Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things to Do in Waco on a Wednesday Afternoon

I-35 might not be the most picturesque way to get from Dallas to Austin, but it is the most direct way, and that's what I wanted on June 10. I also wanted to go through Waco. Except for a short stop at the Dr. Pepper Museum more than 10 years ago, that's pretty much all I ever did in Waco -- pass through. This time around, I decided to make a little bit longer stop. Long enough to drive by Baylor University's campus, and to walk over this bridge.

That's the Waco Suspension Bridge. The invaluable Texas Almanac says that, "Waco business leaders received a charter from the state in 1866 to build a permanent toll bridge over the Brazos. Even with money scarce and interest rates high during Reconstruction, the Waco Bridge Company sold all its stock. In mid-1868, the company chose to work with John A. Roebling and Son of Trenton, New Jersey, in designing and building a new suspension-type bridge. Roebling later designed and built New York's Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883, using the same technique and style."

It turned out to be one of those infrastructure developments that spur the growth of a populated area, according to the Almanac: "The Waco Suspension Bridge triggered Waco's transformation from frontier outpost to city. The waves of immigrants heading west after the Civil War used this easy way across the Brazos. These travelers also needed supplies and equipment of all kinds, repairs for their harness and fresh horses and mules. Waco met their demands, and it prospered and grew."

The owners of the Waco Suspension Bridge charged a toll bridge after its completion in late 1869. "Not only did the bridge company charge people to cross, but it also collected five cents per head from cattle drovers 'for each loose animal of the cattle kind' that used the span," the Almanac continues. "Since the Chisholm Trail went through Waco, a large number of cattle lumbered across, which helped the bridge company to retire its debt."

Walk across this bridge, and you're in the footsteps -- and the hoof-falls -- of some who trod the Chisholm Trail. Later, the city of Waco owned the bridge, and quit charging a toll. As late as 1971, cars used the bridge, but in more recent years only pedestrians and bicyclists can cross it. Now it connects two parks on either side of the Brazos.

The woman at the tourist information office told me I could reach the bridge either by driving there and parking nearby, or walking a half mile along the Brazos riverwalk to get there. It was over 90° F., but I wasn't about to let that deter me. I put on a cap I bought long ago in Thailand, just the thing for walking in the tropics, and put a bottle of water in my back pocket, and headed out for the Brazos.

The riverwalk offered a fair amount of shade anyway. It passes under several other bridges, including the Interstate and a couple of railroad bridges, as well as under parkland trees. The picturesque San Antonio River Walk, it isn't, but Waco's riverwalk is still a nice piece of pedestrian-friendly work, though it felt underused. Maybe it was the heat, but I was the only person there much of the time. A pair of hobos sat on one of the railroad bridges, and another fellow fished near the suspension bridge, but they were all. There were more people up on the suspension bridge itself, including bicyclists, a couple of families, and a group of men who looked like their were ducking out of a convention or a meeting at a nearby hotel.

Returning the way I came, my route took me near the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. I almost passed it by. But really, how could I pass that by? Visiting only meant getting to Austin a little later than planned. It was worth it to see what the museum had to offer.

Namely, a lot of what you'd expect: pistols, rifles, badges, saddles and other cool ranger equipment, both antique and more modern. Rare Colts, Winchesters, Remingtons -- and a tommy gun. Don't think I've ever seen a real tommy gun before, though I didn't make note of the model.

Plenty of displays also told of individual rangers of renown, as well as dramatic incidents featuring rangers, such as the Battle of Walker's Creek in June 1844, when a party of rangers mixed it up with hostile Comanches in (the future) Kendall County, northwest of San Antonio. Besides being an illustration of early ranger kick-ass mettle, the battle is otherwise important because, as the Handbook of Texas Online says, "This fight is considered to be the first in which revolvers were used in combat, and a Comanche who had taken part in the battle later complained that the rangers 'had a shot for every finger on the hand.' "

The museum also featured a room devoted to fictional Texas Rangers. There have been quite a few, such as the Lone Ranger. I'm not old enough to have heard the radio show or seen the '50s TV show, but I remember a LR cartoon that aired in the late '60s. It wasn't until years later that I figured out that the Lone Ranger was also supposed to be a Texas Ranger. His origin story makes me wonder -- if a gang of outlaws ambushed and killed five Texas Rangers, wouldn't most of the rest of the rangers, and probably a lot of men deputized for the occasion, set out in hot pursuit? After all, the rangers are the long arm of the law, and the long arm of the law doesn't take kindly to having its officers murdered, even in the Wild West.

Never mind. It was an interesting exhibit. Such a remarkable amount of Lone Ranger merchandise. There was also a display case devoted to Walker, Texas Ranger. I've seen a few episodes over the years. But I've only heard about the one in which Walker was saved by his horse.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home