Waco, Texas – A Pain in the Butt: March 10-24, 2011

Life has both good stuff and bad stuff. And some so-so stuff in between. It’s that way whether you spend a few years settin’ on the back porch drinking iced tea or wandering the length and breadth of the country with a set of wheels for a foundation.

I’ve opted to make this travelogue a reality show, including you in on the highs and lows. Perhaps that comes from writing ships’ logs for many years. You include the times you ran aground or broached on a wind gust along with the great raft-ups and beautiful sunsets. Life’s
like that. I’ll change my approach if, at any time, the lows begin to exceed the highs. But we’ve never been even close.

So after a great time in SA, it was time to tackle another low – two in fact. Dot has been exceptionally lucky to find good vets in every place we needed them. We certainly needed one in Waco. Not only did we have to decide whether we should keep Ted with us, but I’d developed a
problem of my own.

Ted’s Waco vet did a lot of tests, some of which had to go down to A&M for results. The bottom line was that Ted could stand some more phenobarbital to help stave off the epilepsy. He was basically ”old man normal” in between, so we decided to carry on. However, both he and I were suffering from variations of dysentery. With a lot of skill and advice, Dot got the Tedster on a grain free diet, and conditions improved. Don’t ask me how, but I managed to get new patient appointment with a gastroenterologist practice on the same day I called. Dr. Ancha put me through that dreaded event that has a prep cycle worse than the procedure itself. There were two good results. Only two tiny polyps and both benign. And I was scheduled for next year anyway, and it’s over with. After all that, Dr. Ancha didn’t solve my problem. But it went away by itself within a month!

All of this took two full weeks. But we were at a great campground, and there were plenty of sights to see and culture to absorb. Waco is a lovely town, and Baylor U is one of the most beautiful campuses we’ve ever seen. No, we didn’t search out the compound where David Koresh and Janet Reno had their standoff in 1993.

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

This was our first stop; it was right next door to the Waco CVB. The museum did a fairly good job of recounting the history of this unique institution that has been the subject of story and fable through the ages. In 1823, when Texas was still a part of Mexico, Stephen Austin, the Father of Texas, began the colonization that eventually led to Santa Anna’s abdication in 1835 and the formation of the Republic. He formed the Texas Rangers, originally a force of ten men, to protect the colonists, particular by scouting Indian movements. It was from this beginning that the force exists to this day. It is “above the law” in the sense that it reports directly to the Department of Public Safety and has its own eight zones of jurisdiction. Today, it’s an elite force that performs numerous duties but specializes in criminal investigation. So
the Lone Ranger and Chuck Norris notwithstanding, it performs a valuable public service. The force is currently fixed at a total of 134 Rangers, plus support staff, and the Rangers still wear boots, white hats and badges made from Mexican coins.

The Hall of Fame was less interesting, since with the exception of Austin, there were few names we recognized or stories we knew. Current Ranger pictures included women, an innovation since the 1980’s. The museum, however, led us to understand the breadth of their accomplishments over the years.

Dr Pepper Museum

We spent a fascinating and fun time learning about America’s oldest soft drink. Dr Pepper (the period was eliminated in the 1950’s) is a year older than Coke. It is today the fifth largest soft drink in the U.S., following two Cokes and the non-diet versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew.
Its own diet version comes in ninth.

Created in 1885 by Charles Alderton, a young chemist in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, it took off quickly over the counter.
Morrison is credited with naming it, and there are at least a dozen theories about how he came up with the name. Alderton, more interested in tinkering than entrepreneurship, offered the formula to Morrison and another young chemist, Robert S. Lazenby. The two formed the Artesian Mfg. and Bottling Co. in 1891, and it eventually became the Dr Pepper Company. The drink’s big break came in 1904 when, along with hamburgers and hot dogs on buns and ice cream in a cone, it was featured in the St. Louis World’s Fair.

The museum is housed in the original bottling company. When you enter, you’re treated to an old drug store counter and a holographic presentation by Alderton on early creation and development. Then walk to the back of the first floor, and the bottling plant itself comes into view, including the original Artesian well from which the enterprise drew most of the content of each bottle. The actual formula, including the mystery 23 ingredients that contribute to its taste, is allegedly known to only six people.

The company skyrocketed in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. W.W. “Foots” Clements, born in 1914, started selling Dr Pepper in 1935 while a student at the U of Alabama. He joined the company in 1942 as a route driver and became its Chairman in 1969. His name is irrevocably linked to
the brand’s successful expansion and popularity. Displays on the second floor chronicle over 100 years of effective marketing campaigns, themes and slogans. I best remember Be a Pepper — how about you? Another was the 10-2-4 Club, developed from research that showed people needed a shot of energy at these hours, and Dr Pepper’s pure cane sugar provided it.

The third floor is a glowing tribute to Foots, the company’s chairman emeritus, who died in 2004. It features a replica of his office and a presentation of the Free Enterprise Institute, an organization founded in 1997 that brings in thousands of young people for a one-day seminar entitled Advertising and Marketing Kid Style, in which kids from third graders to college students bring a soft drink from development to marketing.

Dr Pepper merged with the Seven Up Company in 1986, and today it’s a part of Cadbury-Schweppes.

House Tour

The Historic Waco Foundation manages four houses in the downtown area that are indicative of the early development of the city. We visited two of them.

The Earle-Napier-Kinnard House was built in two stages. John Earle, a mill owner who manufactured Confederate uniforms during the Civil War, purchased the land and built a modest two room house in 1858. Ten years later, J.S. Napier purchased the
property and expanded it into the Greek Revival that it is today. Napier’s son in law, Rev. Kinnard, and daughter Sarah later occupied the house. It remained in the family until 1957 when it was purchased, restored, furnished and donated to the Waco Perpetual Growth
Fund. A playhouse adorns the back yard and is still accessible to visiting children.

In 1854, wealthy Alabama planter William Aldridge Fort moved his entire family, his retinue and four other families to Waco. He built the Fort House in 1868, also of Greek Revival design. It was purchased in 1956 by the Junior League of Waco and through generous donations, has been meticulously restored. A “Museum Room” on the second floor is used by the Historic Waco Foundation for rotating exhibits that showcase the city’s history.

Homestead Heritage

Homestead Heritage is a 500 acre working village, featuring modern executions of the crafts of the past (and present). Working studios, each in its own building, include fiber crafts, gristmill, forge, pottery and woodworking. Skilled artisans are at work everywhere, some teaching neophytes their trades. Each studio produces items for sale, some right in their own buildings and other in the 20o year old barn near the entrance. The bakery and deli serves yummy food for sit down or take home. What makes this place even more special is CFEE School, a Center for Essential Education. Here, young people are taught the trades they need to homestead today.

I had an opportunity to meet with the director. I spoke to a young woman in the fiber shop and mentioned my basketweaving. Fifteen minutes later, she’d tracked me down at the barn and took me to visit with her dad! I enjoyed chatting with him about his challenges and dreams for the future. We talked about the Campbell School where I teach in NC. He vowed to visit it.

Waco Mammoth Site

In 1978, two relic hunters, Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin, were searching along the Bosque Rivere when they came upon a bone sticking up in a ravine. They extracted it and took it to the Strecker Museum at Baylor. Identified as a Columbian Mammoth bone, the museum quickly gathered a team and began exploring the site.

The result was an historical feast for the ages. Over the next twelve years, the fossilized remains of 16 mammoths were discovered. Exploration continued, and by 1997, the mammoth count was up to 22, along with a camel and the tooth of a saber-toothed tiger. Prevailing theory is that they perished in several events as a result of being trapped and drowned by rising flood waters during a period from 68,000 to 12,000 years ago.

The site, owned jointly by the City of Waco, Baylor University and the Waco Mammoth Foundation, opened a large viewing structure over the dig in 1909. You walk down a path, stop by a feeding area that helps you understand the size and voraciousness of the beasts, and then view an open area of the ravine and river bed. Then, up a ramp, you enter the excavation itself. On your right is a full size replication of the Columbia Mammoth. Larger than its Wooly cousin, Columbians stood up to 14 feet tall and weighed up to 10 tons. Typical diet for this herbivore was 300-700 pounds of vegetation a day. Their curled tusks measured from 7 to 16 feet in length. Various partial excavations are visible in the pit; most of the fossils have been removed to Baylor and are stored in its vaults. From the top of the ramp, you gaze back at a 80 foot long rendition of what the scene might have looked like before the disaster.

This is one of those places that is fascinating to read about but simply overwhelming and mesmerizing when experienced in the real. It’s actually the second largest; more skeletons have been found in the La Brea Tar Pits. But this is the largest single find.

Mayborn Museum at Baylor U.

The Mayborn Museum opened in 2004. It combined campus institutions Strecker Museum (see Mammoth story) and the Jeanes Discovery Center and added many new dimensions to both. Frank Mayborn was a publishing and broadcasting mogul as well as philanthropist and influential political operative. The museum is as big as Texas. That is to say, it is a two story exhibit hall with tall rotunda and as much room for corridors and balconies as for exhibits. History exhibit include Crossroads of Texas, the Strecker Cabinet of Curiosities, the early
cretaceous period, life in caves and forests, the mammoth site, Texas lifeways, the history of BU, among others. The two story Discovery section has sixteen rooms that treat children of all ages to hands on studies of everything from optics to water to energy to simple machines to Native Americans. A huge theatre and gift shop also spoke of the rotunda, and a working model train highlights the entrance to Discovery. Walking the glass floor over the archeological dig was a bit unnerving!

We finally blew out of Waco on March 24, three days after my birthday, with medical progress for both Teddy and me. Or so we hoped.

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