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2004Travelogue #17 Elk City
Elk City RV
Elk City, Oklahoma
Places of Interest:
Historic Route 66 Museum and Old Town Museum Complex, Farm and Ranch Museum,
7/2 The rain moved east this morning, so we'll be moving west. We left Oklahoma City around 10:30 and had a leisurely drive on I-40 to Elk City, OK (112 miles) and the Elk City RV Park. This is a well-maintained and laid-out private campground with 50 amps, FHU, cable, hard-packed gravel pull-thrus and a congenial staff.
After lunch, we drove some of the streets in the main part of town, "getting the lay of the land". We had reference material about the National Route 66 Museum and Old Town Museum Complex and knew these were "must see" places.
Our intentions, on this leg of our travels, are to follow Historic Route 66 as far West as we can. We want to see the old buildings, and unique things that have made this Highway historic. This Highway has been called many things, i.e. The Mother Road, The Glory Road, The National Road and America's Main Street. Several events have made it famous, such as, John Steinbeck's book and later the movie, "The Grapes of Wrath", Bobby Troup's song, "Route 66", recorded by Nat King Cole and the early 60's TV series, "Route 66", staring George Maharis and Martin Milner as Buzz and Todd.
In the Highway's early days, tourists cranked up their Hudsons, Dodges and Packards, rolled down their windows and with radios blaring, burlap water bags hanging on the front of their cars, they took-off down the free road heading West. Others looked for a better life after the War, building homes and business along the way. The steady stream of traffic passed, and brought economic opportunity. This kind of travel brought the birth of the "fast food" industry with the hamburger stands, and greasy-spoon diners. Also, sprinkled along the Highway were the "Burma-Shave" signs, Merrimac Cavern signs painted on barns and curio shops which brought a welcome break in the ride. Even today, the joy of traveling is not necessarily the destination but the journey itself.
Along "America's Main Street "is where Peggy grew up in the 40's and 50's and part of her roots are here on this 2200-mile cement thread crossing the West from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. Her family was one of those who sought a better life and bought a business, Hotel Cuba in Cuba, MO and later the Western Auto Store. The Portland cement slabs of US-66 ran in front of both of these places. She grew up on the Highway during its glory era for travel and Marty, her father, had two things travelers needed, a place to sleep and a place to fix their car.
The "National Route 66 Museum" is a large 6500 square-foot facility, designed as an indoor curving road, complete with center stripe. Walking this Highway, with exhibits on both sides, we'd stop at marked places under speaker cones, and hear stories about the exhibits. The commentary is by former travelers, who recall each particular scene from their youth.
One exhibit we particularly enjoyed was a 1929 Stewart Truck chassis, with a "straight 6"engine, equipped with the Weidman Camp Body. This had to be one of the first motorhomes on the road. It was unusual because the placement of the driver's seat and steering wheel was up-front in the middle, instead of the left or right. The upper half of the glass windows around the coach cranked out and was screened for ventilation. The coach had storage bays on the bottom half of the Camp Body, a small hand-water pump at the sink, a cupboard, and a double bed crosswise, in the rear.
After touring the Route 66 Museum, we walked next-door to the Old Town Museum Complex, which included the Beutler Rodeo Hall, and the Farm & Ranch Museum. Opening the door into the entry hall of the Victorian home/Museum, Lucy Standberry, historian, curator, greeted us and overall keeper of the ledger of donated items for the past 27 years. She was delightful, with a wealth of knowledge of the area. She told us that Elk City had just completed their Centennial celebration in 2001.
Several displays caught my attention in this "filled to the brim" old house. One was a multiple-board display rack containing old letters, early photographs, and commentary of the early residents of Elk City. A commentary I found of interest was the following:
"The 16-mule freight outfit, owned and driven by Shorty Finno,
who was known as the best mule-skinner and bull whacker
in Western Oklahoma came through Elk City on a long freight
haul from Weatherford to Elk City to Cheyenne." 1898
Another of my fascinations is trail drives. The Chisholm Trail opened in 1867 and came through this area after Jesse Chisholm laid out a level-wagon road with easy river fords between San Antonio and Kansas and a trading post on the Canadian River. Other cattle trails started at about the same time. The Shawnee Trail, which began around Houston, came through Dallas, Fort Gibson, then into Kansas City. The Great Western Trail was a collection of many of the wild longhorns rounded up in the Rio Grande Valley, from such places as Brownsville and Victoria, then brought to San Antonio, up the Trail to Fort Worth, Doan's Crossing, Elk City, Fort Supply and into Dodge City, Kansas. These Trails could be 600-miles-long and passed through Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Sometimes the herds were 400 to 600-yards-wide as they worked up the Trail.
In virtually every herd, a few dominant steers marched instinctively to the lead and stayed there. Some of these steers were such good leaders that they were spared being sold for slaughter at the end of the drive, so they could lead another drive. The best known such steer was "Old Blue" from Charles Goodnight's drives. This steer led herds for 8 seasons, about a total of 10, 000 head, to Dodge City. "Old Blue" wore a bell around its neck and the sound comforted the cattle during the dark nights. The cattle soon learned to follow the sound of the bell, even during frequent dust storms when the dirt was so thick, making it nearly impossible to see but they could hear "Old Blue" and they trudged onward.
Upstairs, in the Museum, is the Beutler Rodeo Hall (pronounced Butler). There were three brothers, Era, Lynn, and Jake Beutler who started the rodeo business. The Beutler Brothers, over the years, collected many rodeo memorabilia items and their "BB" brand appeared on various leather items in the exhibit, like the chaps. Era's son, Jiggs Beutler, became the leading nationwide livestock contractor for rodeos. For 25 years, they had the most prestigious and largest collection of rodeo stock in the nation, all right here, in little ole Elk City.
Our time was rapidly running out, with the Park closing at 7 pm, we hustled to see the Farm and Ranch Museum. Here, we found a collection of early tools for farm and ranch life. Elk City was once the "Broom Corn Capital of the World". Corn was grown, cut, harvested and sent through huge thrashing machines to be bundled and shipped to a broom factory some place.
Well, the place finally closed and we had to scat but there was one more stop before returning home the carousel, housed in another area of the Park. When Elk City had its Centennial in 2001, they commissioned an artist in California to carve, build and paint a carousel and it opened its gates each evening at 6 p.m. Tonight, it had just a few scattered riders, giving us an opportunity to visit with the two attendants, a husband and wife team, Richard and Kathleen Hart.
As we arrived, Kathleen was busily shining the brass poles on the horses but, putting her cleaning on hold, she gave us a brief history of how the carousel was commissioned and that each hand-carved horse came from its own block of wood, weighing approximately 350 pounds. The floor is suspended from a center pole, so it floats when turning and the computer-driven calliope music is the cherry on the cake.
Between rides, Richard joined our conversation and shared a little about their lives. He was formally in law enforcement and played jazz guitar for a hobby. The law enforcement business got to be too nerve racking, so Kathleen encouraged him to do his jazz thing full-time. They travel back and forth from Elk City to California on a seasonal basis to be here, with her family, and enjoy working the carousel in their spare time, a few hours each night.
When on the West Coast, Richard writes, arranges all the music, plays jazz guitar and records with the Richard Hart Quartet. He has worked alongside and opened for such jazz greats, as singer, Mel Torme'.
We couldn't leave without asking if he happened to have a CD and Kathleen retrieved one from their car. The CD is an instrumental with Paul Munn playing the alto and tenor sax; I haven't heard such a smooth sound since Paul Desmond recorded "Take Five" with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, in the 60's.
Wow, what a day! I'm reminded of Forrest Preston's words from the musical, "The Music Man" "It's all right here in River City". Well, today it has been all right here in Elk City.
7/4 Independence Day, certainly a time for "gratitude and thanks" to those who have come before us, shaping and molding a country where there is freedom and liberty we are blessed. We went to church this morning, at St. Mathew's Catholic Church and gave thanks for this special day.
This afternoon, we received a knock on our door from Jennifer Johnson, the young lady who worked the desk at Elk City RV, inviting us to join her family in the activities building around 5 pm for a cookout. We offered to bring food but she said they already had too much. So, around 5 pm we put on our red July 4th T-shirts and became part of Jennifer's family.
We felt like we were attending a reunion. We met Jennifer's mom and dad, Larry and Debby Seigrist, who immediately made us feel comfortable with genuine hospitality. Larry and Jim, Jennifer's husband, put chicken legs and thighs on one grill while hamburgers went on another. Grandmothers, aunts, and cousins brought the other "fixins" and we all sat down to quite a spread.
After clean up, we caravanned to the west side of Elk City to a family member's private business parking lot, located on the crest of a small hill off Historic 66. We brought our lawn chairs, as did the rest of the relatives, and set up on the parking lot facing east in preparation for the 10 pm fireworks show.
From this hillside, we could see for miles and already, back toward town, there was a constant shower of rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers on the horizon. There was also a thunderstorm building in the west and we watched as lightning flashed in the distance.
In front, but to the south was an open field, where a "double-wide" sat with kids setting off their fireworks. It wasn't long before someone in our group yelled, "Oh my gosh! They've got a fire down there!" Sure enough, the fireworks had caught the grass on fire. We watched as someone dumped an ice chest of water on it, which was a joke. Meanwhile, one of our group called the Fire Department, and Larry and Jim grabbed fire extinguishers from their trucks and headed to the field. In short order, the Volunteer Fire Department showed up and hosed down the remaining flames and embers just a little excitement here in Elk City!
After the excitement, we all settled back down to watch the city's fireworks display. They put on a wonderful show and we couldn't have had better seats. When getting up to leave, there were hugs to all the family. They treated us as if we were part of their family and we were, for this one special day in Elk City.
Bob & Peggy Woodall