Boot-scootin’ Boogie

If it’s Saturday night, Charlie Weatherford will likely be found in his regular spot at the Western Kountry Klub, an old white metal dance hall on the outskirts of Mansfield. The Midlothian resident, 73, has been a fixture at the dance hall since 1955 when it opened its doors as a skating rink, drawing kids and adults from the surrounding cities to roll across the oak floor. When the club was converted to a dance hall in 1967, Weatherford didn’t miss a beat.

“I couldn’t roller skate, but I used to come out here,” Weatherford says. “I don’t dance much now, but I still like to come.”

Weatherford is one of the regulars who pull on their cowboy boots every Saturday night and scoot across the 2,000-square-foot dance floor to live country music. Most weekends the club draws 200 to 300 people, from teens eager for the line dances to couples who have been dancing together for half a century. Parents lead their youngsters through the two-step, while babies sleep in carriers on the long tables.

The snack bar sells food and soft drinks, but no alcohol. People over age 21 are welcome to BYOB. With a $10 admission fee ($12 on a rare Saturday night) and a no-smoking policy, the club is popular with families, sometimes drawing three and even four generations in one night.

“You come here and everybody just wants to have fun,” says Justin Dunn, 29, of Mansfield. “It’s something very special, very unique. Everybody here, you’re not treated like a stranger. You’re treated like family.”

In the past 50 years, the club has drawn some famous customers, too. George Strait’s “Pure Country” turned the Western Kountry Klub into the Prairie Rose Dance Hall, filming several of the movie scenes inside and one in the parking lot where Strait winds up in the mud after a one-sided bar fight.

People still come looking for the Prairie Rose and Strait, say Barbara and Jerry Cook, who run the club.

“One family drove up from Brownsville on a family vacation,” Jerry Cook says. “They were just going to take pictures outside the building, but we happened to be here.”

Boyd and Linda Williams of Midlothian were already Western Kountry Klub regulars when “Pure Country” set up for filming in 1991, and they appeared as extras in the movie. They’ve seen the club go through a lot of changes in the past three decades.

“The place got air-conditioning,” Boyd Williams says. “We used to open the door for air. It was hotter than hell. Most of the time they had a band. Sometimes they didn’t show up, so we just went home.”

Back in 1955, Roger Easterwood built the roller rink on the mesquite-covered prairie between Mansfield and Midlothian. “After World War II, they were giving away barracks from Carswell Air Force Base (now Naval Air Station Fort Worth) if you would come get them,” Jerry Cook says. “They brought two and put them together.”

Easterwood started having dances in the front of the building, while the skaters whizzed by in the back, Weatherford remembers.

Ruel and Wanda “Mom” Hendrick bought the Western Kountry Klub in 1972, and their family still owns the building. Bill and Gerry Garner began helping Mom Hendrick run the dances after Ruel’s death, then took over as she got older.

By 2009, the Garners were ready to retire. That’s when the Cooks stepped in. “We’d been playing music for awhile (as the Mack & Dyan Band), and several of the places we played at had either closed or were only playing music one night a week,” Barbara Cook recalls. “This is a unique place. We really didn’t want it to close.”

The Cooks took over in January 2010 and brought in some new bands, attracting larger crowds that filled the club. But the club wasn’t out of danger. Grand Prairie had annexed the area in 2009 and wanted the club brought up to code, a formidable feat for the old barracks. The club actually closed for two weeks in 2012 before the Cooks were able to resolve issues with the city.

Keeping the 8,000-square-foot building intact is still a battle, they say. Assistance from faithful volunteers and a crew of helpful regulars, among them a plumber, A/C repairman, construction foreman and pest control specialist, make it possible.

Marsha and Miles Hutchinson of Arlington showed up the first weekend the Cooks took over the club, and they’ve been helping since.

“They had chicken wire with Coca-Cola carton cardboard covering the walls,” Marsha Hutchinson says. “We couldn’t afford to buy posters. Miles said, ‘What if I painted pictures of people that influenced you to cover up all the bad spots in the walls?’”

His 4-foot-square, black-and-white paintings of Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline and other classic country artists line the walls.

As high-dollar subdivisions creep closer to Western Kountry Klub, the Cooks fear that progress will do what rock ‘n’ roll, television and dance clubs couldn’t – close the Western Kountry Klub for good.

“When it’s over, we can’t stay,” Jerry Cook says. “Until then, they can’t run us off.”

The Western Kountry Klub is located at 5728 Lakeview Road, off U.S. 287. For more: call (817) 800-4585 or visit the club’s website, westernkountryklub.com.