Exploring Ghost Towns

One of my interests is exploring and photographing ghost towns, I also enjoy bicycling and fortunately, those two fit together very nicely. Riding a bicycle gives one more time to take in what's around. You can also stop much easier than in a car. And finally, being on a bicycle breaks the ice so you can start a conversation with people who wouldn't give you the time of day in a car. Locals are the greatest source of information and suggestions of things you should see.

Tuesday, May 16th 2006, was such a great day that I decided to explore a ghost town that I'd known about for some time. My destination isn't shown on most maps, much less the roads to it. Fortunately, Google mapping knew not only where it was located but the roads to get there. My goal was the town of Fallis located about seven miles northwest of Wellston, located about 20 miles east of Edmond, OK on old Route 66. Since it was going to be a day trip, I traveled Route 66 and parked on the block-long main street of Wellston and asked a guy sitting in a city water department truck how to get to Fallis. He told me, "Take that street across the railroad tracks, turn right and stay on the pavement. When it turns to dirt, you are there."

I followed his instructions as the blacktop meandered across a river and through a tangle of trees and brush for about five miles to where it came to an unmarked crossroads. The pavement went to the left with dirt to the right and straight ahead. The next couple miles was sharp little hills till I came to "Fallis" spelled out in whitewashed rocks on a hillside with little else to indicate a town. It was just over the next little hill, the old red brick school on the left and a church with it's peeling white paint on the right. A falling-down brick building was just past the church. Two or three of the half dozen houses appeared that they might be occupied but no one in sight. A couple chickens pecked at gravel along the edge of the crumbling pavement and a sleepy dog stretched and wandered a few yards from his shady spot under a tree to sit and watch me go by. I listened for the sound or a radio or TV but the only thing I could hear was the twitter of birds.

There was a hulking blue four-door car, old enough to have chromed bumpers, parked in front of the last house at the end of the road. Various items, mostly kitchen gadgets and glass dust catchers, were displayed on both the hood and trunk of the car. A hand-painted sign leaning against the rear bumper announced "All Items $5.00". Seemed to be something of a yard sale but I wondered how many customers were expected being at the end of the road in town seemingly without people. A fat dog waddled from his bed in a pile of old clothes on the porch but changed his mind half way to me, gave a big yawn and returned to his spot. A woman let the screen door bang behind her as she made her way around the dog and toward where I was sitting on my bike. "Five dollars each for everything you see or three for thirteen," she announced.

We made small talk while I fingered a couple chipped cups and a battered coffee pot. When I got around to asking about the town, I found that she was born there and had returned take care of her parents till they died, then never left. She pointed out the old hotel across the street, said all the kids believed it was haunted when they were growing up but a couple old people lived there now and claim they hear strange noises all the time, "but they are gone right now," she added. I assumed she was talking about the people and not the noises. It didn't take her long to decided that the sales potential was rather low with me and began to work her way back toward the house which I noticed had a pizza-pan satellite dish pointing toward the southern sky. I don't know what or if she was watching anything but it was obviously more interesting than an old man on a bicycle. The dog laid his head down and closed his eyes as she went inside.

I rode around the dirt streets which consisted of three running one way and four the other. The foundation of the old depot is at the end of one street. A few ramshackle buildings were scattered around but none had any signs of being lived in. I shot photos of things I found interesting and headed back the way I came. Back in Wellston I spotted a Thrift Store sign and just couldn't pass up a place like that. Inside I found about the same sort of stuff as was on the car in Fallis, except far more of it and on shelves. Also found a guy about my age but missing an arm, along with a big yellow dog that delighted in licking my bare legs. It didn't take me long to enjoy all the junk and leg licking I cared for and asked about a place to have lunch. "Place across the street that has frozen Pizzas and sandwiches that they warm up and then there's Pioneer BBQ out on the road." By "out on the road" he was referring to Route 66 which at one time it formed the main street of Wellston but when the kink was taken out of it several years ago, it bypassed the town and left it to slowly turn in the wind and die.

"I've heard that you can't make decent barbecue without violating three or more health codes," I told him. "Then it should be really good there," he answered.

Bolstered by that glowing recommendation, I rode off in search lunch. I found the place, which had once been an old service station, in the center of a double circle of pickup trucks. The fading hand-painted sign announced that I'd found the right place. A cloud of hickory smoke rose from behind the building, not a vacant table could be found in the place. There was a man sitting at a table and I asked if I could join him, When I introduced myself, he replied that his name was also Jim then added, "But everyone calls me Jimmie." I told him that I seldom ever found anyone who spelled their name the same as I did. I ended up with the feminine spelling, more than likely because the doctor who delivered me didn't know the difference and I've been stuck with it ever since.

The waitress came to the table with pad and pencil in hand but no menu, "What'll it be, Jimmie? She asked. "The usual," he replied, obviously one of the regulars there.

"What's he having?" I asked. "Bacon cheeseburger with fries," I was told. "I came for the barbecue," I told her. "How about three ribs with tater tots and Cole slaw for five ninety-nine?" she replied. "Sounds good to me," I replied.

I've often heard, "The dirtier the ankles on the waitress, the better the barbecue." and while I didn't check out the situation with the ankles on the lady who took my order, they certainly had good barbecue. So much meat on the ribs that I couldn't finish the two sides. Even had to pass on the hot cherry cobbler right out of the oven that she was pushing.


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Copyright 2006 by Jim Foreman