Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Yeehaw Junction

Yeehaw Junction, fabled in biker story and song, spoken in letters writ large in legendary terms by hushed whispers of awe, isn't a myth, it's real. It's approximately 30 miles west of Vero Beach and 30 miles north of Lake Okeechobee, at a great crossroads of the sort which Robert Johnson would surely find worthy of offering himself. (It's also a hellacious speed trap, unfortunately, so watch for cops and watch your speed.)

The "Yeehaw" supposedly comes from the Seminole word for "wolf" but I don't believe anything anyone tells me about the origins of place names in America and neither should you. The town was originally named Jackass Crossing - allegedly dating to the days when local ranchers rode on burros to visit the local house of prostitution, the Desert Inn. But I'm not sure I believe that story either.

In the 1950s they changed the name to Yeehaw Junction, ostensibly so doing in honor of the nearby Yeehaw railroad station several miles to the east, at Standard Oil's behest. As the story is told, when they moved operations into the area they were embarassed at the idea of having "Jackass Crossing" on their official letterhead. It all smells sketchy and reverse-engineered to me; add these datums to your doctorate thesis at your peril.

The earliest records of Yeehaw Junction state it was started by the Consolidated Land Company in the 1880s, a mere 40-some years after Florida became a state. At this time, central Florida was even more of a swampy, lakey mess than it is even now, and considerable effort was made to reclaim the wetlands into usable solid ground. According to the Desert Inn's website:

Between 1917 and 1930 history was made with the cowboys moving cattle from Kissimmee River, Orlando and places north down to the Indian reservations and places south in which Yeehaw was the only watering hole!!! The Desert Inn patrons at that time included Indians as well as cowboys, business people, moonshiners, traders (trading goods and lumber), and lumber men. Cowboys remember ox teams and Model T's.

In the 1930's Dad Wilson bought the property and fixed it up a little so it was more than a shack. It now had gas pumps, according to stories. Also, from the stories, Dad Wilson was a railroad hobo who was 'kicked off' in yeehaw... then borrowed lumber from the railroad! Somewhere in this time period, a man named Boree has a going sawmill a stone's throw from the restaurant. Supposedly, Dad Wilson and Boree had several squabbles~ Also, this was about the time that roads were paved.

The Desert Inn, though no longer a brothel, is still a fine motel and restaurant. Okay, I haven't actually stayed in the motel, but it looks pretty fine from the outside. I can report qualitatively, however, that their cheeseburgers are five-star.

In typical laidback "Living on Florida Time" tradition, their stated opening hours are "Open 8:30-ish daily...maybe 9 on Sunday".

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