Tramel Fort Worth travelblog: Stockyards are quite a place
Football road trips in this COVID season are definitely different. But sometimes, interesting things still happen. Like over the weekend for the OSU-Texas Christian game in Fort Worth.
I received a tour of the Horned Frogs’ sparkling addition to Amon Carter Stadium. For the first time, I walked through the famed Fort Worth Stockyards. I had breakfast with a good friend. I got a barbeque sandwich at Buc-ee’s.
Let’s start with the Stockyards. I have heard about the famed Fort Worth Stockyards for decades but hadn’t visited until Friday night, when Scotty Wright and I went looking for dinner.
We ended up at the Stockyards, a 98-acre National Historic District north of downtown Fort Worth. The Stockyards were a livestock market from 1866 on, and by 1907 a million cattle a year were sold in the bustling enterprise, plus sheep and hogs, though in recent years most of the cattle is ceremonial, including two live cattle drives through the Stockyards per day.
The Stockyards includes 14 restaurants, 13 bars, 35 shops and 17 other attractions based around Fort Worth’s Cowtown image. A couple of hotels are part of the Stockyards. It’s quite a place.
It wasn’t a great time for us to drop by. The National Finals Rodeo began Thursday 15 miles away in Arlington, and the Stockyards was brimming with people. Few wore masks, which maybe is understandable outside, but in the restaurants, masks were not prevalent, either.
I told Scotty that the masks and the Stetsons were in direct inverse. For every 50 people, you saw one wearing a mask and 49 wearing cowboy hats. A friend of mine pointed out that cowboys were the original mask-wearers, with bandanas keeping the dust off your face out on the prairie. Oh well, some things you can’t change.
It cost $20 to park at the Stockyards. Seemed pricey. I wondered if that was more than an entire horse cost back in the 19th century, but the answer apparently is no. I found a couple of prices for horses circa 1870, and they were anywhere from $50 to $200.
The Stockyards is a huge tourist attraction. I’m not exactly sure from where the tourists come; I don’t have a feel for that. Do they come from all over the world or America, or are they Southwest cowboys, from Tyler and Waco and Abilene and Marlow?
Don’t know. But they were plentiful.
Scotty and I decided to eat at Cattleman’s Steak House, a legendary place that frankly has had its ups and downs in terms of reputation. The Fort Worth Cattleman’s apparently was revived in the 1990s, after years of shaky management. Scotty had a steak; I had chicken-friend chicken. Mine was good, he said his was. It wasn’t crazily-priced. I think his steak was $31; my chicken-friend chicken was $17, I think. I didn’t think it was as good as Oklahoma City’s Cattlemen’s. I’m a big fan of OKC’s Cattlemen’s.
We waited about 75 minutes for a table. Waited mostly outside to avoid crowds. Eventually, the lobby thinned out and we waited inside, then sat at the bar. The place was a little spread out; some tables had been removed. But I felt a little uncomfortable. The Stockyards is not a place that much respects the pandemic.
We didn’t go into any shops, which were still open as late as 9 p.m. One, I didn’t want to be inside, and two, I’m not much into shopping, for Western stuff or any other stuff.
But it was a happening place. Fifty-degree night. December. The pandemic. And still hundreds and hundreds of people milling about the vast Stockyards. Probably worth seeing again when the pandemic is over.
Earlier in the day, we stopped by the TCU campus to pick up our press credentials, and the Horned Frogs’ media relations director, Mark Cohen, gave us a tour of the new east-side upper deck at TCU’s glittering stadium.
Amon Carter, which was virtually rebuilt from scratch and reopened with the advent of TCU’s 2012 Big 12 launch, is a lovely stadium with tons of suite and club seating, even though the capacity for the ballpark is only about 46,000.
That’s just about right for TCU, which has an enrollment of some 11,000, with 47 percent of its students coming from outside Texas. TCU has fewer than 100,000 living alumni.
So an 80,000-seat stadium would make no sense for the Frogs. It’s making less and less sense for any school.
But amenities are what fans desire, and the new digs on the east side provide that. It’s a beautiful club level and loge seating, and such posh places to watch a game is exactly what TCU needs.
With relatively few alumni to count on, TCU has become Fort Worth’s team. The civic leaders and business community have rallied around the Frogs during the successful Gary Patterson era, and Amon Carter Stadium and all the facilities have been built debt-free.
TCU is a runaway success story. Amid all the talk of realignment, with many mid-majors clamoring for admission to a Power 5 conference, primarily the Big 12, the constant refrain is what the Big 12 could do for the institution. But what the Big 12 always needed to hear is what the institution could do for the conference.
That’s what TCU did. It built itself up with strong football, a loyal following and quality facilities. When opportunity presented itself with Texas A&M bolting to the Southeastern Conference in 2011, TCU stood ready.
The Frogs have been a great addition to the league. Everytime I drive to Fort Worth, I’m thankful TCU is in the Big 12.
Texas A&M was a great member of the Big 12, and the Aggies are missed. But the Big 12 has not suffered because it has TCU instead of the Ags.
A&M is having a great season in 2020 and could make the College Football Playoff. But in its years in the SEC, A&M three times has finished in the AP top 25, with rankings of fifth, 16th and 18th. Over the same time, TCU in the Big 12, too, has finished in the AP top 25 thrice, with rankings of third, seventh and ninth.
TCU in its nine Big 12 seasons has a combined conference record of 44-37. A&M in its final 81 Big 12 games had a conference record of 37-44.
Saturday morning, my friend Gerald Page picked me up for breakfast. Gerald has lived in the Fort Worth area for most of his life but was born in Oklahoma and is a lifelong Sooner fan. It’s a tradition; when I’m in town for a game, we have breakfast together. He took me to the Dixie House Cafe, an excellent breakfast spot in east Fort Worth and we got caught up on the six weeks since we’d seen each other. Gerald recently got back from a tour of Utah’s national parks. Made we want to check it out.
Gerald is the best kind of sports consumer. He was loyal to newspapers, but now he’s loyal to paid digital subscriptions, which is the wave of the future. He’s keeping us in business.
Gerald dropped me off near the stadium an hour before kickoff. The pandemic makes getting around much easier on game days.
Amon Carter was nowhere close to 25 percent capacity. I think people all over America are a little antsy about returning to the ballpark.
You know all about the game. OSU could have won, should have won, didn’t win.
After the game, Scotty took me back to our hotel. I went through the Panda Express drive-through, loaded up no Chinese takeout and nestled in five minutes before the OU-Baylor kickoff on Fox. I charted the game via television (not easy to do; you can’t always document every formation), then listened in on Lincoln Riley’s postgame Zoom conference and helped the guys back in Norman with some transcription.
The next morning, Scotty and I drove home, stopping off at the Buc-ee’s near the Texas Motor Speedway for a drink and a barbeque sandwich. I’ve written a lot about Buc-ee’s, which is sort of the Travel Stop of America. Half convenience store, half shopping center. Amazing place. The barbeque sandwich was excellent; I’ve long wanted to try one and finally did. It won’t be the last.
Now there will be no more games in Fort Worth until 2022. Both OU and OSU play at TCU in the same season; the Horned Frogs are the only Big 12 team that has that scheduling quirk. By 2022, hopefully the pandemic is long past, and I won’t care what the cowboys in the Fort Worth Stockyards have on their face.