By Jay Jones, Special to Tribune Newspapers
8:18 PM EDT, June 13, 2013
SEGUIN, Texas — A rash, almost reckless feeling comes over me as I exit Interstate Highway 10, along which the speed limit is a mere 75 mph, and I push the accelerator even farther forward.
My rental car doesn't sputter as the speedometer climbs. I've adjusted the rearview mirror, but there's no need to keep a watchful eye out for a state trooper. On this new road, an extension of State Highway 130, the legal limit is 85, making it America's closest rival to Germany's Autobahn, which has no limit in most areas.
Starting near Seguin, it takes only 29 minutes to travel the tollway's 41 miles to the outskirts of Austin. Since opening last fall, the privately owned route has been luring motorists to the former cotton fields of south Texas to experience the feel of driving 85 legally.
"It's certainly an attraction. We hear that through social media," said Chris Lippincott, spokesman for the company SH 130 Concession Co., which operates the highway. "It's garnered a lot of attention, and that's exciting. Our hope is, obviously, that it will draw traffic to the road but also attention to the area."
The highway is hyped as an alternative to Interstate Highway 35, a notoriously congested artery linking the state capital to San Antonio. It parallels I-35 well to the east, but the attraction of speed aside, Highway 130 also offers visitors the opportunity to explore some engaging, little-known destinations.
Take, for instance, the nutcracker museum in Seguin. Run, fittingly, by the folks at Pape Pecan House (830-372-2850, papepecan.com), the small museum boasts one of the world's largest collections of nutcrackers.
The Pape family owns 8,000 of the things from countries spanning the globe. Made mostly of wood but also of bronze and silver, the crackers include plenty of toy soldiers, the type trotted out for holiday parties. But the museum also features nutcrackers bearing likenesses of fictional and real characters from Bugs Bunny to Ronald Reagan.
Seguin (it's pronounced suh-GEEN) was once known as the "Mother of Concrete Cities." Starting in the mid-1800s, buildings made of concrete began to spring up. Before long, the town had 90 of them.
Today, 20 of them remain, including the county courthouse and a school. The visitors bureau can provide an informative brochure (800-580-7322, visitseguin.com) and point visitors in the direction of Sebastopol House, an 1850s mansion built with what the locals called "limecrete."
Readily available limestone and sand, as well as water from a nearby creek, were the key ingredients. Slaves from a nearby cotton farm were used to cast the 12-inch-thick walls. Even on a hot, humid summer's day, well before air conditioning was invented, the house remained comfortably cool.
"It had great insulating factors," observed Charles Mead, who conducts tours of the historic site Fridays through Sundays. "They would open all the doors and windows in the morning, and (through the day) it would retain the coolness."
From Seguin, zipping along on the tollway, it takes just 20 minutes to reach Lockhart, another off-the-beaten-track town. It has the distinction, by proclamation of the state Legislature, of being the "Barbecue Capital of Texas."
The smell of meat roasting on wood-fired grills wafts through the air in this small town, to which about 5,000 people a week are drawn to eat barbecue. Don't, however, expect — or ask for — meat slathered in sauce. That's not how they "do" barbecue in these parts.
"Good meat with just a few basic seasonings, cooked with the right wood correctly, is all you need," Keith Schmidt, owner of the sprawling Kreuz ("krites") Market, writes on the restaurant's website.
"We feel sauce is for covering up the flavor of the meat, which we want to accent, so we have no sauce," he continued.
Kreuz Market (512-398-2361, kreuzmarket.com) opened in 1900 as a butcher shop and grocery store, another Lockhart establishment claims to be "the oldest BBQ house in Texas owned by the same family."
That's what it says on a sign at Black's Barbecue (888-632-8225, blacksbbq.com).
Since 1932, four generations of the Black family have owned and operated the restaurant. Former President Lyndon Johnson, whose LBJ Ranch is just a couple of counties over, once ordered the Blacks' barbecued sausage for a shindig near Washington.
The current owners, Edgar and Norma Black, also have posted another sign, next to the front door, that reads "Open 8 Days A Week." According to Norma, it's a reference to the long hours they put in, given that the place closes only for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The new tollway makes it quicker to reach Lockhart, which until last October didn't have a four-lane highway.
The experience of racing along the route from end to end costs $8.21 for out-of-state drivers without a TxTAG device on their car. (There are no tollbooths, so bills are mailed to vehicle owners.)
It will take a lot of tolls to pay the $1.5 billion it took to build the road. On top of that, there's the $100 million the owners paid to the Texas Department of Transportation for the privilege of posting signs reading "Speed Limit 85."
Lippincott, the tollway spokesman, said, "Both sides saw the potential for a lot of traffic with that speed limit."
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