Last weekend my wife and I took off on a whim for an overnight trip to the Hill Country. She bought a gift basket at some event that included eight free admission tickets to any Texas Historical Commission State Historic Site, and she was itching to use a few.

I figured it would be a good break since we will have a house full of grandkids, ranging from eight months old to “almost seven” running (or rolling) around the house all next week for the annual Camp Nani/Poppie Olympic endurance test.

First leg

In a little more than 24 hours we covered quite a bit. I always remember the trip to Fredericksburg being long, psychologically, but it was a breeze.

We took off late in the day Friday after work and took our first break in Mathis at Smolik’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Q. We had to fill our stomachs for our “long” ride.

We had never stopped in Mathis to eat, since whenever we’re headed in that direction, our destination is usually the San Antonio Airport, and we’re always in a rush.

No rush this trip.

The folks at Smolik’s are fun to visit with. The owner, a cousin of the local retired pharmacist Smolik, graduated a year or two after us at Texas A&M.

Little did I know I’d start my string of history lessons at the Smolik eatery.

The walls are filled with Mathis history, including a picture of the old San Antonio-Aransas Pass railroad depot (circa 1911) in that town. The caption reads, “I asked my mother what people did to pass the time on Sunday afternoons. She said, ‘We’d go down to meet the train – to see who’d come to town, or who’d been out and just returned from a trip.’ This area is now full of new and used cars for the Chevrolet dealership on Front Street.”

The town is named after Tom Henry Mathis. Yes, the same Mathis that has a connection to Aransas County.

The caption next to his picture reads, “He joined with Messrs. Coleman and Fulton to form the Fulton-Coleman-Mathis Cattle Company. They controlled considerable acreage, and things rocked along pretty well for a few years, but then a drought came. They lost a lot of money. A partnership is pretty poor ship to sail in hard times, so they divided up. Mr. Mathis got somewhere near 24,000 acres on the north side of the cattle company land.”

I talked a while with our waitress and the owner’s wife, and then climbed back into the car.

We headed northwest through San Antonio, and secured our lodging for the night in Blanco while driving down the highway.

Second leg

After a good night’s sleep, we continued north out of Blanco for a short stretch … all the way to Johnson City.

While there we looked around LBJ’s boyhood home and a visitor’s center, and then headed west on US 290 to the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park.

I didn’t know he brought electricity to his hometown, forming the Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

One LBJ quote I read was, “Of all the things I have ever done, nothing has given me as much satisfaction as bringing power to the Hill Country of Texas.”

I knew a little bit about LBJ, but I learned this past weekend how his rural upbringing, surrounded by few amenities, formed the spine of his political life.

He accomplished a lot, through huge government programs after the assassination of JFK, but almost everything he supported was rooted in giving others a chance.

I won’t go into what all he championed, but a big chuck of today’s federal budget goes to programs he had a hand in starting (The Great Society).

At the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park I saw the jet LBJ flew from a San Antonio Air Force Base to his ranch. It is called Air Force ½. Air Force One (at that time a Boeing 707) couldn’t land on the airstrip built at his ranch after he was sworn in as president.

There’s a lot to see and learn about LBJ in the area around Johnson City, and I encourage everyone to take a trip there some day.

Then it was off to Fredericksburg.

What was once a relatively quiet tourist trap, known for its German food, quaint stores along Main Street, and peaches, is now a bustling tourist destination overflowing with wineries, boxes upon boxes of peaches sold in stands along the highways, many nice places to eat, and a bunch of shops.

I’m a WWII buff, so I love visiting the National Museum of the Pacific War. It is located there because Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz is from Fredericksburg. He was commander in chief, Pacific Ocean Areas.

One of the Nimitz stories I read included the following memory from his grandfather, talking about his youth in the German merchant marine:

“The sea, like life itself, is a stern taskmaster. The best way to get along with either is to learn all you can, then do your best and don’t worry, especially about things over which you have no control.”

The first time we visited Fredericksburg the new museum wasn’t built. It’s pretty awesome if you enjoy history about WWII in the Pacific Theater.

Plus, we got finally use one of my wife’s tickets!

We’ve been to the Hill Country many times, but I couldn’t help thinking back to our first trip to Fredericksburg.

On that trip, I took a picture at the National Museum of the Pacific War of my wife holding our then toddler in front of the atomic bomb Fat Man. On this trip, I had my picture taken with the big boy.

We also visited the bakery where I took one of my favorite pictures of my oldest daughter. She was just staring at all the goodies she couldn’t have!

We headed back to the coast around 5 p.m. Saturday, but not before buying a box of Fredericksburg peaches from a roadside stand.

After all, how could we have Camp Nani/Poppie without fresh homemade peach ice cream?

I hope there’s still some left for the six grands.

Until next week, have a good week.

Mike Probst can be reached at

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