Tag Archives: Ann Richards

The Derailers story posts in Americana Rhythm Music magazine Nov. 3

3 Nov

DerailersbestbandphotoOne of the original and founding members of The Derailers, Brian Hofeldt, calls the Broken Spoke the band’s “natural habitat,” while “living and working as door-to-door honky-tonk salesmen.”

Twenty years ago, the band influenced by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, found a home at least once a month on stage at the Broken Spoke, a refuge from their peak of touring 320 days a year. Hofeldt later co-wrote a song about it, entitled “Cold Beer, Hot Women and Cool Country Music.”

Hofeldt together with guitarist and lead singer Tony Villanueva, formed the band that has since produced 10 albums on two different major record labels, as well as four independent labels and beat the all-time attendance records at Austin’s Broken Spoke over its 50-year history.

Villanueva left in 2003 to pursue other interests and since then, Hofeldt has fronted the band.

The Derailers began working at the Broken Spoke in 1995, after leaving a substantial gig where they played every Wednesday at The Continental Club in Austin.

“We had these ‘Train Wreck Wednesdays’ we called them when we did them at the Continental Club and we were packing that room out to such an extent that we needed to come over here to The Spoke. We had a good thing goin’ so we asked James (White) if we could bring our Wednesdays over here,” Hofeldt said.

“That led to great success, creating much more room for the dancers and it was a room that we always wanted to be in. It was the Broken Spoke; it was legend because of all the people who have played here and it’s the most honest door in town. It’s always been the top place for a country band.”

BrianHcloseupHofeldt said his band performs today what fellow musician and friend Dale Watson refers to as, “Ameripolitan music.”

“Watson’s idea stems from the concept that if Americana music comes from Woody Guthrie,  then Ameripolitian comes from Jimmy Rogers. Ameripolitan music borrows musical concepts from Americana, roots, country, hillbilly, rockabilly and honky tonk genres,” he said.

Hofeldt and Villanueva met in Portland, OR, a place some regard as Austin’s “sister city.” The Northwestern coastal town remains cold and rainy most of the year and lacks what Hofeldt deems to be the single most important ingredient to launching his band’s success in 1994.

“One of the many interesting and unique aspects of Texas is the dance hall scene. The Broken Spoke being one of the main and greatest ones in the state of Texas, to me, it’s the greatest honky tonk in the known universe.  That’s just my opinion, but I think a lot of people share it,” he said.

“People come together here. You’ll have patrons from eight to 80 years old. Grandparents and the whole family come. That’s something unique that didn’t exist up in Oregon.”

Moving to Austin from Portland as a 26-year-old musician felt a lot like “going to trade school,” he said.

“I came to Austin in 1992-1993, and it was just full of all these great guitar players and musicians. Rent was still cheap then and breakfast tacos were 79 cents. There was this university of 50,000 kids, half of whom were girls – more than half. It just seemed like heaven,” he said. “The weather was good and it was just fantastic.”

Hofeldt said that his friend, Villanueva, first discovered Austin on his way traveling to Nashville; when he stopped here he just never left.

“He said to me, ‘You gotta come down and visit.’ So I came down to visit in ’91 or ’92 and I just was blown away. There were all these great bands, this great music scene and Tony made sure to take me here to the Broken Spoke. I think that’s part of the tradition — whenever anyone comes to town, people bring them to the Broken Spoke,” he said.

“I probably saw Alvin (Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys.) We went to a whole lot of places too that don’t even exist anymore, like Henry’s and The Black Cat.”

Villanueva and Hofeldt formed a special bond as former bandleaders of their own separate bands, but they also played together in another band as sidemen before moving from Portland to Austin.

“The singer from that band went ‘AWOL’ one time, right in the middle of recording. We were making a record, so Tony said ‘Hey, I could try singin’ a few of these tunes.’ The bandleader told him to give it a shot. As soon as Tony started singin’ he just brought the band up to a level where it had never been before,” Hofeldt said.

“Tony was, and still is, an exceptional singer. He has a charismatic, wonderful voice. That’s when he blew me away in the studio, hearing how he came across on tape and how great he was. After that, he and I talked and decided to get our own band goin’.”

Hofeldt said both he and Villanueva decided to take their music in a different direction. Shortly after, Villanueva moved to Austin. Hofeldt followed Villanueva and afterwards the two almost immediately put together a band here.

“It’s funny. We put together the band and we had a gig. There were four of us. We booked a gig before we even had a name. We were at a typical outdoor Austin barbecue and started throwin’ around ideas. Both Tony and I had grandfathers who worked for the railroad,” he said.

“So, we sort of wanted a railroad theme, but we also felt a little hubris and thought we’d help put country music back on the right track.  We thought we’d ‘derail’ the status quo and do our own thing, which was essentially keeping closer to the roots of country music.”

Villanueva had been writing original music and the two of them began to write together for this new band.

“Tony presented me with a handful of songs at that point that I thought were great. He had played some of them for me before he moved here to Austin. I actually did a couple of his songs in my solo act that I was doing back in Portland,” he said.

“Tony’s songs had made an impression on me as well as his singing. We had a kinship and we sang together really naturally too. We had such a connection – one like you just don’t really find more than one of in life. It was a beautiful thing.”

Hofeldt quit his job laying carpet. Villanueva quit his job working as a custodian at Motorola.  They began a small painting company together called, ‘The Detailers’, to go along with the band name and did this between gigs while waiting for the band to take off.

“Austin was booming in ’93 and I had gotten a job at a carpet-laying company. I’d never laid carpet before,” he said. “But everybody was hiring, so I just picked that because it was good money — but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

Hofeldt some years later saw his former boss in the crowd at the Broken Spoke when the Derailers performed.

“He’d come out and seen us before, and he reminded me that he remembered me sayin’ ‘Carl, I didn’t move to Austin to lay carpet. I’ve got to quit, man.’  And eventually, we quit our jobs to go at music full time.” Hofeldt said.

The band took this town by storm.

“We were fortunate. We had a magical partnership and the timing was perfect.  Country music had gotten bigger than it ever was before. That was the Garth Brooks’ heyday. Everybody, like Alan Jackson sang, had ‘Gone Country.’ Country was just so big it created room for Alternative Country — the same way it was with rock n roll — and Texas was big too.” he said.

“That’s when Ann Richards was governor. She was popular and good to musicians too. Folks at the capital started to focus more on Texas music as far as some legislative changes were concerned, including a law which allows, if you’re a recording and working musician, that any equipment you buy and is used for recording in the state of Texas, you don’t have to pay sales tax on it. So, that was the state puttin’ their money where their mouth was. That helped even more to make Austin the ‘Live Music Capital of the World.’ That’s cool because a lot of times, people only pay lip service to things.”

Hofeldt said that he realized at the time that his and Villanueva’s fortunes depended upon securing a future playing at the Broken Spoke.

“He (owner James White) already knew of us; we had come in and had talked to him before and had asked him for gigs. I think (White’s youngest daughter,) Ginny White had been out to our ‘Train Wreck Wednesdays’ at the Continental Club and had told her daddy about that. She helped us to get in,” he said.

“She must’ve been barely just 21 at that time when I was 27 or 28 and Steve Wertheimer, the owner of the Continental Club, was good friends with James. I’ve always said that the three greatest club owners in this town were James White, Steve Wertheimer and the late-great Clifford Antone – all of whom would spend time at the Broken Spoke.”

He said the three club owners visited one another’s clubs often in those days.

“It’s unusual. You don’t see a lot of club owner go to other clubs. When we moved our ‘Train Wreck Wednesdays’ over to here, Steve Wertheimer was in the audience every Wednesday, even though we had moved from his club,” Hofeldt said.

Also fortuitously, another one of Wertheimer’s friends included John Kunz, owner of Waterloo Records, who became a partner in Watermelon Records, the Derailers’ first label, after their local release, Live Tracks, on the fledgling Freedom label. The Derailers’ sweet Austin beginnings had launched a worldwide musical career.

“It’s good to count your blessings and to look back and be thankful for the good fortunes that presented themselves. I have to say though, that we really, really worked hard in addition,” he said.

“When you’re given an opportunity like that, you have to take advantage of it and just work your butt off  — and we did.”

In 1998 alone, the Derailers worked 320 gigs, often zigzagging across the United States and the globe.

“That was sometimes two-a-day shows – sometimes during the day at a record store or radio station, and later at a club. We did a lot of work that year. I would also say that in the surrounding years of 1997 and 1999 we worked around 275 days and in 1995 and 2000 we worked around 250. We really, really worked hard,” he said.

“That’s when we moved to weekends here (at the Broken Spoke) and because we were on the road so much we couldn’t do a residency anymore, (like the Wednesday gigs were). So we did a weekend once a month – which is generally what most bands do here. Our once a month at the Spoke ensured that we’d be home at least once a month. So it was our saving grace really; it always has been.”

He said he remembers otherwise passing through Austin, just another stop on their tours throughout the United States and all across the world.

“At least we got to be in our own homes one night though, two maybe, and always back here at the Broken Spoke,” Hofeldt said.

“That’s just what you have to do. We were door-to-door honky tonk salesmen.”

Burnout followed. The Derailers  had signed with two major labels, including Sire Records, a division of Warner Brothers Records and then Sony Records and Lucky Dog to produce their albums.

“Our first major was the label that produced the Pretenders, the Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Madonna, — bands not exactly in our genre, but a great label with a great label head who was just a real fan of music, (cofounder and chairman of Sire Records,) Seymour Stein, who still runs that label, if I’m not mistaken,” Hofeldt said.

“Then we were with Sony out of Nashville for a couple of records after that. When you’re with two major labels like that they want you out there sellin’ their product, so, we were out on the road all of the time – it was a burnout.”

The consequences proved detrimental to their personal lives. He remembers feeling “a little bit of tension in the studio” as early as 1998 while working on the Derailers’ album, Full Western Dress, which included a cameo performance by Buck Owens himself. The band’s members felt overworked and torn between their musical careers and their personal lives, Hofeldt said.

“It was just building up in a lot of areas in our lives, personally,” he said. “Tony had a family. He was the only one who had a family at the time, so I think it was hardest on him, for sure. He would come back off the road and his kids would be taller. All those days he missed were really hard on him.”

Not long after the release of the album, Villanueva fell ill.

“Tony got real sick. He was in ICU with pneumonia.  We had to do a week or two of gigs without him. It was scary. He didn’t look good and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Hofeldt said.

“He became a born again Christian and I think his priorities just changed completely. He wanted to focus on his family and then spreading the message, so he wasn’t really interested in music anymore. It wasn’t like it was an angry breakup or anything.”

Hofeldt said meanwhile, he filed for divorce from his own marriage about that same time.

“I was married at the time and trying to get out of that marriage. I was married to a Texas woman. I had never had anyone pull a gun on me before, but my wife pulled a gun on me when I wouldn’t shut off the TV,” he said.

“I thought maybe all Texas women were like that. I just kind of took it in stride. Later I realized that it was not really a healthy thing. I just didn’t have time really to even get divorced. That’s how busy we were.”

Hofeldt eventually divorced and found his true love, Tiffany Hofeldt, a professional photographer in Austin.

“With Tony leaving, it really changed things up. That really threw me for a loop,” Hofeldt said. “The divorce with my first wife was something that was inevitable. It was bound to happen, I just needed time to do it, but Tony leaving was like a real divorce – or a death in the family, more like. He was still around, but he quickly moved back to Oregon. I lost my musical partner, so I was afloat for a while there.”

Meanwhile, Hofeldt decided to step up his musical game and to lead the band that included drummer and percussionist Scott Matthews, Ed Adkins on bass and vocals, and pedal steel and Dobro player Chris Schlozhauer as well as “Sweet” Basil McJagger, who played piano and organs. Matthews and McJagger remain as original band members of the Derailers to this day.

“I had three or four other musicians lookin’ at me like ‘What are we goin’ to do?’ So I had to do something. So I finally decided to do something. There was no way I was going to replace Tony; he was irreplaceable in my heart and physically in every way. I couldn’t get anyone who could sing with me that way,” Hofeldt said.

“I had always sung harmony with Tony, but it was only on a quarter of the songs that I sang the lead stuff — kind of like the front man.  I just felt like it wasn’t going to work to try to replace Tony with another singing partner with me. We had always joked that Tony was a little bit country and I was a little bit rock and roll – kind of like Donny and Marie (Osmond.) That’s what kind of made up the sound of our band.”

He said that the band had to meet their obligations to perform at places already on the schedule. Once the Derailers met those dates, they continued to tour and began planning a new album. Two years passed. In 2005 the Derailers recorded their hit Soldiers of Love album and released it to stores in 2006.

“It was little bit of a lull in recording, but not much of a lull in live performing. We kept on going and it was probably as important as anything at that point to reintroduce the newly modified Derailers back to everybody,” he said.

“Take it as you will, like or not like it as much — however you want it, we let them know we were still alive and well. In this business, if you’re not around awhile, people forget about you real quick.”

Hofeldt admitted that the Derailers have been lucky over the years.

“We’ve been lucky, yes we have and I think our home base, the Broken Spoke was such an essential part of that. James kept us on here and there was probably a lull in attendance for a year or so and then it popped back up,” he said.

“I believe that as far as his regular bands who come through here, we were one of his consistently best-drawing bands. I think we still hold the record of attendance here.”

From 2001 through 2003, the Derailers broke all previous records for drawing capacity crowds at the Broken Spoke, he said.

“One night, we had around 968 folks out at one show. They came in and out. They weren’t here all at the same time,” Hofeldt said. “You can’t keep the people away. They all wanted to be here. That’s tough. I always say that we had 968 total. Not at the same time. Some came in and some went out — just to be clear for the sake of the fire marshall.”

He said that in 2006 the Derailers found their sweet spot again with their fans.

“We did what we did by sticking to our roots, from where we came from, which was the Texas dance hall scene, simply the Broken Spoke. We had learned how to entertain from this room and that required playing a variety of music,” he said.

“They don’t want the same beat all the time. A lot of our music was oriented towards dancers and out of that came a variety of music that just made up our sound. It’s hard to tell which came first – the chicken or the egg, there, but I think that’s what kept the people comin’ back even when things had changed a little bit.”

It helped that their fans associated the Derailers’ music to a band, instead of a single person or front man. White’s support also motivated Hofeldt, he said.

“Everybody knows the name of The Beatles, but not everybody knows the names of the guys in Steppenwolf, for example. So, in that regard I was fortunate. ‘Where’s that other guy?’ was sort of the extent of what people asked,” he said.

“They just kept accepting us and James believed in us and believed that we’d come back and that was a big part of it too. Having somebody that we knew and trusted for that many years to keep believing in me, meant a lot to me personally.”

During their banner year of 2006, the Derailers began to represent the Broken Spoke. The band also began to draw a newer crowd that never questioned its musical origins.

It drew the attention one patron, legendary songwriter James E. “Buzz” Cason, who had already written songs for The Beatles, Pearl Jam and U2. Cason co-authored his greatest hit, “Everlasting Love,” with Mac Gayden before 1967 when Robert Knight recorded the song.

“We just had our heads down and were workin’ to make this thing continue. Soldiers of Love was our first record without Tony and we had a song on it that album called ‘Cold Beer, Hot Women, and Cool Country Music’ which we wrote about the Broken Spoke,” Hofeldt said.

“There’s a line in there ‘Got me a table with my name right on it,’ and it includes a bit of James’ nightly spiel: ‘We’ve got cold beer, good music, good whisky, home of the best chicken fried steak in town…’ So we were kind of thinkin’ about that when I wrote that song with my pal, Buzz Cason.”

Cason had come out to watch the Derailers at the Broken Spoke and befriended Hofeldt.

“When you’re first impressed by the Broken Spoke it hits you pretty strong. I think his (Cason’s) impressions were still fresh when he said ‘Man, comin’ out to see you guys – cold beer, hot women, and cool country music sort of sums it up.’ I went to his place in Nashville and we wrote it,” he said.

The old Derailers fans remained loyal as well. Waterloo Ice House, used their song as a soundtrack for a radio commercial.

“I had to re-sing that part ‘Cold beer, good food at the Waterloo Ice House.’ It all helped,” he said.

Then after Buck Owens’ death March 26, 2006, the Derailers began work on a tribute album to him, entitled: Under the Influence of Buck, that included 13 of the country music star’s classic hits. They released the album in 2007.

“He had been a big influence on us. He had 22 number one songs, so even picking out of his number ones would have been too much for an album,” Hofeldt said. “Buck had played here too. He used to tour around with his guitar player, Don Rich, and sometimes just pick up a band in the early days.”

Often in the middle of their show at the Broken Spoke, White joins the Derailers on stage to sing a medley of Owens’ songs.

The Derailers traditionally play lots of other legendary songs once performed by their original singing stars at the Broken Spoke, including Charlie Walker’s hit, “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.” The Derailers perform Walker’s dance hall classic, written by the late great Harlan Howard, every Saturday night that they perform at the Broken Spoke.

Hofeldt said that he feels a fraternity of friendship among the photos of all the stars who have performed at the Broken Spoke in the last five decades. He said he shares that feeling with other regularly performing musicians who play at the Broken Spoke including Alvin Crow, Cornell Hurd, and Dale Watson.

“It’s interesting and really cool to be part of the legendary aspect of this dance hall,” he said.

At the end of every Saturday night when they perform there, the Derailers sing the old Hank Williams’ song, “I Saw the Light.” White and his son-in-law, Mike Peacock, often join them on stage to sing along.

“I’ll say: ‘It’s technically Sunday morning now, everyone. It’s after midnight; it’s technically Sunday so we’ll send you out with a little gospel number,’” Hofeldt said.

“We used to do ‘Good Night Irene,’ but then we switched over to doin’ ‘I Saw the Light.’ It’s just become our tradition of the way we end the night here at the Broken Spoke – a little gospel ending there. Though, I’m sure some of them are not going to make it to church too early.”

Hofeldt equates the Broken Spoke to a place where fans for 50 years have gone to worship live country music — it has its own “magical and legendary” spirit, captured in photographs within its hallowed dance hall walls.

“As I say, it’s the greatest honky tonk in the known universe. It is and everybody knows it. It’s in Texas and ‘Texas music is better,’ as Cornell Hurd says,” Hofeldt said.

White’s often demonstrates an evangelical-like persona during nights at the Broken Spoke, as he welcomes visitors from near and as far away as Japan, Norway, and the Netherlands, he said.

“There’s a timeless aspect to walkin’ into the Broken Spoke on any given night. I’d say it could have been or feels like 1964, when James first opened the Spoke. James and Annetta built it and opened it and he’s still standin’ there greeting everyone who comes to the door,” he said.

“That’s also something that is very, very special to people – the fact that they got to meet Mr. James White. It’s not like he has to do that. This is a successful brand and place. He does it because he loves it. He loves being part of this empire that he’s built at the Broken Spoke. He’s grateful to those people as we all are, for comin’ out, and he wants to thank them and invite them in. That really makes big difference about how people perceive where they’ve visited.”

Both James and Annetta White suffered through health problems in recent years  — he has had his share of heart troubles and she battled and survived cancer. Still, the two remain tougher and stronger than ever. They have a perfect relationship that works well, Hofeldt said.

“I see him as vital as ever, more so in some ways and that’s really awesome. We’re like a family all of us,” Hofeldt said.

“I’m just happy that James is as good as ever and Annetta whipped cancer’s ass. That’s how she’d say it too.”

Hofeldt said just like a family, the Whites each have roles to play. Acting as a disciplinarian, Annetta White, has been “mad as a hornet” at times with him. Most recently Annetta White let him know how she felt when the Derailers performed an extended version of the song, “Susie Q,” originally recorded in 1956 by rockabilly singer, Dale Hawkins. Creedence Clearwater Revival popularized the song also covered by the Rolling Stones in 1964.

“She did not mince words with me about how she did not want to hear that song in here anymore,” he said.

“I said, ‘Gee, it hurts my feelings that you don’t like my music. It’s an old classic song.’ That’s how I played it. I didn’t argue or get mad back at her because she gets over it quick. She’s really sweet inside. She really is. She’s the first one to give me a hug when I come back here.”

He said he always imagined himself as a leader of a country band. His life is great.

“I’m living my dream. I feel very fortunate. Sometimes, I just focus on that. Like Carl Jung says, ‘We are always happiest when we are dreaming.’ We are dreaming about what we want to achieve or what our lives will be like in the future, that’s when we’re happiest. But those things happen to you and you pass them by and push them away because you’re always looking ahead,” Hofeldt said.

“There are so many times that I’ve done that in my life. My life is great and it’s due in no small part to my relationship with James and Annetta White and the Broken Spoke. It’s no small part and that’s somethin’ that I’m grateful for and will always keep me deeply connected to this place.”

Other original members of the Derailers include Matthews and McJagger, as well as Vic Gerard, who has returned to the band after a hiatus from raising a family.  He originally performed as a Derailer in the 1990s. Occasionally, Mike Daily, will also sit in to play steel when he’s not performing with the Ace in the Hole band, now that George Strait has stopped touring.

 Here’s the link to my story posted in the Americana Rhythm Music magazine: http://issuu.com/djgregt/docs/arissue54web/1

Oak Hill’s old-timers tell tales about ‘good ‘ol days’

22 Feb

OakHillFour long-time residents of Oak Hill: James Wier, James White, Archie Enochs and his sister Linda Enochs, remember the golden days of Oak Hill long before the intersection of US HWY 290 and Texas HWY 71 became a snarl of traffic and noise.

James Wier

Seventy-three year-old James Wier and his wife, Carolyn, lived in Oak Hill for more than 20 years while he managed road construction crews for Travis County commissioner Johnny Voudouris and then for Ann Richards.

While the family raised their sons, Mike and David, near Granada Hills subdivision, Wier volunteered both for the Oak Hill Volunteer Fire Department and later for the Oak Hill Volunteer EMS Department.

He retired in 2003 and moved his family’s homestead to Buda. These days he likes to sit and to tell stories about the Oak Hill he remembers, dirt roads and ranchland that stretched for miles.

“Whenever we had to put in a road, we had to do our research to make sure it was a community road. We were not allowed to work on private roads. Back in the 1960s the roads were mostly dirt and residents were paying their taxes, but we couldn’t work on any road unless it was approved by the county,” Wier said.

“We don’t know the history of the area around us anymore. But we can still be neighborly and talk to people and take the time to find out what was here before us.”

When he worked for the county Wier often spent his afternoons either in the basement of the Travis County courthouse digging through survey maps, or out in the community trying to figure out which roads the county owned and which it did not.

“We would sit down and talk to some of the old people who had been living in Oak Hill all their lives. The more I researched, the more I enjoyed the old-timers telling their stories about Oak Hill,” Wier said.

Wier said the Mexican government awarded William Cannon a land grant to own the acres stretching from Williamson Creek to Slaughter Lane, known as Oak Springs in 1835. Soon afterwards, settlers discovered an endless supply of cedar trees and natural limestone in the area.

In the early 1880s, the Austin and Oatmanville Railway Company built six miles of rail to transport quarried limestone downtown to be used in building the foundation and inner walls of the Texas capitol, Wier said.

    The train tracks began at Oatman Quarry, once located at the intersection of William Cannon Street and US HWY 290 West followed a route northeast on Convict Hill where they intersected with the Missouri Pacific (MoPac) railroad.  The local train tracks remained in place from 1884 until 1888, until the company removed the rails.

Only a few of the old railroad mounds still exist in the neighborhood. Set off by chain link fencing, the mounds still remain visible today when looking just to the west along MoPac/Loop 1 South between William Cannon and Davis Lane, Wier said.

“A lot of people just drive by and don’t know what those mounds are,” Wier said.

Oak Springs, soon became known as Oatmanville, as the community grew up around the former site of Oatman Quarry, owned by Buster Thomas. Skeeter Hudson owned the land where the quarry sat. Partners Thomas and Hudson operated the quarry through the 1960s until developers began building homes in the subdivision.

Texas prisoners, worked long hours in the quarry without pay, chained at the ankles nightly in a large cave where Oak Hill Centre shopping center now stands, Wier said.

“There was a cave there where the prisoners stayed at night,” Wier said. “They had wooden bunk beds and straw mattresses. There was a big iron ring embedded in the wall and at night when the prisoners went to bed, the bosses would run a chain through all their leg irons and attached them to the ring in the wall, so they couldn’t get out of bed at night and escape.”

Wier said the prisoners used a “cow dip” style water trough about 4 feet wide by 6 feet deep and 15 feet long for bathing and cleaning their clothes once a week.

“That was used for the prisoners to take their weekly baths and to wash their clothes. The prisoners would go in on one end and they would be handed a bar of lye soap and they would take a bath and wash their clothes at the same time, before coming out on the other end. At the end, they would put their clothes back on,” Wier said.

“When they (Thomas and Hudson) built the shopping center, they dug out the cave. Today there is no cave, no trough; there’s nothing there now. That’s all gone. All that was excavated. Where that cave was located, developers probably cut back that rock 50 or 60 feet deep.”

Wier owns a few artifacts excavated from the site in the early 1970s: a wheelbarrow’s wheel believed to have been used at the quarry and oil-burning lanterns likely used in the prisoners’ cave.

“When Buster Thomas and them were doing the excavation up there by Convict Hill, we were friends,” Wier said. “Digging around through the rocks, rubble and all, we found these things. We found the lanterns that they had used because they didn’t have electricity. They used kerosene lanterns.”

Wier recalls in the old days often eating lunch at a few landmark restaurants that have since disappeared in the area.

The site of the old Convict Hill restaurant once operated by Ralph Moreland, stood directly across the street on the north side of William Cannon and US HWY 290 West.

On the south side of US HWY 290, today where a parking lot serves bus commuters for Capital Metro transportation, stood the former site of the Big Wheel Restaurant, near where McCarthy Lane ends. Adjacent to the restaurant once stood a Phillips 66 gas and service station owned by Richards Oil Company.

Curly Glosson operated the Circleville Inn at 9926 Circle Drive, just off Thomas Springs Road from 1972 until 1998.  The location afterwards served as Kelli’s Up-N-Smoke Bar and Grill before it closed in 2012.

Wier remembers the Circleville Inn was the last place locals or travelers could buy alcohol before heading west either to Spicewood on TX HWY 71or to Johnson City on US HWY 290 West.

Wier regularly showed up at the Oak Hill Downs racetrack Saturdays to race his car, he said.

Wier said at times 50 to 60 teenagers showed up with their cars to race on weekends.

“Any kid who thought he had a fast car or the ‘baddest’ car would run. They were mostly stock cars; a few of them were souped up old cars. They were mostly high school kids having a good time,” Wier said. “It was a straight line track – a traditional weekly drag race.”

Nearby, on Friday nights, more experienced drivers raced on what Wier called “the round arounds,” an adjacent oval track.

Wier recalls that Dick Polk operated Polk’s Feed Store near the arena until Hill sold his property and Polk moved his business across the street. There, in 1992 Polk sold Texas’ first scratch off lotto ticket to then Gov. Ann Richards.

Richards served as Wier’s boss as Travis County commissioner while he managed road construction for TXDoT. The previous incumbent county commissioner, Johnny Voudouris, hired Wier in 1970.

“At that time we only had 33 people working for county staff and we had 353 miles of county roads,” Wier said.

     Voudouris also promoted the construction of MoPac/Loop1 South and Texas state highway Loop 360 even though the majority of Oak Hill residents at the time did not support the plans, Wier said. Voudouris also supported plans to extend MoPac South all the way out to US HWY 290 West and past the “Y” in Oak Hill.

“The (original) plan was to spend only about $15 million to extend MoPac South out to U.S. 290 West past the ‘Y,’ but people didn’t want it,” Wier said. “TXDoT folks said ‘ok, we’ll put that money someplace else,’ and they did.”

Oak Hill at one time used to be called “Cedar Chopper Hill,” Wier said.

“Everybody out here either worked rock, or they sold cedar posts and wood stuff,” Wier said. “They were the nucleus of families that helped get everything going. They worked to clear the land of the cedar and they sold the cedar posts.”

Wier remembers meeting Joe Tanner while he still worked as a blacksmith, but before he had a short-cut street named after him that runs from William Cannon to US HWY 290 West across McCarthy Lane.

“I first met Mr. Tanner in the early 1960s when he was over 80 then,” Wier said. “Tanner was probably there at the turn of the century around 1900. His little building was located at the corner of Joe Tanner and US HWY 290.”

Wier said Tanner Blacksmith Shop remained open until Skeeter Hudson bought the property from Tanner in the early 1970s.

James White

Seventy-four year-old James White has spent most of his life living and working in Oak Hill, as a member of one of the area’s oldest founding families.

White’s great-great-great grandfather once owned the Lazy SL Ranch where Freescale Semiconductors now stands and the historic building today that houses Austin Pizza Garden, at 6266 HWY 290 West.

The building first served as a general store owned and operated by the former Texas Ranger James Andrew Patton, and his wife, Virginia Bishop, from 1879 until 1909.

J.A. Patton helped to change the local subdivision’s name from Oatmanville to Oak Hill and soon became known as the “unofficial mayor of Oak Hill.” He also became the area’s first postmaster, operating a small mail center from inside his store until the U.S. Postal Service began to offer rural delivery service.

In 1970 then Gov. Preston Smith dedicated the official Texas Historical Landmark at the personal request of James and Annetta White and their eldest daughter, Terri Rene White.

“Governor Smith had dinner with us the night before and it was the only night that I ever had dinner with the governor of Texas at the Fortress. He ate a T-bone steak and he took some barbecue with him back to the governor’s mansion,” White said. “The next day he dedicated the historical landmark.”

White’s recalls that his youngest daughter, Ginny White-Peacock, learned how to walk inside the historic building, when the family operated the Fortress restaurant, downstairs.

The Whites started leasing out the building in 1977 to several businesses including The Natural Gardner, owned by John Dromgoole.  Not long afterwards, The Natural Gardner relocated to its current location at 8648 Old Bee Caves Road.

Willie Nelson’s daughter, Lana Nelson, for a time also leased space inside the Patton building, naming her restaurant Cowboy’s Steak House.

“Willie Nelson performed there in the 1980s — right there where the fire place is located inside,” James White said. “Lana told me one day, ‘Daddy wants to buy this place,’ but I said I appreciated the offer, but I didn’t want to sell it; I wasn’t interested in selling it then and I’m still not.”

Several sandwich businesses moved in and out of the Patton building before the early 1990s when Austin Pizza Garden opened.

J.A. Patton donated an acre of his land to build Oak Hill’s first elementary school where Don’s Grass company stands today at 6240 HWY 290 West. Austin Independent School Disrict built a new J.A. Patton Elementary School, at 6001 Westcreek in 1985.  J.A. Patton’s great-great-great grandson, James Lamar White Peacock, currently attends kindergarten there. His mom, Ginny Peacock, is James White’s daughter and she and her husband, Mike Peacock, also manage the Broken Spoke.

In the lobby of the school, a picture of J.A. Patton, donated by James White, hangs.

In 2000, the Whites co-authored and self-published the book, They Came to Texas, written about the Patton, the White and the Campbell families of Oak Hill.

James White remembers that as a teenager, quite a few establishments earned reputations along US HWY 290 West where it met Texas State HWY 71 at the “Y” in Oak Hill. One of those places included, The Moose Head Tavern, where an actual moose head hung on one wall inside the bar, home to a large dance hall.

On Saturday nights Moose Head patrons could count on a fight. As the evenings drew long and serious drinking began at the Moose Head, James White said he learned how to keep away from trouble, if anyone threw a punch or a bottle.

White also recalls that he used to drive his 1959 hard top black and white Chevy onto the parking lot of the Sportsman’s Inn, then a dimly-lit, 30-by 50-foot wooden-shingled building along US HWY 290 West near the “Y” in Oak Hill.

The cover charge at the door of the Sportsman’s Inn on Saturday nights paid for a band to play.

After a few beers, White said he would look for the prettiest girl he could find in the place, to either dance a two-step, a waltz, or the Cotton-Eyed-Joe.

On one particular night in 1961, a pretty blonde-haired girl dancing in a red dress on the dance floor there, caught his eye.

“That girl turned out to be the love of my life and my wife, Annetta Wells,” James White said.

James White and Annetta Wells dated before he enlisted in the U.S. Army and he went overseas during the fall of 1961. He returned home Nov. 10, 1964, and opened the Broken Spoke. The two married on a Thursday, Sept. 15, 1966 and they held their wedding reception there. White celebrates his 75th birthday with a public party at the Broken Spoke April 12, and they will celebrate the Broken Spoke’s 50th anniversary Nov. 10.

“That’s an accomplishment. I’ll be 75 this year that the Broken Spoke turns 50. What I did was kinda’ create a place like some of the places that we used to go to when I was a kid,” James White said. “I looked out over a vast Texas landscape and there wasn’t another building in sight except for a mile down the road on the right, the Austin city limits sign.”

The Broken Spoke stands not only as a 50-year-old landmark in Austin, but represents decades of country music stars who have performed there over the years including: Bob Wills and the original Texas Playboys, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Marcia Ball, Don Walser, George Strait, Ray Benson and the Asleep at the Wheel Band, Alvin Crow, Dale Watson, Bruce Robison, James Hand, Johnny Bush, Johnny Rodriguez, Rosie Flores and more.

Archie Enochs

At 68, Archie Enochs has lived his whole life in Oak Hill and he currently resides in the only house that still faces the highway at 6254 US HWY 290 West. He also sometimes works cattle on a ranch in San Angelo.

Traffic zooms by at speeds beyond 50 mph, just a few steps outside his front door daily, headed west towards Johnson City.

“I don’t have any problem with the traffic anymore than anyone else does. You kind of have to creep your way into the traffic from one signal to the next,” he said.

When he’s home in Oak Hill, he eats breakfast every morning at Jim’s restaurant across Texas HWY 71 or lunch daily at Austin Pizza Garden, his next door neighbor.

Archie Enochs remembers the former Big Wheel restaurant opening as the first 24-hours restaurant in Oak Hill.

“When it opened up, that was a lot of bright lights for Oak Hill. There was always a lot of activity there at the Big Wheel and it was a good place to get a get a cup of coffee,” Archie Enochs said.

He also helped to build Hart Field at the Oak Hill Little League Baseball fields at the corner of McCarthy and US HWY 290 West.

“I drove a dump truck. We cleared all the trees, piled up and burned them. We borrowed a front end loader and some other people brought some other equipment and we cleared out that area to build the ball field. When it opened, it didn’t have bleachers or a concession stand or anything like that. It was built up incrementally as funds became available,” Archie Enochs said.

  Linda Enochs

Archie Enochs’ younger sister, Linda Enochs, remembers as a young girl, buying soda pop and candy at Mrs. Martin’s Store where it operated out of the downstairs level of the Patton building.

She recalls that the upstairs of the Patton building served for years as the regular meeting place for Woodmen of the World organization.

“When I was little, Miss Martin lived in the back and ran that little store at the front of the building downstairs,” Linda Enochs said. “That’s were all of us kids went to buy a nickel Dr. Pepper and penny candy and things like that. I remember being old enough that Mom would send me for a loaf of bread and she would give me a quarter and I brought back 3 cents change.”

Linda Enochs also remembers that as a girl some of the top floor of the Patton building leased out apartments to private individuals.

She also remembers her maternal uncle, Archie Patton, operated three local racetracks nearby. He operated a horse racing track, an oval racetrack and a “straight away” track.

“I remember that little oval jalopy mud track for just old car racing, then he had a quarter mile drag track too,” Linda Enochs said. “Archie’s (Patton’s) idea was, if you had two things you needed to race ‘em – cars and horses. And he could sell beer while everyone was watching.”

Linda Enochs said the cars raced on the oval track well into the 1960s.

“The oval car track was hysterical – it was just a little oval with bank turns and they would just water that black dirt. It just made the greatest mud and the drivers would just spin their tires and throw mud into the air – it was wonderful,” she said.

Linda Enochs said she remembers the horse race track ran about three-tenths of a mile long.

“When I was little I would work the concession stand with my aunt. Of course, I couldn’t sell beer, but I could open the Dr. Peppers and make change,” she said.

The racetracks drew crowds of 200 or 300 people, who sat in stadium style seating.

She recalls that Archie Patton’s wife, Norenah Patton, until the 1970s ran the Oak Hill Steak House, just east of where the Shell Station stands at 8314 State HWY 71.

Linda Enochs also remembers Cecil Hill, a rancher, and his wife, Maxine, who kept a rodeo arena located near where Bank of America sits today at 5725 Highway 290 West. Hill allowed cowboys to rope steers and ride bulls there, but the place also served as a hangout for local children after school let out for the day.

“They built that arena and it was just a fun place to go. They held junior rodeos and Labor Day adult rodeo,” Linda Enochs said. “There was always something going on down there.”

The owners of a local feed store also looked after Oak Hill children after school, she said.

“I would just jump on my horse and ride up to my cousin, Bobby Miller’s and he and his sister would saddle their horses and away we’d go,” she said.

Linda Enochs, the daughter of Alvis “Buster” Enochs, said her father earned his nickname by being a bit of a cowboy in Oak Hill who broke horses and could rope them too.

She also loved riding horses at the former Patton Lazy SL Ranch in Oak Hill, where Freescale Semionductors Co. stands today at 6501 William Cannon. The Enochs knew Tanner well and they might have been some of his best customers.

“I used to ride my horse across 290. I know that’s hard to believe today. He was a big Sorrell horse with white stocking feet, so I called him ‘Socks,’” Linda Enochs said.

Buster Enochs’ wife, Erelene Enochs, worked at the Texas Public Service Company and drove into downtown daily. Linda Enochs recalls that it took her mother only seven minutes to drive from Oak Hill to Fourth and Congress streets daily.

Linda Enochs and her brother Archie Enochs tend to their ancestors’ graves inside Oak Hill Cemetery on Old Bee Caves Road, just a half mile off US HWY 290 West.

Her paternal great-great grandparents, James Maddison Patton and Sarah Jane Smithson-Patton, her great grandparents James “Jim” Andrew Patton and his wife, Virginia Bishop, and her grandparents Andrew Patton and his wife, Webster Grumbles-Patton, are buried there. Linda Enochs’ mother, Erelene Enochs also is buried there.

“It’s ours to take care of now,” Linda Enochs said. “On Mother’s Day we go out there to take flowers to Mom and all the grandmothers.”

Published in the Oak Hill Gazette http://oakhillgazette.com

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