During deep winter I focus a lot of efforts on my genealogy hobby. I think it’s because the holidays offer big blocks of time where I’m stuck indoors. I can concentrate on intricate details as I piece together my family puzzle. Recently a line of research brought my attention to a small town in East Texas called Timpson. My Great Grandmother’s aunt and cousin lived there in the early 20th Century. They ran a milliner shop, selling women’s hats. That last part actually had nothing to do with the article, I just liked the term milliner.
An interesting bit of musical history emerged as I checked into the records of Timpson. It featured prominently in a popular song performed by cowboy singer Tex Ritter in the 1940’s. He called it "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair." Go ahead and give it a listen if you like. I’ll wait.
Those places were all towns in Shelby County, Texas. Tenaha and Timpson continue to exist today without about a thousand residents each. Bobo and Blair practically disappeared. No more than a few scattered houses, and maybe a church or a cemetery existed at either place to mark that they once existed. Nonetheless they all lived on in a way, permanently connected by this one old song at least until the generation that remembered it fades away. That day probably isn’t too far away, unfortunately. It’s a good thing I found out about it when I did.
Ritter’s song described a train ride through the Texas countryside, of a man waiting for the conductor to call out stops for Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair, where a girl waited. As described in the Houston Chronicle,
It seems that by the time he got through calling out each name, the train had already passed through all four towns. So the conductors started calling out all four before the train arrived at the first… thus "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair."
It became a common expression in East Texas and came to be applied to the rolling of dice in craps games, as players tried to make 10. Generally players pronounced Tenaha in an unusual way, calling it Tennyhaw. They would yell out something like “come on Tennyhaw, Timpson, Bobo and Blair” as they threw the dice. The gambling gods answered their prayers when the dice rolled ten. The expression became popular with American troops during World War II thanks to soldiers from Texas, and then became even more well known because of the Tex Ritter song.
The old Houston East and West Texas (HE&WT) Railway served those four towns. According to the Handbook of Texas, the HE&WT got its charter in 1875 with great aspirations, as noted by the railroad’s name. Those lofty goals never happened. Only the eastern portion — and only partially — ever saw a train, running as a narrow gauge from Houston to Shreveport. That took the railroad straight through Shelby County and past the settlements of Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair. Local residents claimed that HE&WT actually stood for "Hell Either Way Taken."
A Competing Explanation
It made a nice story, however a different explanation emerged later. The order of villages listed in the popular expression didn’t make sense. A conductor would ordinarily call out the stations sequentially. If that were truly the case the conductor would be expected to call out "Tenaha, Bobo, Timpson and Blair" instead. According to the competing theory,
… stringing the town names together began during World War I when soldiers in a National Guard Unit composed of men from Shelby County discarded the familiar cadence of "hup, two, three, four" for "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair," their home towns.
In reality, the true explanation may never be known. Honestly, it didn’t really matter.
Tex Ritter spent his early years in Murvaul, Texas, a few miles up the road in neighboring Panola County, Texas (my direct ancestors also lived in Panola County). He would have been very familiar with the expression from his childhood. He probably thought it sounded nice and simply crafted a set of song lyrics around it based on legends that had been passed down through the area.
Nobody more famous than Tex Ritter ever came from Panola. In Carthage, the county seat, there now stands the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Tex Ritter Museum (map). A statue of Ritter with his guitar and horse stands out front in honor of its famous son.
A lot of people in the Twelve Mile Circle audience probably never heard of Tex Ritter. I’ll bet more readers probably knew about his son, though. It’s hard to believe that John Ritter so well-known for his role in the sitcom Three’s Company as well as well as many others, had an East Texas cowboy singer for a father.
Tex’s real name was Woodward Maurice Ritter. In the 1910 and 1920 Census he had a brother named Booty. Mom and dad weren’t great at names, apparently. Tex sounded so much better.
Then I went down a little tangent wondering about that particular expression. Fortunately there were sources such as the late William Safire who explored That’s/It’s a Wrap in 2005. It did refer to the movie industry as I believed although of more recent vintage than I imagined, perhaps dating back only as far as the 1950’s. Some sources considered it an acronym for "Wind, Reel and Print" the film; others considered that explanation a contrivance created after the fact.
Either way, with the year so recently concluded, it seemed like a good opportunity to take stock of my most recent efforts. The Twelve Mile Circle put another year in the books. How did 2016 perform?
I’ve posted 1,320 articles so far, which is crazy. I didn’t really think about that total much, considering it a testament to small actions taken over long periods. The drip-drip of my incremental efforts eventually filled a large bucket. Articles served two very distinct audiences actually, regular readers like you and the ephemeral search engine crowd. It pleased me that the main 12MC page registered the most views again this year. The freshest content rolled through there, the logical place where regular readers naturally congregated.
The one-and-done readers would land, so I figured, directly atop a specific article page as directed by Google or whatever. This naturally skewed page views to older articles that the algorithms already knew about. Sure enough, Chesapeake Bay Car Ferries from 2010 continued its historic domination. It got steady hits all year long, many from people who wanted to ride the ferry. Too bad the last one sailed across the Bay more than a half century ago.
If I looked solely at articles posted in 2016, the award for most readers went to Residual Braniff posted fairly recently in October. That caught me by surprise. I didn’t think many people would care about an extinct airline that couldn’t survive deregulation. I’ll repeat the old mantra once again — I have no idea what interests the 12MC audience. It always seemed to be the most unexpected articles that attracted the most eyeballs.
WordPress powers 12MC and I couldn’t find an easy way to generate statistics about comments so I followed a bit of a manual method. I wasn’t about to go through all 5,245 of them, that’s for sure. The previously-mentioned Chesapeake Bay Car Ferries probably still retained the all-time lead with 27. I turned my attention solely to articles published in 2016.
Interstate Highway Counties grabbed the lead with 13 comments. That one took some effort. I had to create a map and everything. What a pain. A lot of the comments said something like, "you missed such-and-such." Even so, I appreciated the input because of the time I put into it. Second place went to Odds and Ends 12, my occasional series where I talk about topics that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. It’s been awhile. I think I may be due for another one soon.
Next came a bunch of articles with 9 comments each.
Most Viewed Map
I created a map on Google Maps in 2014 that generated more than 1.3 million page views. It continues to grow at a healthy clip. The map illustrated an article about Interstate Highway Time Zone Crossings.
To be completely candid, I designed the map for my own selfish purposes. I drive long distances on some of my county counting adventures and I like to know when I need to change my watch. It didn’t bother me one way or the other if anyone else found it useful. Apparently no other utility quite like this existed elsewhere on the Intertubes. As of this morning Google ranked it as the #1 search result for interstate highway time zone map. It gets steady hits with spikes clustered near 3-day weekends and during holidays periods such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, popular times for road trips.
Eventually I added a little note on the map hoping to persuade viewers to jump over to 12MC and give it a try. Maybe 20-30 people per day do that, just a tiny fraction of those who view the map on Google. Perhaps one or two may have become regular readers as a result? Who knows. It’s a bit frustrating that something like twice as many people view this single map I created on Google on any given day than every single page on my humble 12MC combined.
Push Pin Progress
Everyone knows that I’ve mapped every location ever mentioned in a Twelve Mile Circle article, right? Sometimes I wonder. They’re all included in the Complete Index. I mention that because the tally now stands at 3,350 places. I always check it when I plan my routes. That’s how I remembered to go to the Fairfax Stone on a trip to West Virginia last October.
Maybe I should include some real content today instead of just rehashing all of my old material?
I found quite a number of geographic places in the United States and beyond named for the New Year. This included various foreign language equivalents like Año Nuevo. However only a single place on the planet — as far as I could tell — bore the name Happy New Year. The US Geological Survey listed a Happy New Year Creek in Alaska:
Prospectors’ name shown on a 1902 manuscript map by E. J. Chamberlain, U.S. Deputy Surveyor… flows N to Slate Creek, 40 mi. SW of Eagle, Yukon-Tanana High. 5 miles long.
Hopefully that will be considered geo-odd enough to jump-start another successful year of Twelve Mile Circle exploration. I have big plans. Thanks for riding along.
My Ends of the Earth wandering reminded me of an earlier Google Street View quest. A long time ago, way back in 2010, Twelve Mile Circle included an article I called The Shack at the End of the Road. This marked the northernmost extreme of Street View coverage in Canada at that time. I wondered about who lived there and whether they minded this invasion of their privacy. However nothing lasts forever so it seemed a fitting time to see if things had changed. It turned out that the resident of this shack no longer lived at the Canadian coverage extreme. Somewhere in the preceding years the spot shifted to Tuktut Nogait National Park, to a latitude of 69.34° north. The shack lost its notoriety.
Parks Canada described Tuktut Nogait as "one of the most isolated national parks in North America." The closest population lived 40 kilometres away by air in the tiny, isolated hamlet of Paulatuk. The nearest sizable town fell another 420 km farther west beyond that at Inuvik. Visitors getting into trouble in this park faced perilous odds. Help would not arrive quickly. Nonetheless and inexplicably, this site included a modicum of Street View coverage. Specifically, images fell into three separate clusters scattered broadly across the park. The northernmost spot overlooked the impressive Brock River canyon, a place so remote that it remained nearly unmentioned on Internet searches I conducted.
I needed to include an asterisk. No streets led to these absolutely gorgeous views from such an isolated Canadian park in the High Arctic of the Northwest Territories. Technically it didn’t quite meet the definition of a "street" view. A man carrying a specially-designed camera backpack captured those images. However, this wasn’t a unique, one-time effort. Canada and Google collaborated to provide Street View coverage for many Canadian parks. Google visited over 200 locations as part of this project. Parks Canada mentioned several primary benefits including virtual visits and dreaming, education and learning and trip planning. Clearly the 12MC effort fell into that first category.
That left some hope that the shack might retain its title.
Then I found Cambridge Bay, a settlement that grew around military facilities designed to warn against Soviet bomber attacks during the Cold War. They required construction and maintenance. Military personnel deployed there needed basic services. This opened rare employment opportunities for local Inuit inhabitants so a town sprang to life around it.
The Municipality of Cambridge Bay stood on the edge of Victoria Island, in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. It seemed an unlikely location for Street View. Sure, it was the biggest settlement within hundreds of kilometres, housing nearly 1,500 residents. However no road connected it to the outside world. Cambridge Bay appeared as a blue dot completely isolated from any other Street View coverage area.
There are no cars in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Aside from a few trucks, snowmobiles are the preferred form of transportation for much of the year in the hamlet high in the Canadian Arctic… All that would suggest that Google Street View has limited value there. But a pitch to Google from an Inuit man brought a tricycle fitted with Google’s camera system to the streets of Cambridge Bay on Monday as part of what the company expects to become a long-term project in Canada’s Far North… as a way to educate the rest of the world about the region.
Cambridge Bay wasn’t as far north as the other spot in Tuktut Nogait although it was farther north than the original shack, and it had actual streets.
Most of the Street View coverage for Cambridge Bay fell within the confines of town. I searched for the clusters of children on bicycles rumored to have followed the Street View tricycle mentioned in the article. However, I didn’t find any. It looked really cold too, with people wearing jackets even during August. Coverage didn’t make it very far out of town — after all the tricycle chosen for this endeavor relied upon human-powered peddling — although the biker did head northeast another two or three kilometres. I worked my way up to the northernmost point where the final image of Cambridge Bay ended. There I spotted a little green dot on the distant horizon. Was it a billboard of some kind, maybe the boundary of a military property?
I drilled down and found… another shack! I crowned a new king.