Monday, November 16, 2015

On the road again

I have been in Wyoming for four months and have begun exploring portions of the Lincoln Highway.

Since talking about every place in one post is both frivolous and overwhelming, let's look at portions of the first transcontinental highway.

I plan to write a lot more about it, but want to give you a couple of my favorite stops to this point. In the future I will dig a little further into each community so as to help give people a deeper appreciation of the road and those who helped shape the highway and their communities.

For the time being here are four of my favorite places or sights on the route.

Evanston Sunset Camp

In 1920 the city of Evanston, Wyoming operated a campground at this location, which cost customers 50 cents per vehicle. In 1927, the city added six small cabins with adjourning carports to the campground. A year later, a Rawlins company, which operated a chain of tourist camps, leased this camp ground. They renamed it the Sunset Camp. The cabins were changed to mission-style cabins as seen here.

Wyo Motel roadside advertisement

After tourist cabins came motor courts and motels. This is a rare road side advertisement from another era. Located off US 30 outside Medicine Bow, tired motorists heading towards Laramie stopped at the Wyo Motel

New Studio Photography

New Studio Photography began operating in 1919, six years after the Lincoln Highway was established. It continues to serve Rock Springs customers.

Smitty's Truck Stop, outside Pine Bluffs, Wyoming

Smitty's Truck Stop served as the unofficial state boundary between Nebraska and Wyoming. It's edifice is bare, but its soul remains. It is still The state line marker and a reminder of what it was and could be.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Echo in the past

I apologize for not blogging as much as I should have. Through relocating and beginning a new job as a newspaper reporter in Rock Springs, Wyoming, it has been a busy several weeks.

During the process, I have begun to explore the Mountain West region.

The first town that caught my eye is Echo, Utah.

Echo is approximately 50 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. It lies off Interstate 80, but at one time the community was a stopping point for people along the Mormon Trail, Overland Stage, Pony Express and Lincoln Highway. Before the Civil War it served as a military route for future Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston and the U.S. Army in their pursuit of Mormons during the Utah War. After the war, it became an important community along the Union Pacific Railroad.

What remains today are chunks of repaved asphalt, a few roadside memories, a Latter Day Saints church that once served as a Protestant place of worship and a cemetery whose souls remember when Echo thrived as a railroad community.

The rise of Echo

Echo has a long history of being a stop for many migrants heading west.

In 1846 the Harlan-Young party drove their wagons past this area before heading towards the Weber River.

In 1857, President James Buchanan sent the U.S. Army under General Albert Sidney Johnston to Echo Canyon to quell the Mormon Rebellion and enforce laws prohibiting polygamy. Fortresses, including the Echo Canyon Breastworks were built by the Mormons, led by Commander Daniel H. Wells, to help protect the people as best they could. 

They were not needed as a peaceful resolution came about ending the Utah Expedition.

A few years earlier, in 1854, the town of Echo was founded by James E. Browley, who ran the Pony Express stage station by Weber Station, just outside of town. The Pony Express ran mail on the Mormon trail from Echo Canyon to Salt Lake City. It was abandoned when the transcontinental telegraph was completed in the fall of 1861.

After the Civil War, Echo, which was halfway between the Union Pacific division points of Ogden and Evanston, Wyoming, was chosen as a stop due to it being located at the bottom of a steep climb up Echo Canyon. The railroad built a large coaling tower, water tower, turntable, four-stall engine house and other servicing facilities. It had a plentiful amount of water, which along with the UP's investment in the community, enabled it to become Summit County's center of commerce.

At one time the area had warehouses full of groceries, hardware and dry goods to go along with saloons, brothels and tents.

Further west silver was discovered in Park City and coal was uncovered in Coalville. This enabled Echo to further prosper as four to six engines were stationed in town and hundreds of men were needed to maintain the equipment and roadbed.

Brigham Young Jr,, the son of Brigham Young purchased the community from Browley and heavily invested in it. He felt Echo was not only an important railroad location, but was crucial to protecting Mormon colonies in the Salt Lake Valley. However, by 1868, it did not develop into the all-Mormon community that Young wanted.

Despite the disappointment, the town continued to survive well into the 20th Century.

A couple of businesses that saw plenty of traffic along the Lincoln Highway, US 189 and US 30S include the Cozy Motel and the Gas Café, which once served as a truck and bus stop.

The interstate veered traffic away from town, but today people can catch glimpses of other eras by  getting off exit 169 and driving segments of the Lincoln Highway while exploring Echo Canyon.

Echo Canyon, Summit County

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wyoming it is

(Courtesy of AA Roads)
The last few weeks have been a roller coaster. In mid-May I walked down the aisle at the Super Pit, home of the University of North Texas Mean Green basketball squads. Some students were receiving a doctorate while the others, including myself, were receiving a Master's. As "Pomp and Circumstance" played, I smiled as I realized the significance of the occasion.

After three years of hard work, plenty of writing and loads of traveling, I received a Master of Arts degree from the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT, one of the best programs in the country. I am proud of myself and it has led me to the point of making decisions of where I will live and hope to continue my writing journey.

A couple of weeks ago I suffered a personal setback. My grandma died at age 95. While she died naturally (could we be so lucky) it was very sad. She was the last surviving grandparent and my mom's mother. I will be seeing mom and hugging her like crazy on our mom and son road trip from Las Vegas to Arizona via Route 66 in California (more on that later). The roller coaster reached another peak this past Monday when I made a life altering decision. I accepted a reporting job in Wyoming, a place that always captured my imagination as it epitomizes the Old West. Plus, it is a place on my bucket list.

As I embark on this journey to Wyoming, where will I be mingling with the community and helping produce solid news and feature stories, I have been giving it serious thoughts and re-thoughts. Why am I relocating to a publication over 800 miles away? Could I have tried harder to get a reporting job in Texas where I know many people or perhaps go back east so I could be closer to my mom and sister who live in New York?

While "The Equality State" has not always treated others equally (Rock Springs Massacre), it has a unique old west heritage that hypnotized me and one that they continue to preserve (Frontier Days in Cheyenne). Wyoming may be a sparse state with plenty of land and scarce amount of people, but it offers plenty for  adventurers.  As for Rock Springs, it is 6,739 feet above sea-level with a semi-arid climate with frigid winters. It was a stop for travelers along the Lincoln Highway as they left the fast pace industrial east seeking greener pastures further west.

This is also a place where I can and should find out about myself, a proverbial moment of truth. Will I bring old habits such as relaxing too much rather than climbing and trying to reach new heights. In this case it is literal, as there are a plethora of opportunities to get active again, by climbing various trails or taking hikes. God has a plan. I am not sure about its destination yet, but the signs are pointing me somewhere. Where do I go? What do I do? Well, Wyoming it is, but what am I suppose to see, what stories was I brought to tell and what will this next step tell me about Gregory?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The depth of a purpose

During lunch this afternoon I began reading Roads to Quoz by William Least Heat-Moon and on page 13 found the quote that epitomizes who I am and what I aspire to become.

"I've spent so many years rambling alone and not knowing exactly the reason, I now believe the answer to why we 'were thus upon the road' lies in both the why and the how I became a writer in the first place: to break those long silent miles, I must stop and hunt stories and only later set down my gatherings in order to release them one day to wander on their own."

In July 2012 I relocated to Denton, Texas to begin the quest for a Master's Degree in Journalism at the University of North Texas (UNT). The question I asked myself, "What kind of writer did I want to become" I had a blog and also wrote a couple of pieces for Route 66 publications, but did not know what exactly was next. After taking Reporting and Practices, taught by author, journalist and teacher, George Getschow, I slowly began to wonder am I doing the right thing or do I know what the hell I am doing.

On an evening just before the end of the first semester I walked into George's office. I began to slowly reveal  myself by telling him I wanted to be a highway writer, a person of sorts to drive along two-lane highways in this country, look for interesting facets and write about it. I was not, yet, certain about being a story teller. He glared at me, momentarily, almost as if he was sizing me to see if I was worthy of such a large task. Over the next year and a half he encouraged me to sign up for his classes. From a woman's undying attempt to bring a state historical marker to a Texas community along the Red River (still in progress) to a West Texas rancher, who despite facing a scarcity of water and other obstacles over the ranch's history continues to fight on, I have begun to dig into the strata of my soul, which some people call a gift. However, after the story, he invited me to part take in a class he taught fellow inspiring writers in Archer City, Texas, a half hour outside Wichita Falls.

While I felt timid and unsure, I decided to give it a whirl and in mid-July ventured away from the daily routine of work, go home, watch I Love Lucy re-runs and just do nothing. Instead, I chose to get off my lazy carcass, begin writing with a purpose and in the process let the imagination roll like a slab of Russian thistle running across Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona. While meeting various writers like Kim Cross kept me in a state of awe, it was a can of Coors Light, the bed of a Ford-250 and a dark foreboden night outside of the Archer City limits where things slowly began to change.

Admittedly, to that time and even moments before I got up on the flatbed there were doubters including George. While in a drunken stupor, he did admit to my positive characteristics, yet felt I could not quite make it as a writer. The sting of that moment is still felt (we all need to keep an chip on our shoulders), but it enabled me to get on the flatbed. "I know I am uptight, but what the hell, I have nothing to lose." While that was not as potent as the Gettysburg Address, it helped me, for the first time, feel free of any insecurities.

After the class, I continued exploring each fabric of the American roadside, but have not written anything as extensive as the pieces on the rancher and cemetery. However, I have written a thesis and continue to write about experiences across the highway. A good writer, regardless of the size of a piece, continues to perfect their craft. 

The roller coaster experience over the last couple of years has taught me one thing: there is still hope...still hope I find the spirit and carry it with me as I look to fly out of this dormant body and discover what lies beneath the American ethos .

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A trip to the barber on the Bankhead

"How's everything?" asks the patient in a grey sweatshirt with long sideburns and auburn Scooby Doo hairstyle.

"Doing ok, is this your first time?" he replies with his white headphones in both ears.

"Yes sir."

The young man takes out his android phone, wakes it up from its screen saver slumber and shows the image to the barber. "Oh, Elvis Presley," he says with a thick accent, uncertain to its Genesis. After sitting down the barber gently places the cape and neck strip on the customer like a person places a table cloth onto a dinner table.

Eyes glare outside as his scissors begin to make its incision.

"Where are you coming from," asks the barber. He has seen many over his 10 years at Palace Barber Shop off Texas Highway 180, formerly part of the historic Bankhead Highway, in Grand Prairie, Texas.

"Denton, Texas"

"Oh wow, how far is that?

"One hour."

"You come this way to get a hair cut?"

"I always wanted to get a haircut at a traditional barber shop and I was on the road today."

As his scissors gently make their way to the patient's right side, the gentleman asks, "Did you know that you are starting to lose your hair? There is no root." As he attempts to alleviate the effects of his shocking finding, he lets the young man know that he had to cover up some of it with other hairs, but that he had a healthy amount of hair on the other side. (Note: It was a only small amount, noticeable only by the speck of an eye)

The red leather chair slowly scratches like fingernails on a black board as he makes his way to the other side. Facing the waiting room, the patient notices a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article on the shop sitting next to a detailed map of Vietnam. To the far right by the door that were two black chairs with latched desks, almost as if he was teaching a lesson each time he took care of a customer.

The buzz of razors tenderly scrapes the particles from the neck as he hands the patient the mirror. After giving his approval he shakes hands and pays the barber.

"Four weeks?" asks the patient.

"Yes sir."

Next stop: Chanute, Kansas

Men in solid white button shirts and derby hats help two ladies off the wagon. They slowly make their way to the double glass door. On the far left one of the ladies glimpses at a white brick building that reads Chanute Milling Company, Faultless Flour while the other leers to the right and noticed railroad equipment sitting atop two wagons.

After stepping inside they proceed to the left where they pick up an issue of McCall's at a newsstand. As they whisper about the cover of the magazine they walk over to the ticket booth. They ignore the sign on the upper right that offers them a chance to purchase imported or domestic cigars and quietly purchase their tickets. While waiting for the train they enter the dining room featuring black and white tiles with seven or eight mahagony tables and chairs. Harvey Girls draped in plain black, long-sleeved flour length woolen dresses with an "Elsie" collar and black shoes and stockings offer them an array of beverages. Each dress features a white apron that runs neck to ankle while their hair is tied back with a single white ribbon.

Initially, Harvey's staff featured African Americans. However. combine the racist proclivities of many travelers and Westerners (many of which were former Confederates) and an "accidental" shooting of a Mojave spectator in Raton, New Mexico that nearly ended in bloodshed and things changed. Harvey enlisted Tom Gable, a family friend from Leavenworth, Kansas, to move to Raton and manage the restaurant. One of Gable's decision's altered Fred Harvey forever.

Gable, according to author Stephen Fried, wanted to replace the African-American staff with women...single white women from Kansas. "He thought they would be easier to manage" as well as be unlikely to drink and start a raucous. Furthermore, Gable believed it could have a positive, sanguine effect on the men working at the eating house, the depot and the customers. The Harvey Girls helped romanticize the Fred Harvey brand along with the overall mystique of railroad travel.

For this reason, I want to start exploring more Harvey Houses and when I took a trip into Southeast Kansas a few weeks ago, I found Chanute to be the perfect spot. Unfortunately, time did not allow me to head up to Leavenworth and visit the Fred Harvey Museum or to Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri to check out the depot, but the Chanute stop was well worth it. I parked the truck by the depot and as I walked towards the tracks my heart began to race. Suddenly, the tennis shoes stopped as I began to seek the next Santa Fe train heading to Kansas City. After hearing loud sounds of silence, it was time to venture inside the depot. As I opened a wooden door, which sat to the right of the glass doors the ladies walked into a century earlier, it felt like I had been here before.

Admittedly, I was a little disappointed that there were no Harvey Girls there to greet and seat me, nor was there any issues of the Chanute Daily Tribune to be purchased. However, I did walk into the library where I was greeted by a friendly lady who helped give me a quick glimpse of the depot. After informing me the second floor was opened I ventured north where I performed some research on the depot and the Harvey House. One hour later, it was time to depart. The tennis shoes scrapped the rocks surrounding the tracks as I bid goodbye and began heading down Lincoln Ave, which happened to be named after a railroad lawyer who became president of the United States.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

School dedication and warm memories

Sounds of birds chirping, a noise familiar with the boys and girls that played ball or hopscotch in the early 20th Century, presided over the jovial crowd in the Red River community of Illinois Bend, Texas. While some people were parking, a few walked by the side of the wooden 30x50 structure supported by large hand hewn pillars where they saw a concrete obelisk that read "Commemorating Rural Schools Montague County, Texas" and just beneath it, "Illinois Bend 1877-1944."

After dealing with buckets of rain and tornado force winds the last few days, the region caught a break and while the winds remained, sunshine made a return offering the community a chance to enjoy God's climate and celebrate the unveiling of a Texas Historical Marker.

People congregated underneath a pavilion, which featured rows of pews and chairs on the exterior, and were able to gleam at the former school where grandparents or parents attended classes, including Norene Dowd and Pauline Parker.

The ceremony began with a welcome from the Chairman of the Montague County Historical Commission, Janis Sneed.  Moments later, Billie Grigsby, president of the Illinois Bend Perpetual Care Cemetery Association, which was honored with a historical plaque last April, addressed the crowd. In a blue and white blouse that matched the sparkle in her eyes as she slowly brought the audience back in time.

While the community had a school, Valley Branch School District No 14, which once sat where the cemetery sits just off Farm Road 677, it was the work of the Masons who helped build a permanent school. In January 1893, W.W. Wickliffe sold land in the area of Burton Street and Third Street in Illinois Bend for one dollar to the Illinois Bend Lodge 665 A.F. According to the deed from Mr. Wickliffe, "It is further agreed and understood by all parties concerned, that the purpose of building a Masonic Hall, church and school house and furthermore that the upper story of said building was to be used, owned and controlled by Illinois Bend Lodge No 665 for Masonic purposes." The third floor, which was accessed via an exterior door, was where the lodge held their meetings while the first floor was used as a school during the week and a church on Sundays.

As Shannon Gillette came up to the podium, her piercing blue eyes began to glow as she started reminiscing about her grand father J.F. Frazier, who made the bell that hung in the bell tower. The bell rung a half hour prior to "books" or at the beginning of class. Additionally, if the bell rang, it also informed the community that help was needed.

Every September citizens and their families would congregate for a barbeque

Since the school was built before modern conveniences proliferated throughout the country, the building was heated by two large wood burning stoves (one continues to provide heat). Electricity did not come into the community until 1945. By then, the school past its peak. Student enrollment during the 1920's reached as high as 125, but by the end of World War II it dwindled, forcing students to attend school 15 miles south in Saint Jo. In 1987, two decades after the lodge merged with the one in Saint Jo, a group of citizens that remained in Illinois Bend created an organization called the Twin Community Club. Today, it is known as the Illinois Bend Community Club and they continue to meet one Tuesday evening a month and anyone is welcome to attend.

As trucks and SUV's gently glided down the gravel road back onto Texas Spur 677, echoes of children's giggles joined in with the howling winds .