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  • Everything old is new again

    image 2After being spotted by Buc-ee’s management at his Highway 19 shop and collection, Jimmy Cochran was commissioned to create display vehicles to use at various Buc-ee’s, the first of which is still displayed in the store in Ennis.

    By Tony Farkas

    Jimmy Cochran’s passion gives him such a great sense of anticipation that he relishes getting up each morning.

    That passion is restoring vintage vehicles, something he grew up with and continued throughout his life.

    The 71-year-old Cochran was in the used car business for many years, and he turned that experience into his hobby.

    “I’m semi-retired; I had a dealer’s license from 1978 to 2018,” he said. “I gave up the license, but not the love. The car collection became another business, where people either use them as backdrops or purchased them.

    “I like all old cars, but my real passion is for pre-war, wartime and post-war models — 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s,” he said. “They have the most unique body designs. I’m a ‘49 model, and that’s the reason I like those years.”

    Cochran said he grew up around cars — especially the older ones.

    “My father was a tractor mechanic by trade; we never could afford a new car, so I’ve been around used cars all my life,” he said. “I’ve always liked the old cars — I’ve had the passion since was I was a kid. I see potential in every one of them.

    “When I get it in the shop, I start dragging things in that will go with it,” he said. “I’ve only had one that I couldn’t figure out what to do with, and I traded that off. I’m a hands-on guy.”

    Even as a child, he had the bug. Starting out with four-wheel scooters, he began his foray into rebuilding and refurbishing vehicles.

    “I had a scooter, one someone gave me when I was in junior high school. I overhauled the engine, painted it, ran it all over the place,” he said

    The next step

    A 1936 Dodge 500 Business Coupe park ed on his lot northwest of Trinity about 10 years ago was the key to the start of his new venture of restoring old vehicles.

    “I kept (the Dodge) parked here, and it started drawing people to it,” Cochran said. “Those people would then ask me if I knew about this old car in the woods or over there in a barn, and I would go a check it out. Next thing you know, I’m dragging stuff in here left and right.

    Image 1One of several projects Jimmy Cochran is working on is a 1927 Ford Model T Coupe.

    “These cars are like a magnet drawing people in off the road; I have met people from other countries because of these old cars,” he said. “As a matter of fact I had a young couple in their 30s stop here, they were from Scotland. They had flown over here, got a rental car at the airport and drove around sightseeing, had a big time. They got around here, and did a U-turn and hung out with me, talking and taking pictures, and two hours later, they told me that out of all of the traveling they’ve done, hanging out with me was the highlight of their trip.”

    Cochran is not hung up on any particular model, and not on any particular vehicle; it would be like trying to choose a favorite song.

    “There’s something to love about each and every one,” he said. “I still like the old engines like the flathead V8. They’re just nostalgic — they sound bad, but there’s nothing bad about them. And it’s not just the sound, but the feel, the smell, everything.

    “You won’t see anyone using the current cars in 40 or 50 years, but you can take one of these old cars out of a field, and if they’ll turn over, they’ll run.”

    One of his first pieces was pulled out of a field with chin-high weeds; Cochran said he made it run again under its own power, and then started driving it to car shows. However, restoring a vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean creating a pristine piece.

    Cochran prefers that many of his pieces retain the patina of rust and age, and he’ll clear-coat on top of it to preserve that look — wanting it to look like it just came off the farm. He also likes to do most of the work on the vehicles, but does hire out the glasswork and pinstriping, as well as some of the welding.

    “I’ve sold them for people to advertise with, and I’ve rented them for people to advertise with, and I’ve now got people who call me when they find something, and if I get something good from it, I’ll give them a $100 bill. It keeps them looking,” he said.

    Famous finds

    Cochran’s cars attracted more than just people, it attracted a manager with the Buc-ee’s organization who happened to be driving by the lot.

    “He told me I have some stuff they need,” Cochran said. “He said they redo the old trucks to use as displays inside of a store. He looked around at what I had, and had me get together with someone who was rebuilding them. We met, and they picked out four trucks — two 46 Fords, a 49 Studebaker and a 49 Chevrolet.”

    Cochran was given an opportunity to build one on his own, and he went to work. An old parts truck was on the lot, and he began work. Eight months later, when the Buc-ee’s people came to pick it up, Cochran said “his mouth flew open like a two-bit suitcase.”

    The first one built is in the Ennis store, and the latest one is going to a new store that is scheduled to open in Georgia.

    “They were real pleased, and told me to get to work on the next one,” he said.

    Those builds, Cochran said, are not typical; the work is mostly cosmetic. There is no engine, or even axles, leaf springs or rear ends; the inside is redone, the bed and hood are repaired and painted, and the whole piece is mounted on heavy casters to allow it to be moved around.

    Barrels are used to mimic wheels; those are used to house display items such as small stuffed beavers sold by the stores.

    And if there’s no parts laying around, that’s OK; items such as shaving brushes, barrels, picnic tables and other items not necessarily car-related are repurposed into bed material, running boards, and even shifter knobs.

    It’s a process Cochran plans to continue as long as possible.

    “I like it so much I can’t wait to get in here in the morning,” he said. “I need to get out here and do something with these cars.”

    image 3Jimmy Cochran, a longtime car dealer and a lifetime car enthusiast, has a 1949 Ford Police Cruiser prominently displayed at his lot on Highway 19 north of Trinity. Cochran has a passion for cars and trucks from the 1930s to the 1950s, and if you make an appointment, you can travel down memory lane with his antiques.

  • Keep calm and carry on

    Free Farm VectorFILE PHOTO Free Farm

    There are days when I look at the world and all I see is a yard full of chickens – not cowards, actual chickens. Chickens start squawking and flapping around at the slightest provocation. Chickens always act like it’s the end of the world.

    When I start viewing the universe as a cacophonous barnyard, I take it as a sign that maybe, just maybe, it is time to seek some stability and predictability from a source who is, unlike a chicken, unflappable.

    It was on one of those days that I turned off the television, stepped away from the internet and picked up a magazine from a stack that, considering I was seeing farm animals that weren’t really there, had been ignored for too long.

    The teaser headline on the front of the magazine made me turn to the article right away: “Life Lessons from Queen Elizabeth.”

    Who wouldn’t want advice from Queen Elizabeth II? She is 94 years old and, as of this writing, still going strong. Long live the queen!

    I have always felt a certain kinship with the queen and like to think that we have a lot in common. She has an affinity for tea and for dogs. So do I! She loves horses; I once rode one. She likes things to be neat and tidy. I do, too! In fact, that is one of the top goals for my next life. She wears a royal crown; I enjoy the occasional Crown Royal. She is surrounded by people who wait on her hand and foot; I think I could easily learn to live with that.

    The article offered some generic advice about positive thinking, serving others, establishing a healthy routine… yada, yada, yada. With my vast knowledge of Queen Elizabeth, and with four seasons of Netflix’s “The Crown” under my belt, I had expected nothing else. The queen rarely weighs in, publically at least, on current events. During the nearly 70 years she has been monarch, she has been the picture of cool, calm consistency.

    She still adheres to that “stiff upper lip” and “keep calm and carry on” philosophy for which the Brits were known back in the day and that I used to find irritating. Not anymore.

    As odd as it might sound, when I start seeing chickens where people should be, I can also find solace in TV weather forecasts. Sure, you can go to some dot-com and get the forecast down to the minute, but I want to see a familiar face. Once a meteorologist makes it to the top spot in the weather department, they tend to stay for decades and, just like with my good friend the queen, I start to feel like I know them. They are stable, predictable and unflappable. No matter what may be bearing down on us, you can count on the chief meteorologist to project a calm demeanor and not go all squawky-flappy on us.

    When I was growing up, we had a choice of three local stations for our nightly forecast. My family’s go-to weather guru was a skinny guy with glasses named Bob Lynott. I lie not.

    I lived in Oregon for the first 13 years of my life and Bob was there for every one of them, although I was probably more interested in my belly button than the weather during his earlier broadcasts.

    In those low-tech days, good ol’ Bob would slap his magnetic images of puffy clouds, rain-dripping clouds and the occasional uplifting likeness of Mr. Sunshine onto a map to illustrate what was going to happen in our corner of the world the next day. Since we lived in the Pacific Northwest, the cloud with the dripping rain got quite a workout. He drew the warm and cold fronts on the map with a magic marker.

    I did a quick computer check to make sure I was spelling Bob Lynott’s name right (his last name; I was pretty sure I had nailed his first name) and found his obituary. It reminded me of why he was our weather guy. This is one of the stories it told about Bob: “One time, the day after missing badly on a forecast, he made his entrance to his weather slot by putting his hat on the end of an umbrella and sticking it in front of the camera before he came on.” He did that sort of thing fairly often; he was predictable even when the weather was not.

    Bob may not have always been right, but you could count on him to fess up when he messed up. No matter what, he was unflappable. We knew we would keep tuning in and that Bob would be there to greet us.

    The late author E.L. Doctorow once compared writing a novel to driving a car at night. “You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” He may have been referring to writing, but I think it could be one life’s great lessons. We don’t really need to know what is around the next curve or even our destination; we just need to navigate the road a few feet at a time. It sounds like something my peeps Queen Elizabeth and Bob Lynott might say.

    Keep calm and carry on.

  • Remnants of Rockland (GALLERY)

    Remnants of Rockland 10CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Rockland, Texas Abandoned Railroad Trestle, completed in 1899.

    By Caleb Fortenberry

    Sawmill towns drove the economy of Southeast Texas in the 1800s. From topographical to abstracts, many of these forgotten towns can be referenced in early 20th century maps. One of the most notable towns that was forgotten and left to fall into ruin was the Aldridge Mill in Jasper County, just north of the Neches River and East of Zavalla. This is one of the only mill structures left standing in the area and for an unusual reason. Owner of Aldridge Mill, Hal Aldridge, had a fire occur on his mill in 1911 when it was fashioned out of wood. To avoid insurance rates increasing, he made the structures more fire retardant. He constructed the buildings out of concrete in 1912. With the buildings being made in this fashion, the structures are still standing to this day, and is a spectacular sight to see in the Angelina National Forest. Aldridge did not only operate just this larger mill. He actually started on a smaller scale in Rockland on the south side of the Neches nestled at the northern end of Tyler County.

    Remnants of Rockland 2 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Aldridge Saw Mill in Jasper County, Texas.

    Rockland is known for its stone, and various quarries that helped make the Galveston Sea Wall. Unknown to many, it also was full of longleaf yellow pines at one point and a mill was situated West, right next to the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. Many mills, such as the Rockland Mill, were placed near railroads for quick transportation to other towns, rather than letting the logs float down a river, which was not only time consuming, but problematic. Trams were built to bring logs back to mill ponds, which preserved them while they awaited to be sawn.

    Cary Ard with shovelCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS Cary Ard and his shovel in the rock pits near Rockland.

    Education coordinator for the Texas Forestry Museum, Kaitlin Wieseman clarifies, “they would build little short lines out into the forest so then they could cut the trees and have the train bring them back to their sawmill. So, basing their sawmill next to actual prominent rail lines that were main lines, like the Houston East and West, was probably a better idea to do than building out in the forest, in the middle of nowhere. They did have capabilities to build a line but usually they would have teams of men that would build that short line out just into the forest, not necessarily out to their own sawmill, but they could have if they needed to.”

    Remnants of Rockland 28CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB One of the only remaining track railings along the track bed.

    The Rockland Mill, also known as the Rockland Plant, was first owned by one of Rockland’s postmasters, John Delaney and others. Delaney, interestingly enough, worked with Aldridge at the post office. In 1890, Aldridge bought the mill and vast amounts of land tracts in the area. He operated the mill until 1898, when he sold the business to William Cameron & Co., one of the first forestry millionaires. It was burned down November 4, 1898, only a few short months after Cameron bought the sawmill.

    Remnants of Rockland 18CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Remains of the Rockland Sawmill. Steam wheel foundation, located West of most residents in Rockland and East of Highway 69.

    “If you can just imagine, we’re working with steam, which you have to have fire to be able to produce steam, to heat up the water, but also your working with wood around everywhere. So, some sawmill towns would build their sawmill only of wood. They wouldn’t build them, usually, out of stone just because that costs more,” said Wieseman, “most of the smaller ones, if it burned down, and they didn’t have enough money or area to cut down trees, then rebuilding wasn’t really in their thoughts of doing that because it would cost too much.”

    Woods Crew Near TrainCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A woods crew, possibly connected to the Aldridge Sawmill, stops for a photo.

    The plant was rebuilt with newer equipment and a water tower that measured 125 feet above the ground and able to hold thousands of gallons to transport water throughout the mill. Cameron operated the mill producing roughly 3,000,000 linear feet of lumber per year, until he sold it to John Henry Kirby in 1905.

    Remnants of Rockland 20CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Foundations at the Rockland Mill.

    One of the interesting details learned about mill towns of that time is that they had a form of currency for each company. In this particular mill, it could have had at least three different forms of coin being used for trade at the company general store and commissary. Aldridge, Cameron, and Kirby used these coins for the workers to make various purchases from the mill’s stores.

    Remnants of Rockland 1 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Bricks found adjacent to the Rockland mill pond and saw mill.

    One of the reasons Rockland became so popular, was not just the sawmill, but the fact that the railroad did not cross the Neches. It stopped in Rockland. That is, until 1899 when the rail road trestle was completed. Similar to the remains of the Rockland Plant, the bridge over the Neches still remains intact and unharmed by human vandalism, more than likely due to the inconvenience of getting to it. It is still a spectacular view if you can get to the bank near it. The engineering and man power that went into building it is perplexing.

    Rockland rail yard locomotive facing BeaumontCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A locomotive heads toward Beaumont, passing through the Rockland railyard.

    Remnants of Rockland 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Rail Road on the Jasper County side of the Neches leading to the Rockland Trestle.

    The main way to cross the river without taking the train was Dunkin’s ferry, which has been speculated that country singer, George Jones, once helped operate. Mac Dunkin’s well, barn and chimney are all that remain of the crossing. The old Lufkin – Beaumont Highway led to the ferry situated just Northwest of the mill. It operated until the 1930s when the US Highway 69 bridge joining Jasper and Tyler counties was completed. This left the town of Rockland off to the wayside and the mill eventually shut down. It wasn’t until rock quarries began to produce in higher volumes, that the town was revived for a period.

    Ferry Boat Neches RiverCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A group of well-dressed travelers cross the Neches River using a ferry near Rockland.

    Remnants of Rockland 6CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Mac Dunkin's well, located Northeast of the Rockland Mill site.

    The Rockland Mill site is on private property and unfortunately there is no public access to it. Because of this factor, it has remained in a healthier condition than the other structures such as the Aldridge mill, which has been defaced with spray paint graffiti for years. After being granted permission to locate different parts of the mill, many older bottles were discovered near where the general store or commissary would have been placed. What would have been trash, paints a picture of what life could have looked like back then. The concrete structure that held the steam engine still stands erect, but the steam engine itself is no longer on the site. Various concrete foundations lay in the dense underbrush. There are numerous possibilities of what they could have been used for, but it is safe to assume the boilers would have been located nearby and there is a good chance they would have been placed on foundations, such as the ones found. Trams that ran from the railroad are still built up around the mill pond. The pond is still holding water, but many trees have grown in it and around it, so it is not easily accessible nor noticeable.

     Remnants of Rockland 24CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB The Rockland Mill pond's levee broke at some point, but still holds water and has traces of the tram surrounding it.

    According to Texas State Historical Association, Rockland has had a population of about 100 people since 1990. From 1900 to 1940 the population was roughly 300 and thought to have close to 500. The town included 150 to 200 dwellings for sawmill workers, a school and church building, three doctors' offices, two drugstores, a livery stable, a dance hall, and a railroad station. Now, only residential structures, rock quarries, and lumber tracts remain. Although, not much resides in the once bustling town, the remnants of Rockland are still there, underneath the earth being preserved in its once trampled grounds.

    Aldridge Home in RocklandCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS The Aldridge family home in Rockland. Hal Aldridge built this house at the time of his marriage. The home was later turned into a hotel. The home was still standing in 2020.