At the bottom of the battered map of Oklahoma, blue handwriting spells out the words “We did it...”
It took the Bill and Marsha Sims of Shawnee a year and a half, but they finally reached their goal of traveling to every town in their home state –– including some ghost towns that aren’t even on a map.
It all started when Bill and Marsha, “frazzled” from caring for Bill’s mother each week, decided to start taking trips to nearby towns on the weekends, Bill said.
“After we’d been to a few, Marsha said, ‘You know, let’s see if we can divide this into quadrants and make all the towns,’” Bill said. “I thought, there’s no way.”
First the Sims tackled northeast Oklahoma, then moved in a counterclockwise direction around the state. They used the Oklahoma Book and chatted up locals to find interesting places to visit.
“One thing I tell people about Oklahoma is we have every landscape that you can see anywhere,” Bill said. “Now, you may have to drive!”
Soon, their daughter Kim Sims and grandson Marshall Vanderburg began joining them for some of their weekly getaways, turning it into a family bonding experience. Instead of using electronics or listening to the radio, they talked to each other.
Everyone in the family looks for a different thing when traveling. Marsha is the historian of the group, and likes to research the places they travel to.
Marshall is always on the lookout for creepy, haunted locations, and Kim enjoys the “weird and odd,” she said.
“We’ll Google and see what’s the weirdest thing,” Kim said. “We’ve seen minions that are painted like gas grills...we’ve seen a statue who’s supposed to be Michaelanglo’s David who’s butt-naked out in a lady’s yard. We’ve seen tons and tons of odd things.”
Bill, who served two tours in Vietnam, likes to look at classic cars and veteran memorials –– but he also tries to share his wife’s interests.
“I had to learn to like antiquing,” he said.
Together, the family has visited gravesites belonging to icons from Jesse Chisholm, who the Chisholm Trail is named after, to Mr. Ed the horse. They’ve also spotted bizarre yard art, from bowling ball artwork to a giant spider made out of a Volkswagen.
“There was also a town that we went to that we don’t know why...but almost every person in that town had an outdoor toilet,” Marsha said. “And it was out in their front yard. And they painted [them] elaborate, patriotic...”
Some of the family’s favorite destinations are Sipokni West, a frontier-style town sometimes used as a film set, and Great Salt Plains Lake, where visitors can dig for salt crystals. They also stumbled upon a store where a scene of Rain Man was filmed, and enjoyed talking to locals who had met Tom Cruise.
Only one Oklahoma destination was slightly less enchanting than the rest, although it turned out well in the end, Bill said.
“I would say, if you’re going to drive the panhandle, fill up with gas, get you some snacks and be wide awake,” he said. “Because it’s one long, long, boring drive.”
Bill and Marsha Sims credit their ability to enjoy each other’s company during long car rides to their many shared interests. They recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by visiting a Hawaiian-themed restaurant they found on one of their trips together.
“We’ve been there twice, just so she could have the shrimp,” Bill said. “We drive 300 miles to eat shrimp.”
Marshall, who has gone on about seven trips with his family this year, said he was surprised about how much there was to see in Oklahoma.
“I just assumed it was like any other place, just a place to live,” he said. “It was just a spot. But it’s kind of more exciting when you see all the small details and all the creations and stuff like that.”
There are 594 towns and cities in Oklahoma, according to Balletopedia . The Sims said that although they have visited them all, it’s not as difficult as it sounds.
“Everyone I talk to says, ‘I would just love to do that,’” Marsha said. “I say, “Just take off!’”