Finally had time to sit down and jot some notes regarding our backroads trip this past weekend. For the pictures that follow, you can click them to go to my flickr page where you can see each picture larger, and maybe find more shots from the trip – if you’re interest.
We started our day by making the long haul to Stephenville, which is about 2 hours from our house. I had wanted to check out a flea market that is housed inside a giant old chicken house (barn). That spot turned out to be more garage sale stuff than anything I’m interested in, so we quickly turned north up Highway 281.
Stopped a couple of times along the way, and eventually turned onto Interstate 20. Interstates are really boring to me, so thankfully it wasn't long before we exited onto highway 193, where we discovered this odd place:
At some point someone put their dreams into this roadside eatery/service station. The old rail car built into one side is certainly unique. I would have thought it would do some good business, being right out in view of a busy highway between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Abilene. Doesn’t look like the high traffic made a positive difference, though.
Maybe the first indication that things were doomed was the fact that they spelled “Trolley” wrong.
We pushed our way along 193, through Gordon and Mingus – with not much to see beyond pleasant country side, and the melancholy decay of small towns. I kind of like that. At least its more interesting to look at than the sameness of the major highways.
Just outside Mingus, my Wife spotted something odd back off the road. Concentrating on the road before me, I had missed it completely. We turned around and went back to find this:
Across a grassy field, and built into the side of a small hill, was a door. In the spring and summer, I’m sure the opening is completely obscured by brush. Only now, with things being more bare, is it somewhat visible from the roadway. There was enough of a shoulder for me to park the truck, and zero “no trespassing” signs in view. No houses are in sight, and there was no gate/fence.
As all true explorers know – the absence of prohibition is almost an invitation to visit :)
I hopped out of the truck and took off across the grassy span between the road and the doorway, camera in hand. As I got closer, I still couldn’t see inside. It was way too dark in contrast to the bright sun outside. At some point, someone had broken in the front door – the padlock of which was still attached to the hasp.
This is what I saw inside.
It was remarkably clean inside. No debris, no trash, not even any leaves. There was a small opening in the roof near the door, though which I could see sky. The back appeared to have a fireplace or hearth of some sort, that was bricked in at some point in its life.
I couldn’t find any indication of the purpose of the little room. Habitation? Storage? Who knows…..
Our next stop was a really pleasant surprise. In Mingus, you jog over from 193 to 108 and head toward Strawn. Strawn isn’t much bigger than Mingus, but is home to a terrific café:
I had read about Mary’s Café on the internet, and it had been our destination for lunch/supper from the start. We would have stopped anyway, once we saw the number of cars and trucks parked around it. As any Off the Beaten Path traveler knows: In Texas, the number of pickup trucks parked in front of a café is a direct indicator of how good the place is.
We got to Mary’s around 1:30 pm, and there were still at least 20 trucks parked around it :)
How was the food? We both ordered the “medium” chicken fried steak, which was easily 50% larger than most restaurant’s chicken fried steak. The Cream gravy was served “on the side”, and a huge baked potato filled in the rest of the platter the meal arrived on. I easily have to place the quality of the meal in the top 3 chicken fried steaks I’ve eaten… and I’ve eaten A LOT of CFS in my life.
After eating as much as humanly possible, we continued our trip by leaving Strawn on Highway 16, turning onto Highway 180, and continuing on toward Palo Pinto. There were several photo ops along the way, and we found this in Palo Pinto itself:
It’s obviously old, but also obviously non-native. How an old British Telephone booth found its way to Palo Pinto, Texas is beyond me. What’s even more interesting is that it has a functioning phone inside! That’s extremely rare in this neck of the woods. Payphones in general have gone the way of the Wooly Mammoth, and phone booths are even more rare.
Its in front of the Palo Pinto Café:
Which had a cool neon sign, but a suspicious lack of vehicles parked anywhere near it.
The rest of the trip was kind of rushed, as we needed to get back home. We breezed through Mineral Wells and Weatherford, just long enough to determine that we definitely are going back to explore more thoroughly. One of the interesting spots we'll go back to is the Baker Hotel, which was built in 1929. It’s since been abandoned (1972) and fallen into disrepair. There are rumors that the hotel is haunted. I’ve heard that people have broken into the old girl and explored or vandalized it in the past. It looks like the entrances are pretty well secured now, though, so hopefully that crap will stop.
Here’s a shot of Cactus growing out of the gutter on one side:
And here’s a shot of the back, which will give you a better idea of the massive size of this old decaying beauty.
All in all, it was a really pleasant way to spend a Saturday.