Web Extra (Archive) (88)
By Melissa Gaskill
Michael Eason, conservation program coordinator at the Lady
Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, constantly traverses the state, hiking into
remote canyons and up the side of mountains, bouncing down unpaved roads, and
wading through swampy woodlands. The literal fruit of all his labors—thousands
of seeds—fill a deep freeze in a secure room on the Center grounds.
“For me, seed banking is about preserving the natural heritage of Texas,” Eason says. “We’re mostly targeting common plants, not rare ones. But many of the collection sites face threats such as development. We’ve revisited collection sites that are now erased by housing developments or strip malls, so those genetic populations are gone. Other plants, while found throughout an ecoregion, grow only in certain habitats, which makes them uncommon and under threat.” The Wildflower Center is the only organization collecting across Texas, he explains. The majority of collecting takes place on private property, and seven years into the project, the Center enjoys access to a great deal of land.
Successful seed collection depends on a number of factors,
with timing one of the most important. Only mature seeds can be collected, and
a week one way or the other makes a world of difference. Simply finding plants
often presents a major challenge, because some seeds are no larger than a
pencil point, and offer the challenge comparable to that of finding the literal
needle in a multi-acre haystack.
“We may have a list of 1,000 species that occur on a particular property,” Eason says. “But we don’t know exactly where the plants are or whether numbers are sufficient for collecting.” The Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountains Preserve, for example, encompasses 30,000 acres of rugged mountain terrain, which is largely inaccessible except to hikers. For collecting there, Eason and his staff determine 30 to 50 target species based on what other groups around the country have collected, growing conditions that particular year, and when a plant produces seeds. Last June, collecting on the Preserve focused on one trail up Mount Livermore. Eason and another staff member monitored plants every other week on the property through summer and fall, then in late October, brought in 15 volunteers over one weekend, gathering more than 20,000 seeds for ten species.
Texas weather regularly disrupts collection plans. In one case, Eason slogged through the East Texas landscape for many hours in pouring rain, far from ideal collecting conditions due to the threat of mold. Last fall, Hurricane Ike destroyed many plants targeted for collection. In West Texas, heat can thwart even the most enthusiastic collectors.
Depending on the species, collectors pick individual seeds, ripe fruit, or pine cones, holding them in paper or cloth bags. They record GPS coordinates, other species growing in association with the plant, date of collection, geology and other data. Back at the Wildflower Center, dozens of volunteers assemble for five or six hours to clean seeds, which are then packed in aluminum envelopes. These are labeled and heat sealed before going into the freezer.
The Millennium Seed Bank Project at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, determined that banking 20,000 seeds per species provides sufficient numbers for conservation in both the U.K. and the U.S., for germination tests, research, and restoration. Of 20,000 seeds collected, usually 7,000 remain at the Wildflower Center—with most species, enough to fill about a quarter of a cup. Another 3,000 end up at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation’s seed bank in Fort Collins, Colorado. The other 10,000 go to Kew, joining seeds from nearly 500 different Texas plant species residing in underground freezers. The Bank’s total deposits represent roughly 10 percent of the world’s upland flora species, or more than a billion seeds from some 19,000 species, says Flo Oxley, director of conservation for the Wildflower Center. And Eason and his colleagues continue to search for more.
This list was derived from the Texas Rail Tourism Alliance membership directory of railroad museums in Texas.
B-RI Railroad and Historical Museum, Teague
Contains old photos and railroad artifacts including a 1928 Baldwin Locomotive and a BN Caboose.
254/739-2061 or 254/739-2153
Buttel Railroad Museum, one mile south of Amarillo
Features standard gauge rolling stock and other equipment on a 1 1/2 acre site.
Flatonia Rail Park, Flatonia
Home of the old SA&AP freight depot and the GH&SA passenger depot.
Friends of the LaGrange Depot, LaGrange
Contains the original stationmaster’s equipment and a gold-headed cane commemorating successful efforts to bring a railroad to LaGrange in 1880.
979/968-9416 or 979/237-4506
Galveston Island Railroad Museum & Center for Transportation, Galveston
Holds the largest collection of vintage railroad equipment in Southwestern U.S. and one of the largest model railroad exhibits in Texas.
Houston Railroad Museum, Houston
Contains railroad artifacts, locomotives, cars, and a research library.
Marshall T&P Depot Museum, Marshall
Contains memorabilia of the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
Martin & Francis Lehnis Railroad Museum, Brownwood
Includes railroad historical artifacts and interactive telegraph equipment.
Museum of the American Railroad, Dallas
Visit the Whistle Fair, see the world’s largest steam, diesel and electric locomotives, and tour a first class sleeping car and the Texas Special dining car.
New Braunfels Railroad Museum. New Braunfels
Houses a steam locomotive, caboose, I-GN velocipede, and two model railroads, HO & N.
Railroad & Heritage Museum/Santa Fe Depot, Temple
Focused on the influence railroads had on westward expansion of Texas.
Rosenberg Railroad Museum, Rosenberg
Located right next to the busy BNSF and UP main lines where, in the peak railroad era, ten lines traversed.
Railway Museum of San Angelo, San Angelo
Celebrating the 100th anniversary. See the Web site for anniversary events.
San Antonio Railroad Heritage Museum, San Antonio
Contains SP794, one of the four remaining T&NO/SP Mikados
Yoakum Heritage Museum, Yoakum
Heritage museum featuring a railroad room with artifacts from the R.O. Witte Collection, and artifacts from the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad.
More Fall Festival Picks
See related: Fests up!
Check out the lineups for Lexington’s Chocolate Lovers Festival and the George West Storyfest. We’ve also added a few more details about the Blues Fest and the Texas Clay Festival, featured in the September issue. For a comprehensive list of festivals, visit www.traveltex.com, click on “Events,” and search for “Festivals.”
Blues Fest, Denton, September 19. Held in Quakertown Park, this year’s fest includes headliner Michael Burks, the UpAllnight Blues Band, and other professional acts, as well as a Blues Idol Contest. Vendors sell barbecue; soul food in the form of greens, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, fried okra, and cornbread; roasted corn; tacos; burritos; and fresh-baked pies and cakes. Call 940/382-9100; www.dentonblackchamberonline.org.
Chocolate Lovers Festival, Lexington (15 miles north of Giddings), October 17. The temptations start with a Gourmet Chocolate Pancake Breakfast and continue with Chocolate Alley, an area that offers 10 different “chocolate experiences,” from chocolate ravioli to chocolate-banana-peanut butter crepes. Participants work off some of the calories with 3K and 5K Chocolate Dash Fun-Runs and pie-throwing, pie-eating, and ice cream-eating contests. Two Fear Factor contests for ages 10-18 include physical challenges, as well as eating chocolate-covered insects. Other kids’ activities include face-painting, pony rides, rock-climbing, cupcake decorating, a Slip ’N Slide, and bounce house. Music, arts and crafts, and food vendors round out the fun. Call 979/773-4337; www.chocolateloversfestival.com.
Texas Clay Festival, Gruene Historic District (three miles north of downtown New Braunfels), October 24-25. This year’s lineup features more than 60 artisans with works ranging from functional pottery to decorative sculpture. Four tents offer demonstrations throughout the festival. Raku-firing demonstrations also take place both days, as do silent auctions. A children’s area provides supervised opportunities for little ones to work with clay. Restaurants and entertainment (including Gruene Hall) lie close at hand, adding another dimension to this festival experience. Call 830/629-7975 or 830/833-2860; www.texasclayfestival.com.
George West Storyfest, George West (60 miles northwest of Corpus Christi), November 7. Folklore, fables, history, tall tales, ghost stories, and cowboy poetry are all part of the mix at this unusual event that celebrates the art of storytelling. The fun takes place downtown under a canopy of live oaks, with hay bales serving as seats and storytelling and live music alternating on three stages. One of the highlights is the Texas State Liar’s Contest. Other activities include a Little Red Wagon Parade, classic car show, living-history demonstrations, arts and crafts, children’s games, petting zoo, and street dance. Festival food ranges from fajitas to funnel cakes. Some people choose to stay over until Sunday morning to hear sacred stories told in partnership with a local church. Call 361/449-2481 or 888/600-3121; www.georgeweststoryfest.org.
In our June 2015 issue, we tell the story of the Railean Rum Distillery in San Leon, a little town south of Houston, which manufactures the sugar-derived spirit in small batches—a concoction that’s perfect for sipping and mixing.
"Downtown was the only place to go."
The thrill of 1940s movie theaters, playing hooky at the pool hall, and greetings from the Drake Hotel. Abilene old-timers tell all.
“Where the Grace Museum is now,” says local geologist Gilbert Korman, who graduated from high school in 1950, “that was originally the Drake Hotel. And there was a pool hall in the Drake … through the 1940s and 50s and probably into the 60s. I wasn’t a pool shooter, but we’d all go down there.”
Financial planner Eddie Hodges fills in additional details: “Right next to the Drake, across the alley, there was another pool hall. The bigger boys used to go there to play snooker and pool. And yeah, I did play hooky from school and go there once or twice. I was probably about 10.”
“Downtown was the only place to go,” says Korman. “And there were three movie theaters on Cypress—the Paramount, the Majestic, and the Queen. The Paramount got two shows a week—the top movies—and we’d usually make both of them. In grade school, the place to go was the Queen. The Queen had the serial cartoons.”
“I think my mother used to give me ten cents to go to the Queen to see the serials…Batman or something,” says Hodges. “You know, you’d have the action and drama, and then the character would have a crisis..and the cartoon would end. You’d have to go back the next week to see what happened.
“Everything at that time was local, independently owned,” Hodges continues. “There were two or three department stores, a few drug stores, and an old bowling alley about four blocks from the hotel. Bowling was a very popular sport back then.
“When I was a young child, during the second world war, Camp Barkeley was still operating as a military base here—for awhile they housed German prisoners there. There was a huge USO in the downtown area. Always lots of activity to engage a young boy’s imagination.”
–– as told to Lori Moffatt
Texas Highways intern Brenna Burkarth interviews Ruby Rickgauer, co-owner of the unique Windmill Farm B&B in Tolar.
How did you acquire the windmill farm and how did it take off?
We bought the acreage in 1994 and moved out here. Four or five years later, we put up the first windmill. It originally was from my parent’s place in South Dakota. We were visiting my parents one time and noticed that their farm didn’t use this one windmill anymore to pump water. Chuck [Ruby’s husband] asked my mother if he could have it. "I don’t know what you might do with it, but if you want to take it you can,” she said. So we did. After the first windmill was installed, we started seeing others that Chuck decided to bring home and repair. Then, people began coming through our farm to look at them, and we started meeting other people who collect them. It just snowballed from there. It started as a hobby, but we never thought it would turn into a business.
How did you and your husband get the idea for a windmill farm B&B?
About seven years ago, I was working as a nurse and decided to do something different. My friend said, “You have so much room, why don’t you build some cabins?” So, now on our 26 acres we have 3 cabins for our bed and breakfast, and 42 vintage windmills. I run the bed and breakfast and Chuck sells and repairs windmills. He also works at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant as an engineer. It’s not just a bed and breakfast—schools will bring their children for tours, senior citizen groups come through, photography groups visit to take beautiful pictures, and car clubs come out here. It’s open to the public.
How far have you traveled to purchase a windmill?
Sometimes we arrange for windmills to be brought to us. We travel occasionally, but we try not to travel far away—more than about three hours. Usually, there’s somebody else who we know that does repairs within three or four hours of us. So, we refer back and forth between windmillers. We do go to windmill trade fairs every year—they have been in Colorado, Kansas, Illinois and Indiana. There have been 21 annual windmill fairs full of windmill enthusiasts who come and bring their parts and pieces to trade them.
Does one story behind acquiring a windmill stand out the most to you?
The six-foot Model 702 Aermotor windmill that came off my parent’s farm is very special to me. It carried water to our home. That was the only source of water we had until I was in the seventh grade. When it got real snowy and icy, sometimes the well would freeze up and my father would start a fire under the pump to get the water running again. If it was real windy, he would send me to turn the windmill off because the wind would tear it up. It is still working just fine--Aermotor windmills have survived the longest and remain the best made.
How do you fund your hobby?
All of our windmills are for water pumping, but none of them are over a well to generate power. We don’t receive any government funding—we are private. So, we make money off of selling windmills and doing repairs. Lost of times, Chuck will get a windmill for cheap and restore it, so it doesn’t cost us as much because he works on them and gets them looking good for other people to buy. Some of the wooden bladed windmills are harder to work on and maintain because they’re more fragile in the wind and storms.
It’s a getaway out into the country and it has the unique draw of the
windmills. Coming here is an experience that you can’t get
Which windmills do you decide to sell? Keep?
We always have some ready for sale. Right now we have stopped with our 42 windmills because it’s a lot of work to keep them running. The ones that we choose to keep are a different kind than the rest we have. We have a Challenge 27, Star 7, a Hummer an Eclipse, and many other varieties. We have windmills that represent about 10 or 12 different brands—Aermotor, Red Cross, Clipper, Monitor, Samson and Air King are a few. Some have wooden blades and others have steel blades. We put them up two or three at a time. We have brought home several from the windmill fairs.
How do you incorporate the windmill farm into the guests’ experience at the B&B?
Most of the people who come to the bed and breakfast are interested in windmills to begin with. The three cabins are spread out, and they each have a big porch so they can sit and watch the sunset. It’s real quiet and people just like to get out of town. Most of our guests come from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. They go down and visit with Chuck while he’s working in his shop, they like to walk around, or talk to the guy at the front gate who knows about each windmill. Guests look forward to what I make—apple pies and cinnamon rolls.
Most interesting person who has purchased one of your windmills?
Oh, I have lots of stories. One lady wanted one for her husband’s birthday. She said, “Can you sneak it in without him seeing.” So, we went over to work on it while she kept him away from the house for six or seven hours. When she brought him home, the windmill was up in their front yard. I’ll never forget her.
Which would you say is the favorite windmill among spectators?
The 14-foot Axtell that was made in Fort Worth. It has a big wooden wheel, white blades and red tips. We got it three or four years ago, they’re not made anymore. It’s an awesome looking windmill because it’s so big. It’s at the entrance of the driveway and makes for a great picture.
Which is the most popular cabin to stay in?
The cabin I put in front of my parent’s Aermotor windmill, I named the Dakota. It is very rustic, and couples love to stay there. The Windjammer has a full kitchen and sleeps more people—it is also popular among families.
What is a typical day like for your B&B guests?
Many guests come in the late afternoon—around 3 or 4 p.m. I usually put a snack of some sort in the cabin—like a pie, cookies or brownies. They usually go and eat dinner on their own in Granbury. There are a couple of theaters, the Granbury live, and the opera house that keep our guests entertained. The next morning, I serve breakfast between 8-10 a.m. Then, they spend the day doing whatever they want to. Lots of times, they’ll go out to the Glen Rose Dinosaur Valley State Park or Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Or, they’ll go back into Granbury to shop. Many people just wander around here on the property. We have a donkey named Jack and a horse named Lightning. If there are guests here, they’ll come to the fence because they know they’ll get fed. I give the kids carrots to feed the horse.
Why is the Windmill B&B unique to Texas?
It’s a getaway out into the country and it has the unique draw of the windmills. We take children and pets, which many other B&B’s don’t. People travel here with their diabetic dogs, or their blind dogs, and we welcome them. Coming here is an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
Senior Editor Lori Moffatt speaks with Debbie Trainor, a Training Specialist with the Astronaut Office at the Johson Space Center. (Talk about the name fitting the job!)
“I’ve been here at the JSC for 24 years now, but in my present position for eight years. My current job is officially known as the Training Specialist with the Astronaut Office. I’m basically like the principal of a school—I oversee all the training and make sure the astronauts receive what they need to do their jobs.
When astronauts are first elected to be candidates, they receive a year and a half of training, learning the various systems of the International Space Station. We’re talking about a living area that orbits more than 200 miles above the earth, so the astronauts need to be self-sufficient. They learn how to operate and repair the thermal control systems, electrical systems, and communications systems, just to name a few of the many systems they must know. There’s also EVA [Extravehicular Activity—spacewalking, in layman’s terms]training and robotics training. To be an astronaut, you need to be both mentally and physically fit, and you need a wide breadth of knowledge on the technical side as well.
EVA training in particular is very much a physical effort. They train in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab [a 6.2-million-gallon, 40-foot-deep facility that has been called the largest indoor pool n the world]. It’s the only facility we have to simulate weightlessness. But unfortunately, the suits they train in are designed for space flight, not water, and they weigh around 280 pounds. So they must be physically fit to have the endurance to train for hours at a time, completing complex tasks in the water.
We also do a lot of team-building exercises, such as hiking adventures. The astronauts need to be able to work as a team, and it’s better to work on issues here on earth rather than wait until they’re in orbit.
My own background is in computer science; I have degrees in science and math. I started off here at the JSC as a secretary, but once I got here and saw all the different opportunities, I switched from full-time to half-time to take advantage of a NASA project that encourages employees to seek higher education. So with each degree, I was able to move up. It was the BS in math that allowed me to be a Space Station Training Instructor; I taught the astronauts and mission controllers about the computer system of the International Space Station. That led me to work with the various international partners, including the Russians, when they came into the program.
In June 1996, I went to Russia to learn about the Soyuz vehicles that the Russians used. I remember the date well, because that was when they were having their first democratic presidential elections as an independent country, and there were bomb threats, and security people everywhere. [Results were contested and a second round of voting was required to establish Boris Yeltsin as the winner.] Before I left, I got a security brief and I was told there was a 50/50 chance there would be tanks rolling in the streets. We stayed at a hotel in Moscow and witnessed an important moment in history.
I love being part of history every single day. To work here is to work with people who are the best of the best. That someone like that would value my judgment is so rewarding. I’m not sure what it’s like in other industries or organizations, but every single day is a new adventure because there are still new ideas that are being thrown out for international gain. Off the top of my head: medical breakthroughs like the pacemaker, thermal wear that firefighters wear, bicycle helmets…..even Velcro is a spin-off from the Space Program.
Would I go into space? Oh, my goodness, definitely. Who wouldn’t?
For those who want pampering and relaxation in style, the Highland Lakes boast three— count ’em, three—renowned resorts.
Bring the whole family to Horseshoe Bay Resort overlooking Lake LBJ to enjoy renowned golf courses, a private white-sand swim beach, gardens, tennis courts, and the Whitewater Putting Course, a lavishly landscaped regulation 18-hole course in miniature. Four pools include one just for kids with a poolside snack bar, and one lakeside with a volcanic rock hot tub. Hail a golf cart for a ride to Bayside Spa for a scrub and massage with rosemary and Texas pecans. Take a sunset cruise on the lake (on weekends), or dine at one of five resort restaurants. The Kids’ Club offers half- and full-day programs for kids ages four to 12 and a plethora of ongoing activities for families, including s’mores by the fire and movies under the stars.
Lakeway Resort and Spa on Lake Travis offers something for everyone, too, in a smaller and quieter atmosphere. Guest rooms’ balconies overlook the lake or the marina, which rents sail, ski, or fishing boats (with or without guides), and personal watercraft. Two hot tubs and two of the pools—one with a waterslide, the other a swim-up bar —overlook the lake. The resort holds concerts and movies poolside in the summer. Even the spa includes a view of the lake, so you’ll enjoy waiting for a signature seasonal treatment such as a massage with apple and pear scents and oil. Travis Restaurant serves Texas-inspired cuisine from an ever-changing menu heavy on local organic ingredients. If the Shiner Bock Braised Short Ribs have disappeared from the menu, just ask executive chef David Reinbold to surprise you and you won’t be disappointed. Save room for dessert, then work it off on one of 24 tennis courts or four golf courses.
At Lake Austin Spa Resort, more retreat than resort, start a perfect day with dawn kayaking on the calm waters of Lake Austin. After breakfast, walk the lakeside path through an organic herb and flower garden and past a magnificent magnolia tree. Then choose a book from one of two libraries and read in a shady hammock at lake’s edge. Take lunch on the covered patio watching the sun sparkle on the lake. Swim laps in the Pool Barn, then sit in the outdoor hot tub, watching birds and butterflies, or relax on a poolside lounge chair, followed by yoga or a cooking class before dinner. Indulge in all five healthy courses featuring produce from the resort’s garden and local ingredients. Stroll to the nationally ranked spa for the signature Chardonnay Wine Therapy, a scrub with wine and sugar, a wrap in oils, then a massage with Chardonnay oil. Sleep well on Egyptian cotton sheets and down pillows in one of 40 casually elegant guest rooms. Sweet dreams.
How long have you been a park ranger?
Have you worked at any other parks before? Which ones?
Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site
What do you like most/least about being a park ranger at the Devils River State Natural Area?
The thing I like the best is making it available to the public, you know, making it a good, safe park for the public. I like working, if I can, outdoors. The thing I like the least is the paperwork.
Describe what a normal day is like for you? What are your duties?
I spend a lot of my time in the office doing administrative work. That’s because I’m the manager and that’s what I do. I do some park patrol and park maintenance.
What is unique about working at Devils River?
Devils River is very remote, very distant. We’re out here by ourselves. There’s no stores; if you don’t have it with you, you don’t have it. The nights are beautiful, there’s no lights to mess it up. And the stars, you just feel like you can reach up and grab them. It’s just really pretty out here, especially if you can catch it right after rain. My favorite time is just after a rain because everything starts blooming and the animals come out and everything, it’s just a lot prettier.
What is your favorite recreational activity in the park?
I like exploring, you know, hiking down these canyons . There’s lots to see out here. I like really doing it all. We have a bunch of bird researchers right now and it’s really interesting to talk to them about the birds. And then we’ve got some archeologists doing some work here and it’s interesting. Just what we do—preserve the flora, the fauna, the cultural and natural resources.
What is the most beautiful site in the park?
It’s all pretty. I just like Golden Creek itself. It’s phenomenal, it changes at every water crossing and runs almost through the middle of the park in the canyon.
Do you have a favorite campsite?
I live here on the park, so this would be my residence. Occasionally, we [the park rangers] sit outside with a cold glass of tea and take field glasses and do a little bird watching. We check the animals, see if there’s any deer, that’s fun.
How do you think the facilities at Devils River State Natural Area compare with facilities at other Texas state parks?
Our facilities are pretty rustic. They’re adequate and nice, but just updated on what was here. They fit the natural area. We’ve got old hunting cabins that have been made into bunkhouses, and of course, the bathrooms and showers are already in there, and so we just fixed them up. It’s more like home than a commercial-type park.
What didn’t get into the article that you would like to have read?
I thought it was perfect for the concept of traveling the Devils River. It wasn’t just about the park, but what you could see traveling the loop on Devils River. They hit it just right, they sure did.
According to Ranger Brotherton, he has received several phone calls on Dolan Falls, which is not open to the public. The story says the Devils River has water in it all the way to Sonora. However, currently it only has water about 3 miles above the Hwy. 163 crossing.
Archeologist Clark Wernecke, director of the Gault School for Archeological Research in Austin, speaks about the Gault Site in Bell County, one of the richest Paleoindian sites in the world.
“Since 1993, I had been working on large Meso American archeological projects in Belize and Guatemala. But during the wet season, I’d be back at home to Texas, writing reports, recruiting people.
But I don’t sit still well, and they were just starting up in 1999 at Gault. I had heard that they were taking volunteers on the weekend. so I went out to volunteer. When my Meso American project ended, our principal investigator asked if I could work with him.
This was my first experience working on a Paleoindian site, and the first time I’d been able to drive at home at night.
But the big difference isn’t “where,” but “what.” In the Middle East, in the American Southwest, at Mayan sites—most places have architecture. You don’t have architecture at a Paleoindian site. You have stone tools and other organic clues, and you can’t afford to miss even the smallest clue.
The sheer quantity of artifacts at Gault is astounding; we will often have a thousand artifacts in the open excavation sites. People lived there for 14,000 years. Not only did the Edwards Plateau have an abundant supply of chert-one of the better tool-making materials—but there was also abundant fresh water.
Some of the most special pieces we’ve found are small pieces of limestone with incised designs; these are found throughout the world but have never found in a Paleoindian context. They are among the first art in the Americas.”