A small cafe painted bright red sits alone and forlorn on dusty Highway 33 like a ruby waiting to be plucked from the dirt. Come Saturday, hundreds of families prospecting for a good time in the desert will discover the polished gem at the Tumbleweed Festival in Derby Acres.
The event was dreamed up four years ago by Orchel Krier, who owns the Tumbleweed Cafe, ground zero of the aptly named festival. Krier, who also sits on the Taft City Council and holds a seat on the board of directors for the Taft Chamber of Commerce, started the festival as a way to keep young people occupied while school was out of session, but it has grown to serve a larger purpose.
"It's uplifting and brings community pride," he said.
And judging from the number of people the event attracts, it's not just the community of Derby Acres that comes out in support; 700 showed up last year, more than double the town's population.
There used to be a tumbleweed decorating contest, but after interest waned -- just like the tumbleweeds themselves -- the idea blew away with the wind.
Not to worry: There's still plenty to do. This year's festival, starting bright and early at 8 a.m., will feature bouncy castles and water slides for the kids, a mechanical bull and dunk tank for the younger crowd and a fully stocked bar for the older folks. There will be live music, exhibition boxing and a juried car and motorcycle show, among other events.
Vendors also set up every year to sell jewelery and knickknacks, which waitress Summer Tremain said is popular among attendees.
One attraction Tremain said she would avoid at all costs was the dunk tank, despite an encouraging nudge from a co-worker to give it a shot. And the rest of the community is preparing as well.
Brett Maddox lives in the area and met his wife at the cafe about 15 years ago. He was there Tuesday afternoon hoping to get rid of some of his old neon barroom signs that he thought would contribute to the atmosphere of the festival.
"I work out of town a lot so this used to be kind of like my hangout when I was in town," Maddox said. "I'll see a lot of people I haven't seen in years, and it's really nice."
Actually, the cafe has been a gathering place for about a century. It went through many different uses, including an ice cream parlor and a coffee shop, before being bought by Krier in 2005. The cafe is now a favorite among oilfield workers in the area.
"There's history here," Krier said. "A lot of huge oil deals are made here."
The bar in the back has been remodeled since Krier bought the establishment, and a patio has been added. The new bar was built and decorated by locals using a burning technique that seared blackened images of horseshoes and cowboys onto its wooden surface with a blow torch before being shalaqued over. The walls were given the same treatment, adding to the bar's rustic flair.
Krier said his patrons pitched in because they take pride in their home away from home.
"They take a personal interest in the bar," he said. "It's like their place."
Lorrie Motley has been a cook at the cafe for seven years, giving her a front-row seat for the transformation.
"They were all my friends, so it was fun," she said. "We all partied afterward."
Members of the community are looking forward to the party this Saturday, but if the people of Derby Acres want to have a proper festival, they've got some work to do -- the tumbleweeds that the cafe and festival are named after are nowhere in sight.