Beto O'Rourke
Jan 17, 2019 · 5 min read

This was the most intense fog I’d seen. A thick all encompassing blanket. I figured that by the time I’d finished breakfast at the Pancake House in Liberal (top three pancakes I’ve ever had) the sun would burn through, but it didn’t.

I left Liberal with a full stomach, and with gratitude for my hosts at Southwind. But since I came in at night and left in a fog, I had no idea what the town really looked like.

The same was true on the stretch of 54 that took me to Bucklin. Two lanes and no passing because you couldn’t really see the oncoming traffic. I stopped in Meade, saw where the Dalton gang had their hideout, and moved on.

I got to Bucklin about noon. James O’Rourke and Anna Lloyd, my great grandparents, got married here in 1906. I thought I’d see what the town was like, maybe learn why they were married here before they moved to Tucumcari.

I checked in at city hall, asked where I could find marriage records going back to 1906. The woman behind the plexiglass told me I might try the library. I asked about food and she suggested the Bucklin Bar and Grill but warned me it would be closing soon.

I walked in to find an empty restaurant, save for a woman quietly eating her lunch. She looked up and asked if she could help me.

Still open for lunch?

She thought for a second and then said sure.

As I took my seat at one of the few tables that had been cleared and cleaned, she said our special today is an open faced roast beef sandwich, mashed potatoes and green beans. She said it in such a way as to suggest that this was what I was going to order. I ordered the special. It was brought out within a couple of minutes by a young woman, perhaps her daughter.

It became evident that it was just the two of them, cooking and serving all the food and cleaning up after everyone. It’s a big place, and a lot of work for two. The first woman, whose lunch I’d interrupted, told me she’d taken over the place in August. Had worked there for a year before that. I asked her how the restaurant did, how she did, financially. She told me she wasn’t getting rich. But that she enjoyed the work and that as the only full service restaurant in Bucklin, the town needed it.

The food was excellent, finished everything on my plate. Completely satisfied.

Taking all of this on — the daily tasks of running the restaurant and the responsibility for holding up one of the key pillars of Bucklin — had to be hard. I could tell as much when she answered a call from someone and apologized for not getting back to them sooner — she was slammed that day and hadn’t had time to clear the tables, much less return phone calls. I was grateful that she’d stayed open for me and impressed at her commitment to a town that she was relatively new to (she and her husband had moved from Michigan not too long ago).

After I paid she walked me over to the window to point out the library down the street and I was on my way, out into the cold and fog.

The Bucklin library is nice. Clean, lots of light, and new. Quiet, as I guess a library should be. There were no marriage records (I think I heard the librarian say that they are kept in Minneola), but the librarian found a couple of books that described the history of the town (Century of Stars: History of Bucklin by the Centennial Book Committee; and Bucklin, the Little Wonder by EnAvant Civic Club).

Tough people. Made a life for themselves and others.

I read about Frank Gresham who in 1904 installed the first phones, running most of the lines on barbed wire. He worked the switchboard himself, later having to hire an operator who worked the day shift while he worked the night shift. Made me think of the woman running the bar and grill.

I liked this: “According to the bylaws of the telephone company, all persons were allowed to eavesdrop at all times except Sunday from 2pm until 11pm. These hours were exclusively for young folks.”

In 1906 Dr. Fannon completed a power house at the rear of his drug store, installing a 6 horse engine on a cement foundation for the purpose of illuminating his business, the meat market, the barber shop and the jewelery store.

I also read that around this time Bucklin was made the division point by the railroad company. Might be what brought James and Anna to town, since James worked for the railroad. I learned that the railroad employees had to build their own homes as there were none to rent. By 1905 there were 57 men working. The round house had capacity for 10 engines at a time (with 18 waiting) and around 140 tons of coal were handled at the chutes each day.

I read bits and pieces of later history. Stories of pancake races (“all gals entering the Pancake Race… should bring their own skillets and running shoes.”); the first phonograph that came to town and the early radio broadcasts; Deputy Sheriff Stofer busting someone during Prohibition for four gallons of hootch. The hootch looked like “a cross between vanilla extract and bedbug poison or cockroach dip.”

From 1923: “Visit by the Klan at revival services of Methodist Church. 5 members of the Ku Klux Klan, wearing the robes of the order, visited church and contributed $50 but refused the invitation to stay for the services.”

I saw pictures of massive dust storms during the Great Depression. The clouds look unreal, like science fiction. True hardship, true grit to survive it and come out the other side.

A lot there. I wanted to learn more, I could have spent all day in the library, but also wanted to keep moving.

I thanked the librarian and got back in the truck and on the foggy road to Dodge City.

    Beto O'Rourke

    Written by

    El Paso, Texas.

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