The Writing Traveler: On the Edge of Nowhere
July 26, 2021
A man could sleep on the floor or in a bed. One was hard. The floor had lumps. The only time the floor was cleaned was when you walked across it in your stocking feet.
On our way to the Guadalupe Mountains, knifing their way from New Mexico in Texas, we spent the night at Nickel Creek Station, owned and operated by Noel Kincaid.
He was thin as the blade of a knife with black hair that defied the comb, and a face chiseled by time and the wind. He was as tough as the leather on his boots. To him, the landscape was as familiar and just about as formidable as his face in the mirror.
The town had two buildings, a service station that doubled as a general store and café, and three motel units out back. Noel usually reserved them for deer hunters. A man could sleep on the floor or in a bed. One was hard. The floor had lumps. The windows were open. The doors did not lock. The only time the floor was cleaned was when you walked across it in your stocking feet.
“That’s just enough,” Crawford said. He was the photographer sent by Southern Living Magazine to capture the high country on film.
“How do you figure?”
“There’s one for me, one for you, and one for Noel Kincaid.”
“We’ve got seven more coming,” I said.
“Jerry Flemmons is. He’s the travel editor for the Star-Telegram. The rest just think they are.”
“How are we gonna sleep?” Crawford asked.
“Cozy,” I said.
The whole gang – driving down various and sundry roads from various and sundry towns in Texas – wandered into Nickel Creek Station by sundown.
A few hands of poker, stud and otherwise, a few jiggers of bourbon, and we were up two hours before sunrise.
We had to get an early start. It was a long way to the top. It was a long way back down. We didn’t dare spend the night in the mountains. We wouldn’t dare ride back out of the high country in the dark, clinging to a horse that was clinging to a trail less than a foot wide.
We were up two hours before sunrise, and Noel Kincaid was in the kitchen behind the café, frying steaks and eggs. He was in a hurry. If we didn’t start before the sun came up, we wouldn’t be back until after the sun went down. Nobody wanted to be on a mountain trail a foot wide in the dark.
That’s when we saw the two headlights in the distance and watched the car pull in alongside the gas pump. The driver with Missouri tags had no doubt been driving for hours without seeing any signs of life. The little service station must have looked like an oasis.
Kincaid said, “If I pump his gas, I’ll probably burn your eggs.”
“Don’t worry,” said Flemmons. “We’ll take care of the car.”
He waved, and we all followed him outside.
One began pumping gas.
Three were checking the air in the tires.
Two were washing the front windshield.
One was cleaning the back window.
One was checking the oil.
And I was filling up the smoking radiator with water.
The driver bought nine dollars worth of gas, gave us a ten-dollar bill, and headed south. I’m sure that when he got back home to St. Louis, he told everybody he met, “If you ever go to Texas, you need to stop at Nickel Creek Station.”
“Where is it?”
“I have no idea. But if you’re out of gas, those old boys flat give you great service.”
He drove off into the darkness, and we settled down to a plate piled high with fried eggs, heavy on the grease. None of them were burnt, nor did they taste like they had come from chickens.
Must have been the jalapenos.
You can find many of my travel stories in my memoir of sorts, The Man Who Talks to Strangers. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.