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Friday, 13 November 2009 08:04

Web Extra: More Oyster Tales

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More oyster tales from Robb Walsh’s Sex, Death & Oysters © 2009 Counterpoint

When water temperatures get colder at the end of the summer, oysters begin storing a carbohydrate compound called glycogen, marine biologist Dr. Sammy Ray explained. To humans, glycogen tastes like sugar. As the water gets colder, more glycogen accumulates, and the oysters get plumper and taste sweeter. Gulf oysters are at their absolute peak at the coldest part of the winter.

Misho's Oyster Company in San Leon processes tons of oysters from Galveston Bay. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)Some oyster experts are predicting that the problems caused by summer oysters will soon be resolved, not by the FDA or the oystermen, but by the insurance industry. “The handwriting is on the wall,” Lance Robinson, of Texas Parks and Wildlife, told me. At the most recent meeting of the ISSC in Texas, oystermen were warned that insurance companies may stop writing liability policies for restaurants that serve raw oysters in the summer.

“He’s right,” oyster boat captain Misho Ivic agreed. “Some kind of law is going to be passed that allows only post-harvest treated oysters to be sold in the summer. I am building a facility to freeze oysters for summer sales right now.”

I won’t be eating any of Misho’s frozen oysters. Post-harvest treated oysters are the Gulf oyster industry’s favorite new product, a half-shell oyster that is safe to eat all year round. I have sampled them all, the frozen, pressurized, and heat-treated varieties, and I can say with some authority—they all suck. Dead oysters just don’t taste the same.

I would rather wait until the winter and eat big fat oysters like the ones sitting on the table at Gilhooley’s. “How did you like the oysters?” Misho asked as I finished off the last of them. The oysters were absolutely succulent, big and fat, with a flavor that was both salty and very sweet. “I picked them out myself,” he said. Gilhooley’s is Misho’s favorite hangout, so they get his choicest oysters.

I was still savoring the flavor as I drove home. And I kept turning the story over in my head: a record oyster harvest a few miles from the Houston Ship Channel, of all places. And hardly anyone seemed to know a thing about it. Newspaperman that I am, I wondered if there were more oyster stories out there waiting to be discovered.

That’s how I got hooked.

Oyster snobs

Shortly after an oyster-boat excursion in Galveston Bay, I attended a holiday party in the Montrose neighborhood of central Houston, where I ended up in a discussion with two women, both relative newcomers to Texas. One woman was from San Francisco; the other was from Cleveland. They were complaining about the less-than-pristine beaches of nearby Galveston Island and the disgusting waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“How could anybody swim in the oil blobs and Styrofoam floating in that ugly brown water,” the one from San Francisco asked. I smiled and shook my head amiably. Personally, I swim in that water every summer, and I have marinated my children in it for most of their lives. But if Galveston was too unsightly for the newcomers’ beach-going tastes, well then, “bless their hearts,” as we say in Texas.

I didn’t bother pointing out to Miss San Francisco that only blubbery seals and surfers in wetsuits are insulated enough to venture into the icy waters of the Pacific around San Francisco. Nor did I bother reminding Miss Cleveland that the Cuyahoga River is legendary among pollution watchers for its tendency to burst into flames.

“And who would eat oysters that come out of that water?” the San Franciscan continued. Suddenly, I felt my jaw muscles tighten and my stomach contract. Newly informed about Texas oysters, I had a strange need to defend them.

“I would,” I volunteered. “But actually the oysters don’t come from the Gulf, they come from Galveston Bay. In fact, it’s one of the most productive oyster reefs in America at the moment. And the oysters are fabulous this year.”

“Where is Galveston Bay?” the San Franciscan wanted to know.

“It’s between Kemah on the west and Anahuac on the east,” I attempted to explain, but she had no idea where I was talking about. “You know where the ships enter the Houston Ship Channel?” I continued helpfully.

“Oh, gross,” remarked a vegetarian woman who was listening in on the edge of the conversation. “So you think all those chemicals spewing out of the oil tankers give the oysters a special flavor?” Cornered now by skeptics, I felt my adrenaline begin to flow.

I still had the Texas Parks and Wildlife oyster map in my car. I considered going out to get it.

“What I resent is that I can’t get good oysters in Houston because they have so many cheap ones here,” the Californian said. “Gulf oysters are big and tough. I don’t want to chew on an oyster. I would never eat an oyster any bigger than this,” she said, making a silver-dollar-sized circle with her fingers. “I like Kumamoto oysters.”

“How much do they cost?” I asked her.

“I think the last time I had them, it was like $12 for six . . . ”

“I like cultivated oysters too,” I admitted. “They’re delicious. But six little-bitty oysters for $12? You live in the last place in America where you can get a dozen oysters for a couple of bucks—and you want to import $24-a-dozen cultivated oysters from California?”

“That’s right,” she said.

“You’re an oyster snob,” I shrugged.

“Okay,” she said. “I have no problem with that.”

I tried to put things in a cultural perspective. “You know, there were once oyster houses all over the country—Chicago, New England, Chesapeake Bay—but those places are all gone. The native oysters are all fished out in most of the United States.

“The Gulf Coast is the last place in America with wild oysters. It’s the only place where you can still sit down in an old-fashioned oyster saloon and eat oysters for pennies apiece. The end of the golden era of American oyster culture is happening right here in front of our eyes. And you still have a chance to see it,” I ranted, perhaps a little too dramatically.

The women backed away from me and struck up other conversations.

Thursday, 12 November 2009 14:54

Web Extra: More San Antonio Holiday Fun

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From shopping a German market to celebrating the season with sea lions, San Antonio shines with a range of holiday events. The following Yuletide offerings are sure to spread the season’s spirit.  (Find more San Antonio holiday fun in the December issue.)

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, Nov. 2 – Jan. 3

Make a splash this holiday season with Shamu, sea lions, Santa Claus, and others at Sea World’s Christmas Celebration. Special events will be held each day throughout the park:

Watch The Polar Express 4-D Experience at SeaWorld’s Sea Star Theater.

See what the sea lions are up to during their special “Deck the Halls with Clyde and Seamore” holiday show full of Christmas skits and laughs.

If you are an early riser, don’t miss a chance to enjoy a special breakfast with Santa Claus or get your picture taken with him at the Candy Harbor candy shop.

Catch the “Shamu Christmas Miracles” show, where Shamu the famous whale will put on a festive performance.

24th Annual Light the Way, Nov. 21

A million glistening lights will line the trees at the University of the Incarnate Word for the 24th Annual Light the Way. The event begins at 5:30 with a celebratory Mass at Our Lady’s Chapel, followed by the lighting ceremony at 7:30 in the McDermott Convocation Center. The ceremony will feature music from the choirs of University of the Incarnate Word, Incarnate Word High School, St. Anthony Catholic School, St. Peter Prince of Apostles Catholic School, as well as the St. Anthony Catholic High School jazz band.

Once the campus lights are turned on, the procession of guests led by a mariachi band will walk through the campus and end up at a complimentary reception at Central Market H-E-B. Guests are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy for the Elf Louise Toy Drive.

La Villita Holiday Open House, Nov. 28

On the River Walk at the La Villita Historic Arts Village in downtown San Antonio, the first Friday after Thanksgiving means shop, shop, shop! Stores and galleries in the district will host a holiday open house complete with special seasonal sales and holiday décor. Mariachi bands and folk singers will liven up the shopping experience at each gallery and complimentary holiday beverages will be served. The event begins Friday and will continue throughout the weekend.

Kristkindlmarkt, Dec. 5

Come shop, eat, and explore the traditional German Christmas outdoor market this holiday season. The 18th annual event (in downtown San Antonio on Pereida Street) features handcrafted gifts, seasonal decorations, quilts, clothing, and much more.

Gluehwein (warm spiced wine), Reuben sandwiches, and erbsensuppe (Split Pea Soup) are just some of the many festive foods that will warm you up as you shop. Children can visit with Santa Claus –known as Saint Nikolaus in Germany – when he makes his special visit to the market. The event is free to the public and sure to exude the “Gemuetlichkeit” of the season.

Windcrest Light Up, Dec. 15

For the residents of Windcrest – a suburb in northeast San Antonio – the holiday season brings an ample serving of competition. Residents line their roofs with lights, display holiday scenes on their lawns, and cover their trees with colorful ornaments in hopes of outdoing their neighbors.

For 51 years, a contest has been held to name the most festively decorated homes in the area. The contest features various categories, and brings in visitors from San Antonio and the surrounding area. The Light Up Ceremony begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall and is followed by refreshments served at Fire Bay. Visitors are encouraged to drive through the neighborhoods and see the sparkling homes of Windcrest throughout the holiday season.


Thursday, 12 November 2009 12:04

Web Extra: Christmas Tree Farms: A Texas Sampler

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Visitors at the Elgin Christmas Tree Farm take a hayride out to the tree fields. (Photo by Michael Amador)

From the Piney Woods to the Plains, Texas farmers produce an array of choose-and-cut Christmas trees to make that special time of year a bit more festive.

In the southeast Texas town of Magnolia at the Red Caboose Christmas Tree Farm, four generations work together at each holiday season. Visitors can choose from a variety of trees such as Virginia Pine, Leyland Cypress, or Blue Ice (a cultivar of Arizona Cypress). If cutting down your own tree works up an appetite, barbeque is available for purchase. Or, bring a picnic lunch and eat on a wooden table beside a scenic lake. Hayrides take everyone to and from the field, and a mini-train takes kids on rides around the farm. Call 281/259-9776.

Haynie’s Green Acres Christmas Tree Farm in Crowley offers families a full slate of events with each visit. Enjoy a ride on an antique tractor to and from the field, as well as complimentary coffee and hot cider. Each child receives a candy cane and coloring book as special treats. And if holiday lights aren’t enough to brighten up your tree, the staff can give you a white Christmas with a twist. Snow-covered (flocked) trees can be found in purple, blue, and hunter green. Call 817/297-3970.

The Watson Christmas Tree Farm in Tyler offers Virginia Pines, flocked trees, and a gift shop full of holiday decor. Watson’s also has tree-care products available, such as a handcrafted tree stand and a mix to keep the tree fresh. When visitors find the perfect tree, Watson’s staff uses a mechanical tree-shaker to remove any brown needles from the tree and ready it for decorating. During the day, children can take wagon rides, and special evening rides can be scheduled for private events.  Call 903/566-1282.

The Ivanhoe Christmas Tree Farm in northeast Texas, just three miles north of Ivanhoe and one hour from Dallas, turns picking out a tree into a day of fun.  Throughout the season, the Ivanhoe farm offers live music ranging from bluegrass to traditional Christmas carols. In addition, local vendors come out to sell handmade goods such as soap, jellies, and Christmas ornaments. Take advantage of the fire pits by roasting hot dogs and sipping apple cider, the perfect combination to warm you up after a full day of tree-hunting. Call 903/583-5460.

Cut-your-own-tree farms can be found even in West Texas. Celebrating its fifth year of business, the Concho Christmas Tree Farm in Christoval offers a little something different for the holidays. Kids can pet alpacas and llamas at the farm’s petting zoo, roast s’mores over a fire, and learn all about planting and growing the different trees sold here. In addition to trees, fresh, handmade wreaths are popular items. Call 325/896-7575.

To find out about other choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms in Texas, visit www.texaschristmastrees.com.




—Kate Hull


Tuesday, 13 October 2009 09:47

Web Extra: Millennium Seed Bank

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On Mount Livermore, in The Nature Conservancy's 30,000-acre Davis Mountains Preserve, Michael Eason, right, and Wildflower Center nursery manager Sean Watson study candidates for the Millennium Seed Bank Project. (Photo by Christina S. Murrey, UT-Austin)

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.


Monday, 28 September 2009 09:52

Web Extra: Texas Railroad Museums

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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

www.therailroadmuseum.com


Buttel Railroad Museum, one mile south of Amarillo

Features standard gauge rolling stock and other equipment on a 1 1/2 acre site.

806/670-1314

www.buttelrailroadmuseum.org


Flatonia Rail Park, Flatonia

Home of the old SA&AP freight depot and the GH&SA passenger depot.

979/743-5366

www.railcrossroadstx.com


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

www.lagrangetourism.com/History/History-Railroad-Museum.html


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.

409/765-5700

www.galvestonrrmuseum.com


Houston Railroad Museum, Houston

Contains railroad artifacts, locomotives, cars, and a research library.

713/631-6612

www.houstonrrmuseum.org


Marshall T&P Depot Museum, Marshall

Contains memorabilia of the Texas and Pacific Railroad.

903/938-9495

www.marshalldepot.org


Martin & Francis Lehnis Railroad Museum, Brownwood

Includes railroad historical artifacts and interactive telegraph equipment.

325/643-6376

www.ci.brownwood.tx.us/LRM/Default.htm


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. 

214/428-0101

www.dallasrailwaymuseum.com


New Braunfels Railroad Museum. New Braunfels

Houses a steam locomotive, caboose, I-GN velocipede, and two model railroads, HO & N.

830/627-2447

www.newbraunfelsrailroadmuseum.org


Railroad & Heritage Museum/Santa Fe Depot, Temple

Focused on the influence railroads had on westward expansion of Texas. 

254/298-5172

www.rrhm.org


Rosenberg Railroad Museum, Rosenberg

Located right next to the busy BNSF and UP main lines where, in the peak railroad era, ten lines traversed.

281/633-2846

www.rosenbergrrmuseum.org


Railway Museum of San Angelo, San Angelo

Celebrating the 100th anniversary. See the Web site for anniversary events.

www.railwaymuseumsanangelo.homestead.com


San Antonio Railroad Heritage Museum, San Antonio

Contains SP794, one of the four remaining T&NO/SP Mikados

www.sarhm.com and www.sp794.org


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.

www.yoakumusa.com


Friday, 14 August 2009 14:36

Web Extra: More Fall Festival Picks

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alt

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.


                                                                                                            —Nola McKey

Friday, 14 August 2009 14:11

Web Extra: Rum Recipes

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Galveston Sunset (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)In our September 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.

And in honor of the magazine’s 35th anniversary, we took some classic cocktail recipes and gently stirred things up to reflect Texas culture. Each recipe makes one drink.

Galveston Sunset

This is similar to the one prepared at the Green Parrot Bar & Grill. Those who like Tequila Sunrises or Screwdrivers will recognize the elements. Enjoy!

  • 1 ½ oz. white rum
  • 5 oz. orange juice (fresh-squeezed, if possible)
  • 2 dashes grenadine syrup
  • lemon slice for garnish

In a tall glass filled with ice, pour in rum. Slowly add orange juice. Add grenadine down the side of the glass; it’s heavier than both the rum and the orange juice and will sink to the bottom, giving the drink a pretty look. Garnish with lemon. (Stir before drinking.) 


Frozen Blue Topaz

The official Texas state gemstone, the Blue Topaz, is found almost exclusively in Mason County, where you can hunt for the uncut stones at a place called the Seaquist Ranch. While you plan your trip, mix up a batch of these frosty blue concoctions, which resemble the familiar piña colada. Option: Skip the blender and serve ‘em on the rocks.

  • 2 oz. pineapple juice
  • ¾ oz. rum
  • ¾ oz. blue curaçao (you can also use orange curaçao and toss in a few blueberries for color)
  • 3/4-oz. cream of coconut
  • cherries for garnish

Add to blender with 1 cup ice. Pour into a tall glass and garnish. Watch the world sparkle.

 

The Yellow Rose

Legend has it that in April 1836, a woman named Emily Morgan so preoccupied Mexican General Santa Anna that he didn’t notice the advancing Texian army—and thus Morgan helped secure Texas independence. We created this intoxicating concoction in her honor.

  • 1 oz. light rum
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • ½ oz. orange curaçao (we like Paula’s Texas Orange, an orange liquor made in Austin)
  • ½ oz. amaretto
  • 1 oz. dark rum
  • cherries and lime slices for garnish

Shake first 4 ingredients with ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass half filled with ice. Top with dark rum, and garnish. Prepare to be diverted.


Windmill Wowee

Simple and effective. Just like the whirling workhorse that helped settle the west.

  • 2oz. dark rum
  • 3 oz. ginger beer
  • lime wedge for garnish 

Pour rum into a highball glass filled with ice, add ginger beer. Garnish. Turn gently into the breeze and enjoy.


Thursday, 13 August 2009 10:02

Web Extra: An Retrospective of Abilene

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"Downtown was the only place to go."

altThe 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

Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:39

Web Extra: Windmill Farm B&B

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Texas Highways intern Brenna Burkarth interviews Ruby Rickgauer, co-owner of the unique Windmill Farm B&B in Tolar.

A whimsical counterwight at Lubbock's American Wind Power Center. (Photo by E. Dan Clepper)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 anywhere else.


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.


Thursday, 16 July 2009 15:19

Web Extra: A Talk with a NASA Training Specialist

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See related: Fly Me to the Moon: An Exclusive Tour of NASA's Johnson Space Center

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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.

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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.

altI 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?



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