Friday, April 22, 2011

1953 ~ Let's Go SCCA Racin' With Carroll Shelby In Fort Worth!

Many years ago I picked up the brochure below somewhere that I now can't remember.  I've always been a sports car fan and have owned but not raced a few back in the day.  NASCAR was in its infancy. The amateur Sports Car Club of America races generated a lot of interest and there were many owner-drivers. The SCCA was a training ground for many drivers who later became famous in Formula 1, Indy and others as well as NASCAR. 

Front Cover ~ Click to enlarge
The brochure was in a batch of other stuff, but I really liked the cover and the legendary Jaguar XK 120's on the back cover were always a favorite of mine. They were the hot ticket in both the racing and street sports car wold of the early 1950's.  This race took place when I was about a junior in high school and a long way from Fort Worth. And of course, I knew nothing about it at the time.  

Back Cover ~ Click to englarge
I have read auto magazines of all kinds all my life and was a charter subscriber to Car & Driver.  I followed the drivers, especially those that drove the sports cars and open wheel machines with a lot of interest. When I got this brochure, I flipped it open for a minute to the list of cars and drivers, but really didn't pay much attention to it since I was involved in making the purchase and toting everything off.  I got it home and scanned and really kind of forgot about it. 

Inside pages: Entry list of cars & drivers  ~ Click to enlarge
One day I read somewhere that Carroll Shelby had started racing in the SCCA in the early 1950's before his salad days in racing in the late 1950's and 1960's and long before the Cobra and the Shelby Mustang.  In 1953 Shelby would have been in his second year of SCCA competition. So I dug out this brochure and scanned the entry list. Bingo! Entry #11..

Carroll Shelby Driving ~ Click to enlarge

And look what he's driving!  A honkin' big 1952 J2X Cadillac-Allard road racer....  Be still, my heart..

1952 Cad-Allard Driven By Carroll Shelby ~ Click to enlarge

As many of you know, this car was a hybrid of the superb British Allard sports car and a 5+ liter Cadillac V8 wedged into the engine room. Sydney Allard made this chassis especially for large American engines including the Fords and Chrysler as well as the Cadillacs. The independent rear suspension was rare for its time. 

Here's another view of an Allard J2X

I have no idea whether Shelby and this car won on that day in 1953. But in the 1990's as I was attending one of the last SCCA races at the old Marine airbase which was by then part of the Kenneth Copeland complex, I thought about all the great old cars and the tough guys that raced on that bumpy runway many years ago.

All images from The Electric Books Collection  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ghost Towns on the Brazos ~ Shades of Forgotten Oil Towns and an Old Grist Mill

This post was originally written several days ago.  Since then, the fires that have raged in the PK area south of Graham have ravaged much of the entire area.  As far as I can find out, neither South Bend or Eliasville which both lie on the south bank of the Clear Fork of the Brazos were engulfed.

Some time ago I picked up a bad postcard of Stovall's Hot Well.  It had been over 20 years since I had been out in that area just south of Graham. So, early in April, I took a Sunday morning scout to see if there was anything left of the old place. The weather was pretty good and it was just at the time that the mesquite was leafing out in sharp contrast to the cedar and hardwoods. I went out through Mineral Wells and Caddo and then slanted back on SH67 up to South Bend.  

Trip map ~Click to enlarge map
South Bend is located on a big bend of the Clear Fork of the Brazos river upstream from Possum Kingdom lake. The Clear Fork is pure hell when it floods, but today it was beautiful and placid. This is the river that John Graves paddled down before he wrote the Texas classic Goodbye to a River in 1959. The area south of Graham down to South Bend was locally known as Tonk Valley, since the land was once part of a short-lived Indian reservation where some of the Tonkawa tribes were placed. 

1925 Young County GLO Oil Map ~ South Bend-Eliasville-Reservation
In the early 1920's South Bend was a roaring boom town, filled with activity. The antique map above shows the scope. Oil wells were coming in, found in multiple sands from 1350 to 4250 feet. Some of them were big gushers. It had its own water system, post office, schools, hotels, gambling hells, churches and even a couple of plants to produce casing head gasoline.  

Now, South Bend is just a sad collection of dilapidated or abandoned little buildings that fully justify its ghost town image.

Click to enlarge image
There are still a few buildings more or less intact in South Bend including one restored as a home as well as a small group of mobile homes around the crossroads..

Abandoned Motel at SH67 & FM701~Click to enlarge image
The oil play in the area from Graham down to Breckenridge was so great that the Kell properties built the Wichita Falls and Southern railroad from Graham to South Bend, Eliasville and south to a junction point just north of Breckenridge to meet the demand. The railroad has been gone for over 50 years but remnants remain.

Piers & massive stone abutments for South Bend Main Street Overpass

Not only did South Bend have an oil boom going, but in 1921 one of the deep wells on the Stovall property just across the Brazos river started pushing up hot mineral water!  Instantly "miracle" cures for almost anything that ailed a person were apparently happening after extended immersion in the healing goop. A little resort developed out on the flats northwest of South Bend.

Click to enlarge image
The Hot Well stayed in business until sometime in the 1990's until a fire took most of it out.  I drove out Hot Wells Road to look, but couldn't find anything much.  South Bend and the Hot Well may be gone, but today, the big and little pump jacks are still turning out that $100+ per barrel oil.

The day was still early and the light was good so I decided to run down FM701 toward Eliasville about 10 miles away.  I don't believe that I have ever traveled this road before.  Staying on the south side to start, it more or less follows the Brazos down and the old Wichita Falls & Southern right-of-way meanders along there as well.  At the first crossing of the Clear Fork several miles from South Bend there are some old road bridge piers that remain in place. 

Bridge Piers~ Click to enlarge image
The road is scenic. It winds a little and you catch some neat glimpses of the river as we head west and a little south. There is less cedar and mesquite along this way.

Steel Truss Bridge ~ Click Image to englarge
About 5 east of Eliasville, FM701 crosses back to the south side of the Clear Fork.  Just to the north of the highway bridge is a fine old steel truss road bridge still in place without any decking. 

At this point the road is pretty level but as we get further along the terrain starts getting more broken.  We're just about at Eliasville.

1920 Ad From the FW Star-Telegram ~ Click to enlarge image
Eliasville was a sleepy little mill and cotton town dating from 1874 until the oil boom hit right after World War I. Then, everything changed. Oil brought money. Money brought developers with big dreams. The promise of the railroad coming in 1921 fueled the fire even more.  Lots were sold, good brick and stone buildings were built. Houses erected. Things looked good. 

As you come into Eliasville from the east, signs start warning us of steep grades. Just before the road drops off, a gravel road leads to the left toward some substantial buildings on the bluff. On this Sunday morning, two old churches of good proportion stood facing each other, along with modest old parsonages and what must be the ruins of the old stone school. There were too many folks getting out of church just then so I didn't get any pictures.

Eliasville Business District ~ Click to enlarge image
After a corkscrew drop down the steep bluff I came to the crossroads of FM1974 and the Breckenridge road, FM701 south. This building which looks abandoned, which was probably once a bank and perhaps the now-gone post office and the home of other businesses, is the sole remainder of what once was a thriving little city.  There once was a nice square, but it is now overgrown.  Eliasville had a tendency to catch fire a lot and when the oil business faded, so did the town with little of it ever rebuilt. 

Grist mill shell and dam ~ Click to enlarge image
I headed west for a little ways past the old building and crossed over the Brazos again on a high bridge. I glanced to the south and was surprised to see this old mill and dam, with a number of people enjoying the grounds. I was totally unaware of its existence for some reason.  There is a huge amount of history here that I don't have space to go into. However, discovering it really made my day.

At that point I headed south down FM701 toward Breckenridge and then back on US 180 toward Fort Worth.  A day well spent..

Note:  Thanks to railroad historian Steve Goen for some corrections to several items related to the Wichita Falls & Southern railroad bridges.  The old oil map above does show that the railroad stayed south of the Brazos between South Bend and Eliasville. 

All maps and images from the Electric Books Collection

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Books: Comanche Sundown, The Undertakers Wife & Other Recent Reading

It's been a while since I posted on books. Here's some of the better stuff:

Comanche Sundown by Jan Reid:  Last year when I was reading the non-fiction  Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne, several people suggested that I read this book. In March of this year it was given to me as a birthday present. I was a little pessimistic about the premise of yet another fictional book on the Comanches and Quanah Parker. After all, the Quanah tale has been done to death.  I'm happy to say that this is a great book.

Reid manages to intertwine Quanah Parker, Bose Ikard, Charley Goodnight and all the other improbable characters and suspects of the period into a fabulous tale that leaves you wondering if all this might not have happened after all. Well it didn't. However, I've heard from people that were not very well read on the subject that they just accepted it as the real truth and were surprised to learn it wasn't. When you can put together a story that well, then it's something really worth reading. But keep grounded. Remember, it didn't happen.. 

The Undertaker's Wife by Loren B. Estleman:  This is another birthday book that really hit the mark. I have been reading Estleman since the 1970's and have enjoyed almost everything he does. In spite of being categorized as a writer of crime and western novels, he has a very wide range and has quietly racked up some impressive awards for his writing. Some time ago I posted on The Branch & the Scaffold which was his fictional take on the days of Isaac C. Parker, the "hanging Judge" of Fort Smith, AR. The Undertaker's Wife also has a western theme of sorts but it is more about the struggle of maintaining a marriage under tough conditions. There is also a good back story line with a little mystery to it. I suspect that almost everyone will like this book, as I did..

Fever Dream by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child:  I am a voracious reader and it hurts to wait for books I know will be good to come out in paperback so I can afford them. This is one of the best by Preston & Child in a long series that goes back years. It's kind of a prequel and yet stands all on its own.  Preston & Child separately write fine books, but I believe they do even better when they write together. A very good thriller with a touch of Cajun Gothic.   If you haven't gotten into their books, give them a try..

Dead Watch by John Sandford:  Another one of my favorite thriller writers introducing a new character in his cast.  One that specializes in forensic bureaucracy, if you will. Sandford writes in a relaxed, intelligent way with some real humor, developing good characters with stories that hang together. Always a good read and when you're done, you will probably want to pick up another of Sandford's books. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lost Fort Worth Musical Treasures Found in a Heap On The Floor

Several weeks ago I was scrounging around in one of the local antique malls and came across a couple of old pieces of sheet music that have lots of Fort Worth history attached to them.  They were in a bin on the floor.

Click to enlarge image
Many of you will recognize Fort Worth's famous Euday L. Bowman as the composer of this piece.  Bowman was born in Fort Worth in 1877 and lived here much of his life in the city with his sister Mary Bowman. His most famous composition was the Twelfth Street Rag which was written in 1914 and became very popular with recorded versions by many bands, but it didn't became a big popular hit until after World War II.

Euday Bowman was also a fine musician as well as a composer. He played by invitation in many Fort Worth venues as well as other places including Kansas City. It was there that he wrote several other compositions named after Kansas City streets as well as this piece, named for the city itself. Bowman also wrote the Fort Worth Blues, Shamrock Rag and many others which were popular with the dance and recording bands of the period. 

The Kansas City Blues was written between 1914 and 1917. This particular copy may have come from as early as this period or a little later.  The cover design and color is striking although the sheet itself is very fragile and tattered.  The music itself is intact. Unfortunately, Euday Bowman sold his copyrights very early on to his publisher for only $100 and did not benefit much from the popularity of his works. At the time of his death in 1949 he was working to regain his intellectual property rights. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in North Fort Worth. 

Click to enlarge image
This is an arrangement of the Yellow Rose of Texas which was originally composed in 1858 and which was apparently specially revised for use during the Texas Centennial in 1935 by Mary Daggett Lake and William J. Marsh. Mary Daggett Lake (1881-1955) is a famous name in Texas history as a descendant of one of the original Fort Worth families and a city activist and historian as well as the composer of several published Texas-themed songs. William J. Marsh (1880-1971) was an equally well known musician and composer who co-authored Texas Our Texas, which became the official Texas state song in 1924.

Printed in red at the bottom of the cover sheet is "Especially Featured by PAUL WHITEMAN AND THE KINGS MEN at the Fort Worth Frontier Centennial, 1936".  On the second page is a copyright notice for Lake and March dated 1936. 

This piece of music is in such good shape that I can't tell whether it is a later facsimile or original.  In any case, it's interesting and Centennial related. Once in a while, it pays to paw through the piles of stuff in antique shops and malls. Doesn't happen often, but it is fun to find old stuff like this..