MEERS — At Meers Store and Restaurant, they still serve the 1-pound “Seismic Meersburger” even if the instrument from which the burger draws its name long ago went silent.
For two decades, a seismograph that sits in the restaurant’s lobby measured even the tiniest of the earth’s vibrations. For years, tasty food and the antique piece of technology drew classes of schoolchildren and geology students, as hungry to learn about science of seismography as they were to down a juicy MeersBurger.
In time, the Oklahoma Geological Survey designated the restaurant as the Meers Observatory.
“For the Meers store, it was tremendous,” owner Joe Maranto said of the seismograph. He took over its operation in 1985 from a local rancher who said he no longer wanted to bother. The government originally placed the instrument in the area to measure movement along the Meers Fault that could potentially impact a nuclear power plant in Texas, Maranto said.
“It was good for business. It didn’t put me out any,’’ Maranto said.
Then, in the mid-2000s, a lightning strike stopped the seismograph’s needle from painting squiggly lines on its ever-turning drum roll.
Today, the breadbox-sized seismograph sits silent beneath a plexiglass cover, a relic from another era. It’s silver knobs and buttons resemble those found on a 1970s-style stereo system. A yellow “Don’t tread on me” flag hangs above, fluttering in the air of a slow-turning ceiling fan. Just beyond, a wall-mounted longhorn peers down with unblinking eyes.
A lack of funding and rise in earthquakes elsewhere in Oklahoma appears to have left the fate of the Meers store’s seismograph on shaky ground.
On a roll
It’s 10:30 a.m. on a recent Friday when Margie Maranto hurries into the restaurant she and her husband have owned for 31 years. She plunks her black purse onto the counter and heads straight for the kitchen beyond the cash register. Stopped by a reporter, she shakes her head back and forth and apologizes. Can’t talk right now, she says. It’s Joe, her husband, who does the talking. She dials him up and hands the restaurant telephone to the reporter.
Joe Maranto, 83, is at home, recovering from foot surgery. The couple’s ranch house, made from local limestone, sits on 40 acres just behind the store. The Wichita Mountains are to the south. Wind turbines dot the distant hills. Eleven longhorn cattle graze in the yard.
“We raise our own beef,” Joe Maranto says over the phone. “I got a bunch of yearling heifers in my pasture right now, and a good, young bull, and that’s his harem.”
Maranto thinks back to the mid-2000s, the time when the seismograph stopped.
Every day for 20 years, Maranto had dutifully changed the paper roll that recorded movement along the Meers Fault, created about 1,500 years ago when the Anadarko Basin on the north bumped up against the Wichita Uplift on the south and ruptured the earth from southeastern Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle. For about 15 miles in southwestern Oklahoma, it can be seen as a hump along the horizon where the two geological structures crowded together.
Each week, Maranto mailed the roll to a state office in Leonard in Tulsa County.
After the lightning strike, Oklahoma Geological Survey staff came out and upgraded the vintage system.
After the upgrade, the readings registered electronically on a screen and could be transmitted directly to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. No more daily changing the drum roll. No more mailing the roll off to the state.
Except the digital system never worked quite right. Today, it doesn’t work at all. Maranto isn’t sure exactly why.
Maranto said he’s called on and off throughout the years but lamented that he couldn’t get a straight answer about whether or not the Meers Observatory would ever get back online.
“They seemed to be so disorganized and busy,” he tells the reporter. “They’re busy all the time.”
Maranto hangs up his phone and looks out over his longhorns. The reporter’s call prompts him to make another call to the state geological survey office.
A few days later, Maranto checks back in with the reporter. He’s finally got an answer — or so he thinks. Although he’s not certain when, Maranto said the restaurant is in line to get a state-of-the-art seismograph.
“Ours is going to be one of the newest and the best,” he said.
But a check with the state geological survey office finds that Maranto might have misunderstood the plan.
“We really haven’t promised Joe that we were going to reinstall anything down there,” said G. Randy Keller, a seismologist and the director of the state office. Instead, the the U.S. Geological Survey recently installed a $100,000 state-of-the-art seismograph station not too from the restaurant.
Keller said he might consider putting a small monitor back in the restaurant that would show information being read at the nearby station, but that it’s not a priority right now.
A recent earthquake swarm in central Oklahoma has tied up his thinly staffed office. The swarm covers an area spanning about 50 miles on either side of Interstate 35 stretching from Norman to the Kansas state line, Keller said.
Between the state and federal agency, there are about 35 seismographs scattered through Oklahoma, Keller said. A number of them could use a technology upgrade, Keller said.
Keller is awaiting word on a $1.4 million federal grant that he said would boost staffing at his small office to help them study the swarms, and maybe, a big maybe, install the monitor at the restaurant. Cost is a concern.
“If we do the monitor thing, it would end up being quite a bit of maintenance,” Keller said. “Hopefully, we could get someone out there locally to help out.”
In a third phone call with the reporter, Maranto learns the latest on the Meers seismograph. He’s just happy to get an answer.
“Whatever they want to do is fine with me. All I got to say is, if they need it, I got a place for it. If they don’t need it, I understand.”
In the meantime, restaurant patrons will have to satisfy themselves with the “Seismic Meersburger,” a piping hot longhorn patty piled high with more than a half-dozen toppings, tucked into an oversized bun, and presented on a tin pie plate.