Focus on the Backroads » Photo Journeys

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    There is approximately 50,000 miles of Interstate Highway in the United States.....filled with cars traveling at an average of 75 miles an hour. Several years ago I began driving the BACKROADS throughout Texas and the surrounding states - discover many fascinating places and people. While traveling "off the beaten path" I have tried to capture the spirit of these forgotten roads in photographs.

    After sharing some of these journeys with folks I have met I've been encouraged to document my travels.........I invite you to FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS!

    "To often......I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen"
    Louis L'Amour


You can not explore the backroads of The Lone State without seeing windmills. Prior to windmills being introduced to Texas people were forced to settle only in area where there was a constant supply of water. As you know there is vast area Texas where early settlers were unable to work the land.

The first recorded vertical windmills were in the 12th century. These evolved from horizontal windmills which had been developed in the Middle East and Central Asia in the 7th century. In the 13th century the masonry tower mills these were developed to provide more power – these were common in Great Britain, Denmark, and Germany. Later the Smock Mill was developed, replacing the masonry with a wooden framework. These were later introduced to the New World.

The first windmills built in Texas were built by European immigrants and used for grinding meal. The biggest need for this technology was to extract water from under the surface, these early windmills were unable to do this.

In 1854, Daniel Halladay built the first American made windmill in Ellington, Connecticut. Halladay added a vane, Texas ranchers called it a “tail”. The “tail” made it possible to guide the wheel into the wind. The wheel was made up of a circle of wooden slats set at angles. Centrifugal force would slow it in high winds – the windmill could operate unmanned. By 1873 the windmill had become a major source of water for the railroad, small towns, and farms where the only water supply was beneath the ground. There were many “home-made” windmills using old wagon wheels with wooden slats nailed to them. The windmills that were later used on ranches were factory-made and much more dependable.

Barbwire was introduced in the 1870’s. Suddenly waterholes, creeks, and rivers were fenced in and unavailable to some landowners. With no access to water, fighting and fence cutting began usually late at night by bands of cowboys. Many times they would light pastures on fire. Rancher began to dig wells and experimented with windmills. Many times they were unsuccessful not knowing the proper size of a windmill was need to extract water from the wells.

One of the earliest successful experiments was made in Schleicher County by Christopher Doty, a sheepman. Doty had move his sheep into the county and found a number of shallow wells available. In1882, a drought dried up his wells. He purchased a drilling rig from Fort Smith, Arkansas and bored a fifty-two foot well and erected a Star windmill. This well was capable of supplying water for his 4,000 head of sheep. This method of drilling spread quickly through out North, Central and West Texas.

Eastern land speculators began buying and fencing land – running cattle until it would be available to settlers. Land owners were forced to build windmills for livestock and their personal use. In 1887, the Capital Syndicate, the largest of these speculators began using windmills on it’s XIT Ranch. By 1900 the XIT had 335 windmills in use – including what was believed to be the Worlds tallest windmill at 132 feet tall, it blew over in 1926. By the 1900 windmills were used all over Texas, inhabitable land had become habitable! Texas would soon become the largest user of windmills in the United States – only two Texas companies produced windmills on a large scale,, the Axtell Company in Fort Worth and the San Antonio Machine and Supply Company. There were 99,050 windmills produced in the United States in 1928. Over 35,000 of these were sold in Texas.

In the 1970, during the Middle East oil embargo the US government increased the funding for research using windmills as a source of energy.

The windmill is a constant reminder of the hardships and loneliness of the early Texans that settle the vast remotes areas of The Lone Star State. These early settlers are the inspiration for all Texas and our “Don’t Mess With Texas” attitude.

You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down” C.S Lewis

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Focus on the Backroads: DEEP ELLUM

Established in 1873, Deep Ellum is located east of downtown Dallas. Then it was also know as Central Track because of it’s proximity to the Houston and Texas Central Railroad.

Deep Ellum was one of Dallas first commercial areas for African-Americans and European immigrants. The Continental Gin Company opened in 1888 and became the largest manufacturer of cotton processing equipment in the United States. Ford Motor Company built one of its earliest plants, in 1914, building Model Ts in Deep Ellum. Adams Hats moved into the building in 1954.

In the 1920’s the area became a center of the music scene in Dallas. Many of the early jazz and blue artist of the day performed there including, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Texas Bill Day, Alex Moore, Bessie Smith, Willie Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many more.

After World War 2 many of the businesses in the area closed and folks began moving to the suburbs. The music all but died. In the 1980, the area began to be revived and the music returned with the help of local bands like The Old 97s, Toadies, the New Bohemians, The Dixie Chicks, Tripping Daisy and others. Soon national touring bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam began performing in Deep Ellum.

Many of the business in Deep Ellum began to commission local artist to paint murals on their buildings. These many wall murals have turned the area into a walking outdoor art gallery. Almost every wall has become an artist’s canvas.

In 2012 the 42 Murals Project was started – local and international artist were able to show their talent by painting 42 murals on some of the historic building in Deep Ellum.

Deep Ellum is once again one of the cultural centers of Dallas. The area continues to be a music and art center. There are numerous restaurants Deep Ellum. Great area to visit to see not only the wonderful murals but to also to visit an important historical area of Dallas.

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ROAD: a thoroughfare, route, or way by land between two places that has been paved or otherwise improved to allow travel by foot or some form of conveyance , including a motor vehicle, cart, bicycle, or horse.

The first roads (pathways) originated from man following animal trails. Many believe that humans and animals both chose to use the same natural line. The oldest paved road was constructed in Egypt around 2200 BC. Most roads had been built out of wood and brick. During the 8th century AD in Baghdad tar was first used to pave roadways.

Guadalupe Mountains

The early roads in Texas were developed from Indian trails and the trails of the early Spanish explorers. The first know Texas roads were built because of a necessity for travel from Mexico to San Antonio, Goliad, and East Texas missions. The oldest highway was the Old San Antonio Road. Two of the other earlier roads were the La Bahia Road, and in East Texas Trammel’s Trace. Early Texas law called for the establishment of roads between county seats. These roads were forty foot cleared paths. Stumps that were less than eight inches in diameter were cut off at the ground, stumps any larger were rounded off so that wagon wheels could roll over them. Secondary roads were thirty feet wide and third-class roads were twenty feet wide. All able body men between the age of eighteen to forty-five were required to volunteer several days a year to work on the roads.

With the increase popularity of the automobile in the early Twentieth century the need for improved roads was obvious. Texas citizens began organizing “good road” associations throughout the state to promote better roads. By 1903 there were calls to establish a bureau of highways in Texas. The State Highway Department was established in 1917 by the Thirty-fifth Legislature. The Departments responsibility was granting financial aid to counties for highway construction and maintenance. At the time there were 194,720 automobiles registered. In 1921 the Federal Aid Road Act was amended to offer matching federal funds to states.

Early Ford

Today Texas has over 80,000 miles of of roads made up of over 29,000 miles of U.S and state highways, 3,400 miles of interstate, over 7,000 miles of frontage road, over 350 miles of park roads, and over 42,000 miles of farm-to-market and ranch-to-ranch roads (which we prefer to call the (LONESTAR BACKROADS).

Present day there are many miles of Texas Backroads that have long been forgotten by most. These roads are used by landowners, families out enjoying a casual country drive, and guys like me with camera equipment stowed in their trunks looking for a reason to stop and capture a special moment or visit a special small Texas town. Not to forget to view a spectacular sunrise or sunset.

On the Backroads of Texas:

Discover Texas and visit a backroad. See y’all there!

“I did stories about unexpected encounters, back roads, small towns and ordinary folk, sometimes doing something a little extraordinary” Charles Kuralt

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Fort Wolters is located four miles out side of Mineral Wells, Texas. The fort was an official Army camp for 21 years, from 1925 to 1946. During World War II it was the largest infantry replacement training center. It also served as a German POW camp. Audie Murphy underwent basic training at the base. Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II receiving the Medal of Honor at the age of 19. At the end of World War II, Camp Wolters was deactivated and was abandoned until it was reopened in 1951 by the US Airforce. At it’s peak, the camp held close to 25,000 infantrymen.

In 1953, a U.S. Nike Guided Missile Site was set up at the site to protect the Dallas- Fort Worth area in case of an enemy attack.

In 1956, Camp Wolters reverted back to the US Army and became the headquarters to the United States Primary Helicopter School. In 1963 it was designated a permanent military base and renamed Fort Wolters. At it’s peak the base had three heliports and twenty-five stage fields, These stage fields were named after facilities in Vietnam and were located in the same relation to each other as actual locations in Vietnam. During the Vietnam all helecopter aviators received basic and primary flight training at Camp Wolters – not just Army pilots but also Marine and Airforce. Over 1200 helicopters were located here. By January 1, 1973, 40,000 pilots had been trained at Camp Wolters exceeding over 5.6 million flying hours.

Fort Wolters was officially closed for military service on February 1, 1973.

This site is now used as an industrial park, includes a branch of Weatherford College, and a training center for the Texas Army National Guard.

There is still plenty of evidence remaining of For Wolters‘ past. There is still an opportunity to visit this historical site that was once a major training base for our military. While visiting Mineral Wells and Fort Wolters include time to visit the The National Vietnam War Museum which is located one mile from the Camp. Time to salute the brave soldiers and pilots that passed through Camp Wolters……..

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return” Leonardo da Vinci

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In 1950, Dallas millionaire O.L. Nelson built a venue know as Bob Will’s Ranch House for Texas country music legend Bob Will’s and His Texas Playboys. Bob Wills was the host of the venue. In 1958 Dewey Groom took over and renamed it the Longhorn Ballroom. Dewey had played the Longhorn with his band, Dewey Groom and the Texas Longhorns.

The Longhorn Ballroom became one of the best known country western destination in the United States. Country legends that performed included Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, and Ray Price.

One night a week, the Longhorn would feature different music styles such as, jazz, blues, and R&B. Artist such as B.B. King, Nat King Cole, Otis Redding, James Brown, and Al Green took that stage. On January 10, 1978 the Longhorn made national news when the punk rock band, The Sex Pistols, took the stage. The band got upset and began to taunt the crowd – leading to a woman from the audience head-butting band leader Sid Vicious. The band broke up a week later and Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose shortly afterwards.


Dewey Groom sold the Longhorn Ballroom in 1986 to Ira Zack. Owners began to book arts from many different musical genres. In 1989 Aerosmith shot the video for their song, “What It Takes” at the Longhorn. In 1990, a riot broke out when 2 Live Crew refused to take the stage until they were paid. Over 50 of Dallas’ finest showed up in full riot gear.

In 2017, the Longhorn Ballroom was purchased by Dallas entrepreneur Jay LaFrance, his son Jayson and his daughter Amber. Their vision was to restore this venue and preserve this important Texas landmark. Today the Longhorn Ballroom is coming back to life, hosting events ands concerts.

Visit for more information.

“To me, country music has always been the home for a great song” Zac Brown

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