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Home > Features > Texas Stories > Glenrio Ghost Town

Glenrio Ghost Town in the Texas Panhandle
 
By Greg Fieg

The late author John Steinbeck found a sympathic readership in 1939 when he wrote "The Grapes of Wrath," his tale of Dust Bowl Oklahoma tenant farmers and their flight to California across the southwestern desert during the Great Depression. But he also found something of a kindred spirit in Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin, who was so impressed by the movie based on the book that he ordered it subtitled in Russian and had it shown to his subjects so they might understand the failings and excesses of capitalism.

Stalin's scheme backfired, however, for the simple reason that all of the members of the supposedly repressed American proletariat not only had shoes in the movie but actually owned automobiles!

Today the Academy Award-winning movie directed by John Ford is regarded as a classic, and still surviving are many of the movie's authentic exteriors filmed along the Okies' historic US Route 66 trek.

Among locations in "The Grapes of Wrath," so some claim, is the Panhandle ghost town of Glenrio, where it is said that the film crew set up cameras for three weeks. The report seems doubtful at best, seeing as the production's entire shooting schedule lasted little more than a month and a half, a time frame that would have left precious few minutes to shoot many other locations that were used in the movie, including the commercial districts in McAlester, Okla., to Glenriio's east, and Santa Rosa, NM, to Glenrio's west.

Still, whether cameras rolled there or not, it is virtually certain that the film crew passed though Glenrio and more likely than not spent a night or two there or at least broke for refreshments, supplies and a little rest.

Though it is a ghost town today, the Glenrio of nearly 70 years ago, at the time of the making of the movie, was a small but important stop on Route 66, and boasted not only several stores, cafes and residences, but what was then known as an auto camp, two hotels, a post office and a train depot.

When paving of Route 66 was completed in 1937, much of it having been dirt or gravel before then, Glenrio's section of the fabled Chicago-to-Los Angeles superhighway looked much like a major city boulevard. The original Route 66 pavement still remains along with faded signs and several adobe-style masonry buildings and even an old automobile hulk here and there.

In the old days the town straddled the Texas-New Mexico border, with alcoholic beverages being sold on the New Mexican side but not on the Texas side because Deaf Smith county was dry. But lodgings were mostly on the Texas side because New Mexico imposed a prohibitive hotel tax.

Today the New Mexican half of the town has all but vanished. The now dead community was struck a severe blow when the railroad depot closed around 1950. Glenrio's days were furthered numbered when Congress funded the Eisenhower Interstate system in 1956, decommisioned Route 66 in 1983 and diverted most traffic to Interstate 40.

There is no glen in Glenrio and certainly no rio (river). It is situated an hour's drive from virtually any place that might be considered a city and for much of the year bakes in a parched, cactus-dotted landscape that gets little rain and is perhaps best suited for growing rocks and rattlesnakes.

Glenrio is about 60 miles west of Amarillo and should be visited only by day. Leave it to the ghosts at night and be especially careful of the bumpy one-lane dirt road from Texas to New Mexico along the old Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad right-of-way.

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