Catching Up with an Old Friend and Off-the-Grid Attractions – Oklahoma City OK


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North America » United States » Oklahoma » Oklahoma City
September 29th 2015
Published: January 11th 2016
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Those who have read my blog, Wichita KS – Much More Than Cowboys and Cattle Drives, already know about the computer gremlins that haunted me near the end of 2015 and can skip to the next paragraph. For those new to my blog, welcome. A long story made short found all my MS Word blog files and my accompanying picture files deleted, so this blog is atypical of my standard product. It is brief and concise and is without pictures. My apologies, but regardless of the unadorned nature, I hope to provide potential travelers with some useful information that might make their trip more fulfilling. Thanks for reading, and please examine some of my pre-September 2015 blogs for a more representative sample of my work.

I departed Air Capital RV Park in Wichita KS on the morning of September 23, 2015 on my way to Lake El Reno RV Park in El Reno OK, a suburb a handful of miles west of Oklahoma City OK, where a childhood friend of mine, Darryl, landed for the final stage of his long career with AT&T. His career found him transferred more than most but less than many – including those in the military. After his retirement, he decided to stay in the area. I had stopped to see Darryl before embarking on The Great Adventure and have seen some of the local attractions, but there were others remaining on my list.

He lives, as most of my readers know, in the middle of “Tornado Alley,” but up until May 31, 2013 he had remained unscathed. Eleven days after a devastating EF5 wedge tornado struck nearby Moore OK on May 20, 2013 killing 24 people, nine of whom were children, and injuring over 300 others, the widest tornado on record meandered across the countryside near El Reno killing eight people. Doppler radar indicated the massive, 2.6-mile-wide, multiple-vortex EF3 tornado was producing winds greater than 295 mph. After killing four storm chasers, the first known deaths in the history of storm chasing, and tracking for 16.2 miles, the tornado dissipated.

Darryl saw the twister approaching, gathered up the dog, hopped into his truck and drove perpendicular to the path of the vortex. His escape was successful, but when he returned home he found that one corner of the house had been destroyed. Indeed, standing at one corner of the house, everything appeared normal; however, the view from the opposite corner was complete devastation. Such is the nature of a tornado! Things have now nearly returned to their pre-disaster state.

One of the attractions I had not yet seen was the Woodring Wall of Honor Vietnam War Memorial in Enid OK an hour or so drive north of El Reno. My regular readers know that visiting each of the state Vietnam Veterans Memorials is near the top of my bucket list, and one of my resources lists the Enid memorial as the Oklahoma State Vietnam Veterans Memorial. My friend accompanied me as he wanted to see the memorial as well and had a surprise for me up his sleeve. The memorial is located in Veterans Park which honors all American Veterans from the American Revolution to the present. The centerpiece of the park today is a permanent 80%!s(MISSING)cale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Monument in Washington DC; however, the ultimate goal is to construct a 30,000 square foot museum to honor veterans and their service to America through permanent and changing exhibits, educational programs and community outreach.

On the way back to El Reno, my friend made a detour and took me to Eischen's Bar in Okarche OK – the oldest bar in the state of Oklahoma. Eischen's Saloon was established in 1896 and was open until Prohibition. Eischen's Bar opened shortly after the end of Prohibition and remained in business until a fire gutted it on January 21, 1993. On August 9, 1993, Eischen's Bar re-opened. The bar has expanded over the years by acquiring neighboring storefronts and creating passageways for patrons and servers. One of the coolest features of the establishment is a massive back bar that was hand carved in Spain in the early 1800s and shipped to California during the Gold Rush. It was brought to Okarche in 1950 for the enjoyment of all who stopped by Eischen's. A portion of the fire-damaged back bar remains for all to enjoy and appreciate. For as unruly and rough-and-tumble as is the reputation of wild west saloons, Eischen’s has rules: Eischen's does not accept credit or debit cards, does accept cash and personal checks (an ATM is available) and serves only beer, wine coolers and soft drinks - no coffee or tea. Oh yes, firearms are not allowed on the premises. Pretty cool!

One day my friend took me to the Oklahoma City stockyard district and the Cattlemen's Steakhouse for a mid-morning breakfast. He ordered a conventional item, but I had to try one of the specialties – calf brain and eggs. The waitress concurred with my guess that the meat was incorporated into scrambled eggs. I didn’t dislike the dish, but it was bland and, essentially, tasteless. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t order it again. Seems every day is a learning opportunity! After breakfast, we headed for a couple of suburban attractions. First was Soda Pop's Cafe also in Oklahoma City. This historic (U.S.) Route 66 iconic “gas station” has, literally, hundreds of varieties of soda pop as well as a diner. There are rare flavors such as Filbert's Watermelon Soda, Jones Zilch Pomegranate and Squamscot Mistletoe Mist to name but a few along with over 70 varieties of orange soda and over 60 variations on cream soda. Of course I had to try a Scotty's Butterscotch Cream. Pretty tasty!

Our next stop was at the Arcadia Round Barn in Arcadia OK – also located on historic Route 66. The lower level of the barn is a store chock full of souvenirs and other tourist memorabilia; however, the upper level is a huge rentable hall with great views of the "business side" of the roof structure itself. Although I have seen several round barns from the exterior, this was my first trip into a round barn. Pretty cool. Responding affirmatively to my friend’s inquiry about my interest in historic buildings, we headed for the Guthrie (OK) Historic District. The downtown area is bustling with activity and has lots of very interesting buildings. As we returned to his house, we made a stop at a place he has been meaning to visit but never has – the Rock Island Railroad Museum in El Reno. This very small museum is housed in a caboose and has numerous undocumented local artifacts which would make it of little interest to the average tourist from out of town.

My friend had told me when I first arrived that I should let him know when I was ready for a hamburger. Well, the calf brain and egg scramble had pretty much run its course, so I gave him the heads up. He took me to Fat ElvU.S. Diner in nearby Yukon OK – boyhood home of Garth Brooks. The owner sports muttonchops and jet black hair in an Elvis style, ala his musical idol. Although the restaurant does not have its own web site and most web sites label the establishment as Fat Elvis Diner (some get closer to the true spelling with Fat Elvus Diner), the owner chose the unusual name to symbolize his patriotism. This is no place for the folks who dine with a pinky extended and are used to linen napkins, but the cooks turn out a wicked single, double or, for those who dare, triple accompanied by homemade French fries.

One day I set out on my own as my friend has developed some mobility issues later in life. I waited for the rush hour traffic to subside and headed for the capitol building in downtown Oklahoma City. As I was looking for a parking spot, I happened upon the Oklahoma Veterans Memorial directly across the street from the Oklahoma State Capitol. “The Big Guy” stands 8-½ feet tall and is on a 3-½ foot pedestal. He is wearing the gear of a Vietnam soldier and has the facial features of a Native American. Behind him are four walls with bronze panels representing World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. On the front of each panel are scenes depicting each of these wars while the back of the walls list the names of the Oklahomans killed in action during that particular war. An “Eternal Flame” is aligned with “The Big Guy” and the center of the south entrance of the Oklahoma State Capitol building as a reminder to our leaders that “we must never forget.” On December 7, 1999, a memorial to the USS Oklahoma, sunk at Pearl Harbor, was unveiled and dedicated to those killed in that attack. Impressive.

After visiting the memorial, I walked to the Oklahoma State Capitol. The center of state government is located on more than 100 acres and is the only capitol in the world surrounded by working oil wells – one well was dubbed Petunia #1 because it was drilled in the middle of a flower bed! Construction of the Greco-Roman structure was completed in 1917 and houses 650 rooms and 11 acres of floor space with murals, restored stained glass, a tribal flag plaza and changing art exhibits. A dome was included with the original design plans of the building but was not completed until 2002. Confession time! I have visited so many capitols in my recent travels (10 in 2015 alone) that without photographs, I am at a loss to provide an accurate assessment of the interior of the capitol; however, my memory places the attraction somewhere in the middle – it’s not engrained as outstanding nor is it embedded as mediocre. Regardless, all state capitols are “must see” attractions in my opinion.

My next stop was the Oklahoma History Center. Again, without photographs, I cannot provide my personal take on the attraction although the web site offers the potential visitor with excellent guidance and introductory information. Like the capitol, I believe all state museums are “must see” attractions. Fortunately, Oklahoma City is on one of my regularly travelled routes and revisiting both the state capitol and the state museum is reasonable so I can catalogue new photo albums of each.

My final stop of the day was the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City. I know nothing about banjos except that I like the sound and that it was a special treat for we grandkids when my oft-ailing grandfather would breakout his banjo and pick a few tunes. I was totally amazed at the intricacy of the art of banjo making – inlays; leaf; gold, silver and pearl. Wow! What an incredible collection of instruments to admire whether artist or fan. Exhibits introduce the banjo’s rich heritage to the banjo novice and introduce the visitor to the people, music and instruments which have shaped the banjo’s identity and its evolution. Hee-Haw stars like Grandpa Jones, Roy Clark and David "Stringbean" Akeman, bluegrass artists such as Earl Scruggs, country artists such as June Carter and Ricky Skaggs, comedian Steve Martin and movies such as "Deliverance" have kept those cherished memories of Gramps alive and well.

I had a great time in the Oklahoma City area. Darryl showed me some unique attractions that definitely hadn’t appeared on my radar scope, and I saw some mainstream attractions that I hadn’t taken the time to see on my previous visits. We spent some quality time reminiscing about our parents all of whom have now died (his mother was still alive at the time of my last visit). We share a weird kind of commonality with my friend in Mesa AZ, Gary. Gary’s father and Darryl’s father both died on Christmas Day several years apart; my father died on independence Day. Pretty weird.

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12th January 2016

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Larry, please start writing these into manuscripts for a travel book!

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