The sense of smell is a powerful memory trigger: The smell of earth can lead us back to the farm, where Dad and Granddad worked long hours in the cornfields. The smell of Pond’s Cold Cream on Mom’s skin may take us back to those special hugs that only she could give when we fell. And the smell of freshly cut grass might hearken back to those summer days of childhood spent playing football or baseball in the dewy fields behind the school.
In North-Central Texas, just south of the Oklahoma border, the 14-mile trek from Nocona to Saint Jo on U.S. Highway 82 delivers the musky scent of leather, taking you to other socked-away memories—whe-ther it’s saddling up your steed to herd cattle or taking a long, scenic drive in that old car with those wonderfully worn leather seats.
Just east of Wichita Falls, you’ll find the town of Nocona, named for Comanche Chief Peta Nocona. Here, the smell of leather greets you as soon as you reach downtown where the Nocona Athletic Goods Company, which started making baseball gloves in 1934, is the last mass-production company in America still doing so. Other glove-making companies have long since outsourced their factory work overseas.
Visitors can tour the facilities at set times Monday through Thursday (although staff members will try to accommodate visitors or small groups at any time) and see gloves made from start to finish. See the leather arrive fresh from the tannery, cut into the proper shapes, sewn, stitched, cut again for the inside padding, laced, pounded into shape and softened with oils. When done, browse the facility’s museum and see rare, signed memorabilia and replicas of gloves used by some of the most famous men to play the game, such as Babe Ruth. The exhibit includes a replica of Nolan Ryan’s first glove, a Nocona.
While downtown, stop at Times Forgotten Steak House, a restaurant and club open Wednesday through Sunday lunch. The Western-themed establishment has antlers and saddles on the walls, wrought-iron railings and lots of menu choices, including Texas staples such as delicious burgers, chicken-fried steak and barbecue. And there are unique options, too, like a PB&J that goes beyond the household version by adding freshly sliced strawberries and crushed peanuts.
If bunking for the night, go to Daddy Sam’s Saloon for Nocona Nights, a monthly meal and concert held on Saturdays from October through early May that has featured bands such as Two Tons of Steel and The Derailers. When done, stay at the Nocona Inn, also in the heart of downtown. The rooms are modest, but the family-run establishment caters to your every whim, featuring free wireless Internet access and an accommodating staff. If time allows, travel to nearby Lake Nocona and its 40 miles of shoreline. It is perfect for fishing or recreational boating.
Nocona Athletic Goods Company, (940) 825-3326, www.nokona.com
Times Forgotten Steak House, (940) 825-6100
Nocona Inn, (940) 825-8800
Nocona Chamber of Commerce, (940) 825-3526, www.nocona.org
From Nocona, head southeast on U.S. Highway 82 to the sleepy little town of Saint Jo. There are cute little antique stores to visit on the town square, such as the aptly named Grandma’s Stuff, but be sure to stop in at Trail Town Custom Leather, where everything is custom-made. Leather products include boots, chaps, belts, gun holsters and knife sheaves, and for a tuition, which includes everything except room and board, you can attend one of C.T. Chappell’s bootmaking classes. The two-week class includes everything you need—from glue to thread to your choice of leather—to make your very own pair of cowboy boots. Call for class schedules.
If there’s time to kill, turn south onto FM 677 off U.S. 82. After about a mile and a half you’ll find the locally named “Sculpture Yard” in a field of the Running Hen Ranch. There are several pieces of eye candy to gaze upon: Anchored wooden poles standing on end at different angles form a 20-foot-tall fan, and five red and rusty Volkswagen Beetles are lined up as if caravaning to an unknown destination. Five metal sunflowers, painted just like the real versions, wave hello with their giant green “leaves.” Metal sequoia cacti seemingly reach the sky at this unique little road stop. Don’t forget your camera!