It was the third day of our RV retirement road trip which we labeled “Taking Sherman to the Sea”. After dodging a storm and having the luck of obtaining complimentary rooms at Harrah’s Horseshoe Hotel and Casino in Bossier City, LA, we were fresh and ready for a day on the road.
Our destination was the Navy Lodge in Fort Worth, Texas. We had been unable to obtain a spot for the Sherman along our planned travel route so we booked a room at the Navy Lodge instead. Our experience with Navy Lodges has always been excellent and this one was no different. It seemed brand new and was exceptionally clean. It was well staffed, had the usual great breakfast, and a stunning view of a lake to the front of the Lodge. In addition, the rest of the trip would be all camping so why not have one last night of fresh sheets and someone else’s cooking?
Our drive would take us from Shreveport to Fort Worth by way of Corsicana, Texas. Our reason for the detour involved food…namely fruitcakes. If you’ve ever eaten a fruit cake, the chances are very good that it was baked by Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana. We were on our way to receive a VIP tour of this world famous facility.
Collin Street Bakery was founded in 1896 by a German baker and promoted heavily by a local businessman. The bakery did a lively business in Corsicana where prosperity reigned after oil was discovered in the region. In 1914 members of the Ringling Brothers Circus entered the bakery after a performance and sent fruit cakes to family and friends all over the world. Thus began a reputation for taste and quality that was known far and wide.
The bakery was sold to a small group of investors in 1947 who continued to enhance the quality of the products and grow the business. A close relative of Helen (adorable wife) is married to a direct descendant of those investors and is now employed by the bakery. It was he who was taking us on a tour.
Will, our tour guide was busy when we arrived, so we treated ourselves to a great lunch of soup and sandwiches made on bakery bread while we waited. The bread was bacon and cheese bread and was like no bread I’ve ever tasted. It was so good I bought a loaf to place in Sherman’s pantry for the trip. We browsed through the bake shop for more goodies after lunch.
Will arrived and greeted us warmly. He walked us through a photo display and gave us some of the plant history that I mentioned above. He also explained that fruit cakes were primarily produced in the months leading up to Christmas and that this day was not one scheduled for production. Therefore, we would not get to see the plant in action (or get covered in flour). Nevertheless, we were required to wear netting over our hair and we were not allowed to touch any of the cooking equipment in order to preserve the sanitary environment of the production area.
During the baking season, Collin Street Bakery produces over 1.5 million fruitcakes and ships them to approximately 200 countries. The number of employees grows to over 600 in that period and they do everything from boxing cakes to cleaning the equipment, to answering the never-ending onslaught of email and phone calls. I can only imagine that the pace would be wild although every aspect of the plant was designed to be extremely efficient.
At this time of the year, most of the activity is tied to the production of baked goods and candy for the five area stores. We were allowed to view the entire plant except for the area devoted to the preparation of chocolate items which remains a well guarded secret. The smell of the chocolate wafted through the cracks in the door and was somewhat tortuous to a chocolate lover like me.
Our last stop was a trip through the call center where banks of phones were set up to handle the demand that would begin in a few months. Calls were coming in as we passed some ladies taking orders and answering questions in polite and somewhat hushed tones. Good customer service was being practiced.
Will needed to get back to work and we had to make your way to Fort Worth so it was time to go. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist picking up a bag containing two dozen chocolate chunk cookies, a milk chocolate candy bar, and six pieces of chocolate brittle bark…I’m certain that Nutrisystem would give me some time off for good behavior. Sherman picked out an apricot fruitcake for himself.
Before we departed the area, we took the time to walk through downtown Corsicana, a small town about sixty miles south of Dallas. I would describe Corsicana as being just as I imagined it would be. Many of the buildings on Beaton Street were one story and had been built in decades past. I could see that this was once a bustling community at the time of the oil discoveries, but now most of the traffic had moved elsewhere and many of the shops that remained were small retail establishments, beauty salons, and my favorite business for browsing—second hand stores. Nevertheless, a great deal of charm still remained in this Texas town on a road less traveled.
We did have one objective in mind—we needed a coffee pot for Sherman. Helen had picked one up at a thrift store before we left, but the pot fell apart on our first night in Montgomery and we needed a replacement. We found a perfectly good Black and Decker in the second shop we visited at the very reasonable asking price of $8.00. We drove a hard bargain and got it down to $7.00. The store owner confirmed that it worked and we proudly left with it. We only needed it to last as far as California since Sherman was booked for a one way trip and we were flying home leaving everything behind.
We went into several more stores and I found a few trinkets, but managed to resist any big temptations. We noticed one very unique display along the sidewalks. Some organization had placed several old pianos in front of some of the stores and had done a great job of painting and decorating them. I took pictures of five of them for Easin’ Along readers to enjoy and they are included in the Picture gallery that follows this article. You can click here and click on the photos to begin the slide show.
As we strolled toward Sherman we met a gentleman who was having a discussion with a lady in front of one of the stores. He introduced himself as a shop owner and knew right away that we were not locals. He tried to coax us into his store, but we told him we were afraid of running out of daylight before Sherman reached Fort Worth. The fact that we were in a hurry mattered little as this gentleman was quite the talker and he wanted to know everything about our trip and about Sherman.
The lady in the group was telling everyone that she had just turned 90 and was showing off a clipping from the local paper that contained her picture plus a story about her birthday. We congratulated her on the achievement and promised to hoist a cup in her honor once we reached Fort Worth. She certainly didn’t look her age, and I told her so.
Having made two new friends, we departed. We took our “new” coffee maker and placed it on the counter top in Sherman’s small kitchen along with the Collin Street goodies that would accompany our coffee.
We both agreed that on this day, RV living is as good as a loaded fruitcake…and we’ll joyfully continue Easin’ Along.