A Day in Lockhart and Luling

March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

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My sister-in-law, America, and nephew, Jonas, who live in Hannover, Germany, are visiting us this week, along with my daughter’s Colombian rock-star boyfriend (who’s here for “South X get the F___ Out of My Town,” but that’s a different story). If there’s one thing that Germans like as much as their beer and spring-crop asparagus, it’s all things Texan. America’s father-in-law wears a bolo tie and boots to church every Sunday, even though he’s never been here (although it is his profoundest wish to do so).
So naturally, we had to get out of town yesterday for some real, good, old-time Texas barbecue (Sorry, Aaron Franklin – you’re good, but you’re not lord of the brisket, despite what Texas Monthly “eat al” might say). Since Jonas is your typical cranky 3 year old with a short attention span, we chose close-by Lockhart over fellow ‘cue meccas Llano, Luling, Taylor, Schulenburg, or Elgin. Now anyone who really knows barbecue knows that you can’t go wrong in Lockhart, at Kreuz Market, Smitty’s, Black’s or Chisholm Trail. They’re all good, and truth is, many locals prefer to eat at Chisholm Trail because they can get vegetables and cruise the salad bar.
But we wanted real, old-time Texas atmosphere to go along with our larrupin’ good smoked meat and sides, so Smitty’s was the obvious, and only, choice. After getting our pork ribs, pork chop, ring sausage, lean beef, fat beef and Orange sodas, we settled down in the air conditioned dining room – for Jonas’ sake. If I had my druthers, we would have sat in the old room out back next to the back-up pit, where we used to eat our meat with the carbon-steel knives chained to the tables.
As is usually the case, our lunch was a pan-humanic experience, with whites, blacks, hispanics, orientals, SXSW refugees and assorted other human detritus happily gnawing away.
After a few words with the amiable “Mr. Nina” Sellers (the owner’s husband), it was time to go to the back rooms and pay homage to the good old days 30 and more years ago when we would ride our bicycles down to Shiner, get plastered at the brewery hospitality room while visiting with our friends there, climb into our designated driver’s vehicle, and head for the original Kreuz Market (now Smitty’s) to get our meat and settle down at one of the back room tables, and start sawing and chawing away, the way God almighty and old man Kreuz meant it to be. These “pilgrimages” as we called them, became the basis for one of the chapters in Central Texas (The Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) as well the epic mass bike ride several of us invented, called the G.A.S.P. (Great Austin to Shiner Pedal).
Well, there is only one table left out back today, and no knives chained to it, but there was one patron seated there, cut “out of the old rock,” as the old saying goes, happily gumming away at his ring sausage quartet with crackers: the amiable Tally Gabriel, who’s been a regular customer for 65 years now. And by regular, I mean several times a week. He was going to a funeral later in the afternoon, for an aunt who had passed away at the age of 90. I offered my condolences, which he gently brushed aside; she had lived a long and full life – there was nothing to be sad about.
Tally had worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, on track maintenance crews. As such, he knew Sanderson, my home away from home, well, but I was disappointed that he had not known Hank Parrish, an SP engineer and the king of eccentrics, whose home I had purchased from his niece several years after his death. Hank had died from heatstroke one June, it is supposed, having refused to turn on his “swamp cooler” for relief from the oppressive heat, despite the fact that a swamp cooler draws about as much power as a light bulb. But after all, this was a man so stingy that when he went to the post office to pick up his mail, he would bring his VW beetle to a stop by crashing into the guard rail out front rather than use his brakes. Now when it came to his locomotives, he drove the hell out of them. He was as famous along the SP line for abusing his engines as he was for his tight-fistedness. Tally just grinned. “Guys like Hank guaranteed us our jobs, god bless ‘em.”
Tally also worked on several of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass lines (The SAAP, or “SAP,” figures prominently in several chapters of both Hill Country and Central Texas; one of its branches once ran up to Lockhart), including the branch that ran south through Skidmore and Beeville, nicknamed “The Sausage Line,” because of all the hogs it hauled up to the San Antonio stockyards.
We finally bade Tally and Smitty’s farewell and walked over to the newly renovated and restored Caldwell County Courthouse, to admire, among other things, its beautifully restored courtroom.
Our next stop was Westy’s Pharmacy, to check out the damage done to our waistlines on the “Moderne,” the most beautiful scale I have ever encountered in all my travels, and the only thing you can still do for a penny anywhere that I know of in Texas (although it accepts nickels if you’re not a nickel nose). Pharmacy owner Brad Westmoreland has been offered upwards of a thousand dollars for the “Moderne Peerless Weighing Machine,” but he just laughs off any and all offers. His father bought the Moderne second-hand from the Imperial Amusement Co. in San Antonio in 1942 for $25. At a penny a pop, the Moderne had paid for itself by 1944, and it’s been pure profit ever since. One the other side of the front door from the Moderne is a little display case full of old patent medicines and other vintage pharmaceutica; Brad says he has plenty more downstairs (Westy’s has been serving Lockhart for more than a century), but there’s no place to put it. Lockhart may be a prime contender for Barbecue Capital of Texas, but it’s not squat for home-grown sweets; luckily Westy’s carries an abbreviated line of Lamme’s candies from Austin (Lamme’s has been satisfying greater Austin’s sweet teeth since 1885), so we left with a box of chocolate covered pecans to give the rest of town a quick looky-loo before continuing south to Luling. America was quite impressed with the many Victorian mansions and brick business palaces dating to the days when Cotton was King. After popping into the 1856 Emmanuel Episcopal Church, we headed for Storey Springs, where Sam Houston gave his famous speech in 1857 (Read about it in Central Texas, Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) to check on their condition after the recent flood and let Jonas blow off some steam on the park playscape. The springs looked as good as ever.
Once in Luling, we were still too full from lunch to eat any of the best pork ribs in Texas at Luling City Market (Sorry again, Franklin’s), so we went down to the Zedler’s Mill museum complex on the Guadalupe River. Progress on restoring the complex is slow but steady, and you can now take an audio guided tour via your cell phone (I forget the number now). The river was still running a bit high and debris-cluttered after the recent flood, but was almost back to its normal beauty.
After a tour of all the decorated pumpjacks (the butterfly was a favorite), we stopped at the old Sarg Records shop to pay homage to the late, great Charlie Fitch, who first recorded Sir Doug Sahm back when he was “Little Doug” and who turned down Willie Nelson back when Willie was a nobody trying to become a somebody. A peek inside the window showed the shop virtually undisturbed since Charlie’s death, messages such “R.I.P, We love you Charlie” finger-wiped in the window dust, now several years old. A recent documentary about Charlie has been running lately on KLRU, the local PBS station. And of course, my beloved little cast-iron stop signs are still embedded in the asphalt at several downtown intersections.
With Jonas now growing sleepy/cranky, it was time to head back to Austin via Stairtown and Joliet, through Edgar B. Davis’ fabulous Rafael Rios oilfield, the oilfield that changed Luling forever and gave rise to the phrase, “All you have to do is follow your nose to Luling.”


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