Saturday, June 9, 2018

Back to Denton

It was our 43rd wedding anniversary. Yes friends...the big 4-3. Looking out over the landscape of years gone by, when you're considering navigating toward that illusive 44, you seek solace, perhaps a place to contemplate the future. Ok, we decided to take our anniversary weekend at an Alpaca Ranch. Knowing how much Dianna loves animals (well only the "cute" ones), I thought it would be a great break from the stresses of her mortgage job (and
I decided on the  Old Irish Bed and Breakfast in Denton, Texas. A stone’s throw, as it turned out, from our home in Frisco. Jim and Rita Patrick have assembled a menagerie of animals, not only Alpacas but also llamas, ducks, geese, chickens, dogs, frogs, turtles and fish. Yes, they have a rather unique "catch and release" pond right in the middle of their estate. Jim tells the story of how they came to buy the place. Bed and Breakfast aficionados, they had a particularly bad experience at a remote (I could hear the banjo playing in the background as he spoke) B&B and swore they could do better. Then, while driving locally off our US 380 heading into Denton, Jim got impatient with the backed-up traffic and turned right off the highway at an intersection hoping to get around the stoppage. Little did he know it was a dead end but once on the road they were presented with a for sale sign to what is now The Old Irish Bed and Breakfast - Wedding & Events Center @ Patrick's Pastures Alpaca Ranch in Denton, Texas.

Jim and Rita decided to develop the land into an eco-friendly place where everything is recycled, he even has a Tesla electric charging station on the property. The lodging are five "tiny homes" if you will. Very modern with all the amenities except cooking stoves. We stayed in the Greystoke cabin. Jim saved the reason for the name until we got inside, seems Greystoke refers to a deceased favorite Alpaca who's pelt now hangs in his honor in the room. Ok...the website did say it was a little eclectic.

That's Greystoke on the wall
Also, there was the caveat on the website to discourage curmudgeons: "If you can't laugh, we're not the place for you. Sourpusses can go elsewhere; we'll even provide directions. Be sure to pack light, it may be a warm trip (LOL...a bit of Irish humor). WARNING: hypocrites, judgmental types, far-left or far-right super opinionated people, up-tight outta sight, frowny faces, blue-spoon, silk stocking, fru-fru types run away, quickly, please." They meant it. Jim will, at every turn, regale you with an off-color Irish joke and try to slip a little Irish Whiskey in your coffee (medicinal, of course). All that aside, it was a cool place to hang out.

That evening, we decided to head to the Denton Square for dinner. Our hosts recommended a new place, The Denton Grille and Bistro. Very modern vibe from the usual Denton crowd though being right smack in the middle of a college town (University of North Texas, Go Mean Green! and Texas Women’s University Go Pioneers!), a mix of American and Pakistani (who knew), Dianna and I had the Fusion Sampler to split. It was more than enough for two and had 5 meats and a sauce. A bit spicy for Dianna so she ate most of the Paratha bread, kind of like Naan bread. Very delicious.

To calm the fire in our mouths, we sauntered over to Beth Marie's Ice-cream Parlor. An old timey ice-cream shop with probably 100 flavors, some adult style with alcoholic beverages inside. It was hot in the square that night, probably 91 or so, the ice-cream really hit the spot.

The next morning, we walked to the dining area for breakfast. Jim and Rita make a pretty good spread of eggs, bacon, fruit, hash browns and sausage interspersed with Irish humor from Jim. The best part of B&Bs is the time around the table where you get to hear from those who are there, including the owners. Jim and Rita had both been from big business and decided to break out on their own. Unfortunately, the economic downturn hit them hard and dried up some of their savings. The bed and breakfast gave them a new start and a way to slow their pace down.....not so much. As I said, they are very busy with the Alpaca business and very involved in the community. Jim has some side lines including a Pod Cast/Blog with his partner, Steve Putney, called Men in the Middle.

Dianna loved all the animals and swooned in the Alpaca Experience the next morning where we got the full history of Alpacas which included the care and hand feeding of the beasts. I had been of the opinion (after numerous Animal Planet episodes) that Alpacas were mean and liked to spit on people. Jim said that wasn't true and they proved the point while we were there. Jim said the only time they spit is the females spit at each other as a "get off me, Bitch" response.

They are very docile and, well, cute. They hover and push each other aside while we fed them from our hands. Jim's property backs up to a nature preserve with all sorts of predators so he keeps an armada of Great White Pyrenees dogs in the enclosures as well as at least one Llama for protection. Apparently, Llamas get aggressive with bobcats and such when they're around.

Jim said there are 24 different colors of Alpacas and showed us some samples of Alpaca cloth which reminded me of satin. Much lighter than wool yet very warm when made into sweaters. Jim and Rita have become very active in the Alpaca Ranching business and, as a side line, mentor new owners and breeders providing advice on housing, feeding and production of Alpaca fur.

Brisket Burger
After learning about Alpacas, we made our first foray into Denton to meet our ever-traveling friends, Scott and Silvia at our favorite hamburger place, "Rooster's Roadhouse"  off the square. Brisket Burgers all around as we spent some good time catching up on family and travels. Silvia and Scott were former San Diego PD cops who we met long before their Law Enforcement careers when we attended Lamaze classes before the births of our kids (and got in trouble often for cutting up....I guess this whole birthing thing is considered serious business..who knew).

That night, we met our hosts at Bagheri's Italian Restaurant  on University Avenue in Denton. I mentioned my intense like of Italian cuisine and Jim suggested Bagheri's. I, of course, always order the Lasagna as my sterling test of an Italian Restaurant. Hey...if they can't make a decent Lasagna, they're not worth my time. I was not disappointed with a very dense and tomatoey, well baked mass of pasta and cheese. Dianna had the Angel Hair Pasta with chicken in a "Pink Sauce" combination of Alfredo and Tomato sauce. A great gastronomical experience.

We then made our way to the Denton Square with its awesome Courthouse. One of the most architecturally beautiful Courthouses in Texas. W. C. Dodson was commissioned to design the Romanesque style structure which ultimately cost the County of Denton $150,000, small by today’s standards but a sizeable chunk of change for the time.
I had signed us up for the Ghosts of Denton haunted walking tour of the Square taken around by noted "Ghost Lady" Shelly. Shelly explained to us that the original plot of Denton Square was six lots on each side of the square which could be bought for $25 each. For many years the County Courthouse moved from place and the current site of the 1896 Courthouse was...well a dump. It was a dirt lot that people would cast aside stuff they didn’t need.

Little known fact....there's a dead guy buried on the Courthouse lot. Yes, John B. Denton , the town and County namesake, was reinterred there at the southeast corner. John died in 1841 after the Battle of Village Creek, the last known Indian attack on Texans in adjacent Tarrant County. Yep, that's right....way down by Arlington, nowhere near what's now the Denton County line. John was laid to rest in a makeshift grave near the river but was rediscovered and, in 1901, some folks decided John needed to be replanted in Denton, the town and County that took his name to honor his service in the Republic of Texas. So you can imagine his confusion at being in a place he never frequented in life. Thus he is occasionally seen in his long rider duster and breechloader rifle wandering the square trying to figure out how he got there.

The only really active place we went to is the old Opera House. Built in 1899 for $25,000, it was built from the bricks from the condemned 1870s Courthouse. Now a huge bookstore, Recycled Books and CDs, it once housed a very large auditorium. in the far back of the store was the stage which is now a second floor loaded with book shelves and books for sale. When it was the Opera House, an actor had committed suicide and died in that portion of the Theater. Since then, many spooky things have occurred to patrons and employees of the store. Worse yet, the owners decided to create loft apartments on the second floor above the bookstore. The owners have had a tough time doing remodels. Usually the crews don't come back after the first morning of work with tales of tools and other objects being flung about. The tenants have similar tales of weird occurrences and don’t usually stay long.

Shelly is obviously full of great tales of early Denton but the tour really suffered from the new upstairs patio restaurant/bar  LSA Burgers. The band was really cranked up and though they were on the south side of the square, even if you were on the north side with the Courthouse between you and the bar, the music was so loud, you couldn't hear yourself think. It kind of downgraded Shelly's talk and descriptions. But a tour well worth taking. It was still quite hot in the square and we were ready for another Beth Marie’s Ice cream.

Back to The Old Irish Bed and Breakfast for a good night’s sleep under the watchful eye of Greystoke (he kind of grows on you). Back then to home and hearth (and lawn maintenance). I would recommend the Old Irish Bed and Breakfast if you want to stay local or just want a little fun getaway....well and there's the cute Alpacas to pet.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Back to Oklahoma

In late April we decided to take another trip north to the land of the Chickasaw, southern Oklahoma and our friends, the Fortson’s. The trip is always scenic but lends itself better to a rather circumlocutious path (look THAT up Dale). Although one might choose the I-35, it’s much more fun to get off the beaten trail (and avoiding the many careening 18 wheelers) and drive to the backroad gems.
One such gem is the  Ole Red restaurant in downtown Tishomingo, Oklahoma. There singer Blake Shelton has built a cool restaurant/music venue on Main Street. There are two others, one in Nashville (of course) and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s a neat little place named after the song “Ol’ Red”. Ol’ Red is a song written by James Bohan, Don Goodman and Mark Sherrill. Originally recorded by George Jones, Shelton did a version in his 2002 debut album and “The Voice” star credits it as his signature piece which had a significant impact on his career. Interestingly, nobody checked the spelling when they did the signs and menus.

Tishomingo as you may know, is the County Seat of Johnston County and was the Capitol of the Chickasaw Nation from 1856 to Statehood in 1907. It was named for Chief Tishomingo who died on the Trail of Tears in 1838. Prior to 1852, it was known as Good Springs because several springs flowed into the Pennington Creek nearby making the spot a good respite on the trail between Fort Washita and Fort Arbuckle.

Shelton was born in Ada, Oklahoma, a short distance north of Tishomingo, but Shelton has made it a point to invest heavily in this part of Oklahoma to improve the economy and lives of his fellow Oklahomans as evidenced by his charity Concerts after several tornados struck the area in the past few years.

Ole Red is one of those efforts. It is a classic music venue with several local and national acts having played there as well as Blake himself but he has also supported the surrounding shops to increase traffic and bring the tourists in. It certainly has spruced up the Main Street area and created many jobs for the locals.

The menu is well rounded with everything from Fried Green Tomatoes to great burgers and sandwiches to a Coffee-Crusted Pork Chop (I’m sure it’s delicious……). Dianna had the Basic Cheese Burger and I had The Bull.

We did leave room for the Ole Red Ice Cream Sandwich oversize cookie dessert embeded with Lucky Charms. The Lucky Charms thing has to do with a prank pulled on Blake when he was on Jimmy Fallon's show. Blake made the mistake of telling Jimmy that his favorite cereal when he was young was Lucky Charms. As a joke, Fallon ended up sending Blake numerous boxes of the cereal and it became a standing joke between the two. Of course, General Mills, the maker of Lucky Charms took on the idea as a new way of hawking their product and have also sent boxes of their cereal to like minded celebrities as well.

So, if you find yourself wandering around southern Oklahoma, cruising along U.S. 377, stop by Ole Red and catch lunch, dinner or a show.

Having filled our bellies, we continued north toward our destination, Shawnee, Oklahoma. We have been to Shawnee several times to stay the night while visiting our longtime friends the Fortsons. Gerry is now 84 years young and one of three surviving members of her High School graduating class. The town of Tecumseh, Oklahoma has not changed much since those days with a stable but withering population in Potawatomi County. The area was opened for settlement in 1891 as a result of the Land Rush into what were the reservations of the Sac and Fox, Kiowa, Kickapoo, Shawnee and the Potawatomi Indian Territories. The Nations still exist along with their gaming Casinos.

One of Gerry’s (and our) favorite things to do is take a short ride into Shawnee and get lunch at Hamburger King on E. Main Street. The old Main Street is making a come back with new store fronts and sidewalks with a few of the old stores, like Hamburger King, it’s anchors.

I love this place for several reasons, the first is the old fashioned (I can’t believe I’m using that term) style hamburgers and service. They still use the table phone ordering service dating back to the 50s (ok…1950s in case you didn’t know). All the food is made to order and the large patties and buns complete the package. Again…make room for a slice of their pies. We had the Classic Cheeseburger with the wedge fries and, of course, the pie. Never had a bad meal there.

Recalling that Gerry used to come there back in her High School days…..class of 1947 (the original building is now part of the Middle School campus), I asked her what she thinks about while she’s there. She says she always thinks back on those days and can still see her friends “cruising” down Main Street showing off their cars. She still imagines it as it once was, seeing the bustling street, busy shoppers and decorated store fronts of that earlier time. Her face brightens when she begins to relate a story of an old school field trip or war time recollection of her days in Tecumseh. It saddens me a little after hearing the stories. It’s a different thing to read stories in a book than to hear it in person. You can’t recreate the emotion or expressions of someone who can bring the past to life. Like many of the people I have met and written about, she too is a resource to the past we will unfortunately lose some day.

We only spent a couple of days in Oklahoma and only got to one County Courthouse we hadn’t been to. In Madill, Oklahoma, there is the Marshall County Courthouse and County Seat. The county was created at statehood in 1907 from the former Pickens County of the Chickasaw Nation. It was named to honor the maiden name of the mother of George Henshaw, a member of the 1906 Oklahoma Constitutional Convention.
We here in Frisco, Texas have a connection to Madill’s creation as a center of trade and commerce. Railroads came to the present-day Marshall County in 1901, when the St. Louis, Oklahoma and Southern Railway acquired shortly there after by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, known as the Frisco, constructed a north-south line. The following year, the St. Louis, San Francisco and New Orleans Railroad (formerly the Arkansas and Choctaw Railway) laid tracks from east to west through the area. This line was sold to the Frisco in 1907.

The Courthouse, built in the simple Capitol Style of that WWI era, has a recently erected War Memorial listing local residents who have died in support of our Nation. All the County Offices are able to be housed there for it's approximately 16,000 residents within its 427 square miles.

Among Marshall County’s famous sites are Fort Washita the former United States military post and National Historic Landmark located in Durant, Oklahoma. Established in 1842 by General (later President) Zachary Taylor to protect citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations from the Plains Indians. It was later abandoned by Federal forces at the beginning of the Civil War. Confederate troops held the post until the end of the war when they burned the remaining structures. It was never reoccupied by the United States military.

Whatever you’ve heard about Oklahoma (yes…tornados are a thing here), it is very scenic and though mostly flat, has some of the nicest vistas while driving (well...and there's the Arbuckle Fried Pie store in Arbuckle a convenient exit off the I-35). As well as the passing of the beautiful roadside wildflowers. We also need to get back to Oklahoma City soon. I learned they have recently completed a renovation of the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum and historic site. That will be a worthwhile trip as well.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Landon Winery Pruning Party

In our efforts to expand our horizons, Dianna has been keeping an eye on new and different ways to become one with wine drinking. To do so, apparently, requires us to delve into the inner workings of wine making. Coincidentally, she received an email invite to a grape vine pruning class at one of our local wine producers, Landon Winery

Landon has a couple of locations which double as winery and restaurant. The invite was to their  Greenville, Texas location northwest of Frisco heading toward the Red River line. The Greenville location is their "Bistro" location, more wine drinking than eating. But a decent menu of items none the less. Fun fact was that the Landon Bistro was originally an S.H. Kress Department five and dime store  as evidenced by the "Kress" name on the door pull.

Greenville, you might remember, is the County Seat of Hunt County. Hunt County is named for Memucan Hunt, Jr., the first Republic of Texas Minister to the United States from 1837 to 1838 and the third Texas Secretary of the Navy from 1838 to 1839. But you probably knew that.

The Courthouse resides just across the street from Landons and, built in 1929, is the seventh Courthouse to reside there. The first Courthouse was a log cabin. The fifth iteration was a fine brick facade building which burned in 1883 leading to the construction of number six in 1885 but condemned leading to this beautiful example of transition Classical Revival to Art Deco becoming the rage during the late twenty's. Very cool Audie Murphy memorial out front. Greenville is one of three towns in North Texas which hosted the Murphy family in his youth.

We were met by fourteen other brave souls and our host, Winemaker Glenn. About six years ago, Glenn was a former I.T. guy who hated his work and wanted to try something new. He knew he liked wine and decided to take the Viticulture Program at our own Grayson County College. The program is based on work conducted by Thomas Volney Munson back in the late 1890's which basically saved the French Wine industry from collapse due to a nasty little bacteria, "Xylella Fastidiosa" or Pierce's Disease. American grape vines had a natural resistance to it and Munson ended up taking several tons of our different varietals back to France to revive the grape stocks there and brought them back to life and production. Of course many of those at our class were convinced this was another example of how we "saved" the French but Glenn suggested that Munson basically grafted the American vine stock to the existing French stock and the "clone" became resistant to disease, not replacing the actual vines.

Glenn stressed that the problem has not gone away. Glenn said, although Texas and most Southern states' vines have some resistance, over time the resistance is fading and is non-existent in California where the bacteria has not penetrated yet. The bacteria is speading west and only the Sierra Mountains are holding back the scourge. Thus, many in the wine industry are working feverishly on hybrid plants to demonstrate resistance and overcome a potential disaster lurking for California producers.

With that sullen backdrop, we began our Power Point presentation. Glenn showed us the structure of the vines and how to care for a vine. The vines grow pretty wild once they begin their Spring return so the vineyard workers must constantly be pruning errant vine canes to keep the vines producing.

Like roses, too many shoots will jeopardize the health of the plant. The idea is to increase the vines production in the lower canes to concentrate the sugar and starches to feed the vines growth. This, of course, has a marked effect on the quality of the grapes size and richness which is needed to foster fermentation.

Our job was attack the small vineyard in the Winery's yard and prune those puppies back to jump start the seasons grape growing. We do this by cutting back all last seasons growth but only back to the spurs on the cordons which run horizontally. The spurs need only be pruned back to the first two new growth buds just north of the Cordons. This gets the vine to start producing leaves which it needs to get sunlight involved in that photosynthesis thing we all learned in school.

Well...maybe not ALL
All of us took this very seriously when confronted by the gigantic mess o' canes we were confronted with in the yard. After a safety brief, which mostly consisted of, "Hey, do NOT cut your fingers can happen", we dug in.
Dianna went at it like a true trabajadore (field worker). With pruners in hand, we cut a swath over two different vines. Our co-horts did the same as we cut back the morass of cane and suckers invading the rootstock. By the time we were done, there was a serious pile of sticks filling the yard.

Glenn was very impressed by our work and offered some tips to those who wished to replant some of the cane. Many of them were green and budding so they could be planted using some starter fertilizer and a black trash bag. The idea is to trick the plant into believing it is in the ground (thus the black bag simulating darkness underground) but yet controlling the watering and feeding to make it strong enough to grow on it's own. Then at the right time, move it to a planter and then into the ground. Vines like water and their roots will grow very deep and far afield to get it. So planting has to be done carefully so it thrives.

Our reward was to have a great lunch provided by the restaurant. We had some steak shish kabobs, salad and a steamed veggie mix and, of course, one of their Grande Russo reds and Dianna had their sweet Yellow Rose white. Dessert was their Chocolate Mousse cake. Both went very well with both wines. While we spun tails of our battle against the unruly vines we conquered together. Now we must plan for the Harvest Festival on August 4th, mark your calendars and join us.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Big Spring, Texas

Yes my friends, it has been awhile since my last entry but many things have happened that have kept me from the keyboard. That would be my Grandson.

Little Robert has been a handful. Let me explain. Since September, we have been hosting the Orbe family in our home. They are building a home in Aubrey, Texas. To do so, they had to sell their existing home and needed a place to stay for the six-month building schedule of their new home.

We, of course, now had a full house again with every room being occupied by people, their stuff, our stuff and lots of toys provided by Granma Dianna. Not to mention my new role as Grand Child supervisor and mentor. After all, there are so many parks and indoor playgrounds to conquer. Hey….somebody had to do it. So, we (I) have not had a lot of free time to contemplate significant places to wander to nor places to eat bad food and gather enough trivia to drive Dianna (and most of my friends) crazy.

As the new house building winds down, we (I) realized Dianna and I have not had a weekend road trip in quite some time.

So as a President’s Day weekend approached, I entertained the idea of a combination pre-Dianna birthday getaway and an awesome history slash history gathering holiday.

I happened across an article highlighting a cool old hotel called the Hotel Settles in a place called Big Spring, Texas in far West Texas. Situated right on Interstate 20 about 278 miles from Frisco, it is a world away from North Texas.

It derives its name from the nearby "big spring" in Sulphur Draw, which was a watering place for coyotes, wolves, and herds of buffalo, antelope, and mustangs; the spring was a source of conflict between Comanche and Shawnee Indians and a campsite used by early expeditions across West Texas.

Early history goes back to 1849 when early settlers used the spring as a central camping site along both the Santa Fe and Overland Trails. By 1870, cattle ranchers were moving in and, like most communities in Texas, the Texas and Pacific railroad built through by the 1880s (they needed the water for the steam engines) and really established the town as the center of Howard County. Big Springs incorporated in 1907. In 1920 Big Spring was a small city of 4,273 that served as a shipping point for livestock, cotton and small grains. Oil was discovered in the vicinity in 1926, and the city experienced a boom over the next ten years.

This is where the  Hotel Settles comes in. Opened on October 1, 1930, Hotel Settles was built by Will R. and Lillian Settles, following the discovery of oil on their ranch. Designed by architect David Castle, the building was constructed as a solid concrete, 15-story, 150-room hotel with a restaurant and a pharmacy. Yes Nicole, there are still places with a thirteenth floor. The pharmacy was a real apothecary and soda shop. The Pharmacy is now the Pharmacy Bar.

It has traded hands several times and was vacant for many years until a man named G. Brint Ryan bought it. Ryan was a long-time resident of Big Spring and invested about 32 million on the restoration which brought it back to its original glory days. He credited much of his success to his mother, Virginia Ann Wilson Ryan, who is enshrined in a beautiful portrait painting above the lobby. It is the tallest building in Big Spring and was the tallest structure in West Texas until the 1950s.

Unfortunately, the boom was blown by that pesky Depression that also knocked the bottom out of the oil industry. This also took out the Settles’ fortunes and forced them to sell the hotel. The hotel saw oil come back big during World War Two and the economy was also energized by the influx of military aviation and manufacturing that hit Texas during those years. Much of Central Texas enjoyed pretty good weather year-round and wide-open spaces to fly and drop bombs. There was a total of 142 military installations in Texas and about 57 were aviation training or operational Army Air Corp bases. One of those bases was the Big Spring Army Air Field and, who knew…they have an aviation museum. What a coincidence.

The museum,  Hangar 25, is right on what was the former flight line of this massive air base. Big Spring Army Air Field was established right after Pearl Harbor as a Bombardier School to teach the intricacies of the Norden Bombsight. The primary trainer was a highly modified Beech AT-11 twin engine airplane. An inexpensive stable platform to train B-17, B-24 and B-29 bombardiers to attack German and Japanese targets to end the war training about 5,000 by the end of the war. After VJ Day, the base was demobilized but returned in the late 50s as Webb Air Force Base, to teach about 14,000 pilots on the new jets, F-86s, F-100s and the fast movers like F-4s and F-105s for Korea and Vietnam.

Unfortunately, the end of the Vietnam War made the base surplus and it was deactivated in 1977. Coincidentally, it was also the start of the Oil Crisis the country was experiencing (sound familiar?). The combination of the two caused a huge economic depression for the region and an exodus of residents to places that had better conditions.

The museum was the effort of several local residents who felt there was a need to honor the men and women who passed through Big Spring to serve their country and the residents who supported those efforts by working on the base.

Between donations, Federal, State grants and the cities matching funds, one of the two original hangars were selected and renovated. The result is a pristine example of a WWII military aircraft hangar as it looked in 1940. A giant span of wooden slat roofing held in place by concrete and brick siding. After 75 years, the original wood accordion hangar doors still work and protect the interior from the sometimes-harsh Texas weather.

The museum has a sampling of aircraft that would have been in the inventory during the bases history. A flyable Beech AT-11 bomber trainer, T-28 Trojan, T-33 Shooting Star, Cessna T-37 and a T-38/F-5 Talon. The coolest thing was the forward crew/cockpit section of a B-52 bomber. I got a chance to climb through and sit in the pilot seat of what had to be a mass of metal to fly.

Just looking at that instrument panel with the eight throttles and associated gauges was daunting in this era of glass computerized cockpits. The hangar also contains the beautiful stained-glass window from the former base Chapel which had been preserved by workers who tore down the Chapel when it was cleared for a Federal prison on a corner of the former base.

As we drove around Big Spring, one thing always jumps out at me whenever I take in a small Texas town. The architecture of most Texas towns that had experienced a significant period of growth, tend to stop at the time of their decline. It’s like the clock stopped for them. Here it was the 1970s. There is a smattering of newer construction but most of the significant government and downtown buildings range from the 1930s to the 70s. The town still emits a powerful sense of its history but buried deep behind vacant store fronts where vibrant businesses once stood.

Much of that part of the world has a relentless wind and most things have a sand-blasted look to their exteriors. The rest of the town has a sad feel to it with most of the residential areas in need of repair and paint brushes.

Oil, in the form of fracking in what’s the center of the Permian Basin (All the oil came from animals, flora and fauna during the Permian Era which is a geologic period and system which spans 46.7 million years from the end of the Carboniferous Period 298.9 million years ago, to the beginning of the Triassic period 251.902 million years ago....remember to count backward, got it?) has somewhat revitalized the economy but it has a long way to go and the area is trying to diversify so a sudden decline in oil revenues (which will happen someday) won’t have such devastating effects.

An example of the more modern buildings in Big Spring is the 1953 Howard County Courthouse. Big Spring is the County Seat and named for Volney Erskine Howard  a U.S. Senator from Texas.  This Courthouse is the third for Big Spring. The 1884 Courthouse was torn down for the 1908 Courthouse which was torn down for this one. Very classic government 50s looking building with a pretty cool war memorial on the east side.

It has a very low-key Confederate memorial with the names of soldiers buried in Howard County. It also honors residents of Howard County that serve in WWII, Korea and Vietnam and still flies a POW flag next to the US and Texas flags. It also contains the County time capsule buried in 1981 not to be opened until 2031.

The following day we made our way to Midland, Texas another 40 miles west of Big Spring. There we discovered one of the boyhood homes of former President George W. Bush (Bush 43).

Just west of downtown, at 1412 West Ohio Avenue Midland, Texas, is a rather unassuming olive green with a red shingle roof, single story home, at the corner or West Ohio and North H Street. It was Sunday and we were the only two on the tour so we could ask all the questions we wanted. The home is one of a handful of privately owned Presidential museums. They're tag line is the home of two Presidents and two Governors and a First Lady. Laura Welch, the future First Lady grows up in Midland and meets George W. back in Midland in 1977 then marry November 5th, 1977.

Inside was a well-appointed wood paneled living room, a portion with a small fireplace, which Barbara designated as the dining room. H.W.(Bush 41)and Barbara Bush married when he came back from the war in 1945 in Rye, New York right before entering Yale. After graduating, in 1948, H.W.s dad Prescott, led him to a business associate starting an oil business in Texas. H.W. started at the bottom and soon learned the business entering into a partnership which began developing oil wells. H.W. and Barbara lived in several places (even a short stint in California) but ended up in Midland in 1951. G.W. attended public school while in Midland. He lived there with his baby sister Robin and brother Jeb. Unfortunately, Robin died of Leukemia in 1953 (let’s not forget later sibs Neil Bush (b. 1955), Marvin Bush (b. 1956), and Dorothy Bush (b. 1959)). The Bushes were very involved in their community, joined and financially supported several groups while there including starting up the Midland Symphony and  Midland YMCA in town.

This might explain some things
The home is a typical 50s style home. Though built around 1940 and around 1,400 square feet, the interior appointments bring back memories of my childhood. A pier and beam platform home above ground with real dark wood panels and lath and plaster made for a cozy (and small) home to raise four kids. G.W.s room also had the dark paneling of the living room. It had a large book case made of the same material with old toys and children’s book of the era. G.W. and his friends were apparently avid followers of the Roy Rogers Riders. The tour guide said the first time G.W. saw it, he got very emotional over the memories the house and the room brought back.

Our guide explained the home had gone through several owners and became available in 2004. It had been renovated several times including a room addition and front patio cover which had to be removed. The drywall had to be removed to reveal the wood paneling still beneath the Sheetrock. There was a period B/W television, furniture and most of the kitchen contained original appliances including a working Westinghouse refrigerator that belonged to Laura (First Lady 43) Bush’s mom.

The master bedroom had a history of the Bush family accomplishments in Midland with some cool photos of Midland in that time period. The second bedroom had the family’s baseball history. We all think of G.W.s involvement with the Texas Rangers but we learned that his dad H.W. was actually an accomplished baseball player from his early school days. Everyone thinks G.W. was the owner of the Rangers but came in as only a minority investor with two percent of the team. He was very passionate about the team and became its managing partner and was responsible for the team’s early growth and success. G.W. was instrumental in getting better players signed up making the team a success.

The back yard had the original garage,a dog house and sand box like the one in the extensive number of photos the family took in and around the home while they were there. The future First Lady was apparently an avid photographer who pretty much documented their whole lives and was a primary source for all the photos needed to renovate the home to its previous state. Pretty cool hidden treasure in Midland, Texas.

Returning to the Hotel Settles, after all that driving, we spent the evening taking in a movie. Not wanting to go out, we decided to try the in-house video system and got to see "The Shape of Water". Great flick, I can understand why its been nominated.

West Texas is a slow-paced environ with much history but little else to offer. It is a window into the rough and tumble early oil industry and ironically the energy future of America with the largest wind farms in Texas (Champion, Texas). Hopefully time catches up to West Texas and returns it to its new found glory. There's more aviation museums and historiuc hotels to try. So we'll be back.