Days 48 & 49
Roaring River State Park, Missouri to Nowata, Oklahoma to Blackwell, Oklahoma
75°-80° Overcast & Variable, Thunderstorms, Partial Sun
168.1 & 126.5 miles
Left the fishing family fun of Roaring Brook for the rolling hills of eastern Oklahoma and then prairie. Discovered Oklahoma county roads may not be paved. Decided to travel on Highways 60 and 11 across northern Oklahoma. A truck with “Storm Chaser” written in large letters across its top passed me heading into the darkening distance. I wondered what I would do if the weather turned suddenly bad. I crossed several large man-made lakes and finally into large rain drops. I put on my rain gear. Then a mile down the road I turned north into blazing sun. Sweat filled my rain suit.
On Monday I vacillated between continuing west into dark skies or staying in a horrid roach infested room another night. I opted for tornadoes. It turned out well. The ride was cool and traffic light. Not until I reached the town of Blackwell and Interstate 35 did I have to wear my rain coat.
Along the way I passed through the tiny ranching & oil community of Shidler. Most of the few buildings on Main Street were empty and boarded up. The highway turns 90 degrees here from north to west. At the turn I spotted a low red building with the word Café written on its side. There were cars & trucks parked in front. I pulled in and parked under the porch overhang in case it rained.Long thick plank tables with mismatched chairs filled the dining area. The walls were covered in stuffed animal heads, sculptures, and rodeo photographs. Many of the photos were of someone or something called “The One Arm Bandit.”
This is cattle country. Mandy’s Cafe is for carnivores. No worries. The Australian accented waitress brought me a grilled cheese and hand-cut steak fries. As I sat eating a tall man with a white cowboy hat walked up and began talking. He sat down across from me. We talked about traveling, oil wealth, native peoples, cattle, flint mines, and the One Arm Bandit.The man’s name is Holton Payne, Shidler High School class of 1945. He is patriarch of the Payne clan. The One Arm Bandit is his son, John, a rodeo entertainer. Mandy is John’s wife, also a rodeo entertainer, and owner of the café. Holton and his wife have a slew of children, I couldn’t keep them straight. They have 16 great-grandchildren. When I said I had not yet seen any long horn steers, Holton said he’d drive me to see some. We piled into his minivan and he gave me a tour of Shidler on our way to the farm. The farm began only a few blocks from the café. In one large fenced area were long horn cattle, in other areas, were lamas, horses, zebras, and dogs. The One Arm Bandit trained each to do something special in a rodeo ring.Holton drove his minivan across fields like it was a jeep. We followed a Zebroid, a cross between a horse and a zebra, hoping to get a closeup shot. It wasn’t interested. We drove through the business section of John’s farm. Large farm machinery is everywhere. He has a warehouse in an old railroad depot. The tracks are long gone. We drove back to the café.About a dozen children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren arrived while we were gone. It was high energy, very inviting, but time for me to move on. We said goodbye. Holton invited me back. There is more he wants me to see.