Out West in Slaton, Texas
It was the last night of a 3-week trip, when Don and I arrived.
We were already pretty drained and the 102 degree temps didn't help. But the sight of the pink caboose (being restored) and the old Harvey House, cheered us right up.
Built by Fred Harvey Company in 1912
This beautiful piece of history sits on the outskirts of town, beside the railroad tracks. It's lucky to be here at all, since it was marked for demolition in the late 1980's. It took some determined citizens nearly 2 decades to preserve and restore the building.
The heat and gusting winds kept us from enjoying a little train-watching from the outdoor benches. But we could still hear and view the trains from inside.
Today the first floor houses museum exhibits, spotlighting the intriguing history of historic Harvey hotels and dining rooms that served travelers 100 years ago.
The spacious first floor originally housed the dining room, where train travelers were efficiently served quality meals. The Harvey Girls, in their traditional black and white uniforms were paid a dollar a day, plus tips. They lived upstairs.
Touring With Jessica
When we arrived, we were greeted by our young host, Jessica. She gave us a tour and answered questions with the detail of an enthused history geek, twice her age. I mean that as a huge compliment. It's hard to find young people who care much about train history... and that shows my age.
Jessica pointed out the stained glass and light fixtures that had been meticulously copied to match the originals.
Jessica pointed out the old chairs with lion heads and she apologized about the heat. Standing fans whirred away, but gave little relief. She said the a.c. downstairs had temporary issues, but the rooms upstairs were nice and cool.
There were tons of books to browse through and even the magazines hanging from the "news stand" looked intriguing.
But Don and I were behaving like weary travelers for a change. We were too lazy to study up on the history that we love.
But when Jessica started talking about Rose, I perked up. Rose was one of the Harvey Girls who began serving in the Slaton dining room in the 1930's.
Although she passed away a few years ago, she still lived in Slaton when renovations began. When remodeling was complete, Rose shared her stories and modeled a recreated uniform for events. I studied the framed photo with her adorable smile. How I would have loved talking with her.
Jessica told us that Rose shared stories about the Harvey Girls roller skating in the basement. I've read about the strict rules that the Harvey Girls were expected to follow.
I loved picturing them giggling and blowing off steam in the basement. It reminded me of my own childhood memories, skating on cold winter days, in the basement of my Iowa home. I was pretty giddy when Jessica took us down the stairs to have a peek.
Jessica eventually took us up the stairway to our room. I loved studying the worn ridges on the steps.
I could picture the H-Girls heading up these stairs with aching feet... swapping stories about their customer encounters.
At the top of the stairs there was a comfortable common area, with games. TV, fridge and coffee maker.
After being on the road, we were excited to spread out and have the place to ourselves... until Jessica mentioned that a family had booked the other 3 rooms. She said there were 4 siblings in town with a couple spouses. They were coming back for the high school reunion of one of the sibs. "Oh great." I moped internally. I wasn't up for sharing the place with some "family reunion gang".
There were 4 bedrooms upstairs, with their own character and style. I was glad our "Zuni Room" was one that had its own bath. Sharing the common room and a bathroom with the mystery family, would have been extra weird.
We had plenty of space in our 2-room suite. There was an extra room with bed and 2 separate sink areas. I wonder how much space each Harvey Girl had to herself?
I love a memorable view and we had a number of windows that looked over the rail yard. This window in the common room, had a view overlooking the tracks.
I was actually looking forward to hearing the trains at night. That seemed like part of the package.
Wandering in Slaton
Don and I love our small town stays, when we can explore on foot.
By the time we headed down the road in search of the "downtown" and dinner, the hot wind was blinding. My photo doesn't seem to capture the heat or the dust that blasted our faces. I was amused, but Don was too busy guarding his contacts to enjoy the drama.
Where is Everyone?
Maybe the dust storm was keeping everyone inside. But most of the doors and windows were boarded up.
Dogs and Chickens
We walked along a divided street, that might have been bustling back in the day, when train travel was at its peak.
A few dogs and chickens greeted us. A couple dogs barked and yapped, but most seemed too hot and tired to be bothered.
We hit the town square just as the shops were closing up. We gave up on finding an open restaurant and headed back to the Harvey House.
A Good Sunset
Temperatures lowered a bit, along with the sun. The winds however, made it impossible to sit out and enjoy the sunset.
We let the gusts blow us towards the hotel. Jessica's car was the only one in the lot when we returned. We were hopeful we'd have the hotel to ourselves a while.
Don and I grabbed some wine and food from our car and hoped we could spread out in the common area. We were content, not socializing and making small talk.
But after a bit, we heard the laughter downstairs. The family had returned. The gang greeted us before we had a chance to hide away in our room. Next thing we knew, a couple hours had flown by and we were laughing and sharing food and swapping stories with these people we'd hoped to avoid. We seemed to connect with all 6 of these new friends, talking about every subject possible from bicycling to poetry, to immigration and Frank Lloyd Wright. By the time we all said good-night and shut our doors, I was wanting to be adopted by their family. What a hoot.
Carol, our overnight host prepared a buffet breakfast and we joined our new friends at the round table. First we talked about the huge thunderstorm that had kept many of us awake.
Then we talked about Blues music and turquoise jewelry. The sibs talked about living in Slaton... their dad working for the railroad and how their parents encouraged their noise and music in the house.
I never guessed how much we would end up having in common with these wonderful folks.
We lingered long over coffee, until it was nearly check out time. I kind of wished we could stay another night and "crash" the high school reunion, along with the other 3 siblings. It hadn't taken long for this family and the funny little town to grow on us.
After we grabbed our bags, there were lots of good-byes and exchanges of numbers.
I slowed down our exit even more by getting Carol's granddaughter to pose for me, with my traveling, Little Bear. Then we were off, on a cool and sunny morning.
Don and I would have been thrilled to just stay in a hotel associated with Harvey House history. That was what drew us to the small town.
But getting to share our experience with people who had memories of the landmark building, made it extra memorable. It would have been a fun stay, without any people encounters. But our gracious hosts and the delightful family became the icing on the cake!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!