Farewell Charlie Harris

Welcome back. The date was September 30, 1927, the place was Pawhuska, Oklahoma and the occasion was the birth of a son to Charles H. Harris and Muriel Mae (Stephens) Harris. Little did they know that this boy would grow up to become one of the most famous Oklahoma aviators since Wiley Post. This little boy who got his education in the public schools in Pawhuska (a place he always called the “crown jewel” of Osage County) went on to serve his country in the military before receiving several college degrees. After college he formed his own very successful company in Tulsa.

Transportation Leasing Company would become one of the largest independent vehicle and aircraft leasing company in the entire southwest. This boy, who was an older man by the time I met him, would put together the most well-known antique plane collection in the country and be inducted into just about every aviation hall of fame there is. He would also serve on the Board of Directors of many of Tulsa’s most high profile organizations. But it wasn’t all about making money; he loved to help under privileged children and his pockets were never empty when it came to giving.

Charlie W. Harris is the man I’ve been telling you about and he died last week at the age of 90. Charlie was the founder and chairman of the Biplane Fly-in for the twenty-year existence of the event (1986-2009). He and Virgil Gaede who was his right hand man brought hundreds of vintage aircraft from around the country to the Bartlesville airport. There were planes from WWI and WWII as well as experimental aircraft and with the planes came the fliers, many of whom were war heroes. It was quite a show and every year it made statewide news. Friends this event also brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Bartlesville economy as the many participants and attendees visited our hotels, restaurants and museums.

In 1998 Charlie was awarded the Medallion of Honor by the Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce. As usual he gave all the credit to everyone else, praising Oklahoma as the best place in the world to grow up and live in and friends he could have lived anywhere.
Charlie W. Harris was a truly classy guy and he gave me crucial help in putting together the bestselling book Footprints in the Dew. I can tell you from firsthand experience he will be missed by everyone who knew him. When you add the loss of Ken Bruno who was my first high school basketball coach and my friend the legendary athlete Red Murrell I’d have to say it’s been a rough few weeks for many of us in Bartlesville.

Moving forward now with six days left until Christmas, here is the third installment of the “Dead Man Switch.”
After our handshake the second man left the room through the same door he had entered from. It would be Diana who explained all the details of my new job which mostly entailed helping her with the day to day running of her office. Even though the two brothers acted weird, fresh out of college with a lot of debt I needed the job. In any event the money they offered me was too good to turn down. I quickly settled into a routine of taking the mail to the post office every day, picking up whatever mail was there and acting as Diana’s driver toting her and her luggage wherever she needed to go. With a private plane at her disposal, from coast to coast, border to border, she never stopped and she kept me quite busy.

I had been working for Diana for two weeks straight and with Christmas just six days away was hoping for that day off but knew that probably wasn’t going to happen. I had taken the job knowing that I would have very little time to myself and I could already tell that Christmas would be just another day to Diana. She was so dedicated to her job that she even lived somewhere on the grounds of this huge complex where we worked. With a dozen maids and groundskeepers, a couple of butlers, a top-notch chef and security guards as well as Diana and myself it all added to quite a payroll just for the household. All along I kept asking myself why had they hired me out of the thousands of people who worked for their company? Why had they picked me for this job? I’d find out on Christmas Day.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..
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Route 66 and Part #2 of The Dead Man Switch

Welcome back. Zigzagging across the state of Oklahoma this past week I had the good fortune to travel on a highway that many of us in this fast paced, growing world may have forgotten but friends I’m here to tell you that Route 66 is alive and well. While in Miami, OK , the birthplace of Route 66, doing a live radio interview with KGLC/KVIS Radio station manager Michael Woodruff about the new audiotape version of Footprints in the Dew, I learned that this historic road runs right through the center of town. When it was built back in the late 1920s it covered two thousand four hundred miles from start to finish and Miami held the record for having the longest stretch of road running through a town. Maybe it was just me but this radio station where Michael and I were talking sits right on Route 66 and looking out onto the highway from a big picture window I could just imagine what it might have looked like back in the early 1930s when Route 66 was the main road through Oklahoma, it was all pretty cool.

Advertised as the gateway to Oklahoma, Miami also had the Coleman Theater which I’ve mentioned before and like Route 66 the theater is very much alive and well. In fact tomorrow night the legendary violinist Shoji Tabuchi is bringing his holiday show The Wonder of Christmas to the Coleman. As many of you may know Tabuchi is a long standing favorite in Branson, MO where he has his own theater. During the holidays there are many other shows going on at the Coleman and if you’ve ever wanted to check out this beautiful theater this would be a good time.

With that said and only thirteen days until Christmas I will continue with the holiday story I started in last week’s column called “The Dead Man Switch.” If you missed Part I visit the E/E’s website or pick up a copy of last week’s paper at their office.
Led by the doorman to a large office tastefully decorated with what appeared be fine western art, I saw the man who had summoned me. When he rose from his desk to shake my hand I could see that he was dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and old tennis shoes. A man maybe in his mid-seventies, he surprised me not only with his appearance but also with his physical condition. When I shook his hand he had a firm grip and it was easy to tell he had done some manual labor at some point in his life. But there was something else. He looked familiar. I’d seen this guy before.

After a very brief conversation, a secretary introduced only as “Diana” brought me some water and asked if I needed anything else as the man excused himself and disappeared into another room. Diana on the other hand was very talkative and told me she had worked her way up in the company, starting as a hostess in one of their restaurants, then moving on to become a manager and then a personal assistant. She seemed to already know it when I told her it was the same path I had taken to get there. It was easy to see that she was devoted to this man I had only just met and it was then that she gave me my first clue as to why this obviously wealthy man had summoned me when she said he was one of a set of triplets. During our conversation another man walked into the room entering from another door. Although his facial features were exactly like the other guy’s, this man was all decked out in a fancy suit and tie. There hadn’t been time for the first man to change into the clothes this new guy had on which included a diamond watch, gold necklaces and fancy shoes so I figured he had to be another of the triplets and with a weak handshake I knew he was.

Next week with six days to Christmas, the third brother appears in the “Dead Man Switch.”

Till then, I’ll see ya down the road……………..
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A Buffalo Dale Christmas Story

I think the holidays make you stop and reflect on the past as well as reflect on the future. Here then is a story from my youth….

Welcome back. My travels this past week found me in the southern part of Oklahoma City among the many businesses located on Reno Avenue. If you want furniture new or used its on Reno. There are dozens of mattress stores most of which advertise as being factory direct which means these places are huge, some are as big as Bartlesville High School. As you can guess this street is also full of restaurants. The Oklahoma State Fairgrounds is just blocks away and with the big American Quarter Horse World Champion Show going on for sixteen days you can imagine the area was especially busy when I was there.

I didn’t know much about “Lorec Ranch” as the store is called before I was invited there for a book signing but as soon as I arrived I realized that this ain’t your average western furniture outlet. No jeans or shirts, Lorec Ranch is more of a western art furniture store and they make most of their items right there in the back of the huge building they’re in. It is quite a place and then on Saturday I was at their new store next door to Ree Drummond’s Mercantile and for you locals, yes there is still a long line to get in and eat. This eventful weekend ended for me on Sunday at the Grand National Gun and Knife Show in Tulsa for another book signing.

Yesterday I was in Ponca City once again at Brace Books. Friends, if you haven’t been to Jerry Brace’s store trust me it’s a real treat and not just for the books. At the little snack bar tucked away in a distant corner with a few canvas chairs you are surrounded by new books, tapes, post cards and just about anything else for brain stimulation. I just wish I could talk him into opening a store closer to Bartlesville. I had lots of folks stop in and if you get the opportunity to go to Ponca City be sure to check it out. And don’t miss the Marland Mansion and Museum, its great!

As we’re getting closer to the end of the year, I’ll finish this week with the start of a Christmas story. This incident took place several years ago on a cold and snowy night when I was doing some investigative work in New York City. It was a long way from the small town in Oklahoma where I had been brought up. A good size fella, right out of college I landed a job doing security work at a fancy restaurant and bar. I quickly moved into management and then a few months later I was promoted to a spot at the corporate office in Dallas, Texas. The corporation had thousands of employees and my ability to spot a good dependable person proved valuable to the higher ups. When I got to Dallas I was summoned to the owner’s home which was unlike anything I’d seen before. The large, circular driveway and the giant pillars framing the entrance to the mansion made J.R. Ewing’s place look like a dump. When I drove up to the front, a man dressed in a coat and tie opened the door to my car and another led me inside what can only be described as a palace. Western bronzes, some ten feet high, were displayed everywhere along with several large animal mounts, all pointing down a long hallway. It was at the end of that well-lit hallway, surrounded by paintings of the old west, that I’d meet the man who had summoned me. As he is dead now, his name is of no consequence but the mission he gave me would take me not just to New York but also to several foreign countries searching for the last man alive in what can only be called the “dead man switch.” To be continued next week and till then I’ll see ya down the road…..

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Barry Switzer, Will Rogers, Ree Drummond and Oklahoma Hospitality

A few thoughts about my home state…

Welcome back. With Oklahoma’s football team ranked #1in the country and making national headlines, the spotlight is shining big time once again on the Sooner State. Attendance at attractions like museums is going up along with revenue at restaurants and hotels. While I was in Norman this past weekend for Barry Switzer’s Coach’s Cabana show on Campus Corner I saw thousands of people taking part in the tradition of tailgating and when I visited with fans from West Virginia they all gave the people in Oklahoma a 5-star rating for hospitality. Everywhere I travel I find that people have the same opinion of our state.

When I was in California promoting my book whenever I mentioned I was from Oklahoma Will Roger’s name frequently came up in conversation. It was the same in New York. I am bringing this up because even nowadays folks still remember Will’s values, his honest and straightforward attitude along with his homespun mannerisms and the fact that he was from Oklahoma which I think has a lot to do with people’s impression of us. Friends it’s hard to believe but it’s true that 82 years after his death, Will’s memory continues to cast a rosy glow on all of us Oklahomans and I’m always happy to say that I am from his home state.

With Christmas and the New Year fast approaching, I’ll have a lot of opportunities to brag about Oklahoma because my calendar for December and January is filling up with engagements to promote the new audio book version of Footprints in the Dew. This Friday I’ll be at the Lorec Ranch western store in Oklahoma City. I don’t know a lot about this place except the building is huge and it is full of everything western. It also turns out that the owner, Kari Lopez, is a close friend of the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. How do I know that you may ask? Well the next day I’ll be at the grand opening of Lorec Ranch’s new store in Pawhuska which sits right between Ree’s Mercantile and her new hotel. It’s all adding up to an exciting weekend and somehow, I’m hoping to squeeze in an appearance at the Coach’s Cabana show which will be broadcasting the Big Twelve Championship game live from the River Spirit Casino in Tulsa.

My schedule for December also includes interviews with Hal Smith and Bob Funk both of whom were recently inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame as well as Charles Day who is the husband of Anita Bryant.

I do hope you have enjoyed reading about my traveling over the past year and as the New Year comes in I will once again be visiting the high country of New Mexico where I’ll be working on a new project that I’ll soon be telling you about. At that time of year where I’m going there are few other human travelers, maybe a bear or a mountain lion, deer, turkey and elk for sure and as you can imagine winter time along the continental divide ain’t for sissies.

However, if you’re a skier this is an area you might enjoy as there are three family oriented ski resorts close to where I’ll be. The Taos Ski Basin opened on November 23rd with man-made snow on a limited number of trails. In Red River the ski area has been family owned for 55 years and they also have two trails currently open with man-made snow.

Angel Fire Resort will open for skiing on December 8th and they have announced that the ski season will be extended through March 25th. Angel Fire has also added night skinning and a new black diamond trail so there is something for everyone, even me.

I’ll end this week with a significant piece of local history that will be meaningful for anyone who has read my book Footprints in the Dew. Lonnie Brown has died.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road……
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