Stevie Ray had mentioned something about setting me up with a jar of moonshine the next time I came by. At 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon with the joint already occupied by four reclined and reticent bikers and two local, louder, guys looking for oil, I rethunk my expectations.
This 125 year old, now dilapidated, building has hosted everything from the town post office and general store to the local meat market. The town is now all gone and I doubt there will ever be a post office in Loebau again.
Stevie’s since past father bought the bar a little more than fifty years ago when Stevie was just a toddler and he has spent his entire life walking this warped, worn and beautiful wooden floors. He earned his throne – an old office chair facing a tv-set to the right from the screen door.
The interior of Loebau Store; cast off office chairs scattered around, some beside cool vintage kitchen tables, some by the rustic boiler-turned-wood stove, some courageously wandering their own paths, a pool table free for all since the slot part of it is broke, numerous calendars all up to date, tools in order, dust in the corners, pickles in the jars, peanut shells scattered all over the floor, ice chest full of beer – it feels like home.
I round the corner of the old counter to grab a Lone Star Light from the once white ice chest, I then find my self a seat next to a well designed yellow 1950’s table on which I lay down two dollar bills in front of Stevie. There’s no telling if he noticed the money, his gaze is fixed on the TV showing an episode from the 70’s tv-show “The Waltons”. Did I just step into a time machine? What year is this? Everything’s like in a maze in here and 2015 feels like a distant unknown.
The drive down to Stevie’s demanded a stop to get out of the rain and Jackson Store in Blue became the perfect excuse for a couple of beers and a game of pool with a stranger talking about some murderous gang. This was the first time I heard about the outlaws. “Did you see the three scattered hills on your way here, the Knobs? Used to be the hide out for a bunch of villains, the last members of the gang was hunted down by vigilantes and hanged not far from town.” The stranger continuos, “I think they’re buried in the cemetery over there.” We end the game to sit down, sip our Bud’s, and talk about the infamous outlaws roaming the area in the late 1800’s.
Back in the days, the thickets on the east side of the Knobs were the territory of the Notch-Cutter gang. The Knobs still hold rumors about the Notch-Cutters having buried treasure there, but most consider it a tall tale. The gang got its name from the way they counted their slayers. One notch in the wooden handle of their Colt after another, proudly declaring the number of murders they committed.
I later find a quote from a Mr. Kige Heffington in a newspaper clip from the Houston Chronicle of December 15, 1940
I recollect one Christmas Eve that one of our neighbors was riding his mule home from Lexington with a load of toys for his chillun’s Santa Claus. He was a good citizen, but he had made the mistake of remarking he had seen two fellows driving a bunch of hogs that didn’t belong to them. Well, sir, it got pretty late that Christmas Eve and this pappy hadn’t come home; so the folks went out to look for him. They found his mule down the road tied to a limb and not far away they found this poor fellow stretched out shot to death.
Those were bad times. Whenever a man was caught stealing horses or cows or even hogs, you’d better not tell on him or you’d be liable to be waylaid and killed yourself. Women folks was afraid to come out of their houses after nightfall for fear they might be shot by mistake. There wasn’t much law enforcement in those days and lots of times citizens took matters in their own hands. Once four men were hung at the same time four miles from where I was born.
Nowadays it’s fairly safe to travel along the Yegua Creek. The blacktops take you through low and narrow ten-miles-an hour bridges, faster roads alongside open fields, and sharp curves cutting through wooded groves.
Passing oil fields where burning gas outlets accompany rusty old pump jacks it’s difficult to get bored with the scenery, you never can predict what’s around the bend. Dirt roads take you through a scenery of rolling green grass, old farm houses and pastures adorned by lonesome oaks. Shortly after crossing State Highway 21 the drive continues on County Road 114 all the way to Stevie’s joint. But be on the look out or you might miss it, or worse, run over one of the dogs comfortable stretched out in the middle of the road.
I seriously doubt Stevie Ray has some sort of a beer license for his honkey place. One thing he don’t need a license for is the one gallon plastic jars consisting pickled pigs feet, pickled sausages and eggs preserved in the same manners. Sitting on the otherwise abandoned and mysteriously dust free counter, a thick layer of dust covering the lids acts as protective barriers between any whim for the taking and the – possibly – unfit content. The place is indescribably messy, but we all thrive.
Hunger sets in and the offering from Stevie’s pickles just won’t cut it so I decide to take a trip to nearby Dime Box and Barefootz General Store. 1979, at the beginning of the areas latest oil rush, a black Ford Econoline van named “Ghost Dancing” rolls into the small town. It stops at what used to be the town watering hole and out steps a man on a journey – William Least Heat-Moon. When he stopped here, some twenty five years ago, he found Sonny’s Bar, Ovcariks Cafe and Claud Tyler’s Barbershop. Today none of them exists and nothing but a couple of western style store fronts and weathered old hand painted signs bear witness of what was once a proud Texas Main Street. But still, a few hours of Dime Box history lives on in the book “Blue Highways”.
At the counter I drank a Royal Crown; the waitress dropped my quarter into the cash register, a King Edward cigar box. Forks and knives clinked on plates behind a partition at the rear. It was too much. I ordered a dinner.
–William Least Heat-Moon
Back in Loebau I found Stevie gone and the place boarded up. In the front anyway. I remembered something Stevie told me when we once talked about different jobs we’d had. He used to labor as a concrete worker and I asked about the keepings of the bar while he was gone, “You just went in through the back door, and put your money on the table” he said. Thirsty for another beer I decided to take a cautious walk through the tall grass, broken glass, old used tires and the load of rusty old auto parts to see if I could find that secret opening to be still present. I stopped for a second of inducement to indulge the beauty of a backyard cluttered with beer cans in all its crumpled forms and washed out colors – it was grand. I tried the door – it was open. One step over the threshold I quickly changed my mind. Although he said it’s okay it can be seen as trespassing and Loebau’s violent past might have people on guard – I best abstain.
The rain started to come down again and I hurried back to the van – it was time to leave. Passing silhouettes of barbed wire fences and old abandoned buildings from a time when fear of the dark held real content I headed back towards the present. It was a difficult drive. Backlighting headlights created hallucinatory patterns through the raindrops scattered across the windshield and the fair amount of beer and tall tales ingested didn’t make it any easier.