Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Journey: Oklahoma and Frederick in Particular

In 1979 my husband went to Frederick, Oklahoma to learn to fly helicopters. It was quite an adventure for him and although it did not result with him becoming a helicopter pilot in the end, it was quite an experience for him and one that he often speaks about. We knew that the Brantley-Hines training school was no longer there and that the factory had long ago closed. But we were curious as to what had become of the airfield and the town of Frederick.

The journey from Amarillo to Frederick was not long and the countryside was interesting enough, though not at all spectacular. I was excited to be crossing the famed Red River and hey it really is 'red' -- due to the red clay on the floor of the river bed. This trip really did make US geography come alive for me. Especially the dry landscapes of the Southwest. And with our venture into Oklahoma the plains, the midwest, the farm belt. Because of the trip I now have a sense of The United States of America that Barack Obama talks about. Nice.

The biggest surprise of all to me was how pretty the countryside is. It is possible that Springtime is the best time of year for some of these places. I expected Frederick and the surrounding area, in fact all of the state to be brown and dusty -- dustbowl-like, I guess. But it was mid-May and everywhere was green and lush and the weather was mild and pleasant. Neil found the turn-off to the airfield a few miles outside of the town. 1979 was a long time ago and it took some figuring for him to get oriented -- however, we were soon parked outside the terminal building -- the very same building that housed the helicopter school all those years ago!

The airfield is still in use but very quiet compared to the days Neil was there. We looked around the terminal building and the classroom/briefing room was still very much as Neil remembered it. We drove around the area a little bit and Neil was thrilled to see the once defunct train track now back in use and to witness a train trundling south towards the Texas border. The last time he'd been there the track was rusted and overgrown -- another encouraging sign of the rebirth of the train. And something not heard mentioned in the campaign rhetoric as a significant way of reducing carbon emissions, etc. etc
We drove on into downtown Frederick -- I was curious to see the place after years of hearing about this "town in the middle of nowhere". It seemed a nice small town, with lots of oldish houses and old-town America buildings from the 20th Century -- not so different downtown from Torrington, Connecticut, where I grew up. Neil wanted to check out the rather nice apartment building where he and his fellow students had lived and partied. We turned left off Main Street and up past the the railroad tracks to the back end of town -- but the building could not be found. We drove round and round for a while and ended up at some kind of club -- it may have been a golf club or maybe a health club -- anyway, he went in and someone there told him it had been burnt down -- seemingly by the town! So back we went to the place it would have been if it still 'were' and Neil could see where the building had once stood and where the driveway had once been. Now just fields. We learned later that after the Brantley-Hines school had closed its doors and there were no more students to fill the place up, it had become a haven for drug addicts and such like and the town had decided the building should be razed.

We had lunch in the local Pizza Hut -- for a good reason! In 1979 that was the local place
for social gatherings -- according to Neil, the only place in town. Otherwise you had to go to Lawton -- a place I never got to see. I had a small pizza and looked around. To Neil the place seemed somehow smaller -- it was a bit woe-be-gone, but the staff were friendly enough and business was s-l-o-w at 3 o'clock in the afternoon!
Next stop was a gas station and just as school was getting out. The tree lined streets were very spring-like and pretty and the price of gas wasn't as bad as it was elsewhere. And that was Frederick, Oklahoma. Not a bad place at all, for all it being rather remote from the rest of the world. Off we went toward Tulsa and a motel that is best remembered for being my least favourite of all the motels we stayed. I don't even remember where we ate or what.

The next day we clipped the corner of Kansas as we headed toward Missouri. A few days earlier there had been a terrible tornado which destroyed every house in the small town of Pilcher. We didn't see the town, but passed about 3 miles from it, in the northeastern most part of Oklahoma. From what was being reported on CNN a decision had been made not to rebuild the town -- which must have been sad for those people and I thought about them quite a bit while we were travelling in througth the area.

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