Interurban Railway Museum

People know Plano Texas as the headquarters for companies like Dell Services, Cinemark, J.C. Penney, and many more. Prior to the big corporations, Plano, like many other Texas towns, depended upon the railroads and railways.

The Interurban Railway Museum located on the edge of the old Plano downtown, tells the story of Dallas’ early mass transit system. Over 100 years ago, an electric railway linked towns from Denison in the north to Waco in the south.

Electric Trains. The Interurban Railway Museum is housed in the Plano depot for the Texas Electric Railway. Not only did passengers and mail pass through the depot, it also North Texas Ramblings Interurban Railway Museumserved as a transformer station, stepping down electric voltage so that it could be used by the railway. Hands-on exhibits in the museum give visitors, young and old, a chance to learn about the mechanics behind powering an electric train. Who knew physics could be so much fun!

Post Office on Wheels. Located outside the museum, you’ll find a fully restored rail car. Many interurban railways served as rolling post offices. Look at letters before 1948, and you may find the RPO cancellation stamp. That indicates the letter was sorted and processed in a railway post office. While not unique, the Texas Electric Railway did more than just sort mail. Its cars served as fully functioning post offices. You can explore the postal section at the rear of the rail car. Forward from the mail room, you’ll find the passenger section. The railway was a product of its time with segregated seating. The white section of the car was the smoking section, and the colored section was designated non-smoking. Ironic.

Sample Plano History. The Interurban Railway Museum also tells the story of early Plano. First settled in the 1840s, the city fathers named the town, using what they thought was the Spanish word for plains. As it turns out, the city founders needed a language refresher course as Plano, in Spanish, translates to flat. Corn was the region’s primary crop until the Houston and Texas Central Railroad came to town in the 1870s. Cotton became king with the railroad providing the means to transport the crop. By the 1930s, share croppers, growing mostly cotton, operated over 70 percent of the area farmland.

End of an Era. The share croppers and the Texas Electric Railway both struggled during the Great Depression. In fact, the company went through bankruptcy and reorganization in 1935 World War II saw a resurgence in the railway, but the end of the war also heralded the end of the railway. With steel and rubber no longer needed for wartime products, people could afford to buy automobiles. The railway, offering its mass-transit product, couldn’t compete with the auto. The last run of the Texas Electric Railway was in 1948.

When You Visit. The Interurban Railway Museum (901 E. 15th Street, Plano) is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 1 – 5 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free (donations are appreciated). If you visit on the weekdays, the museum docent will likely be a member of the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation. Conservancy volunteers are a wealth of information not only on the Texas Electric Railway, but also the history of this corner of Texas.

Texas Backyard Naturalist – Butterflies

In August and September you’ll likely spot monarch butterflies. Much of the Lone Star state is along the migratory pathway of monarch butterflies heading south from Midwest states Texas Backyard Naturalist Monarch Butterflyto warmer winter weather in Mexico. In fact, the monarch is the Texas state butterfly.

Few backyard visitors bring more delight than the graceful butterfly. Texas backyard naturalists are fortunate to live in a state with such a wide diversity of butterfly species – 495 in all. Here are some tips for making your garden butterfly friendly.

Gardening for Butterflies. Butterfly gardens are chocked full of colorful flowers.  Butterflies like nectar plants with shallow flower tubes, and are attracted to large groupings of red, yellow, orange and purple flowers. Unlike the hummingbird who feeds at the flower while hovering, butterflies require a flower that allows them to land and feed in place. Purple coneflower, butterfly weed, mealy blue sage, phlox and lantana are all native Texas plants that invite butterflies to visit. For the best results, include a wide variety of nectar plants with varied blooming seasons – that way the garden can feed butterflies in spring, summer and fall.

Butterflies also need warm temperatures — between 85 and 100 degrees – to thrive. Ideally, a sunny spot is best for the garden.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) publishes a comprehensive list of plants suitable for butterflies in specific regions. Their plant list includes both native and non-native plants, along with information on flower blooming seasons.

Finally, butterflies need a small sandy wet garden spot to puddle. It’s from these sandy or muddy garden spots the butterfly gets the salts and minerals it needs that aren’t in plant nectar.

Gardening for Caterpillars. It takes more than brightly colored flowers and a puddling spot for a successful butterfly garden.

Like all insects, butterflies undergo metamorphosis, changing from egg, to larvae (caterpillar), to pupae (chrysalis) to adult (beautiful butterfly). Accommodating all phases of the butterfly life cycle keeps butterflies in the garden. And while adult butterflies feed on a variety of nectar producing flowers, they lay eggs only on select host plants. Some butterflies, like monarchs, lay eggs only on a single variety of plant.

Adult butterflies know which plants are suitable by taste. The adult butterfly tastes the plant with its feet. Yes, that’s right, the adult butterfly lands on a host plant and through its feet determines if the plant is correct for its eggs.

To encourage butterflies to lay their eggs in your garden, consider planting milkweed (monarch), dill and parsley (swallowtail), passion vine (fritillary) or thistle (painted lady).  Caterpillars have their own special beauty with colorful bandings. These voracious eaters can munch a plant down to its stem, but rarely does this kill the host plant.

If you want butterfly caterpillars, do not use any pesticides near your larval host plants as these will kill the caterpillars.


Choctaw Casino in Durant

Are you looking for a Las Vegas style getaway?  How about Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma? Located off US Highway 75 just beyond the Texas state border, Choctaw Casino Resort is hard to miss. In fact, it’s the only tall building in the area!

Choctaw Casino. The sights, smells and sounds of the casino can be overwhelming. Enter the main foyer and a white buffalo statue grabs your attention. The bison is the North Texas Ramblings Choctaw Casinocenter attraction in the casino’s 22-foot high water wall and fountain.

And then there is the smell. Smoking is allowed on the casino floor. A powerful ventilation system helps, but if cigarette smoke really bothers you, Choctaw Casino is not your place.

And what about those ringing bells? The casino floor itself is a maze of slot machines all ringing and whirling with light and sound. Talk about sensory overload! According to Choctaw’s website, the casino boasts having 3,500 slot machines and over 200,000 square feet of gaming space. That is almost twice the gaming space of the Bellagio in Las Vegas!

Neophytes. As a novice, I found Choctaw Casino challenging. One cent slots really aren’t a penny a play, and what’s up with progressive slots with a bingo line? You do have a choice of slots or table games like black jack, baccarat, poker, and Pai Gow. With a minimum bet at the black jack tables of $10, table prices discourage the timid.

While there may be no winning strategy for slot machines, they are certainly easier for the beginner. With options like 25 cent Poker slots, you can easily gamble for a couple of hours and only loss a few dollars.

Tip: If you aren’t a professional gambler, visit Choctaw Casino with a set limit on how much you are willing to lose. And to stick to that limit!

Players Club. Like most casinos, Choctaw Casino offers the opportunity to join their players club. Consider the casino players club even if you only intend to visit once. Why? At the time I joined, I received ten dollars free play, and discounts on the buffet and my hotel room. But, if you value your privacy and don’t want to end up on another email list, take a pass.

More than a Casino. Bring your swimsuit and enjoy the outdoor water park. Or if you just want to relax after a long night at the tables, the resort has a full service spa. The Choctaw Event Center serves as venue for the once-great bands on the casino circuit. Tickets to see headliner bands from the 1980s and 1990s are priced from $40 to $90.

Choctaw Casino Resort is located at 3735 Choctaw Road in Durant, Okla. Contact the resort at 580-931-8340 or visit their online site at .