Friday, September 30, 2011

[Side Stories] Just Train Crazy

Sometime in late 2005 and early 2006, George Bush Presidential Library, and by extension, the entire town, was wrapped up in a massive railroad exhibit.

"Trains: Tracks of the Iron Horse" opened in November 2005 in the Special Exhibits section of the George Bush Library. But unlike other special exhibits, it was wrapped up in an entire event that involved the city and Union Pacific itself. Union Pacific is the company that runs the railroad tracks in town (except for the ones in far south Brazos County--that's BNSF), having acquired them from Southern Pacific (I think) in 1996.

And regardless of being a railroad town in name only--the trains quit stopping here officially in 1995, and by the time this happened, Callaway Villas had poured concrete over where the Amtrak station once was, leaving only an overgrown platform (that's progress, I guess).

But Tracks of the Iron Horse was impressive, and kicked off numerous things in town.

#1: If you had money to spend, there was a train ride in the brand new George Bush 4141 (a specially painted Union Pacific train) to Dallas. Yes, the luxury of going in a real train from College Station (where trains only stop under unusual circumstances) to Dallas would cost you: $250 a person and up! (link)

It's likely it went on the same route up to Dallas via Corsicana. Because of the Villa Maria underpass construction at the time, and a change in the way the tracks crossed downtown, the train didn't parallel Finfeather.

#2: After the train ride, a special spur was built near the pedestrian overpass that housed the 4141. She's a beauty, and in the time since, I've seen it several times. I once got in an argument on Flickr that I had just seen it in town when the other person claimed it was in the storage yards. So obviously one of us was mistaken, or UP made multiple 4141s.

#3: Local businesses and other institutes bought fiberglass trains for $2500 to paint. I have a full brochure (it's on Project HOLD somewhere) that details the exhibit and also the train details, but here's the list. I saw the "Hot-N-Ready Express" the most often, but there were many others. In 2006 they were auctioned off, though there are still a few hanging around town.

#4: There was a talk done by the Union Pacific President and Former President George H.W. Bush, which I went to. And I talked to former President George H.W. Bush, which was amazing.

#5: There was a giant model train in the rotunda of the museum.

#6: The exhibit featured a "timeline" of how various railroad companies were eaten up to become an oligopoly industry today.

All in all, it was a fantastic exhibit and a fantastic era (if short) of the city, and one of the highlights of the year 2005. I had liked that year so much in particular that last summer on the now-defunct Two Way Roads, I dedicated an entire summer to The Spirit of 2005. Two Way Roads, of course, is defunct and often has terrible writing, but CSR&R is a spin-off of it, and thus some credit has to be given.

In the future, I may update this post with pictures of the glossy book that was handed out during that time (it's paperback and essentially a giant advertisement for UP, but it's just that cool).

EDIT 3/20/12: A better link for those train statues.

May 2013 Update: Side Stories

Monday, September 26, 2011

[Side Stories] Turkey Creek: FM 2513

Updated June 2013

Back in early 2011 I created a post called "Turkey Creek: The Old FM", but the whole thing was based on the assumption that Turkey Creek Road was the old FM 2818. But I did more research and found out that I was wrong. So I removed the post and eventually forgot about it. But in September of that year, I found it and updated it again.

It's 1956 in Snook, what's the quickest, distance-wise, to get to downtown Bryan?

Well, FM 60, of course. You could keep going west and go into Texas A&M College, but that's a bit out of the way. Isn't there an easier way? Today, you could go on FM 2818, but back in the 1950s to 1970s, people didn't have that option. They DID have, however, FM 2513, which takes you to directly to Carson Street.

A distinctly different road, FM 2513 is a bit blurry to read, but what happened to it?

Well, part of it was replaced with FM 2818, but it's still mostly intact. Turkey Creek Road, yes, from Bryan to the airport.

It would make sense, of course: Farm to Market roads were around long before the West Loop, and why else would there be two Turkey Creek Roads?

I had theorized that they did connect, and if you looked at the way the grass is after Turkey Creek Road connects to Harvey Mitchell near the Dick Freeman Coliseum, it supports that.

The College Station segment was never really improved. The West Loop opened (I'm guessing...1972-1973?) as a two-way road, which likely caused the existing Turkey Creek to be torn up and rebuilt, and the rest of Turkey Creek, now in two segments, to lose its status as a FM. While the section between FM 60 and F&B had homes and got the old "tar and gravel" treatment (it was eventually paved), Turkey Creek between F&B and Harvey Mitchell was never improved, and retained a narrow, badly-paved section. Historical, but hardly drivable material. This remained into the early 1990s, when a new terminal was built for Easterwood Airport, causing Turkey Creek to be extended under Raymond Stotzer Parkway (an overpass was completed circa 1996) as William A. MacKenzie Terminal Road. However, from the other end of 2818, anyone looking to turn onto Turkey Creek for a quick shortcut to the airport would be very sorry.

In the late 2000s, F&B gained a stoplight and extended, causing Turkey Creek to be broken in multiple segments, so that there were two different segments. At least now one segment of Turkey Creek WAS a shortcut to the airport. Shortly afterward, in 2009 or 2010, the oldest and worst segment of Turkey Creek was closed. There's gates and barbed wire, with a cul-de-sac at the southern end, but it hasn't been torn up. It's a private road (and sometimes I see the gate near the 2818 side open). Sadly, as much as I'd like the actual feel of a genuine old Texas farm-to-market road, potentially getting stuck/cited for trespassing is not one of my favorite things to do.

One more thing: prior to F&B's major expansion, it was planned that Turkey Creek (CS) was going to widened significantly to become a major road. Oh well, it was doomed anyway...

The Bryan section I'm less familiar with, and it did keep its FM status for a little while longer. Originally, the intersection with 2818 was completely different.

This isn't actually that intersection, but it's a close replica: it's a tilted version of the Texas 21/William Joel Bryan Parkway intersection redone in the late 1990s or early 2000s, though the Turkey Creek/2818 was redone years before it, possibly to create a small extension. I do enjoy the Turkey Creek interchange, it's possibly the last place with the overhanging yellow and red blinking lights (the ones at 47 go way too fast, dang LEDs). That's worth it for the nostalgic factor, and I always passed those lights, and I'm glad that it's one of those things on those Waco trips I used to take when I was younger that's still around (unlike Hearne's railroads and a few other things).

UPDATE 6/18/12: AND IT'S GONE in early 2012, with only the concrete bases remaining. However, to be fair, it was for the 2818/Villa Maria interchange, so I guess it at least has an actual REASON.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gibson's Discount Centers

This link is to be used in conjunction with this article for preservation of comments. If you've arrived from a Google search here, follow the link back for a mention of the local Gibson's anyway.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

[Side Stories] George Bush Presidential Library and Museum: The First Ten Years

Yes, IA&ABV is alive after all: I'm not going to leave you hanging (that's a tactic of other blogs/websites I know), so here's another post.

To be honest, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, whether or not you are a Republican or have even a semblance of respect for G. H. W., is a profound achievement of College Station and the greater area.

I don't really have a bunch of pictures on the Library, I just have a map (as seen below) and eggs. Easter eggs, that is, and we'll get to those later (eventually).

The 2007 renovation changed a lot of things for the worst, but here are some of the general (and specific) memories I have:

- Security was amped up a lot after 9/11. There were hidden cameras everywhere, but it wasn't until post-9/11 that a permanent bag check was established near the entrance. Prior to that it was just a nice open area where you could probably find a corner to curl up next to an air conditioning vent (I know I did).

- The Ansary Gallery of American History is a temporary exhibit gallery. Over the years (prior to 2007), there was a general 1960s Americana thing: I specifically remember a tiny putting range (that you could use!) and an old Wheaties box. That was the first temporary exhibit, and over the years, it included so many things that they're largely forgettable. One of the things I remember was the "Miniature White House", in which you just looped around the giant (and detailed) dollhouse and went back out again. Another one was about trains, but I'll talk about that in a bit.

- There was a holographic baseball in "The Family, The Man" section, but it was several years until I was tall enough to see it on my own. Still, it was really neat, but it was removed with the renovation (holographic images were really popular in the late 1990s)

- The World War II area actually never changed over the renovation, which I like. There's a film on George Bush getting shot down and rescued later, and also a metal platform with information on some WWII planes (including the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb)

- There was also a wall of television screens, which screamed "1990s" and was taken out after the renovation.

- "The Overlook" originally had nothing, it was turned into a (rather tacky) quasi-museum area after the remodel.

- "Air Force One" was a neat exhibit, it was styled to look like an airplane cockpit, complete with the sound of pressurized air. You could buckle up in one of the seats, but the buckles were removed in the late 1990s and remained that way until just a few years prior to the renovation.

- There was a Berlin Wall exhibit, which I honestly forgot is still there or not. It used to have several black and white pictures and a color monitor. Most notably, it had a chunk of the Berlin Wall, with graffiti on one side, and nothing but concrete on the other.

- "The Gulf War" exhibit was later de-rided in its later years for being a bunch of chintzy lights, but I tell you, it was something really neat. There was a huge 3D (at an angle) map of the Middle East, with LEDs going off as a video was telling you was telling you about the Gulf War. The lights indicated troop movements, bombing raids on Iraq as a bunch of rapidly flickering lights (then fading), missle movements, and little red lights indicating where Saddam set the oil on fire as he was leaving Kuwait. Lights would flash overhead when the missles hit (such as the Scuds being aimed at Israel). It gave me chills watching it every time, and back in that era, Saddam was still at large post-Kuwait. The exhibit that replaced it really is pathetic compared to what it once was.

- Toward the end, there were machines (I think they're still there, but they cost extra...I think) where you could input your name and pick a number of pre-selected questions to get a "letter from the President". The novelty wore off quickly. Also toward the end was tourist information. I always picked up this digest-sized "dining guide" that had menus of restaurants all over town (including but not limited to the late Deluxe Diner).

- There was a time in 2nd grade where we were taking a tour and saw Barbara Bush walking her dogs. We thought we were so lucky because the other class missed it, but then another class got their picture with her. :/

- One of the best times during the pre-remodeling was the 2005 train exhibit...but I've decided to save that for another time, as it really is a story in itself.

- I don't know if it's still there, but there was a "Millie's Activity" thing where there were doghouses periodically that had questions for kids. I think there were two levels, one for beginners and one more advanced.

Friday, September 16, 2011

[Side Stories] Texas A&M...OF THE FUTURE!!

Here we have an article I scanned in a long time ago for Project HOLD on a separate page elsewhere that was eventually put on permanent hiatus when I realized that College Station Roads and Retail was a much cooler project than submitting it to Project HOLD (which, as you know, is VERY difficult to navigate: my site has a lovely index to browse through).

Anyway, here's the one article I scanned, an reprinted article from January 9, 1957 (reprinted from an anniversary edition):

As you can see, there's both real predictions, laughable predictions, and things that would become scarily realistic later.

Let's see, highlights:

• "The campus is too spread out. Students have to travel all over the campus to attend classes." DING! Give this man a prize: this is a problem today, with loads of buses, hundreds of pedestrians, and idiot bicyclists*. Keep in mind that this was written before West Campus, too.

• Saving two million dollars every year would NOT get us a new campus, even accounting for inflation.

• The military aspect HAS been greatly diminished. More than 50% are "civilians", but the Corps of Cadets isn't eliminated.

• Highway 6 (by this time, Texas Avenue) had been four laned, but by 2000, that was the business route of 6.

• "...and the railroad will be replaced by a monorail" is a definite reminder that these people still had the "flying cars to the moon" future in mind.

* I by no means mean to imply ALL bicyclists are idiots, only certain ones. You know who I'm talking about.

EDIT 3, May 28th 2013: Updated some to fit in with modern site

Saturday, September 10, 2011

(Formerly) Village Foods

Village Foods back in the AppleTree days. (Picture from Holcombe of Hidalgo, used with permission)

When this post originally went up back in September 2011, it was a look at a former AppleTree that converted to something completely different...and that "former AppleTree" was a Safeway that was one of the last (if not THE last) in the Safeway Houston division. It might have even opened after the division spun off but before the name change. I really don't know. There was a brief time when the stores were advertised as Safeway, but were "locally owned", probably due to a lingering licensing deal to use the name from Safeway.

AppleTree started out with nearly 100 stores from Waco to Rosenberg, but the crippling debt resulting from the buyout forced the company into bankruptcy in 1992 and sold off its stores in late 1993. For whatever reason, six stores were purchased back and remained as AppleTree stores.

The Briarcrest store was one of these, and it was bought as part of the last six by Tony Kubicek, who bought the name and operations of the stores, with the possibility of even expanding at some point. Unfortunately, this never happened, and AppleTree started to shed stores again. By 1999, only three remained, all in Bryan-College Station. After the closure of Culpepper Plaza's store, it went down to 2. This AppleTree held its own, even having features that no other grocery store did (like making its own sausage), though despite being laden with AppleTree logos and having many of the same employees since the Safeway days (and still does) wasn't like the old AppleTree company (it was unionized, for one).

It's unknown to what exactly went on with AppleTree corporate, but in 2008, the supermarket was sold after Kubicek wanted a lower rate on rent. His landlord ended up buying the store instead, and Jim Lewis, the landlord-turned-owner, decided to make it his own. While the actual change of hands occurred in 2008, there was a "Grand Opening" in March 2009 (I've never been able to find out if the store closed for a reset, but from all I've heard, there wasn't). Around this time, the store updated its dated 1980s department graphics to new Benjamin Knox paintings, and revised the merchandise selection to include more organic (and later gluten-free) items, as well as local items.

VF heavily relied on the "local" schtick considering that the area had lacked a real "local" supermarket since the closure of independent Food Town (not related to the Houston chain) located at 600 North Main in the early 1990s (it was open in 1991, but not too much longer afterward), and the fact that no other supermarket really focused on natural and organics food like they did (gluten free wasn't as trendy when it opened). Already problems were apparent, though, as the mix didn't reciprocate well with everybody. One of the misconceptions that the store had to overcome was that it was some sort of Whole Foods knock-off, which it wasn't, and actually scared off a few loyal customers who (wrongly) believed the prices had shot up, while anyone expecting some sort of Whole Foods-type experience (or even a Sprouts-type experience) would be extremely disappointed.

For a time the original post here went down from the website due to a "conflict of interest" in summer 2013 (guess why?) and then it went back up again with a new selection of photos. For an inside look at Village Foods (including the photos that used to be here), check out the post at the Safeway & Albertsons in Texas Blog.

In 2015, it was announced that an Aldi would join the grocery mix in the area at an undisclosed place in Bryan. Some hypothesized perhaps the underserved west part of town, but instead would be at the corner of 29th and Briarcrest...the site of Village Foods! In December the store announced officially it would close in early February.

People have said that Village Foods collapsed due to competition, but despite being between a huge H-E-B and a huge Walmart Supercenter, I don't think that tells a full story. After all, this store has outlasted the bigger and nicer store at the other end of 29th (that would be Albertsons, formerly a Randalls) as well as the supermarket in between (Winn-Dixie). Heck, it even managed to ultimately outlast the Walmart Neighborhood Market off of Texas Avenue.

There were a number of factors that worked against Village Foods. In 2013, Briarcrest was plagued with construction, which ended up sealing off the main entrance of the store permanently. The remaining "other" entrance from Briarcrest was a bit awkward to turn in and out of since it was shared with the nearby Galleria Village office tower, with the other entrance being a side entrance off of 29th Street. The high school brought riff-raff and fighting into the parking lot.

Their product mix featuring organic, gluten free, and health foods began to become less important as H-E-B and even Walmart to an extent began featuring those types of items. Combined with the already-rough competition with a Walmart Supercenter half a mile to the east, a large H-E-B a mile to the west, and the addition of a Walmart Neighborhood Market within a two mile radius, it was a surprise that Village Foods was able to survive much at all.

Since Village Foods is dead and gone now (and no, despite the presence of Lewis' new Village Foods & Pharmacy at Broadmoor and 29th, for all intents Village Foods as we knew it is gone), I'd like to share a few stories regarding this store.

There are some things that I didn't like about Village Foods, but we won't discuss that (we're here to celebrate its life!)

The store was pitifully low-volume in the last few years of its life, but the upshot of that was that it was never jam-packed like H-E-B is, even during peak times (plus it was vastly overstaffed in the front end). It was still the best place to order more obscure food items, as well. They ordered Cel-Ray for me in late 2012 when I requested it, and it even carried it up until Village Foods closed down in February 2016. I won't forget that sort of service.

The rotisserie chicken was also quite good and was surrounded by delicious pectin (it always smelled great when it was being bagged). Juicy yet not greasy like so many other roti chickens are (I'm looking at you, H-E-B), I'm afraid I'll never have anything quite like it again. If I recall, the chicken did use orange juice as one of its ingredients in preparation.

Since day one, the store had a luncheon area, which for many years created its own in-house pizza (reports are that while unremarkable, it was decent). Soon after the demise of Stover Boys at Westgate Center, Charles Stover was brought on to manage the luncheon and deli area, which was merged into "Stover Bros. Café".

I only went to the pre-Stover deli once--it originally offered "Blue Plate Specials", which were things like lasagna, but Stover soon expanded the menu to include gourmet hamburgers and fries (carryovers from Stover Boys) but unfortunately wasn't able to use/brand everything due to complications from the Stover Boys bankruptcy. Stover changed some things in the deli, including vastly expanding the deli meats and cheeses to the standards of other supermarkets (I remember the part that originally faced the front of the store, which now has Boar's Head deli meats, originally had things like chips, including a brand of tortilla chip I enjoyed). While much of the traffic from Stover Boys was gone except for a small band of loyalists, Stover Brothers eventually built up a new following, enough to talk about expanding the seating (which they never ultimately did do). While Stover was free to build his menu from the stock "burgers and fries" to include more gourmet burgers and unique sliders (and we aren't talking the Krystal/White Castle fast food variety, although neither are in the area), there were some things left by the wayside: the milkshake sales went way down, so their homemade Mexican Vanilla ice cream was replaced with stock Blue Bell "Homemade Vanilla". Also killed was the "White Trash Donut" (later rebranded to "Southern Fried Doughnut"), which was amazing but hard to make (and really bad for you, but that's beside the point). Since the donuts are no longer available, you'll have to do with this description of them. See some early menus and stuff by visiting Yelp. Also, despite Stover's departed presence, many items remained permanently changed, like the potato salad.

2013 did bring the temporary addition of Hebert's Cajun Food, having been evicted of their shack at University Square, and briefly operated out of the "Southern Comfort Road Trip" food truck Village Foods had. There were plans to run it out of a food truck but the last update was close to two years ago. As far as I can tell, Hebert's Cajun Foods is gone gone.

Now that we're done with Village Foods, what happened next? Over 2016, the building was slightly altered, including removing the peaked roof in what will eventually be the Urban Air Trampoline Park (I don't see much construction going on in here), but also adding ALDI to the eastern third of the ~50,000 square feet building (on the left side if you were looking at it head-on), though it completely gutted the building, down to removing even the concrete floor. The only thing really left is the columns, and despite ALDI's fairly bare-bones nature, it is much cheaper and much nicer than Village Foods ever was. Perhaps it will eventually become grody and run-down, but for now, it's a clean, nice store.

1760 Briarcrest

Updated December 2016 for Aldi and removed some other stuff

Friday, September 9, 2011

Strange Street Signs

Gone. I had a lot of subjectivity here. Wouldn't you like to leave a comment at one our undercommented posts? It would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Through Campus

Way back in January 2011, I told of "The Wellborn Way", a "Roads" focused post (back when the site's name was College Station Roads and Retail) that was to describe Wellborn in incredible detail. Unfortunately, I never made more than two segments (Bryan and TAMU), the latter of which was released in September 2011 as "The Wellborn Way (Part 2): TAMU". Eventually, the entire thing was planned to go live as one post, until I decided to forget it and rework what I had into separate posts. I combined the first part into a much smaller post about the underpass at Villa Maria and eventually this post is what remains of Part 1. The last part (the "End of Wellborn Road" in Navasota) was eventually released as well, but not of the Wellborn Way.

This was Part 2, which I took offline and eventually updated on June 28, 2012.

Campus "begins" at the George Bush Drive intersection and ends at University, with speed limit 35 miles per hour.

The George Bush stoplight has been in place in the early-mid 1990s, though an older one was in place prior to that.

The rest of Wellborn has changed over the years. First off, the railroad wasn't always all gated off and such nowadays. For example, older aerials and maps have indicated that Wellborn originally curved (there's a curve in Wellborn) even farther out than it does now (might be explained by road-like parking lots near Wellborn on campus and the fact that at the University overpass you face the tracks dead on before the road curves), with the railroad being wider: old photos show there to be several tracks (up to three or four). Up until the late 1990s or early 2000s (basically, prior to the underpass), on the Wellborn side, there was a dusty area between the tracks and Wellborn where you could park your car, most commonly used during football games.
There was originally a concrete patch on the left side of Wellborn near Old Main that was taken out for the overpass construction.

Other than that, there hasn't been too much change to Wellborn, with a few exceptions. Up until the late 1990s (circa 1999), there was the original(?) location of Mt. Aggie, which later became more football practice fields, until those butt-ugly tent things were erected (those occupy a spot near, possibly higher than the Plaza Hotel on my "Buildings That Really Ought to Be Demolished in College Station" list).

And of course, there's John Kimbrough and Joe Routt, which had a pedestrian overpass made of concrete (I think it was called "Rainbow Bridge"). I miss the clearance signs on Wellborn, the rumbling when a train when under it, and of course, the "Wall of Gum" (see the "Most Wanted" tab at the top of this page) in which gum was stuck on the wall (it made a colorful, if slightly disgusting, display).

The University Drive stoplights and overpass were installed sometime in the 1960s, but was completely overhauled in late 2011 and early 2012. Similarly, the Old Main intersection went through MAJOR changes in early 2012, moving the railroad and Wellborn Road for a new railroad bridge and underpass construction. To me, the best part of it was the large clearance between the road and the railroad (enough to fit a bus), with the oversized Botts' dots on the side between the railroad and Wellborn. And of course, the many Aggies who crossed through walking, biking, or other modes of transportation.

Overall, going through campus is a pain these days, and my childhood memories of it rapidly disappearing, but it is an important part of campus, whether hated or loved.

EDIT 1 July 4th 2012: I found an image of University Drive's underpass from Project HOLD.