Note: I wrote this in 1994 for my college newspaper. I found it again this morning and thought I would post it here.
He sits at a small wooden table, eating ribs off a plastic plate with his hands. In between mouthfuls he takes a swallow of his water, looks up at Jeff (seeing how far along he is) and then goes back to the plate.
Four long ribs remain, along with a helping of potato salad and a slice of bread. Thick sauce pours off the ribs, big, heavy drops fall to cover the white plate, and more runs down his fingers as he rips another bit of meat from the bone.
“It is the best,” he says, smiling at Jeff.
Jeff looks up from his hamburger, and nods back to Galyn. He agrees, but can not say so. His mouth is full.
Galyn and Jeff have many things in common: dusty boots, well-worn baseball caps, and smooth shaven faces. They share the same knowledge of the feed store, and both squint their eyes when they smile. That is where the similarities take on a different feel.
Galyn has seen quite a few years on the Kansas/Oklahoma plains, but he still moves quickly. His hair is full and silver and his arms are thick powerful. His mornings are spent at the same table,
drinking coffee with whoever stops by. His days are spent in the oil fields of central Oklahoma, but by late afternoon he makes it back to the store.
Jeff is young, but his eyes do not tell that. Under his ball cap is closely cropped, wavy, dishwater brown hair. He stands tall and slim, but surprises the customers when he grabs a fifty pound bag of feed and throws it around, making it seem weightless.
The table they sit at is not in your run-of-the-mill barbecue joint. It and they sit in something much different from most restaurants in the world. At least the world of the 1990s.
Surrounding the table are items most people would not associate with lunch or dinner, or food at all for that matter. Pegboard lines the walls of the 74 Ranch Supply, all four walls have tack and supplies hanging from them. Along the west wall a leather rifle sheath hangs above other various items used by horsemen. Bits, reins, bridles, and cribbing collars dangle from short metallic pegs.
“The cribbing collars move well,” says Jeff Heskett, a 20 year-old employee at the feed and tack store. “They are made to keep horses from cribbing. That’s when the horse puts his teeth around a tree limb or fence post and suck wind in and out. It can kill ‘em. Somehow the collar keeps the horse’s head down, it goes around his neck and hurts it when he raises his head.”
A double sided row of counters sits only feet away from the two men. A gallon bottle of fish oil, rubbs for hooves, flea and tick sprays and bone meal all sit within reach. Hanging from the ceiling is a fluorescent orange “Fly Stik”. Hundreds of dead flies hang caught in the goo, making the stick look speckled.
“That thing fell on me one time, right across my forearms,” said Galyn. “Back then it was hangin” pretty much above the table. I stood up and the darn thing fell down. They thought it was pretty funny.”
Hanging beside the “Stik,” is something that catches most people’s attention. A black plastic, life size head of a horse hang by it’s neck, forever looking out the front door. The plastic has been brushed to give it the appearance of hair, and it’s mouth is cut open to show a grin.
“You know once a year that thing goes down to Remington Park (a horse racing venue). Don’t really know what they use it for, but the lady comes and gets it every year. Then a week later she comes back with it. Maybe I ask her this time,” said Galyn.
Perched above is something all together different too. On the roof of the 74 Ranch Supply are eight saddles, all eight are nailed down tight to the roof, rotting in the Oklahoma weather. The Downings did not begin the tradition of nailing down old saddles to the roof, but they do continue it.
“I’m not sure who started it, but about 12 years ago the first was nailed down. We haven’t put another up there for some time,” said Galyn Downing, owner of the 74.
74 Ranch Supply sits in a three room building at Portland and Edmond Road, west of Edmond. The original building, built in 1928, consists of wood walls and floors. The site has been used for a variety of business’ since it was built as a filling station. In it has been a shoe cobbler, restaurants (at least two different times), the feed store, and more than once as a filling station.
“Well when I first came by here in the early 60s, it was a cafe. Veal’s Cafe I think,” said Galyn.
A little feed is kept inside an old garage attached to the east wall. Most of the feed bags are stored in seven different semi trailers parked along side the building and road. Part of an old sign can still be read in the garage, painted on what years ago was an outside wall of the 74 Ranch Supply building. It used to read SINCLAIR, now it only reads INCLAIR. If there was ever a big green dinosaur, it has been carted off a long time ago.
A third room was added later, also wood, but the date seems lost in history. That third room now serves as the kitchen and prep room for the barbecue.
The prep room is short, maybe 20 feet long, with a sloping ceiling, making it seem much smaller than it is. A cream colored Sears Coldspot Frostless freezer stands, quietly humming behind the door. A small stove sits beside a door that leads out to the smoker. To use the door Galyn steps down into a depression and opens the door out into the side yard. Along the remaining wall space, counters are filled with crock pots, chips, pickles, dressings, colas and buns. In the middle of the tiny room is a tallish island, by lunch time the island is covered with burnt foil and smoked meats.
The smoker weighs in at 1,900 pounds of black iron.
“Would’ve cost us around $3,000 for the whole thing if we had gone commercial. But we had it made special for about, oh, I don’t know. Around fourteen hundred and fifty,” said Galyn.
Standing beneath a small shed, the smoker spews wood smoke out over the grassy side yard. Despite the heat, watermelon vines grow up along the back of the shed. There is just enough room for one person to fit comfortably inside the shed with the smoker. Two could squeeze in, but in the heat it would be unbearable.
As Galyn opens the smoker he flips the switch to start a ceiling mounted fan. A smell of burning wood quickly fills the shed and spreads out through the surrounding countryside.
“We only burn 100 percent pecan in here,” said Galyn. He places a rod in the door to keep it open and puts on a pair of singed gloves to protect his hands from the extreme heat. The grills continue to turn above the bright orange fire deep within the black dragon. Foil, once shiny silver, now burnt golden, wraps the brisket, ribs, and other meats in a protective blanket. The foil lets the heat and smoke get to the meat without burning them dry, said Galyn.
He puts the bundles of golden wrapped meats into a big blue tub and carries them back to the side door. Balancing the tub between his right hip, right hand and the wall, he opens the door with his left hand.
“No problem,” he said walking up the little steps back into the prep room.
Galyn and Leta Downing bought the 74 Ranch Supply four years ago, in 1990, from Carl Parris. “We owned the 74 ‘bout 10 years or so. Maybe we bought it in ‘79. Don’t really remember,” said Parris.
The store came with many advantages: a group of regular customers, good feed suppliers and a market that needed a feed and tack here in this store’s location.
“We (he and his wife Leta) bought this place and it was in the black. It’s been a good business, and they’re good people (the customers). But, two years ago something happened. Something drastic. It almost brought us down,” said Galyn.
When the Downings bought the 74 Ranch Supply they got the store, it’s customers and the manager. Two years ago the manager Galyn talks about, Bobby Young, left the 74 and began his own feed store.
“I think the primary reason he left here was jealousy. He went down the road two miles and opened. He took some of my feed suppliers, actually told them I was going to stop selling their brand and about half of my customers. I had to call the guy at one of the feed suppliers and threaten a lawsuit. That got ’em back real quick,” said Galyn.
Galyn believes that the area can only keep one store open. There are not enough people to have two sites. One store does nicely, two stores struggle, said Galyn.
“Besides, the way he thinks, he’ll make a fatal mistake. And I’ll be there when he does,” said Galyn.
The split also caused a rift in the Downing family as well. Young is married to their niece, and since he left the 74, they have not seen her.
“Nope, haven’t seen neither one of ‘em,” said Galyn. “Don’t plan on it either.”
For now Galyn keeps his job as an oil field supervisor, a “glorified pumper” as one regular calls him.
“I went into the field in ‘54. I was drafted into the army in ‘55 as a battalion welder. When I got out in ‘57, I came back to the oil fields–in ‘56 I was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. I’ll go back. Someday¼but my first love is the oil field, people may think I’m crazy, but it is,” said Galyn.
In February, Galyn and his wife started the barbecue business, Smoklahoma, with their youngest son, Brian and his wife Terry, he said they had the right barbecue and the right place.
“We enjoy good barbecue. We felt there was a need, and we think we have the best,” said Galyn.
Brian Downing sits across from his father. Sitting across from each other is like looking into a mirror at different times in someone’s life. Brian could be Galyn twenty-five years ago.
“The smell of the barbecue brings in new faces, but the regulars would come anyway,” said Galyn.
“The regulars have been coming for a long time now. Long before the barbecue started,” said Jeff.
The “regulars” they speak of are a varied crew. Raymond sits in the wooden chair, leaning back on two legs. He wears a purple tank-top, and cut off jeans. A pager holds on to his waistline, fighting to stay attached as he moves in the chair. Dark sunglasses hang at the neckline of his shirt, bowing the shirt down, revealing a thick layer of chest hair. His shoulders are broad, freckled and darkly tanned. Long, graying hair lays across his shoulders and mixes into his beard. The beard is also long and graying, laying on his chest.
“Have you seen Bill’s barn?” Galyn asked Raymond. “Umm, it’s full.”
“We need to run up and look at that blue stem. I’m gonna head back to the house, but as soon as you get a chance, come and get me,” Raymond said to Galyn as he rocked back and forth.
“You know you put that hay up green it smells pretty bad,” said Galyn.
“When you put it up green, it’s stout,” said Raymond.
“You get that green in there to tight and you can get spontaneous combustion. It’ll burn,” said Galyn in-between sips of his drink.
Raymond nods and sets the chair back on all fours. “We put some in the barn, before it was 80 degrees, next day the thermostat showed 140,” Raymond said shaking his head.
“We are going to have a shortage on grass hay,” Galyn said, waiving his left hand in the air to emphasize the point. “We’re running a 25-35 percent shortage. It is gonna be a hard winter.”
A few minutes go by and the men sit in silence. An oscillating fan hums as it pushes around the air conditioned coolness. Quietly Raymond stands and walks to the door.
He turns back to the group. “You know it’s quiet in here. But when it gets cold, they’ll be here everyday when the door opens. Waiting on coffee. Playing cards and talking trade secrets.”
“That’s the thing with ranchers and horsemen. If we have a new idea, or something that works for something, we share it. Tell everyone and let them try. It’s not that way in the oil business. If you have a secret worth keeping, you do,” said Galyn.
Jeff nods, getting up to help a customer with her selection.
“What’da know kid?” Galyn asked Rick as he walked up and sat down in the chair Raymond just left.
“Need a new air conditioner in the truck!” Rick said wiping sweat from his brow.
“Yeah, when my AC started gettin’ weak, I knew it was time to trade,” said Galyn.
“You should see the size of my compressor in the Lincoln,” Rick said holding his hands apart to demonstrate.
Rick looks very different from Galyn and Jeff. He wears blue sweatpants, T-shirt, baseball cap, white socks and sandals. He would look very much like a “kid,” but the five o’clock shadow at ten in the morning gives him away.
“Anyone back there I can sweet talk into gettin’ me a Dr. Pepper?” Rick asked walking to the prep room.
“Well I don’t know ‘bout the sweet talking, but we can get you the Dr. Pepper,” Galyn said as he followed Rick into the prep room.
Tammy, Galyn’s daughter, comes in the back door and carries something to the prep room. She wears a black tour T-shirt from a recent concert and jean shorts. A long trail of smoke follows her in, hanging close to the cigarette that dangles from her hand.
She smiles to Jeff and tells him to help her carry things in from her car.
“I just went to Sam’s to get some supplies. That Jeff, I depend on him whole-heartedly. He really works for the feed store, but he does so much for Smoklahoma. He paid for his lunch the first couple of days, but he does so much for me…I feed him,” she said wiping her hands on her apron.
“Yeah that Jeff, he’s a good kid. Rides the fence on both sides for us. The tack and barbecue,” said Galyn.
The front door opens and a tall man in torn blue jeans, a Winston cigarettes T-shirt, and lace up boots walks in already talking.
“We were out on the trail when we heard a rattler sing off,” said Howard as he paced back and forth in front of the table, to the back of the store and then the table again. “I got off my horse and got the long iron out. Told this kid to get down and hold my horse, and his. I walked real slow towards the snake, didn’t see ‘im, so I just stood there.
“Then he moved and I caught the shine off his skin. He went straight for one of the horses. Rared- up and he was mad. I drew in real close to get a good aim, and he changed directions on me. So I tried it again, put the rifle to his head and shot him dead.”
Howard pulled out the closest chair, the same one Rick had been in, and Raymond before him, and sat down.
Howard works during the week at a local lumber yard, but during the weekends his life looks drastically different.
“I bent down and cut off the head, and I was trying to put it in my medicine pouch. I couldn’t get my medicine pouch open with one hand, so I just stuck the rattlers in my mouth. Opened the pouch up and then took them rattlers and put ‘em in there,” said Howard.
“Oh, that impressed the girls,” said Galyn as he smiled and squinted his eyes.
“Oh, I looked at this one kid, he was settin’ there (squirming), so I took the opportunity. I said ‘you know what I really ought to do? I oughta cut him open and pull his heart out.’ The kid started saying ‘no, no, no,'” said Howard.
“Did you do the cookin’?” said Galyn.
“No. No, Kendrick, the black cowboy did the cooking,” said Howard as he leaned back on two legs.
“I do authentic historical trail rides up at Roman Nose State Park. My pants you can’t by in a store, they’re hand made. My shirts are hand made. All of our vests, my four pocket vest, and then the bandanna. The saddle, my bridle, everything is authentic. I mean some of it’s new, we know that. My saddle and bridle, everything down to my boots is hand made. And everything else,” said Howard.
“I’d like to come out and take that trail ride someday,” said Galyn.
“It’s only ten dollars an hour,” said Howard. “We have three different lengths; one hour at ten dollars, two at twenty, and three for thirty. We also have a dinner trail for forty. It’s about a three hour ride and then we serve dinner over an open fire. We serve a ten ounce rib-eye steak dinner, ranch style beans, fried potatoes and onions, corn on the cob, and peaches for dessert. And a whole bunch more stories.
“We’re trying to add something to this trail ride that nobody else does. Us being dressed up right, we have a captain with the calvary, a cowboy, a native American, and a black cowboy. We go out on these rides and we tell them history about the park and about the outlaws and things that hung around in that area. Some Indian myths and legends.
“We are setting up some camps, will be offering rides where you camp overnight in an authentic cowboy camp, or calvary camp, or Indian camp. We pack them across lakes, and the only way to get across is walking or on horse back. It’s a lot easier on horse back and you’re a lot higher up off the ground to. Just in case you run across a rattle snake.
“We take you up onto top of the mountain, you get a different aspect of life. And if you have any stress, you lose it up there real quick. It puts everything in perspective, sitting up there on a good horse and looking over the countryside.”
“Yep. Raymond just left, the ‘Bearded Wonder,'” said Galyn.
Jeff’s girlfriend, Amy, walks in the back door. The chime goes off telling everyone someone else has come in.
“Raymond is from the Viet Nam era, they all wear their hair long and he’s fur-bearing. Good guy though,” said Galyn.
Galyn explained to Jeff that he started calling people with a beard “fur bearing” when he was young.
“I grew up in south-western Kansas, west of Dodge City about 90 miles. Near where we lived was a bunch of Minonites. I started calling them ‘fur bearing Christians.’ It just stuck with me. You know, I was neighbors to the, at one time the world’s renowned rodeo clown for several years. Buddy Heaton, I rodeoed with him for several years,” said Galyn.
“Did you here that?” asked Amy
“What happened?” asked Galyn, feigning surprise.
Amy smiled and pointed to the prep room. “Garth Brooks is going to be on Vicki today.”
“Yeah? What time is Vicki on?” asked Galyn.
“It’s on right now,” said Amy.
“Well, reckon we ought to move the TV out here?” asked Galyn.
Amy stands and grabs her purse of the back of the chair she was sitting in. “Are you leaving us?” asked Galyn.
“Yeah, I got to go to the bank,” she said.
“Are you bring us some money?” asked another customer.
“No, I’m bringing them some money, before they start calling for it,” she said as she walked to the door.
“You know, you haven’t had no one bring you a saddle in a long time,” said Howard.
“Hadn’t had one,” agreed Galyn.
“The other day I went home, and daddy gave me this magazine from ‘77. You know I’m always having to tell stories on the trail, well, you know how man has always had to deal with the problem of rabid animal. Well…” Howard went on to tell a story of native Americans hanging a infected person above a fire, wrapped in buffalo skin for protection. The fire would cause such a fever that the person would be healed of the rabies.
“Yeah, rabies can be a terrible, slow death. Your talking agony, agony, agony,” said Galyn.
“Oh, yeah. Even the sight of water can make a person with rabies wretch. You can’t eat, you can’t drink. It’s a, it’s a horrifying death,” said Howard.
“I heard, up in that area, when Ft. Supply was a fort,” said Galyn. “They sent a detachment to Santa Fe, New Mexico. To bring eighty thousand dollars worth of silver and gold bars, that had been stolen in the first place. On the way back, where they crossed the river, up there south of the fort, some Indians trapped them in the ravine. Now this is in Oklahoma history books, they had some dynamite with them and a artillery piece. The soldiers put the piece and the gold and silver up against the ravine wall, and they dynamited it. Covered it up.
“Now only one person got out of that party, a civilian scout. He made it back there to the fort, and told them what had happened, he said ‘man they got us,’ told them about the Indians and all, and then he died a few weeks after that. Well the sent people down to the crossing to find the gold and silver, they searched and searched and searched. But they never did. Nobody has ever found it.
“I know a guy who said he walked all over that area and found him a bunch a arrowheads. He says he knows with in three miles, I would love to go up there and find that. Do you realize what eighty thousand dollars worth of gold would be today?”
“See they tell me that there is actually more currency buried than there is being taken care of right now. Cause back in those days people buried stuff. You know they didn’t trust the bank and they buried stuff,” said Howard.
Jerry, another ‘regular,’ comes in the front door. “I heard you had a time with that horse,” he said to Howard as he walked around the table, getting the last available chair.
“Yeah, just a little bit,” Howard started to laugh.
The back door opens up, giving off another chime, Jeff stands to see who came in.
“Morning Gabby,” said Jeff.
Gabby walks in carrying two cucumbers and a pint of picante sauce.
“Well, I’m not getting any work done here,” said Howard, standing slowly and stretching to the ceiling. His right hand scratched his shallow beard before returning to his side. “See yall later.”
“Later,” said Jeff.
“All right, you take care of yourself,” said Galyn.
The front door slams shut after Howard leaves. Again the fan can be heard humming atop the massive “Wonder Warm” heater. Beside the fan sits the coffee pots, both full of freshly brewed black.