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Ramblin’ Joe: The Story of Arcadia’s Round Barn on Route 66

Bison Blinds

by Joe Baxter

Hope everyone is doing okay! Spring is HERE, finally. It can be a little bit cool and windy for days, and rainy, but the flowers are peeking out, the redbuds are blooming, and the weeds are just as green as can be.

I figured I’d talk about the Arcadia Round Barn today. Nothing new about that, huh? It probably seems like that’s ALL I talk about, but it’s kinda what I do. I do love to devote my time and attention to helping out at that cool old place, and to making sure we have MUSIC in an awesome location right there on Oklahoma Route 66. It’s a much better way to utilize my time than to just anchor down the recliner and watch 60’s sitcoms all day on Old People TV (OPTV). Not that I mind doing that, either.  

Route 66’s Arcadia Round Barn to Mark 30 Years of Restoration

Most of the folks reading this are at least vaguely familiar with the story of the Barn. The structure was built by an original Arcadia homesteader, Willian Odor in 1898. The Round Barn is an impressive building, standing high above the Route 66 roadbed. It was built BY HAND. There were no cranes or lifts or flatbed trucks in 1898. There was no electricity and there were no air compressors. Those proud and resourceful early farmers milled their own oak timber from the Deep Fork river bottom. They used block and tackle, a-frames, wagons, work animals, nails, and hand tools to construct the Round Barn. The barn was essentially the headquarters of a very robust cattle operation for its first 40 years or so, then it was sold to a local farmer, who used it as a hay barn for another couple of decades. Time and weather took their toll, and the old barn was almost gone for good by 1980. This is MY OWN opinion of the origins and intent of the round, domed structure. Could be wrong about all of it, but I like to share my thoughts with visitors.

The fun goes from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday, April 10.

There’s an old wive’s tale about the Shakers building round buildings so that “the devil can’t hide in the corners,” but I come from a long line of old settlers, and I can tell you with confidence that those original Oklahoma farmers and ranchers were a bit more pragmatic. They were devout but practical. Practicality was a basic requirement for survival back then. Anyway, I think that those 1st and 2nd generation Americans brought the round, domed design with them from some snowy places in Europe and up in the Midwest Snow Belt states. The design is a good one. It is extremely stout, and stable enough to withstand wind and snow, and later on, even a few earthquakes. As far as surviving tornadoes, it’s a good thought, but Mr. Odor’s brother-in-law, Mr. Keely, built a similar but smaller structure on his homestead just east of Arcadia, and a tornado scrubbed it out of existence at some point. So, we just watch the radar in the spring and pray for deliverance from the twisters, always grateful for the near misses.

Snow load: The domed roof allows snow to melt and slide off so that the farmer did not have to physically remove snow during long wet winters. There was plenty of working and storage space, and room for a winter season’s worth of hay up in the loft. My Aunt Jean Davis, God rest her soul, told me that her daddy told her that the higher the roof on the haylofts, the quicker the moisture was wicked off of the hay, so the barn builders made it a practice to build high overheads. The first hay balers weren’t built till after 1910. Before that, hay was stacked loose, or bundled and “shocked.” When the Round Barn was built, they were still storing loose hay. Even after 75 years of use, the barn was still being used as a hay barn. Unfortunately, a later owner cut a large drive-thru door in the side of the barn so trucks could back into the barn and square hay bales could be loaded in and out, and this weakened the entire structure. This, plus weathering and deterioration eventually caused the structural sag and sideways movement which in turn caused the roof to collapse. When I was a teenager, just learning how to drive and out running around with my buddies, I remember the Round Barn already being in pretty bad shape. It looked like it could collapse and slide down the hill and into the highway at any given moment.

One hot, boring summer afternoon in 19—, a few of us decided that we’d sneak into the barn and have a look. We did get to peek in, and we fully intended to go inside, but Mr. Butch Breager’s daddy, who had lived next door to the barn in the old DX station since the 1940’s, had other ideas. He chased us out of there with a hoe handle and threatened to call the law, so we skedaddled. Not too long after that, probably right around Halloween if I recall correctly, one dark night, a buddy and I had two young ladies in the car with us and we figured we’d sneak into the barn and “check for ghosts.” Like all teenage boys, we thought if we could scare the girls, they might snuggle up to us. We actually DID go inside that time. It was nighttime, and it WAS spooky. We only stayed inside a minute, with our one old TG&Y flashlight with almost-dead batteries not quite cutting the mustard. We were intercepted on the way back to the car by an Oklahoma County deputy, who was not interested in our excuses. Fortunately for us, our lovely dates must have charmed him into letting us go, with the classic warning; “You have five minutes to get out of town.” (Also fortunate; he did not search the car and find the beer.) At the end, the girls were not impressed or pleased with any of these shenanigans, and they made us take them home. The names are omitted here to protect the innocent. I drove past the Round Barn many times in the years after that, and I always remembered those teenage days. When the roof collapsed in 1988, I made a special run by there to see it. It was very sad.

Then came the miracle.

Luke Robison told the Arcadia folks that the Round Barn could be restored. He and his buddies in what they called the “Over-The-Hill Gang” set about doing just that. The sheer scope of that project was, and is, amazing. Restoration had to be a daunting prospect, but through dedication, generous donors, and months of hard volunteer work, the beautiful old Route 66 landmark was rescued from the bulldozers, and on April 4th, 1992, it reopened to the public. In the next few years after reopening, my oldies rock band, The Regular Joes, set up and played a few times at Hillbillies restaurant, just across the highway, on special occasions such as the 4th of July and for the big car and bike runs.

On those days, the little town of Arcadia would come alive, and it wasn’t too hard to imagine that place in its post territorial heyday. In a roundabout fashion, I volunteered to host a monthly open acoustic music jam at the barn in 2010. The Round Barn Rendezvous still takes place on second Sunday afternoons. A few years back, the Arcadia Historical Preservation Society Board okayed a project to pour a nice concrete slab in the shade of the huge old Elm Tree out in the picnic area, We ran electricity to it and began hosting the Elm Tree Concerts; outdoor concerts on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer season.

Not long after, we began our Saturday Morning Music Sessions in the gift shop, and formed the Round Barn house band, The Round Barn Ramblers. Music is FREE at the Round Barn, and there’s always something musical happening on the weekends. When I retired from Tinker AFB in 2012, I volunteered to help out in the Gift Shop, and I’ve been opening up on Tuesday mornings and greeting visitors ever since. I also volunteer to help out with various tasks and projects at the barn.

The Round Barn Ramblers, Joe is holding the uncased acoustic, a step away from the other Ramblers.

Still Going Strong

We have also hosted special events such as music workshops and historical lectures. It’s a lot of fun, and the ideal retirement gig for yours truly and for the volunteers who work the barn seven days a week, year round. New volunteers are ALWAYS welcome at the Round Barn. Call the gift shop at 405-396-2286 and they’ll post you in the right direction.

This coming weekend, Sunday, April 10th, the Arcadia Historical & Preservation Society will host a 30 Year Anniversary Celebration of the 1992 reopening. We will be cooking hot dogs, playing music, giving tours, checking out some old cars, and having fun and welcoming special guests and the public. We expect a pretty good crowd, and an outstanding daylong celebration, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

  • 10:30 a.m. Round Barn Ramblers
  • 12:30 p.m. McKedys
  • 2:30 p.m. “I’m Not Lisa” (Lucy Weberling’s fine group of northeast Oklahoma roots musicians)

Y’all come on by and see us. Be sure to come say “Hi” to ol’ Ramblin’ Joe….. AND – be sure to have a good week. 

Love y’all – Joe

RESIST – The Blahs. Git up and move. Do something FUN; something you WANT to do. It’s that time of year.

EDITOR’S NOTE. Joe Baxter is one of my favorite people. He loves music, the Arcadia Round Barn, his wife Jean, a club sandwich from Farmstead Cafe, Route 66, and America (not in that order). A songwriter and musician, he has a way with words and can turn a phrase such that you want to listen, or in this case, read for a while. If you are one of his “face friends” on social media, you know he can get you thinking with his posts and musings. Let’s insert here that Joe’s comments might not “reflect the views of staff and management,” or they might. All views, musings, and submissions are welcome here on these digital pages where we don’t kill trees or buy ink by the barrel! Find Joe at the Arcadia Round Barn where he is the head conversation aficionado catching stories from Route 66 travelers from all over the world, and getting the band together eight days a week! Thanks Ramblin’ Joe! Y’all ENJOY! – dawn

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