Vacationing with the family in the 1950s was a lot different from today. I remember rolling along two-lane highways in our white over turquoise Ford Fairlane while singing to rock and roll tunes on the AM radio. Our air conditioning was called 4-40 . . . that’s all four windows rolled down at 40 mile per hour.
Bathroom breaks were on the roadside or the occasional small town along the route, and oh how we looked forward to the big billboards featuring images of pecan nut logs that read, “Stuckey’s . . . 100 miles”, “Stuckey’s . . . 99 miles”, “Stuckey’s . . . “. It was a great time to travel.
A part of the adventure in those days was where you spent the night. Would the motel have a flashy neon marquee and a pool with green water or would the restaurant serve French toast with powdered sugar. Would the room smell like your grandma’s musty old closet, or would a roach the size of Zippo run across the ceiling after lights out? You never knew what to expect.
About 60 miles southwest of Houston in the laid back community of Wharton is a nostalgic tribute to those days long past. It’s the sort of place that many may remember, but probably didn’t have the opportunity to stay in. It’s an old-style roadside motel with just ten units lined in a row like ten little Indians; after all this is the Tee Pee Motel.
Originally built in the early 1940s just off of what is now Highway 59, the Tee Pee Motel is the ultimate throw back to another time and has become a regional landmark. I had driven past it for years, but on this day decided to stop in for look.
As I cruised by the towering arrows that dot the closely cut lawn I flashed back to when I was a kid. And, though I never stayed in one, I remembered seeing similarly painted concrete tee pees while on family vacations and in Travelogs.
The motel staff was friendly and jumped at the chance to show me what the interior of a modern day tourist tee pee looks like. I’m sure that Native Americans never traveled with free Wi-Fi access, cable TV, microwave, refrigerator and a coffee maker. Poor them. Lucky us.
The décor was nothing fancy, but the room was clean and smelled fresh . . . nothing like the buffalo hide and campfire smoke of the earlier models. Earth tone colors and Indian patterns filled the room. It was the kind of old skool getaway that folks should experience at least once in a lifetime if only to say that they had slept in a true blast from the past.
After more than 70- years the Tee Pee Motel is one of only four original tee pee-style properties remaining in America, and it’s the only such lodge in Texas. It’s an icon from a simpler time. It’s the kind of place where I should have dozed off clutching my Red Rider with dreams of Roy and Dale. Maybe it’s not too late to play the tee pee tourist . . . We’ll see.
For Texas travel information about real Lone Star destinations and more, always visit tourtexas.com
The Texas Travelin’ Man is Michael Baxter