It’s Spring on US 287, a well-worn, asphalt trail cutting through the Texas Plains between Dallas, through Wichita Falls, Amarillo and Dumas, Texas, and Denver, Colorado. Spring’s rainstorms a confirmation of life in the barren stretch.
Black, white and brown cows roam the emerald green grass fields dotted with purple, Texas Bluebells, colors more associated with the Pacific Northwest’s rain forests than sandy, rocky Texas with its parched river beds. Jamming their heads between the barbed wire for a good scratch in the warm sunshine as they hover, protectively over giant cow piles, calves, dropped only hours before.
The remnants of an Old West are on display along this trail, the livestock, the farming. This is plum, peach, pecan and cotton country, among the fields are solitary oil derricks, rusting, peeling and dilapidated.
The old glory of the Texas Trail is evident, small towns with red brick Town Hall buildings in the center of the City Square surrounded by distressed-red paving stone streets and picture window stores, which look like they were abandoned overnight, their owners running from a fate worse than death.
In their place, a Wal-Mart in Childress, a Sonic fast food drive-in in Memphis, Texas, All Sups truckstops, making the lion’s share of its income with C-stores. Old gas stations turned into plant stores, a few souvenir places, there’s Clarendon, Esteline, Quan’ah, left behind by the migration to the city.
Knowing that we must land somewhere, eventually, we inspect every little town we pass for future prospects. Our grand design is to spend another five or so years in the truck, then buy a sailboat and spend a few years watching MacGyver master the intricacies of bilge pumps and rigging and then find someplace to while away our last years, reminiscing about our adventures. This is when our thoughts turn to these abandoned old Texas homesteads and towns.
“Maybe we could buy a whole town for $100,000 and you can have a permanent project,” I tell MacGyver.
“We drive by here enough,” he says. “It might be a good place for storage and a shower.”
MacGyver and I have made, probably, 25 passes through Memphis in the past four years. It was a frequent freight lane for both Schneider National and Forward Air, which have terminals in Dallas. Now it’s on our Money Trail, following the oil route from Texas to Alberta, Canada, loads of Hazardous Materials chemicals. We don’t like to stop for long with a HazMat load, even though there is a Love’s Truckstop on the edge of town. This time, our load is regular freight, known as Freight Of All Kinds.
Memphis, which has a population of 2,290 — it lost 189 people since the 2000 Census — has always fascinated us. Its glory days were in the 30s, 40s and 50s when the population high mark was 4,257.
MacGyver stopped once in the middle of night to wander the red paving stone streets and peek into the forlorn, long forgotten store fronts and wonder about the merchants who are making a stab at keeping this little town alive.
There are five listings on Zillow.com for Memphis ranging from a $26,000 brick Victorian, in town, with four bedrooms, two baths but alas no stable for Black Beauty to $2.1 million for a house and property with river frontage. There’s 19 acres for $640,000 on County Road C boasting prime hunting, the listing includes night photos of deer and wild boars, with a homestead, “perfect for a hunting lodge” if you have a nightscope. And for $149,000, 66 acres of vacant land with a 1940s style clapboard bungalow. But it’s too damn hot in the summer, we like water and mountains, good Internet and a grocery store around the corner.
There continues, as the Wild West promise goes, intrepid souls willing to gamble it all and make a stand for the future. One such place is the Ivy Cottage and Tea Room.
Last week we visited during the day, the Sonic next to the Love’s was hopping, in town, the hair salon was busy along with Gloria’s Cafe next door — where the husbands must wait — three banks were open. But we were interested in the Ivy Cottage and Tea Room.
Who had invested in the restoration of this building and opened this lovely lunch restaurant, selling artisan crafts and food items from area entrepreneurs.
Owner Judy Lewis, who has the ability to turn her soft, jade-green eyes on customers and transform them into guests, said she came from Amarillo about eight years ago and bought a Victorian house and two years ago bought The Ivy Cottage with Co-Owner Amber Langford.
Open Tuesday-to-Saturday 10-to-4, she serves meals “just like you’d make at home,” she told us. Unfortunately we were starving when we arrived at the truckstop and grabbed a Sonic All-American dog not knowing what else we’d find.
She’s been open two years and says “it’s been pretty good,” although some days are quieter than others. She said she had some truckers who used to stop in for lunch. It’s only a few minutes walk from the Love’s.
Always interested in local treats, we bought a jar of Texas Plum Line, medium plum salsa, “made by a lady in Amarillo,” every ingredient is real food, before heading north.
Next time we have time, we’ll try her homemade lunch.