picture of houses in dish texas

This Denton County Town is Named After Dish Network

Texas is full of cities named after different places – from Athens to Italy, and all the way to Palestine. However, the town that I visited recently wasn’t named after a country or even a U.S. state- rather it carries the name of a satellite TV provider. Welcome to DISH, TX. Yep, that’s right, in all caps.

I first heard about DISH as I was browsing around on Wikipedia. On a page listing the different municipalities making up the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the unique name caught my eye right away. Upon doing some Googling, I learned about the interesting story of this tiny town. Located about 16 miles to the southwest of Denton, it was originally known as Clark. In 2005, this community of less than 400 voted to rename their town in an agreement with Dish Network. In return, all residents received ten years of free basic service, a satellite dish, and a DVR.

Upon arriving in this town of only 1.6 square miles, I noticed the number of relatively new homes there. Given that there are many new developments in the nearby town of Justin, it didn’t come off as much of a surprise.

photo of homes in dish texas

photo of homes in dish texas

One thing I wanted to see was how many homes still had Dish Network satellites, since the agreement had expired in 2015. As ironic as it sounds, I saw many more DirecTV dishes! Maybe that would have been different had Dish Network continued to give at least some sort of discount to these residents. Perhaps it was just the quality of service. Really can’t say either way.

In many of these ranch-style houses, the backyard area was fairly large. I’m sure the residents wouldn’t be complaining of being crowded here! All this space made it look like a relaxing place to live and enjoy life.

picture of houses in dish texas
The spaciousness in this neighborhood was nice.

However, this town has had its share of problems. On the other side of the neighborhood were natural gas drilling sites. DISH sits in the Barnett Shale, a huge source of natural gas spanning seventeen counties. Some residents have reported health problems as a result of the chemicals emitted from production. Other folks, like town founder L.E. Clark, say that there are no issues. “There is a sniffer checking air quality. The pump is located 1800 feet from my house, and if anybody would be breathing it, it would be me. I have had no problems.”

picture of a natural gas site in dish texas
One of the natural gas sites.

Just down the road from the natural gas sites was the town hall. A small single-story metal building, it is only staffed for less than 3 hours a day, four days a week. A satellite dish was erected in the lawn close to the roadway – a landmark of sorts.

picture of the dish texas town hall
Dish’s Town Hall. I wonder what company the satellite dish atop their roof is.

An equally tiny park sat right behind the town hall. The playground equipment looked to be surprisingly modern and well-equipped for such a small community like this.

picture of a playground in dish texas
Behind the town hall was this playground.

Another neighborhood, this one considerably older and consisting of mobile homes, was located right across the street. Unlike the stereotypical trailer park most people have a mental image of, this neighborhood wasn’t cramped at all, and there was plenty of space in between units.

picture of mobile homes in dish texas

picture of mobile homes in dish texas

Having been to many of the small towns on the outskirts of the Metroplex, I enjoyed this mini trip to this very unique, yet relatively unknown little community. If you find yourself driving by DISH, pop in and check out it out- regardless of which satellite TV company you prefer!

 

 

NTTA Safety Operations Center Floor

Watching Over North Texas’ Tollways: The NTTA Safety Operations Center

If you live in or visit the DFW area, chances are high that you have either gone on or at least seen the signs for the many toll roads spanning the Metroplex. It’s a complex infrastructure network, spanning 980 miles in the region. From Frisco to Grand Prairie, the North Texas Tollway Authority(NTTA) can probably get you there should you desire to take a toll road versus the freeway. But what goes on beyond what most drivers see to keep traffic flowing and the roads safe? I found out recently, with a visit to the NTTA Safety Operations Center(SOC), located in Plano.

NTTA Safety Operations Center
About to go behind closed doors!

Opened in 2015, the SOC is the 24/7 central “control room” for the five tollways that make up the NTTA system. Showing me around the facility was their director of system and incident management, Eric Hemphill. After taking me onto the SOC floor, the first thing that caught my attention was the huge video wall, full of surveillance cameras.

NTTA Safety Operations Center Floor
The NTTA Safety Operations Center.

Eric explained that there are nearly 2000 cameras in the system, and that they cover about 70% of NTTA’s footprint..or should I say tire tracks?

NTTA Safety Operations Center Video Wall
This video wall displays an array of cameras showing road conditions.
NTTA Safety Operations Center Video Wall
A roadside assistance unit helps with an incident on the Sam Rayburn Tollway.

All these cameras provide the folks in the SOC with a real-time view of road conditions. They work hand in hand with sensors built in to the pavement that detect when something goes awry. One example is when a wrong-way driver enters the tollway. Once detected, a big red message will flash below the video screen, alerting SOC dispatchers to pull up that associated camera and notify law enforcement.

picture of NTAA tollroad control room with wrong-way driver detection
If you want to drive the wrong way, don’t do it on NTTA roads! The SOC is alerted immediately thru a network of sensors.

Speaking of dispatchers, they are the heart of the SOC. There were four on duty when I visited, although staffing varies based on conditions. Every dispatcher has a different job, from monitoring the alarms and cameras to fielding 9-1-1 calls.

NTTA Safety Operations Center Dispatchers

NTTA Safety Operations Center
Extra workstations allow for more staff to be called in as conditions warrant.
NTTA Safety Operations Center map
Maps allow dispatchers to get a global view of traffic conditions.

9-1-1? Isn’t that handled by the individual cities? It is, however, the SOC serves as a secondary 9-1-1 answering and dispatching center for calls that originate on the NTTA system. As Eric explained, say you have an accident. When you dial 9-1-1, your call first goes to the municipality in which you are located in. After verifying that fire/EMS assistance isn’t needed, you will be transferred here. A dedicated DPS dispatcher will then send state troopers your way.

What if your car suddenly breaks down? Thanks to all those cameras and some advanced technology, the SOC is notified when a camera detects a non-moving object(such as a stalled car). From there, a dispatcher will send a roadside assistance unit.

NTTA Safety Operations Center Roadside Assistance CAD Screen
This screen shows the dispatcher the location of all the roadside assistance units.

Roadside assistance units, provided free of charge, help with jump-starts, flat tires, and more. They will even provide you with a small amount of gas should you run out and be stranded. These folks stay busy – I heard a constant stream of phone calls and radio traffic. However, the winter season is when it gets real crazy. Of course, prevention is the best strategy, hence why the SOC has pavement temperature sensors all throughout the system.

NTTA Safety Operations Center Pavement Temperature Sensors
Probably can’t see it clearly, but Fort Worth is showing almost 129 degrees on the pavement. Now that’s hot!

With these sensors, dispatchers are able to know if the road is getting to a dangerously low temperature, and ensure sand trucks and other personnel are mitigating any risks. Another part of prevention is notification of important messages to drivers – that’s why there are overhead message boards at various points. These message boards are controlled right here at the SOC.

NTTA Safety Operations Center Overhead Message Board Controller
All the overhead message boards are controlled thru this program.

Having images of funny highway sign messages in my head, I asked Eric if the employees could change the text to whatever they like. His response – “They can, but only once, because they won’t be working here afterwards.” Accurate answer, I’m sure!

As we concluded the tour, I have to admit I was pretty impressed. Having lived in the North Texas area my whole life and taken the various tollways countless times, I had no idea there was this much technology(or cameras) in the background. The roadside assistance vehicles were something that I’ve seen before in the past, but the many other technologies in the SOC help keep drivers and first responders safe as they get to where they need to go!

NTTA Command Center Map
After taking the toll countless times, it was cool to see what goes on behind-the-scenes.

Thanks to the folks at the North Texas Tollway Authority for showing me around to make this post possible!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hall of State

The Hall of State at Dallas’ Fair Park

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear of Fair Park? For most people, it would be corn dogs, car shows, and a whole day’s worth of fun at the State Fair of Texas. However, there is a place in this sprawling 277-acre complex not many people are privy to – the Hall of State. Much more than just a gorgeous building, the Hall of State is home to the Dallas Historical Society. Many relics are stored and exhibited in this building, which also doubles as a museum and research facility open to the public year-round. This summer, I got to visit, and went behind closed doors to get a glimpse of all that goes on here!

The Hall of State
The Hall of State.

Built in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Exposition, the Hall of State contains some impressive art deco architecture on the exterior. Made of limestone native to the state, it cost $1.2 million, an astronomical figure back in the days of the Great Depression. Today, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the federal government, deeming it worthy of preservation.

Deputy Director Alan Olson took me around the building. Alan explained that the Hall of State is made up of several different rooms, each themed after a different region of Texas. The East Texas room, open to the public, contains murals that depict the importance of timber to the region, and the walls give the impression of entering an East Texas forest.

east texas room
Forestry is paramount to the East Texas economy, and is the theme of the East Texas room.

In there, I viewed an exhibit about Dallas in the time of Martin Luther King Jr. Display panels presented the Civil Rights Era as it happened here in Texas. It was eye-opening learning about how life was like in D-Town for African-Americans back in the 60s. The descriptions provided were thorough, and allowed me to get further insight into this time period.

hall of state MLK exhibit
This exhibit puts the Dallas spin on MLK, something I haven’t seen in textbooks or really elsewhere.

One thing that caught my eye was this advertisement for the 1951 Texas State Fair. Although if you stand in the Midway or trek down the auto show hall today, you see people of all colors and nationalities, it wasn’t always this way. Up until 1961, there was only one day that people of color were able to access the entire fair.

State Fair of Texas advertisement

While on the issue of civil rights, I came across a very unique document on display in the front lobby- one of the original versions of General Order #3, which freed slaves in Texas. Read to the people of Galveston on June 19th, 1865, it was the start of Juneteenth, a holiday still celebrated today.

General Order #3
The military order that freed all the slaves in Texas.

This would be far from the only unique item I saw here, as I found out when Alan took me into the North Texas room. Currently used for storage, there were tons and tons of artifacts all with very significant historical value, ranging from Admiral Chester Nimitz’s uniform to antique rifles used in battle! These items are used on a rotational basis by the museum, depending on which exhibit is being shown to the public.

north texas room at hall of state in fair park
Boxes and boxes of nothing but historical artifacts sit here as they wait to be exhibited.
Chester Nimitz Uniform
Admiral Chester Nimitz’s uniform.
battle rifles
Various rifles used in battles.

We then made our way towards the basement, but stopping by the Dealey Library(also known as the West Texas room) first. This reading room is where researchers can find and look at documents and books from the museum’s expansive collection – which was where we headed to next!

Dealey Library at Hall of State
The Dealey Library, aka the West Texas Room. Note the adobe walls and overall plainness of this room, representative of the West Texas region.

Downstairs, in a secure and humidity-controlled room, were rows and rows of rolling shelves filled with books, documents, files, and other treasures.

Here, various pieces of literature ranging from the first edition of the Dallas Morning News to old high school yearbooks can be found.

Dallas Morning News first edition
The first edition of the Dallas Morning News.
highland park high school yearbook
Old Highland Park High School yearbooks dating back to the 60s.

Think you know the layout of Fair Park? This sketch here was of “the proposed fair grounds”. Dating back to 1886, it looks much different than what actually got approved and built! Sketches and maps like these represent a part of the Society’s collection here.

proposed layout for fair park

Having all these possessions doesn’t mean a whole lot if one can’t find what they need in an efficient manner. Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, the museum works are organized and inventoried, so that there is no need to rummage around to find a particular item. Alan also said that many works have been digitized, for even greater accessibility.

proposed layout for fair park
Organization is paramount when you have so many items. These long rolling shelves allow for the maximum amount of storage space.

Just because something is modern does not mean the Dallas Historical Society doesn’t want it here! I saw multiple boxes of documents belonging to the Trinity River Project, a public works undertaking by the City of Dallas in the 2000s. History is always being made, and items that future generations will find valuable to understand the past are a prime candidate to being preserved.

trinity river project boxes at hall of state
Boxes of files belonging to the Trinity River Project.

Back upstairs, Alan showed me the part of the building most folks will at least spend a few minutes admiring – the Great Hall, located just past the front lobby.

Great Hall at hall of state
The Great Hall.

Arguably the most architecturally stunning area here, this four-story hall features impressive design characteristics, such as a gold-leafed medallion and a hand-stenciled ceiling! However, what I really found amazing were the two giant murals on both sides of this room. These murals depict the story of Texas and the development of the state’s economy.

mural at hall of state

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It is also in this room that you will find six flags hanging as part of the Great Hall’s grandeur, standing for the six nations in history that Texas belonged to.

six flags of texas at hall of state

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Wrapping things up, I greatly enjoyed my visit seeing the Hall of State and all that was inside. With no admission or parking fees, this is a cool place to experience both a neat building and some interesting exhibits. If you are in the area, I’d recommend stopping by Fair Park to see it for yourself!

City of Oak Cliff safe
This large safe, found in an unassuming corner of the building has to date back to at least the early 1900s. Amazingly, the museum still has the combination to the lock!

Thanks to the Dallas Historical Society for showing me around to make this post possible!