On a beautiful Senior-Day Thursday, my wife, Judy, and I boarded the Dart Rail in Carrollton for an adventure at the State Fair of Texas. Our impression of what we saw this year? It all seemed a bit tired and overdone. Even the sheep and pigs in the livestock barns seemed bored with the whole process. The obligatory corn-dogs and funnel cakes were gobbled down with gusto, although to our waistline’s chagrin. We dodged the crowds, wheel-chairs, walkers, and motorized scooters for a couple of hours and then made our way back to the entrance where we boarded the Green Line for Carrollton.
This is where things got interesting. As we left the Fair Park Station and railed our way west and north my mind started a journey back in time. First my thoughts were of Fair Park and those days in the 1950s when I would spend the entire day at the State Fair, my mind fairly boggled at the marvels to be seen. Side shows, crazy rides, and those amazing new cars were wonders to experience and behold. All this was ours for about $2.00 – saved up for weeks in advance. The whole park was filled with grade-school kids, wading through ankle-deep trash on the Midway, and just enthralled with the sights and sounds of it all. After spending all our money, we would hang out in the food and fiber building hoping for handouts.
Rolling further along the rail-line, I was amazed at all the current construction around Baylor Hospital and the eastern end of downtown. There, in my mind’s eye, was my dad’s Sinclair gas station on Second Avenue where I worked for a while after high school. It was a rather lazy, laid back place with not a great amount of business happening, and a lot of time to just sit around and wait for lunch. Washing cars, changing oil, and filling up the coke machine took up most of my time. Remember, this was the time when a car came into the station the attendant filled the gas tank, checked the oil, cleaned the windshields, and checked the air pressure in the tires. All of that came to an end when my father died at nearby Baylor Hospital in 1961. You can no longer tell where his gas station was.
Moving toward downtown Dallas, we passed what is left of Crozier Tech High School. Just a shell now, but thankfully, it is being saved, and partially restored as part of a commercial project on Bryan Street. I spent six weeks there one summer in the mid-50s making up a flunked English class in junior high. It was an eye-opening experience for me. The teacher that I had during the regular year, Miss McClain, cared more about her appearance and chumming with the popular girls in our class than finding out why I was not doing well. She intimidated and scared the hell out of me. I could have done with some careful counseling. So, I failed the class. Then, there in summer-school was wonderful Mrs. Venable. I could see in her eyes the pride she took in teaching and feel how proud she was of me for the work I did those six week. I easily passed the class, and took the lesson learned with me.
Across the street, the Plaza of the Americas is still there, where I spent a small but important part of my banking career at Texas Commerce Bank. Texas Commerce was one of those Texas-based banks that was gobbled up by the big guys in the 1980’s banking debacle. Another place where lessons learned helped me through the rest of my career.
And the train rolled on, as I captured glimpses of the Republic Bank Building, Thanksgiving square, First National Bank Building, Sanger Harris Department Store, and One Main Place – all places frequented when I worked downtown in the 60’s and 70’s. Surprisingly the buildings are still there, although now being used for much different purposes.
Approaching Lamar Street, I could see a block away the tall parking garage where once stood the Texas Bank and Trust building. Memorable because this is where I met my future wife, Judy Macken, and where I began my banking career. The career lasted 45 years, the marriage is going on its 51st. The thought of that gang of young bankers that we met there, some of whom are still friends, bring back many warm memories. Those were our salad days, when we were ready to conquer the world.
Sliding on down the track, I caught a quick glimpse of the Jewish Holocaust Museum, and then there it is – the School Book Depository with Dealey Plaza beyond. My mind flashes back more than 50 years. A raw Army recruit sworn in and shipped off to Fort Polk, Louisiana on November 19, 1963, when on that ugly Friday we all got the news that President Kennedy was no more. Ripped away from home for the first time, in a place where I did not care to be, doing things I did not want to do, I wondered – have I fallen into hell?
Around a curve we traveled past the American Airlines Center and again into scenes of amazing new construction. Where the Dallas Power and Light tangle of electrical towers and wires once provided the power to a young city, I now saw towers of glass and steel providing expansion upward for an ever-growing metropolis. Even Goat Hill has been taken over by high-rise apartments. Little Mexico is no more.
Gliding on I see a building that was built to resemble the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, but here houses technology businesses. I can hear in my mind’s ear the roar of high-school kids in the 1950’s as they cheered their teams to victory, when this place was the location for a football field – first called Dal-Hi, then Cobb Stadium. The players all have gone home and the cheer-leaders are silent now.
On northward we proceed, past the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital where a nephew’s life was saved in the 1950’s. Parallel to Harry Hines Boulevard, the train makes a stop at the new Parkland Hospital. But, it’s the old Parkland that brings a jarring memory. My dad, after a terrible highway construction accident that brought my brother’s life to an early end, had to identify his disfigured face at Parkland. It is a memory that haunts me still. He never recovered from that loss and died a short year later. The doctors said his death was due to medical reasons, but part of the cause had to be a broken heart.
We are off again, and this time it’s Love Field. I’m back again to November, 1963. A place that I had just flown out of three days earlier for my appointment with Uncle Sam, now saw a handsome young president and his beautiful wife land for a glorious day in Dallas. There was the pink suit and pill box hat, red roses and big white cowboy hats. The procession traveled Lemon Avenue and on through downtown Dallas until it reached that place none of us can forget.
For years, I had a prayer as I watched films of the whole event, that somehow we should be able to make it un-happen. Just stop the film. I first heard the terrible news at Fort Polk coming out of a clinic for an eye exam. Three days in, and we were being fitted for GI glasses. There was white-faced Walter Cronkite, on a television in the waiting room, telling us that our president was dead. Later, sitting on the steps at our barracks, one black kid just lost it, and cried into his folded arms. His hero was gone.
And on we sped – Bachman Lake, Northwest Highway and what used to be the “Circle”, a failed experiment of a European round-a-bout. While it existed, it was one of the highest traffic accident spots in America. Once again paralleling Harry Hines Boulevard, I can see the backs of all the Asian discount shopping spots and massage parlors along that thoroughfare.
Then we pass those streets that were new in the 1960s – Walnut Hill Lane, Royal Lane, Forest Lane – where thousands of ranch-style houses were built and bought up by young new families, as Dallas expanded northward. Those families are all gone now – children grown up and parents moved into senior living or cemeteries. The houses remain and new families have moved in to repeat the cycle.
Then we pass under LBJ Freeway and are almost home. As we pause at the Farmers Branch Station I catch a glimpse of First Baptist Church, where I know, just to the east is a historical marker for Peters Colony – one of the original land grants given by the Republic of Texas some 175 years ago. Peters Colony covered a good chunk of North Texas, but all that is left now is the marker, and a cemetery filled with many of the settlers from that time. That’s about as far back as I will go on this mind trip.
Passing Old Downtown Carrollton with its shops and restaurants, we hop off the train at the elevated station, leaving behind our so-so State Fair Adventure, and a long-remembered trip through time.