WAXAHACHIE — For the 22nd consecutive year, the Bob Phillips Texas County Reporter festival filled the downtown area of Waxahachie.
The early morning chill did not stop the many visitors that travel from all over the state to display their crafts to the visitor that come to the once a year festival.
Most of the vendors, especially the featured ones, have once appeared on Phillips' television show, "Texas Country Reporter," and come from some of the farthest stretching areas of Texas.
L. R. Donnahoe
Among the returning regulars was L.R Donahue.
“I’ve been here every year Bob Phillips has. It’s been 22 years since we started with him with our own show,” said L.R. Donnahoe, a license plate collector from Aransas Pass.
"I’ve seen heat, cold and rain here, but each year is different, and I get to meet a lot of people. The welcome reception I get from my visitors brings warmth to the chill in the air,” added Donnahoe as he stood in front of his booth proudly wearing a ballcap declaring him a veteran of the Korean War. “It’s a long way up here, but the trip is well worth it."
Each year, Donnahoe brings his collection of birdhouses and decorations made from old Texas license plates.
“I am the only person to have an agreement with the Texas Department of Public Safety to acquire the plates," he explained.
When asked how he got started making the license plate bird housed, he said with a laugh: “I really don’t remember. That was a long time ago, but I’ve had fun doing it. I serial number each birdhouse. Now I’m over 3200 houses and still making them."
Walking past the birdhouses, visitors would've found live-action gunslinger, Paula Saletnik, who is better known as Pistol Packin’ Paula.
Born and raised in Connecticut, Paula said, “ I didn't give much thought to cowgirlin', guns or horses, but that would soon change.“
Saletnik, with her thick cowgirl Texas trawl and a smile as big as West Texas, added, "While I was a stunt person on a movie set, I saw these guys twirling guns. That looked interesting, so I went up to them asking them to show me how. Well, they tell me I was too small, and hands were too small to hold on to the guns. Being told no didn’t stop me.”
After moving to Arizona then to Texas, Saletnik and her dog, Pepper, found their new and current home at Enchanted Springs Ranch. There, she is active in movie production and entertainment.
Keeping the old west traditions is a passion for Salenik.
“I encourage the kids today to follow their dreams and treat everyone with love and respect,” she said.
Jason Barnett: Artist and Metal Craftsman
The failed restoration of an old car that nearly caused injury to Alvin's Jason Barnett led to a hobby and business that has taken him all over Texas.
“I was restoring a 1953 Buick. While working on it with the motor running, it jumped in gear and ream through the barn wall. The wall completely caved in, smashing the old car. All that was left was the trunk area. While looking at the remains, I decided to make a couch out of what was left,” Barnet explained.
His display of old pickup truck cabs and beds, radiators-turned-end tables, and decorative lighting are now repurposed into furnishings.
“None of these were restorable vehicles. There were beyond restoration and destined for the scrap metal yard,” Barnet said. “Some men go out into the woods hunting animals to shoot. My hobby is going out looking for old trucks and cars to turn into an artwork.”
“Sometimes these finds turn into friendly relationships, such as a time he recalled finding an old pick up that was buried in trees and brush that he had to dig it out.
‘The old truck belonged to this elderly gentleman that has dementia. His wife said every day he would go out on the back porch and tell her they were going to take a trip in it. After the man passed away, I contacted his wife about buying the truck," he said.
As he was discussing what plans he had for it, Barnet found that the man owned a Sinclair station in town.
“In his later years, he often talked about having to gas the truck up at the Sinclair station. I also found out his wife spelled her name 'SU' not Sue," he said.
So, to honor the old man, Barnet cut the cab — leaving the rear of the cab and part of the truck bed — and made a bench that he painted with the Sinclair logo across the back and "Su" under the logo.
"This is a lot of fun. I frequently get calls from people telling me where to find an old truck or even wanting to buy or create an artwork for themselves," Barnett explained.
Barnett’s artwork is not limited to trucks or car parts, either. One of his creations displayed at last week's TCR festival was a World War II aircraft fuel tank.
“Those planes had what they called drop tanks. They gave the plays extra distance. When they became empty, the pilot would dispose of it by dropping it, often as the plane was in flight. This one found its way into the Gulf of Mexico. I found it after a hurricane had washed it up on the shore," said Barnett of a fuel tank that later became a Giant Texas Grouper.
Texas Cigar Box
Playing a blues riff that sounded as if it came from Bourbon Street in New Orleans was Charlie Rehfeld from San Antonio.
The only difference was the instrument he was playing was one of his cigar box guitars.
Five years after building his first cigar box guitar, life-long guitar player Rehfeld and his wife, Nina, retired from civil service jobs one year ago to turn the hobby into a full-time business.
“About five years ago, I built one for my son. I liked it so well, I built one for myself,” said Rehfeld as he described the beginnings of his instrument business. “The idea of making a musical instrument out of a box, a stick for a neck and stings from any source, often thin wire is not new. This concept really started early in Mississippi. To play their music to sing to the slaves would build what was called a Diddley Bow. Many of those were single string instruments. The Diddley Bow evolved into using a small box that would resonate, add a stick and multiple strings.”
He added, "I get most of my cigar boxes from humidor shops. In those shops, they will have several stacked up in a corner. In San Antonio, there is a cigar maker called Fincks Cigars. There they have several people sitting at tables rolling cigars. They are one of my regular sources.”
While admitting to smoking a cigar every once in a while, Rehfeld added, “I feel guilty going in and asking them to give me their empty cigar boxes, so, I’ll buy a couple. But they usually wind up sitting around the house.”
Rehfeld’s guitars come with three or four strings and a fretted neck. They also have electric pickups to be played through an amplifier — even some of the speaker boxes are cigar boxes.
“I’ve added modern technology to an old-school instrument,” Rehfeld said.
The Rehfeld’s travel through the south going to fairs to show and peddling their guitars.
“We travel throughout Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. One of our favorite places is New Orleans so we can hear and play blues music," Rehfeld added. “We are just having fun meeting people, sharing our instruments and playing them."