Tumbleweed Smith
Tumbleweed Smith

Mason is a Hill Country town of 2,500 residents with a courthouse square that’s hard to maneuver. It has an extremely dense population of characters.

Perhaps that’s what makes the town so interesting. You can hardly go there without having some type of unique experience.

One of my favorite eating-places is Crockett Keller’s Guns and Grub restaurant on the square near the Odeon Theater. One side of his building is the restaurant. The other half is his gun store. Crockett has some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. That’s right. Seafood in Mason. Crockett spends three days getting his oysters ready.

I spoke at the library in Mason recently and did a couple of interviews while I was in town. One was with Ethan West, a barber (Square Head Barbershop), who walked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Another was with Tony Plutino, a river guide, who knows about the best places in Texas to go canoeing. I also interviewed Jan Appleby, who heads up the group restoring the elegant Seaquist House, one of the first mansions in the Hill Country. It was built in the 1880s and has 22 rooms and 15 fireplaces.

One of my early radio programs featured Mason County resident Fred Gipson, the author of OLD YELLER. That set a pretty high standard for future interviews in Mason.

Mason is known as the gem of the hill country, maybe because topaz is found in the area. It also has an increasing number of people interested in making wine. The bat cave just out of town attracts visitors and scientists who study the nighttime scavengers. Fort Mason has created interest among people who research pioneer days. The city is a welcoming community and has many transplants from Austin and other places. They quickly assimilate and find things to do, working with the library, museum, chamber or other organizations.

The list of characters I’ve interviewed in or near Mason includes Bill O’Banion, who hit a golf ball 30 miles from Mason to another nearby town (took him several strokes). Bill Worrell, the famous sculptor, lives on the Llano River south of Mason. So does Laura Lewis, an artist who does murals in office buildings for Fortune 500 companies. Spider Johnson is an accomplished saw player. Gene Zesch is well known for his woodcarvings. Tom Hadley set high standards as a professional rodeo announcer. Tommy Splitgarber acted in some Hollywood movies. Raye Carrington taught fly-fishing to hundreds of people.

I’ve done reports on Mason’s court house clock, the Odeon Theater (where the world premiere of OLD YELLER took place), the city’s high number of tennis players, its historic homes, knife makers, store owners, photographers, entertainers, historians, storytellers, cowboys and hunters. I interviewed one man long ago who took his pet llama for a walk around the courthouse square every evening. It just seemed like the normal thing to do. One man had a pet crow.

You can be yourself in Mason.