One Hour in Brownwood: Home of the Yellowjackets

Brownwood and Brown County: a place in Texas that most people haven’t even heard of, let alone know its location. As one of the nineteen counties in the west-central region of the state, I made the trip there last Saturday to see some of the local sights, as well as to cross one more county off the map! I first heard about here while researching possible destinations to fly to. Having checked out many of the neighboring cities and counties, such as Eastland and Comanche, seeing Brownwood on the map made me curious to know what they had out there.

Located about 160 miles to the southwest of Dallas, Brownwood is a surprisingly big city relative to the other cities in the area. The county seat of Brown County, it boasts a population of over 19,000 people. The city was originally located east of its present position, however various disputes forced its inhabitants to uproot and find a new location to call home. That’s when a man named Greenleaf Fisk stepped in, and in 1884 donated 60 acres in the spot where Brownwood stands today. During World War II, the city saw a lot of activity, as one of the U.S. Army training camps(Camp Bowie) was located here. Over 80,000 soldiers passed thru here, in one of the largest training camps of its time in Texas.

Departing early in the morning, my friend Tom and I landed at the Brownwood Regional Airport after about one hour in the air. Upon securing the airplane, we signed the paperwork for the airport courtesy car, and off we went into town. One wrench that got thrown in our plans when I called the airport the day before: They wanted their car back in an hour, so we knew we could not take too long at any one place.

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The plane at the Brownwood Regional Airport. 

The first place we decided to go see was Howard Payne University, a private four-year Baptist university. Founded in 1889, it has a student population of only 1200. It was named after Edward Howard Payne, who’s brother-in-law donated the initial sum of money to get the university started. As part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, this school offers numerous degrees in their Christian Studies department, such as Biblical Languages and Practical Theology. For those desiring a non-theological degree, HPU has degrees in many other fields, from Business to Theatre.

After close to 10 minutes of driving, we arrived at Howard Payne. We first drove around campus, getting a global view of the school and determining where we were going to park. We decided to park by the library, and explore the school on foot. Since we were so close to the library, that was the first building we looked at.

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The library of Howard Payne University, home of the yellowjackets!

It was closed that day, but looking in, it had to be one of the smallest college libraries I have seen to date. It had a coffee bar, copier, and a sofa in its lobby. The atmosphere looked relaxing and peaceful.

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That library sure is small. I would have loved to go in and see the extent of their collections. 

From there, we walked into the heart of the school. There weren’t any students to be seen that day – however, we did come across a few people heading to the chapel.

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Architecturally speaking, the buildings at this school were pretty grand. It kind of reminded me of the buildings at Ole Miss.

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I liked the architecture of their buildings. 

We then came upon their bell tower. This landmark had a very welcoming feeling to it, and marked the center of the campus pretty well. Stone benches made it a great place to relax and enjoy nature, or even catch a brief nap (just not in this 100-degree weather).

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While standing in the bell tower, I saw a commemoration piece on the floor referencing their old main building, with the end year being 1984. Upon doing some research, I discovered that it burned to the ground during finals week of that year.

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As I walked around the bell tower area, I came upon something super interesting. There were golf mats all around the surrounding lawn, complete with instructions and all!

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At first, I was like..” what is this?”

I initially thought this was just something set up by the school for the students to do in their off time, and I later found out I wasn’t too far off. One of my Facebook friends, Melissa, who is an alumna of Howard Payne, gave me the story behind it. This activity was none other than Jacket Golf, named after the school’s mascot – the yellowjackets.

Since there wasn’t much of anything to do in Brownwood in terms of recreation outside of school sporting events, the students themselves decided to create an activity that could be done on campus. An unofficial game of golf was developed- with the campus serving as the course. As a student, memory would tell you where to stand and the point to aim for. If you didn’t remember, surely one of your friends did. As folks graduated and moved on, word-of-mouth kept the game alive over the years. At last, the school decided to make this tradition official. Mats were set up, with instructions telling people where to stand and the direction to aim at!

The sign below read: Hole 2 – “My All” Marker. “Start at Old Main Tower and aim for “My All” marker. ”

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This was for sure one of the most unique outdoor features I have seen to date on a college campus. Jacket Golf is such a part of Howard Payne tradition, that Melissa jokingly said that one hasn’t gotten the true experience of HPU if they haven’t partaken in a game!

After a few more minutes of standing there trying to figure out where the “My All” marker was, Tom and I decided it was time to head off to our next and last stop – downtown. On the short drive there, we passed by a mid-sized indoor stadium. We decided to briefly drive around to see it more. It was none other than the Brownwood Coliseum. A 4,000 seat indoor stadium, it is used by the Howard Payne basketball and volleyball teams.

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The Brownwood Coliseum.

Upon entering downtown, we first drove around to see what was worth getting out of our air-conditioned car for. The downtown area of Brownwood was larger than I originally thought. In fact, the whole city was larger and busier than I anticipated. I didn’t look at the population when planning this trip, and thus thought it would be on the same scale as Comanche or Marlin, which are both also county seats. Barely any businesses were open, much like I expected. Unfortunately, the downtown areas of many of these places just aren’t as vibrant as they were back in the day.

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The Brown County Museum of History, located on the edge of downtown. We would have gone if we had more time. 

We came across this abandoned, fairly big 12 story building, which caught my attention.  It looked like a hotel at one point.

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It would be awesome if I could get permission from the owners to explore this building! 

We parked and walked around this structure. I could tell that there used to be shops on the first floor. Looking up, there were tons of windows open, exposing whatever was inside to the elements. As usual, I wanted to know what purpose the building served back in its heyday. After some research, I found out it indeed was a hotel – the Hotel Brownwood. Opening in 1930, it was very profitable and the destination to go to when in town. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, as business began to decline in the 60s. Eventually, the hotel was converted to dormitories for Howard Payne students, and served in that role for just under twenty years. After that, it has sat vacant to this day.

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Everything was boarded up. 

By this point, it was time to get going so that we would stay on schedule. After making a stop for lunch at Sonic, it was back to the airport. Upon returning our crew car, we checked out a static display of two fighter jets – an F-111 and F-4, sitting outside the terminal!

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A pretty cool display to welcome you to the airport. 

Both supersonic aircraft, these fighters served in combat, including the Vietnam War. The F-111 featured variable sweep wings and terrain-following radar, which allowed this monster to fly super close to the ground in order to avoid detection by enemy radar. The F-4 was equipped to carry a variety of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles, and different bombs. These planes were here as part of a memorial to an Air Force Colonel that damaged an impressive number of Axis aircraft during World War II.

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The (empty) engine pod on the F-111.

Heading back to the terminal, I got the fuel tab paid, and also looked around. It was well-equipped, with a flight planning room, restrooms, and sofas to relax.

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The waiting area of the main terminal. Perfect for cooling off before departing!

Before leaving, we also went inside the main hangar on the field, which was pretty big considering the size of the city. According to the airport attendant, it was built in the 40s.

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A very sizeable hangar.
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Look at that warning sign telling you to be careful and not hit your fingers, located on the hangar doors.  It just smells like vintage. 

Inside, I got to see a FedEx Feeder Cessna Caravan. Flown by another air cargo company under a contract with FedEx, this plane is used to deliver packages to small towns around the area. UPS also services this airport, although their plane had already left.

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Ever wonder how overnight packages make it to small towns like these? There’s your answer. 

With all that we saw on this successful trip, we were ready for the flight back. After getting the pre-flight inspection done, we flew back home. With a tail-wind, we made good time and landed in just under an hour. This had been a pretty fun excursion, and now Brown County was officially crossed off the list of Texas counties still yet to be seen. On all of my trips, I try to find at least one thing unique to the place I’m visiting – Jacket Golf at Howard Payne got that box checked off this time around!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting the Heart of Texas

This past Saturday, I did a cross-country flight to go see another Texas county. We have been experiencing quite a bit of crazy spring weather over the past few weeks, so it was nice to have a day of good flying conditions. I chose to visit a place that has been on my Texas list for a while now- the city of Brady, located about 80 miles to the east of San Angelo. Brady isn’t just any ole’ city in Texas- it is the city that is closest to the geographical center of the state! With a population of just under 5500 people, “The Heart of Texas” was a destination that I definitely wanted to explore.

After a one and a half hour flight, my buddy Tom and I touched down at the Brady Curtis Field Municipal Airport. Upon securing the airplane, we hopped in the crew car and headed off to town!

The first place we checked out after lunch at Sonic was the McCulloch County Courthouse. Like most small towns, the courthouse was located in the center of the town square. Texas has some of the most interesting and elegant courthouse designs – and this was certainly no exception!

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The McCulloch County Courthouse.

The design was somewhat similar to the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, yet had a taste of the one in Lampasas County, in Lampasas. Built in 1899, this was the second courthouse to serve McCulloch County, which encompasses over 1000 square miles. This courthouse was also added to the National Register of Historic Places back in 1977 – a distinction well deserved given the age of the building and the role it played in the history of the county.

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Here’s something you don’t see everyday! A World War II era howitzer in very good condition just sitting here, basking in the Texas sun.

On the grounds of the courthouse was a granite marker bringing light to Brady’s claim to fame – it being “The Heart of Texas”. While the actual geographical center of the state is about 20 miles to the northwest, Brady is the closest city to there. Here is where I got my stereotypical tourist photo taken!

After getting done exploring the courthouse, Tom and I walked around the town square. Compared to some of the other small towns I’ve been to, Brady seems to have a slightly bigger downtown area than most.

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Like most small towns, not too much was going on and not many people were seen.

Although most of the businesses were closed, there was one antique shop that was open. This place, D&J’s Good Ole Days, was actually listed on TripAdvisor when I did my planning for this excursion. I didn’t expect it to be open, but since it was, we waltzed on in to see what they had to offer.

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Out of all the small town antique shops I’ve been to, this one is the coolest by far. It spans the length of three storefronts, and is packed to the gills with trinkets and artifacts from mainly the 20th century. To look at all these objects and realize that each and every one of them has a story behind it is nothing short of incredible.

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One could literally spend hours and hours in here just digging for treasures.
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Everything from old furniture to deer heads can be found at this place.

They even had a section for vintage oil bottles..who would have thought that would be a collector’s item? I’m sure the stuff inside was of much better quality than what is sold now. Hell, just the packaging itself looks cool.

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I would have hung around this place for a bit longer, but it was about time to start heading back to the airport. Departing downtown, we passed by the city hall. Didn’t get a photo, but it was bigger than I initially thought. Usually the city hall of these small towns are nothing more than a tiny building, but this one was quite sizeable.

Once back at the airport, we realized that there was no self-serve fuel pump to refuel the plane prior to departure, and that the airport attendant had gone home for the day! The door to a big hangar housing a DC-3 airliner was open though, and I tracked down a guy and his pre-teen son working inside who helped me contact someone to come out here.

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No one else was seen at the airport, but we managed to find two folks inside working on a super cool plane.

While waiting, they were gracious enough to let Tom and I climb on board and check the plane out! The DC-3 isn’t just any airliner – it was the plane that revolutionized air travel back in the 1930s. I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to check out such an interesting piece of aviation history.

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Trying to get my glamorous cockpit window shot.
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The DC-3 has worn many hats through the years.

A twin-engined tailwheel bird, it was capable of carrying anywhere from 21-32 passengers. This particular model was being restored after having sat here on the field for a few years.

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A look into the glory days of commercial air travel.

The cockpit contained a mixture of both vintage and modern equipment. While there was some newly installed gear, such as the flight instruments and a panel mounted GPS system, there was plenty of the original design intact as well. The half steering wheel shaped yoke is something that isn’t seen anymore, and those thrust levers can only mean DC-3!

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Unfortunately, this plane wasn’t available for rental today!  Would have been super cool to take her up for a spin.

Talking with the guy there, he told me how he was working on restoring this plane for the owner. Parts were nicely arranged along the hangar floor, a seemingly endless project to get her flying again. From what I gathered, the light was starting to be seen at the end of the tunnel. The engine work was getting close to being finished, and the propeller was about to be sent off to a shop for an overhaul.

Before long, the fueler had arrived and got us all set for our journey back home. After paying the tab, we departed without having any further delays. Although the flight back was somewhat bumpy thanks to a low-level jet that was moving through Texas, we made it back in just over an hour due to a nice tailwind.

All in all, this was a very successful trip. Sure, there was a delay, but what I have found is that some of the rather memorable things I’ve done have stemmed from a delay of some sort. The things you see and the people you meet while simply lingering around the airport can sometimes be just outright interesting. In many of these small towns, there isn’t too much to do(if anything), but there was definitely quite a bit that was seen on this excursion! On top of that, I now have bragging rights about having visited a place that is super close to the center of the best state in the country!

 

 

The Western White House

This past Saturday, I finally got to go visit a place that’s been sitting on my Texas trip list, the tiny town of Crawford. Thoughts of visiting this place had originally hatched back in March, when I saw a road sign for there while heading back to the airport from neighboring Bosque County. My former coworker Holly, who is from Valley Mills, had also suggested that I check out the Coffee Shop Cafe, a pretty well-known restaurant only 10 minutes from Crawford. The deal was sealed from there!

Best known as the location of former President George W. Bush’s ranch, Crawford sits about 20 miles to the west of Waco. With a population of less than 800 people, this was one of the least populated towns I have seen to date.

Being that Crawford didn’t have its own airfield, I landed at the Waco Regional Airport. The winds aloft were close to calm that day, and combined with a high-pressure system made for a pretty smooth ride in. Upon landing, I was expecting to grab the crew car and head off to see the “Western White House”, but unfortunately another pilot had taken it and wouldn’t be back until an hour later. Not wanting to let this time slip by, I decided to see if I could get a tour of the control tower located at the airline terminal.

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The control tower at the Waco airport.

The controller that I spoke to on the phone was very friendly, and told me to just come over and they would let me in. It took me about 5 minutes to walk from the FBO(private aircraft terminal) to the airline terminal right down the road. Upon entering, I pressed the buzzer at the door going up to the tower, and was escorted in.

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Although this tower shows its age, the equipment inside is very modern and the staff well trained! My tour guide, one of the controllers, first showed me their Terminal Radar Approach Control(TRACON). The TRACON is a small, dark room with radar scopes and about 3-4 controllers. They talk to aircraft that are either departing, arriving, or passing thru Waco’s airspace. Everyone was laid back, and I got to ask them about some of the unique aspects of their airspace, and see the equipment they use to safely guide planes to where they need to go. Having toured the Dallas/Fort Worth TRACON, I have to say that although this is a small facility, they appeared to be just as professional and knowledgeable as the D/FW guys.

After spending about 10 minutes in TRACON, we then went up to the tower cab. The place where the best view of the airport is, only one controller was up there directing traffic. With only 5 airline flights a day, Waco isn’t busy like DFW Airport or even Love Field. The majority of the traffic are general aviation flights, with corporate jets and piston aircraft alike using the field.

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These folks have a nice view..almost as nice of a view as that of a pilot! (;

The controller working up there was awesome and answered all of my questions regarding tower operations, procedures, and how departing aircraft are entered into the system if they wish to be worked by air traffic control. These folks have a sharp mind, as there is little room for error.

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My tour guide and I, with the general aviation ramp in the background.

I didn’t want to keep them away from their job for too long, so I headed back to the FBO after about 30 minutes. A bit after, the crew car finally came back, and I set out on my journey to Crawford.

The drive took about 25 minutes, and was quite pleasant. Not many cars were headed that way, and shortly I had arrived. As I was entering town, I passed by the Crawford Peace House. The Peace House was a residential house that was used as a base of sorts by anti-war protesters during Bush’s tenure. Protesters would eat and organize there before heading out. Before departing on this trip, I had done some research on the current state of the place, and it turned out that the house was on the verge of being auctioned off due to foreclosure. When I passed by it, there were no signs of it ever being a staging ground for people voicing dissent. Only one car was seen outside, and had someone not pointed it out(or done some research), one couldn’t tell it apart from the other houses in town.

As I kept on driving in, I saw their downtown area. Calling it an area is already stretching the word, as it was the smallest downtown I have seen to date! It is comprised of one side of one street.

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This is the entirety of their downtown!

This place was very busy whenever Bush was here back when he was in office, but now it is just short of being a ghost town. I only saw one shop advertising Bush memorabilia, and they were closed.

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The only place in Crawford still selling Bush memorabilia.

Out of the five buildings that make up this area, one of them is their city hall and sole police station. I wonder what the history of the city hall building is – it looked like it was a retail store at some point in time.

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That’s sure a small city hall..and that police station is probably just a room or two!

There was also a nice little mural titled “The Spirit of America”. It went to show the things that represent this little town – home of George and Laura Bush, the Crawford High School Pirates, and the hard work of the American farmer.

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Small town murals are some of my favorite forms of public art.

After getting done seeing downtown, my original plan was to drive to Bush’s ranch, located about 17 minutes away. However, the delay from waiting on the crew car made that a no-go, compounded by the fact that you can’t really see his ranch other than a guard shack. Instead, I decided to break for lunch at the Coffee Shop Cafe, located in the nearby town of McGregor.

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Heading south to McGregor.

The drive south to McGregor took about 10 minutes. Light traffic made driving down the two-lane road quite peaceful. By the time I could feel my hunger, I had already pulled up to the front doors of the Coffee Shop Cafe.

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Opened in 1998, Coffee Shop Cafe is one of the most well known restaurants in the area. In fact, this joint is such a part of local culture that even George Bush, his staffers, and foreign heads of state were known to stop by!

Being that it was lunchtime, I opted for their country buffet line. Since I was vegetarian, I could only get the non meat items. However, I didn’t feel left out in the least. In addition to a salad bar, they had a wealth of different sides, including mashed potatoes, corn, yams, green beans, and rice.

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Plenty of good tasting food left, even at around 2 PM!

The food was delicious, however it was on the lighter tasting side compared to what I usually eat. This is the kind of grub that after a round or two you will be filled up..maybe so full that you don’t have room for dessert!

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Pretty far from containing a lot of salt. Solid country cooking.

Speaking of dessert, that is something they are well known for. Co-owner Valerie mentioned to me that their pies have been named some of the best in Texas by several magazines. On top of that, Holly had mentioned the pies during her recommendation of this place to me as well. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to get any, but it will definitely be on the table for next time.

Before leaving, I took a few minutes to check out some of their interior decorations. The whole restaurant is themed after ‘W, and they did a great job piecing together memorabilia to provide customers with a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

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They even sell Bush memorabilia and t-shirts.

Upon leaving the Coffee Shop Cafe, it was time to start heading back. The drive to the Waco Regional Airport took around 30 minutes. On the way back, I passed thru the southwest side of Waco, somewhere I had not been to in all my visits to Bear Country!

Once back at the airport, the flight home was quite bumpy due to mid day heating, but otherwise uneventful. In summary, this was a great trip, in spite of the unexpected delay right at the start. I don’t think I really missed out on anything by skipping the drive to the Bush ranch, but it might be something I go see in the future if I am ever in Crawford again(super unlikely). However, McGregor and the Coffee Shop Cafe is now on my list of places to visit should I be in the mood for some delicious country cooking!

Wait…did I just plan my next visit there by saying that?

A Friday in Bosque County

Since I was off this past Friday, I decided to go flying and explore another small town. Continuing on my journey of knocking out all the counties in Texas, I settled on a place just to the northwest of Waco, Bosque County. I was just in the Waco area during Spring Break, when I went to check out the town of Marlin.

During the planning for this trip, I realized that the airports there didn’t have loaner cars available for use, inhibiting me from really doing any exploring outside of the airport unless I called a cab or something. Wasn’t too keen about doing that. Decided to fly to Waco Regional Airport instead and make the drive. Waco is always a great place to land, especially when visiting the surrounding counties and small towns.

Due to a healthy tailwind, I was only in the air for about 40 minutes from takeoff to touchdown. Although the county seat of Bosque County is Meridian, it would be over a 45-minute drive to get there. On top of that, there didn’t really appear to be anything worth seeing there, except perhaps the courthouse. I opted for somewhere closer instead- Clifton, which is the largest town in the county. After landing, it was about a 30-minute drive into the city center. Rolling hills dotted the landscape along the way.

Upon entering “The Norwegian Capital of Texas”, I started exploring the downtown area on foot after a quick drive around. Clifton seems like the typical sleepy small town, however, there is somewhat of an industrial ambiance to it. When I walked around the downtown square, it sure had that small town feel to it. People were chatting outside the shops, and some families were taking their kids to lunch at the local town diner.

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Downtown Clifton.

I came upon a vintage theater. Who knows how long it has been around! According to a former coworker that is familiar with the area, they still show movies here every Friday and Saturday.

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That marquee is accurate – this place is truly a wrinkle in time.

As I came to the edge of the downtown area, it shifted to more of an industrial development, with various shops and warehouses replacing antique shops and diners.

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Came upon this old 50s Chevy just sitting there in front of a sheet metal shop.

I also stopped by Heritage Plaza, which is located next to the post office. There was a fountain with some nice landscaping. In the middle was a statue of a settler riding a horse, who is drinking from the fountain. Did some research and found out the fountain water is designed to represent the Bosque River, which passes thru Clifton and runs 115 miles!

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A peaceful little area. There was also a small veterans memorial right next to it.

Upon getting done exploring there, I then went to the Bosque County Museum, located about 5 minutes away from downtown. I didn’t go inside due to time constraints, but did check out the Joseph Olson log cabin outside.

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It’d be hard living in one of these – especially with no AC!

You are probably wondering who Joseph Olson is. One of the many Norwegian immigrants to settle in Bosque County, him and his family arrived in 1858 and made the county their home. This cabin remained in the possession of family members and other people until finally it was donated to the Bosque County Museum in 1985 and restored. This cabin gave a great glimpse into the kind of living conditions back then, and what life was like as a new immigrant to a newly annexed state.

After leaving the museum, I started to head back to Waco, stopping in the tiny town of Valley Mills along the way.  With a population of barely 1000 people, this town practically only occupies a few streets, if that! (or so it seems) Out of curiosity, I really wanted to stop by the City Hall, just to see how small it was. It sure was small, but what really caught my eye was their library.

This house of knowledge was the smallest I have seen to date! I stepped inside and talked to the librarian, Debbie. She told me that she is the only librarian, which made perfect sense considering the size. There was the main room, which I was in upon entering, and a back room used for activities and such. All the walls were covered in shelving, and there were some shelves in the middle as well. Everything was well organized. They even had a few computers for public access. To give some perspective about how small this town really is, I mentioned to Debbie the name of a former co-worker who is from Valley Mills, and she immediately knew of her. That is something that is almost unheard of in a big city!

Following the library, I walked around their one street “downtown” area. Quite a few of the businesses were closed that day, but since that street also appears to be their main thoroughfare, there were no shortage of cars driving by. For a town that has so few residents, it sure feels alive.

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I enjoy seeing all these murals found primarily in the small towns!

As I recall, there was a bank, antique shop, chamber of commerce, and a few other businesses in the square.

Upon finishing up downtown, I drove back to the Waco Regional Airport and flew home. This was a pretty fun trip, as I got to see two towns and a county that many Texans have not even heard of. Although there wasn’t much to do in the way of touristy stuff, just seeing the different way of life that exists in these small towns makes it worthwhile. I know I will be back at the Waco airport soon – since, on the drive back, I saw a sign for a road leading to the town of Crawford. The place where former President George W. Bush’s ranch is, I plan to check the town out sometime in the near future!

 

The South’s Greatest Health Resort

Spring Break – while many are sleeping in or vacationing at South Padre Island, I decided to kick off my week of R&R with a flight to check out Falls County, located southeast of Waco. Explored its county seat, the city of Marlin.

Although I had already planned to check out Marlin at some point in time, it wasn’t until my friend Mitchell told me that he would be coming there to pick up his grandfather, and asked if we wanted to meet up that I really put it on my agenda. He said that they would be more than happy to show me around, and I just so happened to have an airplane reserved that day. Decided to make it happen!

Although Marlin has its own airfield, I decided on landing at the Waco Regional Airport, since there isn’t anywhere to fuel up, or any ground support facilities for that matter in Marlin.

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Us pilots love taking selfies when we are hurtling thru the sky!

Following a quick 35 minute flight down, Mitchell and his grandfather Raul met me at the airport. After showing them around the plane and both the private and airline terminals, we made the 40-minute drive to Marlin.

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Making the trip from Waco to Marlin, we stopped in the tiny town of Riesel. This event venue looks straight out of a Wild West movie!

Along the way, Raul talked about his many years spent in Marlin as a ranch hand, and told many stories about its history. Some tales mentioned were how the Native American Comanche tribe attacked settlements, and how that forced the moving of said settlements. Raul was very well versed in the geography of the county as well, talking about different points in the county, and their historical significance. Before long, we had entered the city limits of Marlin. After doing a quick drive of the downtown square, we parked the car and started checking out places up close and personal.

Marlin’s claim to fame is their mineral waters. First discovered in 1892 while searching for an artesian well, people from all over the county rushed to this tiny Texas town to test out its supposed healing powers. As if that wasn’t enough, the New York Giants(now the San Francisco Giants) held their spring training here starting in 1908 for 10 years! Other baseball teams that held their spring training in town included the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.

Unfortunately, the number of people interested in “The South’s Greatest Health Resort” faded out as the mineral water industry declined over the years, especially around the 1950s. Today, the only place that mineral water may be obtained is at a public fountain located outside the Chamber of Commerce.

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Wanting to know what it tasted like, I first put some on my tongue. My first impression was that it was quite salty, which added up to what Mitchell said earlier. I then got a handful and just put it in my mouth, making sure not to swallow it. As it was salt water, drinking it wouldn’t have been a smart choice..besides I’m sure those pipes aren’t the cleanest in the world.  The intended use of the water was to bathe and soak feet in. Speaking of which, right behind the fountain was a public foot bath!

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The (empty and quite gross) public foot bath.

No water was flowing in the bath, and it looked like it had been shut off for a while. The tub was covered with leaves and old coke bottles. Imagine how busy this place must have been during its heyday! Behind it, in a little shed, was what looked to be the control unit for the whole setup.

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My assumption is that the water is pumped up from the well and to the fountain and foot bath thru these series of pipes.

Next, we went across the street to look at something not usually found in small towns: a relatively tall, old building. Not just any building – it was no other than Conrad Hilton’s eighth hotel. Opened in 1929 as the Falls Hotel, it had nine floors and contained 110 rooms. As people came from all over during the mineral water era, they could use an underground tunnel to get from the hotel to a bathhouse across the street.

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Hilton’s eighth hotel. A structure of this size and height is virtually unheard of in small towns.

A fire has since destroyed the bathhouse and the underground tunnel, and today a park is in the place where it once stood. With the hotel closed for many years, there have been efforts to reopen it and even build a bathhouse or two, but nothing has come to fruition yet.

After we got done with the hotel, we went to look at the Allen Hospital just down the street. Yet another abandoned building, it was built in 1916 by Dr. Walter Allen, a prominent resident of the town. Over the years, the building has taken on many roles: hospital, halfway house, and finally apartments before being damaged in a fire in 2014.

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The historic Allen Hospital. Spray painted beneath the columns, it says “Respect not so hard”. Perhaps those graffiti artists that painted it ought to think about that quote themselves.

Upon finishing up at the hospital, we then strolled down the street to another out of place sight: a mansion style house. Built in 1911, this house belonged to Dr. Allen and his wife Nettie, and was occupied by members of the Allen family up until a year after the death of Dr. Allen’s wife in the mid-1950s.

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Not something you’d expect to see in the midst of these abandoned buildings and run down houses.

It was then donated by a member of the family to the community for use as a social and community center. Today, the house is open for tours and can be booked for events and private gatherings.

From there, we went to check out the City Hall. I have to say, this is one of the smallest City Hall buildings I have seen to date. I could see a man in there, seemingly just sitting around lazily. Typical for a small town.

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Before heading back to Waco, we passed by the Falls County Courthouse. The design kinda reminded me of the Jack County Courthouse, more squarish than grand on the architecture side of things. This courthouse serves a population of 17,142 people across 774 square miles. On a Monday, there were a few people coming and going to conduct business, unlike the rest of Marlin which was pretty much dead.

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The Falls County Courthouse.

I’m sure there was more we could have seen, and Raul offered to show us the original location of Marlin as it existed (possibly in the 1800s) down the road, but we had to head back so that we could all enjoy lunch before heading to the airport.

Once in Waco, we went to Fazoli’s Italian, one of my favorite Italian places. Those breadsticks are so delicious I’ll fly down here just to get some! The entrees are very reasonably priced, and the portions are quite big. A top notch choice for sure.

After lunch, Mitchell and Raul took me back to the Waco Regional Airport. As we pulled up to the private terminal, we noticed that there was a military aircraft expo going on, and we got to take a look inside a bomber aircraft. In the hangar, a guy was selling helicopter rides in a Vietnam era helicopter for $100 a person..maybe next time! Definitely cool.

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The best tour guides of Marlin!

The flight back was a bit bumpy due to the cold front that had just moved thru yesterday, but it wasn’t too bad. Got back to the Grand Prairie airport just in time, even with a bit of a headwind from the north.

All in all, this was one of the most interesting small town trips I have gone on, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Mitchell and Raul showing the way and telling stories that only the insiders would know! When I initially heard about all the cool history surrounding “the Hot Mineral Water City of Texas”, I was intrigued and knew that this was a trip I had to take, if just to experience those magic waters for myself. One more county crossed off the list!