Small Town Texas
by Mamie Carter
Not so long ago, first-class postage cost three cents and a loaf of bread was a nickel. When you pulled your car up to a "filling station," the owner came out with a squeegee in his hand. "Howdy there, stranger." Beneath the red-roofed station stood glass-topped gasoline pumps and a familiar Texaco sign with a red star. ("You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.")
Scenes from the by-gone days of "Small Town Texas" are captured by Dr. Ricardo Romo, President of the University of Texas at San Antonio. They are on display through Oct. 4 at the Witte Museum at 3801 Broadway. The exhibit is free with regular museum admission. The show is part of Foto Septiembre USA, an international photography festival.
The filling station photo, which is the most memorable of the group, records two signs, Waring General Store, on the front coupled with Welcome to Waring. A red, hand-lettered sign out front reads STEAKNITE.
Romo, a historian, and his wife, Dr. Harriett Romo, a sociologist, drove through more than 75 towns during the past year to photograph the remnants of a fading way of life. He says they drove from Abilene to San Antonio, "speeding through all these little towns, feeling a little guilty about not stopping to appreciate what these towns are about. We need to stop in these little towns and find out what's going on."
"The towns seemed to be something out of the 1950s," he continued. "If we don't capture this now, it won't be here in five to 10 years." Patriotism is a strong aspect of small Texas life. In Baird (pop. 1623) Romo photographed a waving American flag attached to an empty bench. Another photo shows a row of windmills.
Reaction from people viewing the exhibit involves nostalgic memories. One man said of one of the photos, "I saw something in it. I just wanted to step in there and be there." A woman viewing ranchland confirmed to her husband, "That's Charlotte. I know. I've been there." Romo said, "Some of the vestiges of small-town life have already disappeared. For instance, a rancher saw a photo of a farm implement and asked, 'What is that?' " The tool had long been abandoned in a field and replaced by more modern equipment.
Another man saw a photo of a new flea market near Devine and remarked, "Boy, I got to go over there."
In Cuero a railroad car was converted into an office, which interested Romo because of the transition of something old into something new. One Sunday when the Romos stopped their car in front of an old building, they attracted the attention of a patroling policeman. He looked at the couple suspiciously until the photographer held up his camera. The policeman nodded and drove off as if to say, "Oh, a tourist."
Romo, who grew up on San Antonio's west side, said as a youngster he traveled all over south central Texas visiting family. "I can't do (photograph) all of Texas because I've got a full-time job," Romo said. "But there's more with the same theme. Other places." And someday soon, a book of his small-town photographs will be published.
The Small Town Texas photo exhibit is on display at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, TX from Aug 22 - Oct 4, 2009. The exhibit is free with Museum Admission. The museum is located at 3801 Broadway; San Antonio, TX 78209. Phone: 210-357-1900.