Saturday, June 27, 2009

Union Station Circa 2009

Union Station In 1940
Credit Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce

Lots of talk going round about what to do with the Union Station constructed in 1930-31 for and largely by the Rock Island but also the Frisco railroad companies. It is recalled that the construction of this facility and its attendant rail tracks were part of the process of getting east/west downtown rail out of downtown Oklahoma City, a story already told. See Trains Part II for more about that.

In that time (the 1930s), passenger rail traffic was of great importance to the city and our city's passengers were served by the Santa Fe, Katy, Rock Island, and Frisco railroads. Today, all are gone and only a vestige of passenger rail service remains in Amtrak's Heartland Flyer daily round trips to Ft. Worth. But, in these times (the 1930s), passenger rail was about much more than round trips to Ft. Worth — it was analogous to airline transportation today — and it would take you almost anywhere you wanted to go.

A pair of passenger rail depots remain — the Santa Fe Station, owned by Jim Brewer's family, and Union Station owned by Oklahoma City. What might develop with the Santa Fe Station as private property is beyond Oklahoma City's control. But, what might develop with Union Station, wholly owned by Oklahoma City, is wholly within your and my control, as citizens of the city.

Presently, portions of Union Station are used for the offices of the Central Oklahoma Transportation & Parking Authority (COTPA). Will that use remain the best use with the emerging Core to Shore? Does it have a better use? This article answers none of those questions.

It merely presents some different "looks" at Union Station than are more commonly seen, eye candy for train lovers. Yesterday, while enjoying an onion burger with my friend and partner-in-Okc-history Steve Lackmeyer (I gladly acknowledge my junior partner status — he's the Batman and I'm trying my best to be the analogous Robin) at Nic's Grill, 11th & N. Pennsylvania — Nic's was his suggestion (I'd never heard of it) — and during our conversation he asked, "Hey, do you want to go over to Union Station for a look-see," or something like that. "Sure," I said, and I picked up my camera on the way. On my arrival, Steve was already talking with Michael Scroggins, Public Information Officer for COTPA, and he very generously gave us a fine tour of the facility. The photos below were taken on June 26, 2009.

Click on any image for a larger view.

The Entry On The North Side

From the entry, we sort of walked clockwise through the facility, passing by a number of most excellent photos. Three are shown below.

Three Trains At The Station

Temporary Passenger Ticket & Waiting Area
During the Station's Construction in 1930-31

Inside the Temporary Facility
(the picture didn't say that but it's got to be)

A Cropped View Of The Above

Passing by the photos, our 1st train stop was at a women's restroom (unoccupied). Michael wasn't sure but he thought that the wall and floor tile were original.

We passed by and through a few other areas. Below, a free-standing fireplace with a copper top — original? Michael wasn't sure but it seems doubtful that COTPA wold have built it. And, since the facility opened in 1931 and closed as a passenger depot in 1967, during that 36-year history improvements and changes were doubtless made.

A Cropped View of the Above

A Nicely Preserved Door With Cut Glass Window

One of the elements of the station which has intrigued me is the underground tunnel which runs to the south and under the rail tracks. I asked Michael if we could enter the tunnel — Steve thought I was asking too much, but, the way I see it, if you don't ask, you don't get. How pleased was I when Michael accommodated! By all reports, the tunnel provided the means for passengers to get to their points of embarkment but during my walk-through I couldn't see where that would have occurred. The next series of photos takes on a walk of the whole thing!

Michael & Steve Near Tunnel Doors

A Look Up At The Skylights

Outside The Doors

Inside The Doors Looking South — The Odor Was Musty

Along the tunnel, a room was present at the east side. Though I know nothing of hydraulics, etc., it was obviously used to elevate stuff from that level upward to ground level. What kinds of stuff? People, too? It didn't look people-friendly to me, so I'm figuring freight and equipment.

Looking South & Up To Ground Level

Back in the tunnel, this evidence of deterioration caught my eye — I have no idea what the photograph shows.

As we approached the tunnel's south end, I was expecting something other than a solid wall — like an up-ramp or something similar. Nope. Just a wall. Whether that was different earlier, I don't know.

At the east side of that wall, a small walk led to a blue door that we did not open.

Turning around and looking north through the tunnel from the south wall, Michael pointed out something to me that my sleuth-less eyes had missed — a small track, this one on the west side. Another small track was located on the east side of the tunnel, and the tracks were doubtless used to move stuff to the waiting trains.

Exiting The Tunnel Toward Its Entry Point

Topside, Michael showed the office in which COPTA's executive sits today, where the Union Station executives did in days gone by. The office is located at the southwest corner of the building.

Back in the main terminal area, one could use one of the mahogany phone booths (very nicely preserved) and buy tickets.

Michael had to leave for a meeting at this point (Steve left while we were touring the tunnel), but he said it would be OK to go upstairs and take a few shots, which I did.

Well, there you have it, Union Station Circa 2009. In many ways and notwithstanding its COTPA occupants who are caring for it well by everything that I observed, the building is already a museum . . . it is already a museum ... it is already a museum ...

Thanks, Michael Scroggins, for being our very friendly and accommodating guide of this great little tour!

Go To Top

... Click here to read the full article and any comments ...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Chamber of Commerce & My Friend Dean

Originally posted June 25, 2009, and modified in the few days following; Updated February 4, 2010, to add: In Memoriam — Tammy DeAnn Schirf Koelsch

The design of the invitation to Dean Schirf's retirement from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce could not have been more appropriate — a transparent vinyl page describing the event which overlaid a photo of downtown Oklahoma City and the Heartland Flyer, two icons which at once capture the essence of what this man has been about during his 31 years with the Chamber, but, in fact, which also evidence Dean's roots and interests extending backward much further than those 31 years of time.

This article is only in its beginning stages but here's what I have so far. You can skip the introduction by clicking on the following links — but, other than the photos, the areas are not yet done:

Retirement Photos     A Family Affair     Times Before Oklahoma City
The Chamber Years     Dean's Lifelong Love Affair With Trains
Postscript: Remembering Tammy

INTRODUCTION. It was my privilege to be invited to attend this event as one of Dean's many friends — God knows that I'm not one of the rich and famous, I'm just a guy who loves my town and who is wholly enjoying the late-in-life process of learning and writing about its history. Before August 2007, I didn't know a thing about the man or even who he was. Almost two years ago, I wrote the first of several articles (others of which are yet to come) on Oklahoma City's history and love affair with trains & trolleys, that being called Trains & Trolleys and then I wrote another and another, the latter being done on August 27, 2007. On that day, I quite unexpectedly received an e-mail, part of which read,
Doug, wanted to drop you a line complementing you on the fine job on above and to invite you to come and visit me at the OKC Chamber’s offices as I would like to show you some of the rail photos in our achieves.

I am also a big railroad freak going back to when my dad took me to the Rock Island roundhouse in El Reno, where he worked in the late 1940’s. I have extensive memorabilia on the Rock Island including an early Rock System Map prior to 1900.

Let’s set a time for you to come over and again thanks for the contribution you are making on the early rail history of Oklahoma City.

Dean Schirf
Of course, I gladly accepted the invitation and my pleasures of that first meeting have already been told and I'll not rehash them here. Since then, it has been nothing but pleasure for me as our friendship has grown and as I've learned much from him about this city that I'd have otherwise not have known. I've also learned a bit about the man himself — slowly and over time — he doesn't talk much about himself but I've learned some things about him just the same.

Beginning with that first meeting, Dean has made major contributions to this blog not only for his providing early-day train photos, some owned by him, most by the Chamber, but also for penning this article and, as well, making available for publication here his already published and wonderfully nostalgic article, The Rock Island Railroad and My Friend Red. That story tells not only of his friend Red Betts but also tells about Dean and the beginnings of his love affair with trains when he was a boy living in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Another of his articles is "in the can," so to speak and would already have been done but for the fact that my nose got misdirected into other things that caught my fancy. For now, read on and learn a little about The Chamber of Commerce & My Friend Dean.

RETIREMENT PHOTOS. The following were taken in the Santa Fe Station on a hot afternoon on Wednesday, June 24, 2009. My lens certainly didn't capture everyone such as Gov. George Nigh, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, Clay Bennett, and Ed Kelley & Steve Lackmeyer with the Oklahoman.

Click on any photo for a larger image.

Around 4-4:30 PM As People Were Arriving

Dean and Tom Searles

Dean's Brother, Larry, & Dick Beale

Larry Nichols & Dean

Steve Collier & Dean
(Steve is Dean's co-worker, your writer's cousin by marriage)

Dean's Lovely Wife, Suzan, & Dean

Suzan & Dean & Janet Gray, Dean's Sister

Willa Johnson & Dean

Dean & Ken Nance

Dean's Daughter, Tammy Koelsch,
Knocked Our Socks Off With A Video Ode To Her Dad

Master of Ceremonies Roy Williams, the Chamber's CEO,
& John Johnson, Executive Director of ACOG

Gerald Gamble, Prominent Real Property Guy
Gives Dean Some Stuff

Roy Williams Gives Dean An Amtrak
Trip for Two Anywhere In The Country

Dean Takes The Podium
And Tells His Life Story

Dean Brings Son Trevor, Tammy & Suzan Up Front

Dean Wraps It Up With
His Version Of What A Train Sounds Like


Members of Dean's family converged at the depot for the event which celebrated Dean's work at the Chamber. The following photos were taken by members of his family and were kindly forwarded to me by Dean's daughter, Tammy Koelsch. If a "hand" icon is visible when mousing-over an image, click on the image for a larger view.

Dean & Trevor

Tammy & Dean

Tammy & Her Husband, Jonathan Koelsch

Trevor and His Girlfriend, Stacey Pifer

Suzan, Tammy, and Suzan's sister, Pat Russell

Lots of Others At The Post-Event Dinner

DEAN BEFORE OKLAHOMA CITY. During Dean's remarks at the podium, he gave a brief and heartfelt retrospective on his life before becoming a Chamber employee. He kindly supplied those remarks to me in the printed form which follows.
Born in Brooklyn N.Y. In 1942 where parents from Oklahoma moved to during the war and father learned his craft as a welder at Brooklyn Naval Shipyard. After war ended moved back to El Reno where father worked for Rock Island Railroad and he would often take me to the roundhouse ... it was here that the love of trains was born.

Family moved to Chickasha in late 1940s due back injury sustained by my father at the railroad. My passion for trains was continued by hanging out at the Chickasha Rock Island Depot and rail yard.

Over time I came to know a wonderful Rock Island employee named Red who worked the evening shift. (Some 30 years later I would write a story about Red).

I can trace my love for Oklahoma City while living in Chickasha finding myself on a visit to downtown standing at the corner of Park Ave and Robinson looking up at the two tallest buildings in the state ... the First National and Liberty National Bank Buildings ... a sight I shall never forget and a moment that "mesmerized" me for life. From that moment on I fell in love with downtown Oklahoma City and knew then that Okie City would be where I would put my roots down and work and start a family..

In the summer of 1956 the family moved to Wichita, Ks., as my father could no longer find steady employment in the Chickasha area.

I missed Oklahoma almost immediately and needed a connection point in order to follow the "goings on" in Oklahoma City. I often would go to the Wichita downtown library and it was here I found out about chambers of commerce. I started writing the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to send information, especially pictures of downtown skyline, street scenes and aerial views ... the OKC Chamber faithfully responded to my request and over time I developed quite a file on my favorite city.

I even slipped a one dollar bill into an envelope along with a request to the Katz Drug Store at Main and Robinson to "PLEASE" send me some postcards of downtown Oklahoma City ... and lo and behold several weeks later the mailman delivers this big Manila envelope of postcards of downtown OKC!!

Cities sort of became my hobby and I wrote a number of chambers across the country to send pics of their downtown areas that it eventually got to the point I could ID the major cities from skyline and aerial shots.

Perhaps I wrote those requests a few times too many ... I specifically remember a letter from the Tulsa Chamber advising me "to quit writing as we have sent you everything we got!!."

So at a time when young teenage boys were putting up pictures of Annette Funnicello and Bridget Bardot on their bedroom walls, I was plastering pics of downtown Oklahoma City on mine.

Writing the Oklahoma City Chamber continued throughout my High School years and four years of active duty in the U. S Navy.

Following my four years of active duty in the Navy, I moved to my beloved Oklahoma City in Jan of 1966 to start my civilian life. I found employment by starting out in credit and collections at several downtown locations including Liberty National Bank.

I got my first big break in 1969 when Hertz moved their National Data Processing Center to Oklahoma City. I worked my way up to Sales Administrator and in the Fall of 1977 my boss asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the chamber's annual membership drive ... to which I responded, "You bet I would."

While working on the membership drive I found out they had a position open to hire an assistant economic development director to work with Jess Matheny who headed up the chamber's economic development efforts at that time.

I had three interviews for the position. First one was with Harry Birdwell the General Manager, then Jess followed by a final interview with Paul Strasbaugh who was the Executive Vice President (now the title is President)

I can not put into words the feelings of joy and gratitude when I received the word in Jan of 1978, that I would become an employee of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce ... in what was really the realization of a dream going back to that day in the early 1950's when standing at Park and Robinson "mesmerized" by the skyscrapers of downtown Oklahoma City ... a city that I would now have the honor and privilege in representing for the next 31 years as an employee of my beloved Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
DEAN AS A CHAMBER GUY. Dean's tenure with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce spanned the time between January 1978 and June 2009 — that's a span of six Oklahoma governors, one of whom, George Nigh, was present at the ceremony. They are: David Boren, George Nigh, Henry Bellmon, David Walters, Francis Keating, and Brad Henry. Although Gov. Henry was not present at the ceremony, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins was.

Dean began his employment with the Chamber as Assistant Director of Economic Development on January 16, 1978; became Vice President of Government Relations in 1979 and has carried out the duties of Corporate Secretary since 1982.

What did he do and why do we care? Well, I've got the Chamber's list of Dean's accomplishments, but I wanted to check it out and make my own. Among other things, I searched the Oklahoman's on-line archives. Searching for the phrase "dean schirf" produced 294 hits between June 4, 1972, and the date this article is being written. So, in addition to the official story, you'll get my unofficial one, too ... no, I didn't find any mug shots so there won't be any of those kinds of stories to tell.

Here are some of the articles that I dug up on my own — the list is not inclusive since there would be too many and I tended to focus on the earlier and not the later years of Dean's tenure with the Chamber. Click on any link to read the referenced article. Dean's name is rarely the focus but his presence is obvious in the background.
  1. Amtrak: November 17, 1981; July 13, 1989; April 28, 1991
  2. Broadway Extension: May 2, 1993; June 9, 1993; April 15, 1994; April 27, 1994; February 23, 1996
  3. Centennial Expressway (I-235): April 22, 1988 (front page) and April 22, 1988 (full article)
  4. Chamber History: January 21, 1983; May 21, 1989, page 1; May 21, 1989, page 2; May 21, 1989, page 3
  5. City Bond Issues: December 13, 1995
  6. City Eyesores: August 15, 1988
  7. High-Tech Business: May 19, 1988
  8. I-35 As NAFTA Corridor: December 23, 1994
  9. Kilpatrick Turnpike: January 28, 2001
  10. Mass Transit, Generally: November 3, 1980
  11. "Oklahoma River" Designation: February 21, 1994
  12. Right-To-Work: January 4, 1995; March 31, 2000; March 18, 2001; May 6, 2001; August 12, 2001
  13. Road Improvements, Generally: April 23, 1995
  14. Rock Island: March 30, 1990
  15. Tax Issues: May 11, 1985
  16. Tinker: March 27, 1988, with photos and March 27, 1988, readable article; November 19, 1988 (Navy project); August 25, 1993; April 23, 1995
  17. Zoning Issues: May 27, 1988

DEAN AS A TRAIN AFICIONADO. Dean has been for all of his cognizant life a train junkie and his posts in this blog show that abundantly and don't need to be repeated here. See this link and this link, for starters.

POSTSCRIPT. A melancholy closing chapter of this article must sadly be written, at Dean's request, and I am deeply humbled to comply. About six months after Dean's retirement, his and Suzan's daughter, Tammy, died. You will have read, above, that the video presentation by Tammy at Dean's retirement party was the show-stopper of the event. As she spoke, all eyes in the grand hall were mesmerized on the video monitors as Tammy waxed lovingly about the love, affection, and devotion between a daughter, her father, and the family and their lifetime together. Only the most hardened cynic would not have reached for a handkerchief as she voiced her endearing words about her experience, opinions, and affections about and for her dad. Her sweet words were presented by video since it was expected that her health issues would prevent her attendance in person — even though her will overcame those obstacles, but only for the day and a brief time thereafter. In the above photos, you will see her beaming face directed toward her parents, Dean and Suzan, her loving husband Jonathan, and her devoted brother, Trevor, among many others. Dean wanted me to add a few words about the e-mails she and I exchanged in putting the above article together, but, the truth is that any other words I might add would pale by comparison to and could not possibly begin to match the image of Tammy, shown below. Instead of using my words, she speaks to you herself in a comment to this article, below.
My dad, Dean, is my hero! And as I said in my video, he is just as respected as a father as he is your fellow colleague and friend. I thank the Lord every night that of all the little girls, God handpicked me to be Dean Schirf's Daughter! I am so very blessed!
In Memoriam
Tammy DeAnn Schirf Koelsch
June 21, 1974 ~ January 8, 2010

Rest In Peace. She is with the angels.

Go To Top

... Click here to read the full article and any comments ...