Terlingua Ghost Town Quest
Terlingua Preservation Society Makes a Quest to Visit Carroll Shelby's Party Spot During the 1960's
I'd always wanted to go to Terlingua, the south Texas ghost town where Carroll Shelby caroused and partied with his buddies during the 1960s. When Jeff Krueger and his wife, Lezlee, offered a ride, I accepted. All I had to do was get to Lubbock, where the Kruegers would trailer their '08 Shelby Terlingua to the fifth annual Terlingua event.
Our trip was uneventful until we arrived in Alpine, Texas, 306 miles south. There, we met up with Dave Durant at his Stable Performance Cars, a large showroom on Holland Avenue. Durant is a member of the Terlingua Preservation Society, a group formed to stage this Terlingua event every year with profits going to local Terlingua charities.
I had heard that the first Shelby Terlingua Mustang of the modern era ('06 and up) was owned by one of the members. I figured it was Durant's black and yellow '08 Terlingua on display. I was wrong.
"No, the first Terlingua is owned by David Elkowitz from Terlingua," Durant explained. Elkowitz, it turns out, is a park ranger in Big Bend Park, who owns 600 acres on Carroll's old ranch. How fitting, I thought, that he owns the first Terlingua Mustang sold to the public.
In Alpine, we also met Patrick and Vinnie Spina from New Jersey, who shipped their '12 GT 350 convertible to San Antonio for the drive to Terlingua. We were not actually going to Terlingua, Durant explained. We were driving to Lajitas. Huh?
About 70 miles south of Alpine on Highway 118, I noticed a sign to the Terlingua Ranch, 16 miles east. Krueger and I wanted to discover the old Terlingua ghost town and promised to check out these historic locations later. For now, we had to be on our way to check into our rooms at the resort and join other participants for Thursday evening dinner, a silent auction, and a Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament.
Elkowitz greeted us at the Lajitas Resort and handed us our "goodie" bags. Inside my bag, I found a shot glass, a patch, and a key chain with the Terlingua Ranch logo, plus a pair of blank greeting-type cards featuring paintings by Bill Neale, automotive artist and Shelby's backslapping friend from the glory days.
I soon found a use for the shot glass. On the way to my room, I ran into Team Shelby website moderator Chris Carter, who was steadying a full-to-the-brim Mason jar.
"Moonshine?" he asked.
I got the feeling this event was going to be wild and unfettered by restraints of normal law. On Saturday, the local sheriff closed a section of Highway 118 so the Shelby cars could run flat out in a remote section of Texas known as Big Bend country.
On Friday, we drove to the Lajitas International Airport, where plane traffic is so light that the airport granted TPS the use of a runway for an autocross, plus quarter-mile and half-mile racing. Timing was very informal—a stopwatch.
Krueger ran his White Rabbit on the autocross, which had an evil twist—drivers had to back across the finish line. Later, everyone gathered for a buffet lunch in the airport terminal while Terlingua High School held a car wash to raise money.
Friday night was the banquet and silent auction. Helaina Semmler, who along with husband Ron has never missed a Terlingua event, outbid everyone for a pair of old Mason jars filled with moonshine. The high bid stalled at $550. Helaina asked the bidder if he intended to share the moonshine with all. When he said, "No," she upped the bid to $600 to a giant roar from the crowd. The auction raised over $10,000. Carroll Shelby would have loved it.
Saturday began with a ride on FM 170, rated one of the most scenic roads in the United States. In less than 50 miles, we were in Presidio to stop for gas, then headed north to Marfa and finally to Alpine for a barbecue lunch and a car show at Stable Performance Cars.
The last leg was the drive south to Lajitas where we met the sheriff at the top of a big hill overlooking a downhill, three-mile straightaway where each driver could put the pedal to the metal and go flat out. Law enforcement blocked traffic while the TPS released drivers one at a time, fastest cars first to avoid slower cars getting passed. The sheriff used radar to record top speeds for more than 40 assorted Mustangs, Cobras, and one late-model Ford GT.
The White Rabbit, with Lezlee driving, sprinted to 140 MPH. Pat and Vinnie hit 161.8 in their GT 350 convertible—top up, of course. Several Shelby Mustangs topped 170.
Instead of heading back to the resort, Jeff drove the White Rabbit to the Terlingua Ranch. We pulled into the parking lot excited to be in Shelby's old digs. We walked into the Terlingua Ranch office and met a lady named "Ducky." Lezlee bought a pair of silver Terlingua logo earrings for $22.25—the last pair, found one at a time, loose in a cardboard tray. Ducky explained that due to trademark laws, they were not allowed to make the earrings any longer and, "Once they're gone, they're gone." So they're gone.
That evening, we enjoyed a dinner featuring chili in the courtyard by the pool. Like the night before, 80 or so people gathered to tell stories and to pass around more Mason jars of Oklahoma elixir.
Carroll Shelby would have been proud of the good times everybody was having down in his old stomping grounds, driving Shelby Mustangs and sharing a friendly brew.