In June, I had the great privilege to travel to Abilene. I realize that traveling to Abilene might not initially sound like a great privilege, but it was an exceptional trip. Three generations of Corleys from C&W NationaLease were hosting several of our members for three days of tours, events, fine dining, and good old Texas hospitality, y’all. I was fortunate enough to be invited by Vic (the second generation Corley), so I took a Sunday night flight from Chicago to Dallas to Abilene. I arrived pretty late at night, but I found out quickly that Texas hospitality is 24/7. My Uber driver had apparently already gotten acquainted with several of the NationaLease members who had arrived earlier that day, and chatted with me all the way to the hotel about how nice they all were.
The next day I experienced the first of many special treats that the Corleys arranged for us we embarked on a guided tour of Dyess Air Force Base. Dyess is home to the 7th Bomb Wing, one of only two B-1 strategic bomber wings in the United States Air Force. Dyess AFB was established in 1942 and named in honor of Texas native and Bataan Death March survivor, Lieutenant Colonel William Dyess. The base encompasses over 6,000 acres and has a population of over 13,000 people, both military and civilian. Our tour included a visit to the Fire Department and the unsung heroes who perform a critical function in this community. All the typical fire hazards exist here, along with the additional risks introduced by the incessant takeoffs and landings of planes that can reach speeds of over Mach 1 and carry 10,000 gallons of fuel. The firefighters here, both military and civilian, have an essential role in keeping the community safe. We also had a chance to tour the shop where they were repairing and rebuilding the engines for the B-1. Our group was particularly interested in the details of how those engines worked and how they were repaired. We asked lots of questions, some of them quite technical. I don’t think the young airmen conducting the tour had ever encountered a group quite like ours.
After a quick stop at the hotel, we boarded the bus to go to dinner. Our very skillful driver took us out of Abilene through increasingly narrow (and decreasingly paved) roads to Buffalo Gap, TX, population 463, where we arrived at the Perini Ranch. The ranch has been in existence since 1952, and the steakhouse was added some 30 years later. Since then, it has become known around the world from appearances on Good Morning America and the Today Show, magazine covers, and multiple awards. From the outside, it doesn’t look like a James Beard award-winning restaurant. In fact, a neon sign is the only indication that it is a restaurant at all. The weathered board and corrugated metal building looks like any other dusty shanty you might pass by in this part of Texas. The equally rustic interior is decked out in unfinished wood and cattle skulls with an immense stone fireplace in the center. Out through the back door, you could enjoy the sounds of live music and the smell of beef cooking over mesquite while seated at picnic tables under twinkling lights. I knew it wasn’t going to be a light meal when I saw the appetizers: brisket, bacon-wrapped jalapenos, and fried quail. The main course was a dinner plate-sized steak and a variety of side dishes, including hominy cooked with green chilies and bacon. No meal is complete without dessert, and despite being very, very full, I couldn’t say no to the homemade strawberry shortcake served with fresh cream. If the Corleys’ intention was to give us all a little slice of Texas, they absolutely succeeded. The food, the atmosphere, the music, and the great conversation all combined for a perfect Texas evening.
The next day we had the opportunity to tour C&W’s new facility in Abilene. We started with a hearty lunch of brisket, sausage, and macaroni and cheese covered in pulled pork. It sure would be tough to be a vegetarian in Texas! Durk, (the first generation Corley) gave us a brief history of Abilene, and how C&W got started. Durk opened the business in 1967 with two trucks and two employees, and it now has 11 locations throughout West Texas. Vic took us on an extensive tour of their facility, which has only been open for one year. They moved from a much smaller location across town when they built the sprawling new facility, which features an air-conditioned shop with plenty of bays, ample parking, a great driver’s lounge area, and two vintage trucks right in the front of the showroom from the early days of C&W.
That night, they took the group to dinner at Abi Haus, a farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Abilene with all the requisite hipster touches: exposed brick, chalkboard signs, old-fashioned light bulbs, and cleverly named cocktails. It was small and cozy, if a bit crowded, but Clay (the third generation Corley) and his wife, Brittney, were the perfect hosts, making sure everyone had plenty to drink and eat, including their famous Brussels sprouts. I was delighted to get a chance to chat with Durk for a while and hear more about his life and his experiences with the business over the years.
Privilege is defined as a special right or advantage that only one person or group has. Technically, many people and groups have the right to travel to Abilene, so you might object to my initial claim that my June trip was a great privilege. Technically, you might be right. However, after a few days basking in the warmth of West Texas generosity, I certainly felt special. And I’m betting each and every one of the NationaLease members who was there with me did, too. Even with all the unique experiences they had planned for us, the best part of the trip was spending time with the Corleys and all the other members. Whether in West Texas or anywhere in North America, whether first, second, third, or even fourth generation, what makes NationaLease extraordinary is the people. Getting to know each of them is the real privilege.