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The Old, BIg (Forgotten) Fresno Barn
My husband of 7 days, Eric Fankhauser, is a huge Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys fan. For our honeymoon trip last week, we moseyed up and down Highway 99, stopping at local (but now almost obsolete) record stores searching for Bob Wills discs. Eric had told me weeks ago about the Big Fresno Barn, which he'd learned about from reading all those Bob Wills biographies he had at home. He loved to drive by places where old
Western Swing bands had played or recorded - we'd stopped by the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco just because Bob Wills had recorded there. But Eric had no idea where the Big Fresno Barn might be, other than a recording that said it was located "near Fresno." And then, we had no idea whether or not The Big Fresno Barn would still be standing.
At a late breakfast Sunday morning at the Yosemite Falls Cafe (a really likeable place to eat) near Old Town Clovis, Eric suddenly remembered that he'd wanted to listen to 90.7 KFSR and the "National BIG Fresno Barn Dance , two hours of Old-time Country, Western Swing, and Honky-Tonk music" based at Cal State Fresno. But it was too late. He'd heard the show broadcasts Sundays from noon to two, and it was 2:30. So we got in the car and headed back home toward Burbank. As it happened, he'd put some of his newly found Bob Wills CD's in our car player. Suddenly during a break in the music, a voice from December 1945 announced that Bob Wills would be playing Christmas night at 8:30 at the Big Barn in Fresno - 4 miles west of Highway 99, on Shields Avenue. I couldn't think too badly of Bob Wills for being away from his family on Christmas night, since he lived with them on a ranch he owned near Clovis, and used to talk about teaching his son how to ride horses there.
We drove straight to Shields Avenue, maneuvered around the Highway so we could get on the west side,
and set our odometer at zero. When it read 4 miles, we looked around and saw nothing but some empty
farm lots, and a liquor store on the corner. But then Eric looked a little farther, and said "Oh my God!"
There it was, just past the corner on the southwest side of the intersection - the Big Fresno Barn. He knew it was the right barn, because he'd seen pictures of it from over 20 years ago, and also because most barns
don't have air conditioning systems on their roofs.
This is one of the pictures we took to remember our Country Swing safari. We hope all you folks in
Fresno can enjoy seeing it as much as we did.