We never intended to go looking for a ghost town but standing at the crossroads in Uhland I find myself in a place that appears to be totally uninhabited. One of the last outposts, something profound that easily goes by unnoticed if you don’t know to look behind the ragged façade of the old buildings.
With the construction of I-35, the old highway 21 lost its former glory and haven’t got the attention or maintenance it should. Even so, the slumbering village of Uhland is still here. The oldest building were constructed in 1893 and were added to 19 years later with an element that were used as part basketball hall for the Uhland school kids and part dance hall for the music loving locals. The sound of bouncing basket balls stopped with the construction of the new interstate but the love and need for dancing to country music didn’t.
Driving on the old highway it’s easy to miss the turn in between the old faded wooden building that was once the post office and the rusty tin barn that nowadays shelter old cars waiting to get fixed up. Behind the barn, facing the old highway, sits a few classic rides for sale. The grass is growing tall and wild around them. The sky is stacked with grey clouds and the temperature is close to freezing. The once so lively main street is totally deserted and the few remaining buildings are in various degree of decay. This ain’t a place you just stumble upon even if the sign above the entrance to the honky-tonk clearly declares: Club 21.
A small crooked wooden house lies behind the old tin barn and the yard is filled with miscellaneous debris like rusty old tractors, engines, tires and hunting trophies. Everything’s scattered around and exposed to rain and shine, slowly withering away. To some people a romantic setting to other a livelihood. The damp cold makes it self present and literally penetrates the bones so I take refuge inside the honky-tonk. The large bar that extends along the long side of this windowless dark room is completely empty of guests. I order a beer and take a seat in the corner next to the heater with an attempt to get my circulation going. The owner is busy preparing for the evening, refilling with fresh full beer barrels, bottles and snacks. We talk a bit and he doesn’t hesitate to open the doors to the dance hall and asks me to feel at home and to please take a spin to check out the premises.
Behind a pair of wooden doors on creaking hinges and with peeling paint, I find the dance floor and the stage. The air is still and raw and my breath hovers around the room like an unblessed spirit. The wooden beams are laid bare stretching towards the sky and the ceiling height increases by fifteen or sixteen feet up towards the cam. On top of it all sits three fans in open air. In addition to the well-worn dance floor are a number of booths whose upper floors serve as a VIP shelf according to 1930 standards. The dimly lit rooms are a difficult forced maze of small spaces and nooks. Here you’ll find all the vital ingredients for a thriving honky-tonk such as jukebox, pool tables and a stage for the orchestra.
The bar has, with the right number of bartenders, the capacity to hold a big thirsty crowd of country music heads busy. However, I ‘m more doubtful that the minimal kitchen, located in a corner by the bar, can provide burgers or other dishes in any greater scale. But people don’t come here mainly for the food. They come here to dance and listen to music, meet like-minded people and have a talk over a few beers. I notice the walls are so thin I can hear the lowing of the cows in the pasture behind the honky-tonk and I decide to take another look at the exteriors. Out front I’m again met by a drizzle and a compact grey sky. There’s a dense haze over the tree tops and it’s still chilly. I walk off along the old main street down towards the rushing stream, Plum Creek.
On August 4, 1840, hundreds of Comanche Indians poured down from the Hill Country in a raid that later was to take them all the way down to the Gulf Coast. They crossed Plum Creek right where I’m standing now. The raid was an act of revenge for the despicable attack the texan militia had carried out against a peace mission down in San Antonio the year before. The Indians suffered a disastrous defeat here at Plum Creek. Today it’s difficult to imagine any activity on a larger scale here. It’s a sleepy little place, dead quiet and still. I look toward the ruminant livestock in the sprinkle and start thinking about the living situation for the farmers around here. It can’t be easy fighting the big producers or fight against cheap meat from countries such as Argentina. Life as a farmer ain’t never been easy. Crop failure, drought, disease, and Indian raids have required tough men and women to survive out here. One can easily understand why places like Club 21 has been, and still is, important to people living in this part of the world.
I stroll back towards the crossroads passing the front porch of the honky-tonk and continue up to the former post office. The building is now being used as storage for old neon signs. I take a peep through a dusty window and get a glimpse of real works of art made by solid craftsmanship. Beautiful signs telling the stories of old motels, bowling alleys and burger restaurants. With their futuristic designs, bearing a witness of the incredible confidence in the 50’s, the signs are solidly packed into the spacious room. Some of the artwork’s to big to fit in the room so they’re stacked outside against the building’s long side. Around the corner stands a sign shaped like a giant sombrero begging me to remember Don Rodrigo’s Tex-Mex restaurant.
The entire crossroads gives you the feeling of being at a place where time stopped a long time ago. But time never really did stop here. It was the world outside that just kept rushing on in a furious tempo, as a long way from the memories and traditions of the hard old times it ever could.
Note: Club 21 burned to the ground on October 24th 2010 and is currently not being rebuilt.