, Torrey told me they watched as the “Shack” grew from birth. As they were house shopping for their second home, they often drove the 377 looking at listings.

On each pass, they would see another piece added to the Shack. It started as a manufactured, for want of a better description, back-yard storage barn. A picnic table showed up, then they added the patio cover. Then some benches appeared. As we talked, I snapped a couple of pictures. When the wives returned, Dianna said the daughter of the owner got real suspicious and asked why we were taking pictures. Maybe they thought we were undercover building inspectors. My wife assured them we were tourists and only interested in their food. The true test is the food they produce. We had their chorizo breakfast burritos. Wow.

North again, and we found ourselves in little Tioga . It was founded in 1881 when the Texas and Pacific Railway reached the site. The crew used water from the local well and named the site Tioga, a New York Indian word said to mean "swift current" or "fair and beautiful”. Tioga is a town in Grayson County, Texas.
It is the disputed birthplace of Gene Autry; one of the main streets through the town is named in his memory. Dr. Eugene Ledbetter, the doctor and namesake (Autry was named for the good doctor Eu-Gene) that delivered Gene Autry said he was not born in Tioga but a few miles away in Cook County. Though there was this disagreement between he and the Autrys because of unpaid doctor bills. Gene Autry did spend some time growing up in Tioga, but not more than a few years.

In 1884, medicinal qualities in the local water were discovered. As a result in the 1880s several companies-Tioga Mineral Wells Company, Radium Mineral Water, Tioga Mineral Water Company, Atlas Water, and Star Well-marketed the mineral water and attracted health seekers to Tioga. It was said that ten trainloads of visitors came to Tioga each day. The resort business, however, declined. Depending on peanuts and cotton had the same result. There was an attempt to revive the town and bottle its water in the 1970’s. Neither the water business nor the town ever took off. There are some small antique shops and restaurants springing up in their town square but the town only has about 900 people calling Tioga home. 

Further north found us in Whitesboro, Texas. Originally “Whitesborough” in 1860, its namesake was Ambrose B. White who moved into the area (then named Wolfpath) in the late 1840s. The White family ran White's Westview Inn which was a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. It was later reincorporated in 1887 as “Whitesboro”.
Whitesboro is a neat little town which holds a big Peanut Festival  every year. Like the cotton, peanuts aren’t as prevalent a crop as they used to be (the peanuts for the last festival were trucked in from Oklahoma). In the center of town is one of the main attractions in those early years. Still seen on Main Street there is the watering well. Folks gathered around the well to water themselves and their horses. In addition to supplying water for the local residents, the well was also used to water stock and for the convenience of travelers.
Torrey wanted me to see a unique antique shop on Main Street. It was a place called “Past and Blast”. As the name implies, there are antique items in the front of the store and antique firearms in the back.

Right next door is “Lovejoy’s on Main Street” owned by Hank and Rita Lovejoy. I, of course, let the women do their shopping, I zoned in on the turn-of-the-century soda fountain in the back. Rita saw me hovering and told me a cool story about the soda fountain. Rita explained that her husband had built it from scratch from his memories of the soda fountain he worked at across the street back in 1954 in what is now a bakery.

Seems Rita was a fetching young girl at the time and frequented the shop with her baby sister. Hank was the soda jerk and they struck up a casual relationship. Rita always felt Hank was a little standoffish and didn’t seem able to ask her out. It was because her sister always referred to her as “Mother” and Rita figured Hank thought she was either taken or an unwed mother. She set him straight and the rest is history. They both grew up in Whitesboro, wed, raised their kids and grand kids there. All three generations have graduated from the same high school.

We then headed off to Saint Jo. Established in 1856, Saint Jo, Texas was originally known as Head of Elm, named for its location at the headwaters of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. It was near the crossroads of two significant paths of commerce of that day. Those were the famous Chisholm Trail for cattle driving and the California Trail, the stagecoach and personal travel trail surveyed by the federal government, beginning at Saint Louis, Missouri, and going out through El Paso, on to California, where gold had been discovered.

The town was considered briefly as the county seat of Montague County, but lost out to the City of Montague (didn’t see that coming). There are two conflicting stories regarding how Head of Elm became Saint Jo, both of which involve Joe Howell, who originally laid out the town.

One theory involves a Tennessean named Irby Holt Boggess a Confederate Army Captain. In partnership with Joe Howell, in or around 1872, they developed the town to service the trail traffic. It is told that Joe was an abstainer from alcohol, a life style Captain Boggess did not share. When Captain Boggess wanted to name the new town after his partner, he thought it would sound appropriate to name the new town, "Saint Jo." The town he founded (which still does not permit alcohol sales) is still “dry”. But could also be due to the extension of prohibition “dry laws” which is still true for most of Texas since 1897.
A short drive through town gets you to our destination, Freight Outlet Plus . It is owned by Lois and Mel Gilbert. Mel is a retired Dallas Police officer. They bought the original store in Saint Jo’s central square from a Walter Collier in 1989. As time went by, they began their lifelong acquisition of “stuff”. I know some of you may have watched some of the “hoarding” reality shows. Those poor folks who can’t let go of anything of intrinsic value. Lois and Mel are those people.

Over time, they needed to expand. Mel had his eye on a group of industrial warehouses at the intersection of State Highway 59 and State Highway 82. He and Lois first bought the building at the roadside and subsequently three other warehouses behind it. They advertise that they have, “Merchandise may include virtually any type, with unclaimed or distressed goods, groceries and frozen products”. That doesn’t tell the whole story.
After picking up an amazing deal of Christmas wrap, we were directed back to the “Gilbert Collectables Museum” behind the store. We were met by Lois who gave us the 10 cent tour. Inside we were shown a large room with display cases along the walls and through the middle of the room. Lois reminded us that things on the entry side were for sale but things on the other side of the center cases were not. The whole thing reminded me of those little “roadside attractions” you chance by along those out-of-the-way places your parents took you to when you were young. We were in “roadside attraction” central. I was keeping a lookout for the bearded lady and the half-man half-dog tent.
There were some treasures but a lot of curiosities of little value. For instance, in the middle of the “not for sale” section was a running 1931 Ford Model “A” roadster complete with rumble seat. In one of the cases, I saw what appears to be an original (scalloped edged) photo of Clyde Barrow and his sister allegedly a week before he was killed in Louisiana. I’m no expert but I have seen that photo but never in what appears to be a period reproduction, it might be worth something. Marie Barrow Scoma wrote a book published at her death, “The Family Story of Bonnie and Clyde”. Her son Luke gave the photo to Lois and Mel.
Among the treasures were lots of …well….”stuff”. Cute ornaments, lamps, watches, clocks and finery mixed in with an 1840 Steinway piano in mint condition that only a true collector of the strange would collect and admire. But everything laid out with reverence for its “value”, cultural and historical importance. In short, this place is an altar, a place of worship.

As we moved around, Lois would follow, carefully explaining the various displays. She seemed to warm up to our inquisitiveness and as we approached a certain place she would open a non-descript door which would lead off to another wing of the museum. There was one entire room dedicated to the lifelong Fenton Glass collection of Carlie Gossage. The Gilberts are Fenton Glass aficionados and learned back in 1992 that Mr. Gossage’s family was auctioning off his collection.

Gossage had been collecting for 50 years before his passing and his family really didn’t know what to do with all the glass so they decided to sell it off. Lois told us Mr. Gossage originally had a two story home in Monticello, Kentucky which he filled with Fenton Glass sets. You see, Mr. Gossage lived about 5 hours from the Fenton Factory in Williamstown, WV. Whenever he heard of a new style or color, he zipped over and bought it.

This led him to bring in three open floor plan mobile homes onto his property (sound familiar?). He set them up in a “U” shape behind the house, ringed them with glass shelving and filled them floor to ceiling with Fenton Glass. When Doris and Mel went out to see the collection, they convinced the family to pack everything away and slowly purchased the whole collection piece by piece.

After winding our way deeper into the museum morass, Lois finally asked if would like to see the “furniture”. This peaked Debbie’s interest because she’s buying for the “project” home and was looking for something unusual. Lois led us to the back warehouse. Inside of this cavernous metal building were rows and rows of “stuff”. Conjure up the last scene of Indiana Jones when the government worker is driving the crated “arc of the covenant” into the great unknown.

There were rows of stacked and palletted things that have obviously, in some cases, been there for some time. Home furnishings, office equipment, vending machines the like of which I have never seen. Debbie’s eye did catch some chairs and a chest of drawers. Lois made a deal on the spot and after loading up Torrey’s pick up, we headed out of town, our heads still reeling for the experience. Dianna and Debbie said we’re going back soon.

On the way back we decided to do dinner before returning to Little Elm and home. We ended up at a steak place named Parker Brothers , originally named the Trail Dust in Aubrey (unincorporated Denton), Texas. The Parker family at one time owned restaurants in Denver, Colorado as well as Texas. They now own just the ones in Texas in Aubrey, Texas, Mesquite, and Arlington. If anybody has gone to Pinnacle Peak in Santee, California recalls the servers cutting off patron’s ties. The Traildust may have been the originator of the ritual. This place had rows of cut off cravats on the walls.

Parker Brother’s Traildust is designed to be family friendly. It is a restaurant with separate bar during the day and dance hall at night. They even installed a two story indoor slide (yes, slide) which terminates at the edge of the dance floor. We asked about this and our server (who stated she used to come here with her family as a kid) told us it was a Parker family staple in all their restaurants. I saw this mostly as a liability nightmare. Especially when the adults who have been drinking take their turn on the slide.

The steaks were good with healthy servings of beans, bread (Texas Toast) and vegetables. Debbie and Dianna shared the 32 oz. Margarita. They were pretty happy too. Thumbs down on the slide action. It was a bit annoying with all the ruckus of the kids yelling and slamming onto the slide from above. I really didn’t sit down for a $23 dollar steak to sit in Chucky Cheese.

Well, overall it was quite the day trip and we’ll be doing more soon.


  1. Lois Gilbert is the correct name in this story. She is my grandmother. Glad you enjoyed the store and the museum.

    1. I apologize...I have made the correction, thanks for taking the time to read the Blog. Nick

  2. Highwayman-Kevin costner - Woody Harrelson did great job. can do jfk who done it movie? Here Info:Barrow Family:Dad Henry&mom Cumie&children:Elvin -Artie-Marvin-Nellie-Clyde-Leon-Lilian .Artie Nellie said She & clyde were farm out to work for Barrow Uncles & She help her brother steal food to eat & He stole a car chisel off enging number & lye on paint remove it 18yr old. The Parker Family -Bonnie mother :Emma Kraus Parker address:1)1214SLamar St.2)1406 Cockrell(corner bellview)3.1601(606) Douglas(Durant).4,)Emma Parker1924yr- garment worker -(Emma Mom Mary Kraus) Eagleford rd.5.)1925yr Emma Parker Garment worker (mrs Mary Kraus Eagleford Rd.6)232 West 8th St (1934-5)...Bonnie Parker Thornton 1)1932yr-2430 Douglas 2.)1931yr-606 Douglas 3.)1927yr-2908 EagleFord Rd.Grandparents Frank/Mary Kraus ..4.)1929yr-1909Crockett.5)1930yr-513 Hickory...So you can see Bonnie lived with Grandparents home 2908 Eagle Ford Rd /Bernal Rd -corner.1920 to 1927 .So if they had a vehicle they probarbly used Barrow Star gas station 1620 Eagle Ford Rd (singleton blvd) West Dallas Texas. Clyde Barrow - Did Clyde barrow come this way - back door - Hwy80 thru Arcada Park-Old Copper Road-Thru Trinity River Bottoms -then they would drive up to Star Gas Station Eagle Ford Road..Barrow gang -Raymond/Floyd Hamilton Floyd Hamilton (raymond bro)3018 Crossman /Eagle Ford Road--Lily Hamilton McBride 507-511 county ave West Dallas (near Eagle ford Rd)..Buster Brown (511 County Ave)married Lucy,sister of Raymond Hamilton,..W,D,Jones 2401 Henry and Rushpike-Commerce.W.D.Jones family Mom Tookie brothers:Clyde,Herbert,Roy Lee -Jones. Ralph Fults Of Barrow gang -6603 Ethel -8517 Lapanta-7214 Toland.Ralph Fults wrote book Bonnie-Clyde in which Fults wrote:Ralph Fults said Why Did Clyde Barrow chose that night tot visit Lillian McBride CountyAve - because Raymond Hamilton was in jail. Barrow & Fults return to Texas they often visited West Dallas Using what they called the back door variously U.S.80 thru Arcadia Park or the Old Copper Road (Singletonblvd Irving tx) through Trinity River Bottoms across Bridge then would drive up to Star Gas Station touch base with Barrow Family and Henry listen Radio and Cumie be cook & clean up back of residence behind service station.During one of these visits when Fults met Bonnie Parker(Thornton). She ask Clyde to give lift Cafe or to her mothers place.Bonnie attractive with reddish blond hair blue eyes with bobbed hair style she was friendly, talkative with outgoing manner.W.D.Jones said Bonnie is gr8 Sister. Billy Jean & Rubert Parker said she is my Sister.