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August 14, 2005

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The Great Whimsical Sherlockian Tour
of Oklahoma and Texas (2005)

Part 1

By Don Hobbs

After months of planning and routing and re-routing, The 2005 Great Whimsical Sherlockian Tour of Oklahoma and Texas finally happened. Brad Keefauver flew into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport from Peoria, Illinois on Wednesday, August 3. The leisurely stroll from the curb to the car was about the most time allotted for any activity for the next 5 days. We left the airport and immediately headed for the car rental place, where our "Hansom Cab" in the form of a 2005 Dodge Caravan awaited us. We were successful in taking the third one presented to us. This first task being accomplished boded well and we took it as a good omen for the days to come.

During the next few hours, other brave souls that would comprise the tour group kept straggling in. Dean Clark was the next participant to arrive. He drove down from Tulsa, Oklahoma where in just a few hours the tour would be returning. Rick Gold, the tour’s videographer was the last to arrive for the overnight sleepover portion of the tour. We did a bit of male bonding over several glasses of single malt scotch before retiring for a couple of hours of sleep.

Day One

On Thursday morning, Mike Miller came rolling in way before our scheduled departure time of 08:00. The Great Whimsical Sherlockian Tour of Oklahoma and Texas, or as it soon became known as – The Gee-Whiz-Tot (G.W.S.T.O.T.), began by zeroing the odometer and pulling out of the driveway at 08:06 on August 4, 2005. The final tour member, Herb Linder, was picked up along the way, thus making our merry band of Sherlockian travelers complete. We skillfully navigated the Dallas morning rush-hour traffic and eventually got onto Interstate 30, heading east toward Texarkana. Our goal was to reach Watson, Oklahoma before lunch.

The first goal of G.W.S.T.O.T. was achieved without incident except for driving right through Watson, Oklahoma the first time without even seeing it. We realized our mistake as soon as we hit the next town about 7 miles further down the road. Watson is indeed a very small town consisting of a single filling station/convenient store and a post office that looked like it was originally a storage shed bought from Home Depot. It was another good omen, well sort of I guess, that the price of gasoline was $221.9 per gallon. We found the elementary school where 30 years prior The Afghanistan Perceivers of Tulsa presented a commemorative plaque to the school. It was soon discovered that the plaque was nowhere to be found but one encouraging thing was the school’s janitor remembered the busload of Sherlockians who showed up in 1975.

Imagine the surprise on our faces when a lady who worked at the school started to offer her help by checking with anyone who had been around back in 1975 but stopped in mid-sentence and cried out, "Oh my God, it’s Don Hobbs!" As it turns out, I knew this woman named Bobbie Mathews from my previous life and had lost contact with her for the past 15 years or so. I was not the only one in total shock as it turned out. Our videographer was so stunned by this revelation that he forgot he had turned the camera off and so the entire episode was lost to film. I was so dumbfounded that I couldn’t even recall Bobbie’s first name until we had later left Watson in search of lunch.

Lunch proved to be no easy task. It seems that restaurants are a rare commodity in eastern Arkansas and western Oklahoma. Yes, our tour had to travel through a small portion of Arkansas to reach Watson, Oklahoma, population 50 or so. We did manage to find a local hamburger joint and satisfy our gnawing hunger pangs. We then proceeded in a general northeasterly direction toward Schulter, OK. Schulter is the home of Sherlock Homes, a mobile home sales facility with a large sign on U.S. highway 75 that features a silhouette of The Master. The owner, Mr. Nathaniel Monks, was more than happy to talk to us and allow our merry band to walk around and photograph his place. He told us that when his son was about 10 years old he suggested that if they ever owned a mobile home place like their grandfather, they should call it Sherlock Homes. Four years later, this is exactly what happened. He said he had collected plenty of Sherlockian items over the years from people that saw the sign and dropped in. We presented him with one of our official tour golf shirts.

Speaking of golf shirts, ours were a constant conversation piece. Dean Clark had the shirts made in sufficient quantity so that each tour member and videographer had a new one everyday. The shirts were beige with the tour’s logo and dates embroidered on the left breast in black. At one point along the tour, we were asked if we were a bowling team and at another stop we were thought to be the local football coaches out en masse. I am sure there were plenty of people too polite to ask us to our face why a group of middle aged men were all dressed in the same shirts, why we were in their town and what we were doing.

After leaving Schulter we rolled into Tulsa, home of the Afghanistan Perceivers. We joined some of the Perceivers at the White Lion Pub, this being the only English pub in Tulsa since the other establishment had closed a week earlier. We wound down our first day with excellent British grub, fine ale and interesting conversation. We retired for the evening at Dean’s place, too tired for much more than a few grunted good nights.

Day Two

We were up early with our internal batteries recharged. Bruce and Linda McCall, from Austin, Texas, had now joined us in Tulsa. It was just a short drive to the motel where the McCall’s were staying. We ate a filling breakfast and were off once more. Our first stop was at the Fitzgerald’s Funeral Home where we caught up with Dick Warner. Dick is the only living Baker Street Irregular in Oklahoma. Fitzgerald’s is the same funeral home once owned and operated by John Bennett Shaw and Dick thought this was as good as any place to begin the Tulsa portion of our tour. We paid our respects here because John was the sparking plug responsible for the founding of The Crew of the Barque LONE STAR and The Afghanistan Perceivers of Tulsa. Another reason we wanted to see Dick was because he was responsible for getting Holmes Peak named. This was the next stop on the tour. Dick explained to us how he had to petition the Pope requesting that Bald Hill be officially named Holmes Peak. He pointed to His Holiness Holmes’ assistance in solving the murder of Cardnal Tosca. The story entertained us for the better part of an hour before we piled back into our vehicles and headed north of town to the afore mentioned Holmes Peak.

We approached the "mountain" from the eastern face before circumnavigating it to the western face. The current owners are what might be called Sherlockian non-friendly, as they would not allow us access to their land. We took sufficient enough photographs and video footage to show any non-believer that we were really there. At this point we bid farewell to Mr. Warner and headed back into Tulsa to the Mayo Hotel. This was built at a time when downtown hotels were at their finest. It is a very tall, redbrick building that is sadly no longer used as a hotel. We were allowed access to the lobby that is still lined with autographed pictures of all of the illustrious clients that have stayed there. Charlie Chaplin, who played Billy the Page in the William Gillette play ‘Sherlock Holmes’, had his picture just to the right as you walk in. This was reason enough for visiting the Mayo and we were all in awe of its past elegance.

Our original tour plan was to head for Norman just south of Oklahoma City where the Oklahoma Geological Survey is located and then on to El Reno just west of there for what is reported to be a great hamburger place. There was a group decision made to take the more direct northern route while heading for our next location, Baker, Oklahoma and forego Geology and Burgers. It has been said that all good Sherlockians should have a photograph of a Baker street. As we drove west and drove and drove and drove some more, it soon became apparent that it was time to re-think our plans on going to Baker, Oklahoma. We reached Woodward, Oklahoma around 3 p.m. and called a summit. The ultimate goal for the day was to reach Sherlock, Texas and if we were to meet that goal Baker would need to be eliminated for our agenda. It was a unanimous decision to forego Baker and head to Sherlock, which was only about 100 miles from Woodward.

Sherlock, Texas is, as far as anyone knows, the only place in the United States named such. It can be found by using a large-scale geographical survey map. Located in the upper most, right hand corner of the Texas panhandle in Lipscombe County. According to my MapQuest directions it is 2.5 miles west of Follett, Texas on highway 15. Turn right on County Road 19 and head north about _ mile to the railroad crossing; this will put you in Sherlock, Texas. Imagine what the locals were thinking when they saw 2 carloads of people wandering around, without any outward purpose. The first local resident to approach us was Mr. Ed Peil (pronounced Peel). He came out of the manure-lot across and up the road on the right. We introduced ourselves and he confirmed that this was indeed Sherlock Switching Station. He said the area had been named thus by the railroad surveying team in 1907 making their way from Denver to Tulsa. He turned out to be quite a friendly and colorful man. He was born and raised in the area and as far as he knew, we were the first group of Sherlockians ever to visit Sherlock, Texas.

Once the other natives saw Mr. Piel had safely conversed with us, they must have decided it was okay if they did the same. Just after Mr. Peil departed, Mr. James Cates and his two sons arrived. One only need to see County Road 19 to understand that we were in the middle of nowhere and there was soon to became the equivalent of a traffic jam on this dusty County Road 19. Mr. Cates owned several pig barns just to the south of Sherlock. He was also very friendly and offered to take pictures of us. He may have just wanted some sort of solid evidence to present to the local sheriff in case anything went missing during our stay in Sherlock, Texas. A Mr. Shilling soon followed Mr. Cates. Each person left us shaking his or her head in disbelief.

I spent time walking the tracks about a half of mile on either side of where they crossed County Road 19 in hopes of finding a whiteboard sign proclaiming "Sherlock". Alas there was not a sign anywhere to be found but I did manage to pick up many railroad spikes strewn along the tracks. I plan to have these engraved with "Sherlock, Texas – Aug. 6, 2005." Brad Keefauver came up with an ingenious idea of creating a garden stepping stone as our "monument" to be used for our trip dedication, utilizing one of those kits that are sold at local nurseries. He created one that simply states "Sherlock, Texas. Dedicated Aug.6, 2005, G.W.S.T.O.T." We huddled up and decided where best to dedicate our stone monument. The chosen site was about 20 paces on the eastern side of County Road 19. At this point there is a joint in the rails. Looking south from this point and going down the embankment is a very solid looking concrete culvert. We cleared an area just above the middle of it and placed our monument. We had driven nearly 9 hours for the simple 2-minute dedication ceremony.

The G.W.S.T.O.T. had consulted with an employee of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad before we left. This is the railroad that owns the tracks where Sherlock, Texas is situated. We were told that we would not be allowed to erect anything on railroad property because they would remove it as soon as they saw it. Of course in hindsight I cannot see that they would have much cared one way or the other. Discretion being the better part of valor dictated that we place something a little less obvious than something on the order of the sign in front of Sherlock Homes.

Sherlock, Texas – mission accomplished.