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Finding Washington Apples in Oklahoma
US 60 Part 8
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-12-11 14:40 (KST)   
Between the last town of any size in Missouri and the first of any size in Oklahoma there isn't much along US 60, except for a couple of fruit stands.

The first of these was a woman who had apples for Michigan, potatoes from Idaho, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes and squash from Florida. She said they were all from her family's farms -- a claim that is possible, but of which I wa skeptical.

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The second was a guy who had new crop apples from Washington -- new crop being those that were grown this year, not the kind that were older than that and kept in cold storage. He lived in Washington and loads up his yellow truck and travels south to Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma selling alongside the road wherever he can.

They both said business was as usual.

Roadside stand selling New Crop apples from Washington
©2009 D. McLane

The first town of any size in Oklahoma was Afton, which had definitely seen better days, especially the building on the north-east corner of Main and US?60. Almost totally dilapidated but worth a shot to show what happens when things are left to wrack and ruin. The only exception was the satellite antenna which suggested that somebody had used the place not that long ago. I walked over and got a closer look and saw a folding chair and a plastic garbage can, but nothing else.

North-east corner of Main and US 60, Afton, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

However, as I framed a shot my eye saw something out of the frame left, a Packard sign. A Packard sign? My aunt had a black Packard coupe and I would often ride with her. Heavy duty, standard shift, straight eight under that long hood leading to the hood ornament: the goddess of speed, a woman with wings holding a tire outstretched in her arms. I always thought of her as the front sight of some huge weapon we were riding in. Not sure of the year but definitely pre-war.

Anyway, I recognized the distinctive Packard logo, crossed the street, went east for maybe half a block and got a shot of the sign and a vintage Packard convertible.

Afton Station and Route 66 Packards<
©2009 D. McLane

Going further, I saw a small sign on the building east of the sign which said something about Route?66. I went inside and found it was Afton Station, a restored 1930s D-X filling station. The front room was full of memorabilia, the main event was the showroom.

Afton station showroom
©2009 D. McLane

Coming back into the front room I talked with Ron McCoy, a volunteer, and Laurel Kane, the owner.

Laurel Kane, owner, Afton Station
©2009 D. McLane

Laurel and her (now ex-) husband bought the place eight years ago and moved their collection of Route?66 items and Packards from Connecticut with the help of friends and volunteers in the area.

The site is definitely not a gift shop as so many historic places become. For sale are items helpful to those who are interested in learning about and traveling on Route?66 as well as Packards.

Laurel and Ron said the Station gets something like 3,000 people a year during the tourist season. The day we were there, 18 people had signed the guest book which isn't so bad as it was the start of fall and getting cold.

THERE HADN'T BEEN A LOT OF NATIONAL OR STATE PARKS WITH CAMPGROUNDS ALONG US?60 but we came on one at the end of the day, the Osage Hills State Park. Not only was the campground well laid out, but there were hot showers so the next day we the morning getting cleaned up and enjoying the colors of the oak trees where part had turned golden yellow and brown and part was still green.

Campsite, Osage Hills State Park, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

In the afternoon, we headed west to Pawhuska, the county seat of Osage County and the capital of the Osage Nation. The Osage County Historical Society Museum, is right off the highway and has five main exhibit areas: Boy Scouts, Western Life, Pioneer Life, Early Day Oil Industry, and Native American life. It's quite small but has a good collection of things actually found in the area.

The first Boy Scout troop in the United States was started at Pawhuska in May, 1909, by a missionary priest from England by the Church of England. A statue of a Boy Scout in the British uniform of 1909 is located at the front door, and a bronze replica of "What It's All About" by Jim Hamilton is next to the parking area.

"What It's All About"
©2009 D. McLane

We had a long talk with Barbara Pease, who said she's visited 44 states but has stayed just about all her life in Pawhuska. Probably because she's part Osage and part other kinds of Native American.

Barbara said that while the area belongs to the Osage Nation, very few Osage actually live there but own the mineral rights to the land and continue to receive royalties on the oil that was discovered in the 1920s. Most of the wells are strippers, meaning one that nearing the end of its economically useful life. 85% of the wells in America are strippers, and may actually operate only an hour or so a day, but still produce approximately 18?percent of U.S. production. The amount pumped decreases year by year, so income to the Osage is less and less each year and some are returning to their native land and pushing tourism and casinos.

One place that Barbara thought we might find interesting was the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve as it's the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth and has about 2,500 free-roaming bison plus a number of stripper oil wells.

THE ENTRANCE TO THE PRESERVE ISN'T FAR FROM PAWHUSKA, but the drive from the gate to the visitor center takes forever and the only bison we saw were way off in the distance.

Dixie Collins was the docent on duty and said the original tallgrass prairie originally covered 142 million acres in parts of 14 states but less than 1% remains as most of it has been converted to farmland. However, in this area the land is basically limestone and sandstone and totally unsuitable for crops so the grass remains.

The Nature Conservancy purchased the 29,000 acre Barnard Ranch as the cornerstone of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in 1989 and now consists of 38,600 acres of land owned or leased by Conservancy. The goal is to recreate a functioning tallgrass prairie ecosystem using controlled burns, mimicking the way the original prairie was maintained.

Up until the late 1800s, the prairie was home to some 30 million bison, or buffalo, but by then only 1,000 were left. Today there are about 15,000 on public and private lands such as those of the Conservancy which introduced 300 in 1993 and hope they will grow into a herd of 3,200 on 32,000 acres of the Preserve.

When we said we were disappointed that we'd only seen a few bison, and those far away, Dixie asked how we had come. It turned out there are two routes, and the bison were on the other.

Before we left, Dixie reminded us the bison were free-roaming, no fences or corrals, and very unpredictable. While they may appear peaceful, they may attack anything without warning or reason. They can run up to 35 miles per hour, and you don't want two thousand pounds of animal using their massive head as a battering ram against either you or your vehicle (see this for more information).

We kept that in mind when we came upon a herd of maybe 40 or 50, some on one side of the road, some on the other. We stopped, and moved slowly slowly along trying to get close without being too close and found there was a certain distance where there they remained where they were; any closer and the moved until they were at that distance. Luckily there comfort distance put them in range of my Nikon D300's zoom so I could get some so-so shots.

Many years ago Sueko and I'd traveled east from Santa Monica, Calif. along Route?66 as far as Amarillo, Texas and had gone back partly on US?60 which runs through Hereford which has massive feed lots. Two memories: First, if you're downwind from a feedlot with a gazillion cattle, the smell is overpowering; when you mention it to locals, they say, "Yep, smells like money."

Second, when we asked if we could get close enough for pictures, the overseer said that it was OK but they spook easily. If you drive next to the fence slowly, they'll move away slowly but if you play music, especially classic music, they'll drift back out of curiosity. The same music that worked with cattle, worked with bison, Pachelbel's Canon.

Most of the classic photos of bison are of males which may be as tall as 9?1/2 feet (2.9 m) at the shoulders and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds (907 kg). The typical shot is a three-quarter view of a single male showing their massive hump and head covered with shaggy, brownish-black fur.

We saw both males and females, but none of the males looked classic and weren't all that much bigger than the females. My best shot captured another aspect of bison life, mother and child.

Mother and child bison, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

Mixed in with the bison were oil wells. Most probably they were strippers but in any case some were working, looking like the old fashioned dipsy doodle drinking birds you hung on a glass of water and they went up and down, up and down. Yep, looks like money.

Oil well, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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