Monday, August 27, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 26

Ruins of the old Wagon Wheel motel turned brothel along the north side of Interstate 10 west of Sealy. The Wagon Wheel was closed down by Marvin Zindler at the same time as the more famous Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas.
I have met the enemy, and it's name is Wagon Wheel. See that image to the right? Yeah, that bombed-out row of cinder block buildings. That's all that remains of the Wagon Wheel, lesser-known cousin to the more famed Chicken Ranch. If you've ever driven along Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio, you've probably seen it just west of Sealy, even if you never knew what it was.

The Wagon Wheel was a failed motel that found a second life as a brothel. It was closed down by Marvin Zindler at the same time as the Chicken Ranch, but as Austin County Sheriff Truman Maddox never challenged Zindler, or the governor, or anyone else, really, in defense of the brothel, it pretty much went away quietly. Very few people have ever heard about it. Even newspaper accounts of the time generally relegate it to an afterthought tacked on to the end of a sentence about the Chicken Ranch, usually going something like this: " well as another brothel outside of Sealy." That's it. Nothing to see here, move along.

Except that when I made up my mind to tell the Chicken Ranch's story, I committed to telling the entire story--or at least as much as I could uncover--which included the Wagon Wheel as well. I didn't realize what I was getting myself into. The more I researched, the more I learned that the Wagon Wheel and Chicken Ranch fates were very much intertwined by circumstances. So much so that the Wagon Wheel demanded a separate chapter. The trouble was, I didn't really have enough information for a full chapter, and because of a dearth of information on the Wagon Wheel from any source, I ended up padding the chapter with tangential material by necessity. In the end I had a short chapter with some interesting stuff in it, but nothing very meaty and not terribly satisfying to me, personally.

Fast forward a few months. Out of the blue, I have a source very familiar with the operation of the Wagon Wheel practically drop into my lap. And this source gives me a few key bits of information that leads to some other sources. Suddenly, boom! I've got a whole heck of a lot of blanks filled in, validation of several extrapolations on my part and illuminating context for facts I already had. The downside is that the chapter required an extreme rewrite, rather than a simple edit.

I worked hard to integrate a lot of the padding material into the chapter, so extracting it is proving more challenging than simply highlighting and deleting. And the new material doesn't fit so neatly in the vacated spots, forcing me to extensively rewrite perfectly good material. But as I slog through and make my slow progress, the new materials laid out clearly next to existing materials, the cumulative context makes one thing obvious: Some of the folks involved with the operation of the Wagon Wheel were not very nice at all.

Hopefully, I'll wrap up the Wagon Wheel chapter shortly, at which point I'll only have six more chapters to go in the second draft re-write. Those should go much more quickly, after which I'll be time for beta-readers. Now, if I only had a publisher...

Now Playing: The Commitments Volume 2
Chicken Ranch Central

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