Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Amarillo to Euless

This day was to be a going-home day, so we moved sufficiently briskly to get on the road by 11:00 AM, which was pretty good for us. Since Palo Duro, like most other state campgrounds, did not offer sewer hookups, we weren't able to dump any of the tanks for the two and a half days we were camped there. Homer II has much larger tanks than Homer I, so I wasn't terribly worried about reaching capacity before dumping on the way out of the park. However, I had been curious as to just how long we could expect to stay out without dumping. I got my answer. Before taking our morning showers, I checked the tank capacity lights and determined that both gray tanks (one for the bath water and one for the galley) were about three-fourths full. After showering and doing the dishes, they were showing almost totally full. Then it dawned on me that I had forgotten to dump the galley tank before we left Abilene! Luckily, we made it until the very last hand washing before departure before both the bathroom and kitchen sinks stopped draining. So, we now know that we are good for two nights and no more, and that the galley tank should have capacity to spare. It should be noted here that we acknowledge using lots of water. Neither of us is comfortable skipping a daily bath, and we always clean up the kitchen after every meal. We recognize that not all campers see the need for such fastidiousness, especially when they are "boondocking," (camping without any hookups at all—no sewer, no water, no electricity, no nothing). We are just sissies, I guess, because it would never cross our minds to do something like that. So, besides having a fun time, we got some practical experience on this trip. We now know more about Homer II than we did beforehand.

It took only a few minutes to empty the tanks at the dump station just up the road from the campground, and we were off toward Lockney, following Bubba across the flat plain. We heard him say before leaving that it was about an hour and a half to Lockney, Bubba's home town, which is a tiny burg just east of Plainview. Bubba's mom, Algene, had offered us a Sunday lunch at her house, complete with her famous chocolate pie, and we were some excited about that. Besides, we were eager to see where Bubba grew up, and a visit to Algene's and Barry's house was viewed by us with at least as much anticipation as seeing the Palo Duro Canyon and the show last night. Bubba decided to venture off I-27 and take the back roads, which pleased me very much. (If you have read much of these travelogues, you know how much I despise interstate highways.) This back road route, however, was unlike any other I had encountered. It consisted of a single farm-to-market road, aligned from due north to south, with no apparent beginning or end. It was a pleasant enough journey through uncountable miles of open farm and ranch land, dotted with the occasional house, barn and feed bin. However, there was, literally, nothing else! Not a store, or a café or a gas station—nothing. Of these missing elements of civilization, the absence of a gas station was beginning to get worrisome, as the Hornet's fuel tank showed half full when we left the canyon. I was sure that would be plenty to get to Lockney, but not much farther. As we droned on and on through what seemed like a billion acres of corn, maize, and who-knows-what-else, the Hornet's fuel gauge seemed to move perceptibly as it neared the quarter-tank marker. Since there were no gas stations of any kind in evidence anywhere, and we had met only one other vehicle on this lonely road, it occurred to me that, somehow, the citizens of this area either don't go anywhere by car, or they have discovered a way to operate their vehicles and farm machinery without using petroleum-based fuel! I was very confused.

This was on my mind as we entered the outskirts of Lockney. I knew it was Lockney because of the small sign announcing the fact, but as we drew nearer, Sandy began to come back to life as she saw through the Hornet's windshield a collection of structures that, yes, unmistakably, was a town! It was good to see her stirring from the fetal position she had taken after accepting the fact that, after we ran out of fuel, we would die out here in this dry plain that, to her, was just as strange as the dark side of the moon.

Bubba, whom we were following as close as a blind man being led from a cave, pulled his rig up short just before entering Lockney, in front of a house that, well, had seen better days. It was a ramshackle old wooden-framed farmhouse that had been almost consumed by tall weeds and grass, nestled among a few small trees that had grown bent over from the incessant south wind. Scattered all around the yard were rusting relics of various kinds of well-used appliances, derelict vehicles and rusting farm machinery. It looked for the world as though a junk yard had exploded and the pieces had landed all around the house in a random pattern. Since Bubba had pulled off the side of the road in front of the house, I thought he might be pausing to give me some directions, so I pulled the Hornet up alongside his pickup and rolled down the window. Imagine my surprise when he said, "Well, we're here; I'm gonna go inside and ask Dad where he wants me to park." LouAnn had already opened the door on her side of the truck and was stepping out. Upon hearing this and seeing LouAnn step outside, Sandy and I looked back toward the shack and then, in unison, turned slowly back toward Bubba. The look on our faces and our open mouths appeared to be more than Bubba could take, and he immediately started laughing. We knew then that we had been had, and LouAnn, his accomplice, began climbing back into her seat. Apparently, Bubba's dad was in on the planning of the joke, because Barry mentioned to me at Palo Duro the day before that he needed me to help him move some refrigerators when we arrived in Lockney the next day. I found that a bit puzzling at the time, but didn't think any more about it until now. It is now clear that Bubba's penchant for practical jokes was acquired genetically, as Barry's eyes just danced as we later laughed about the trick they so handily pulled on us.

Barry and Algene's lovely two-story home occupies a large lot in a very nice neighborhood in Lockney. Built by a local contractor who also built their church, this solidly-constructed home is a testament to the care taken by a true artisan who took pride in his work. The rooms were large and inviting, with a roomy kitchen from which wonderful aromas were wafting. I remarked about the large work island built into the kitchen, which I thought would have been quite an unusual and innovative feature in a house built 46 years ago. I became increasingly distracted, however, by the smell of homemade rolls baking in the oven. I think I began visibly to drool and, fortunately, we were told to gather around the table before I embarrassed myself.

The meal was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. Algene served a very tasty and tender beef roast with béarnaise sauce, delicious broccoli and fruit salads, a potato casserole, corn on the cob fresh from their farm, the aforementioned rolls and, of course, the pies—not only the anticipated chocolate one, but a lemon chess pie, to boot. I had a piece of both, and they were heavenly. We all sat around the large dining room table, set with beautiful china and elegant napkins, and ate and talked until mid-afternoon. Joining us, besides Bubba, LouAnn and Breann, were Brittany, their older daughter, and her fiancé, Tyler. It was truly a Norman Rockwell experience, and afterward, Barry and Algene showed us all around the house, pointing out the uncountable mementos of a wonderful life lived by these lovely people and their children. Sandy and I will never forget the warmth, charm and sweet disposition of this couple here in this tiny town in the Texas panhandle. Their winsomeness and hospitality is something largely lost in the big cities, I think, as many of us don't even know our neighbors who live right beside us.

As we were leaving, I inquired, nervously, about the possibility of getting diesel fuel in Lockney. Barry said that we could, but he would have to take his key and unlock the pump. I was very intrigued by this, but I didn't probe further into such a curious arrangement. He offered this matter-of-factly, as though everyone in town had a key to the local gas station. I thought this must be just a west Texas small-town thing. Tyler said that it would be easier just to get gas in Floydada, which was down the road about ten miles. That seemed reasonable, as I knew I had enough fuel for another 50 miles or so, but I was almost sorry that I didn't find out more about Barry's gas key.

We said our goodbyes and pulled away, wondering if we would ever see Lockney again. This quaint little place, like many other small panhandle towns, is slowly losing population as the younger folks are lured to the larger cities and greater opportunities. As a result, Lockney and Floydada look a bit tired, with a number of the towns' buildings unoccupied. I'm not sure what the prospects may be for the future. For now, that's not important; as long as Barry and Algene Barker are in Lockney, it will be, for us, a beacon of hospitality and friendliness, regardless of how many hardy souls make their home there.

Arriving in Floydada, LouAnn Barker's home town, we found a couple of stations open with the beautiful green diesel pump. I nosed the Hornet into the Texaco station, but Homer's rear end hung out in the street a bit, which made me nervous. Fortunately, I think the citizens must be accustomed to obstructions like tractors and combines in the streets, because the drivers just pulled around my rig, waving good-naturedly, as if it were an every-day occurrence to see a fifth wheel halfway out in the street. I really don't think they get many RVs through here, though. I can't remember seeing a single one, other than Bubba's, for hundreds of miles.

We settled in for the long trip back to Euless. The leg on U. S. 70 between Floydada and Vernon involved hours and hours of mind-numbing monotony through what had to be one of the most desolate areas of Texas, eclipsed only, I guess, by the badlands between Midland and El Paso. We were reminded that there is certainly a lot of room in Texas—for a reason: No one could survive living in some parts of it. We arrived home about 9:30 in the evening, completely worn out. We know that, in order to travel outside Texas to the west or north, we'll have to traverse this area again, but we'll first have to work up our nerve—and stamina.

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