May 22, 2019–I first came to the Texas Hill Country in 1978. Yet I’d never visited Castell. Last weekend, I fixed that. The Castell General Store–which is essentially Castell–was celebrating its Testicle Festival. As auspicious an event as any for finding out what a place is all about.
After the 50-mile trip north of Fredericksburg to the banks of the Llano River, I rounded the last corner and came up on the yellow-facaded establishment. A yard full of visitors were enjoying beverages, washer pitching, live music, and sack lunches of calf fries.
Marc Leifeste–one of three family owners–welcomed me and provided a bit of history while he sold raffle tickets for a rifle.
Castell is the only remaining one of three German settlements in the area. Early in the 20th century it was a thriving community, complete with cotton gin, appliance store, a two-story hotel, and full-time doctor. Like much of the country, Castell got racked by the depression and languished until the late 1990s, when Leifeste’s father retired to the area.
“We had a family ranch in the area, so dad came back about 25 years ago and started to sell real estate to have something to do in his retirement,” Leifeste said.
He also opened the Castell General Store. Ten years ago, they moved it to its current location. It was about that time that Leifeste the Younger was coaxed into moving back from “the big city” to manage it.
“Now it’s nothing like the old store,” he said. “We serve food here every day, with barbecue on Saturday. Sunday is Steak Day. You get a hand-cut choice ribeye, baked potato, corn, green beans, and salad.”
Another draw is the Llano River. They rent out kayaks, and fishing is popular, with regular restocking of trout each winter. And the town boasts 11 Bed & Breakfast lodgings, popular with visitors from Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas.
In addition to the Testicle Festival, the store hosts a Chili Cookoff, Gumbo Cookoff, and Goat and Rib Cookoff.
And they have Cockaroo, the local rooster that achieved YouTube fame for a disturbing relationship with Billy the Singing Bass. The boisterous bird is now stuffed and sitting in a place of honor above the small gift shop (“hey, we have to make a living somehow”).
But I was curious about the genesis of the Testicle Festival. You see, a long time ago, actually around 1978 come to think of it, I wrote a little ditty called Rocky Mountain Oysters. That is the euphemistic name given the main entrée of Castell’s festival, so I felt an obligation to look into it.
The original song actually had a role in starting a similar event. After I wrote the song in Iowa, Bill Smallwood heard it and added it to his repertoire. Back in Texas, a colorful character named Sam Lewis heard the BS Band play it, and decided to start a Rocky Mountain Oyster Cook-Off in San Angelo. Sam was a consummate promoter and fixture around Luckenbach. Among his creations were the Jalapeno Lollipop and Armadillo Racing. So you can see how a song about bovine accouterments would fit into his bag of tricks.
But Castell is building its own testicle tradition.
“It started about nine years ago as my dad’s idea,” Leifeste said. “Some local ranchers said let’s fry up some testicles.”
It was as simple as that. It’s grown ever since, with anywhere from 300 to 500 attending throughout the day, depending on the weather. Leifeste doesn’t really promote it beyond word of mouth.
“We’re trying to keep it in control, as the town doesn’t really have room for more people than that.”
Funds raised go to a scholarship fund, usually given to a high school senior in Mason or Llano. No word on how they announce that one on Awards Night.
If you want to enjoy the Testicle Festival, you’ll have to wait until the third Saturday of next May. But you don’t have to hang around that long to enjoy the ambiance and food at the Castell General Store.
Castell General Store is located at 19522 Ranch Road 152 in Castell.