Tuesday, June 19, 2018

THE LAST LEG


       It is no longer possible to drive historic Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica uninterrupted. In many areas, bypasses have caused abandonment of the old roadbed, which often runs right alongside the later versions. It takes on different local and state highway names as it meanders across the county, too.
Throughout the southern portion of Illinois, we saw corn fields to the right of us, cornfields to the left of us, and grain silos and milling companies to store and process the corn. That shouldn’t have surprised us, but how were these old crows to know that Illinois is the second in the nation in corn production? 
Two of the highlights of the Illinois segments were Henry’s Rabbit Ranch & Route 66 Emporium in Staunton and the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield.

Old cars and gas pumps pulled us into Henry’s place for a photo opt. Henry was a talker. He pointed out the truck and trailers bearing the likeness of Snortin’ Norton, the camel mascot of the defunct Campbell 66 Express trucking line. He invited us inside the former gas station, which was crowded with his own Route 66 memorabilia, such as tabletop jukeboxes and scale-model toy trucks. He also had some souvenirs for sale, and it’s hard for Lucy and Ethyl to pass up a gift shop, as we’ve already established.
Lucy wanted a large Route 66 sign with thermometer, and Henry was out of them, but he removed one he had just hung outside his door and sold it to her. What a guy. With that purchase, Lucy’s shopping was complete.
 


      Rich Henry started Rabbit Ranch, a rabbit rescue house, in 1999. His grown daughter had purchased two rabbits that did what rabbits are known for — they multiplied. She didn’t have room for 16 in her apartment. He had told her to get a cat instead of rabbits, but she didn’t listen to him when she lived at home, he says, so why would she after moving out? “Conditions were deplorable in that small space,” Henry says. “If it weren’t for the health of the rabbits, I would have left them there to teach her a lesson.”
He has rescued bunnies ever since, has four in what he calls “condos” instead of cages. Almost 60 former rescues are buried in marked graves beside the building, and Henry has a giant metal one with a saddle on its back and stairs to mount him. That was another fun photo opt.
It’s not just live rabbits he has rescued, but Volkswagen rabbits, too. Lucy and Ethyl would have missed that had not Henry pointed it out. The VW’s have their tail ends buried in the ground, like the Caddys at Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas.
In Litchfield, we took photos of the old Sky-View Drive-In. Ethyl thought it might still be in operation. After all, it advertised “$5 per car load. “Creature From the Black Lagoon” was on the marquee. It’s a horror classic, so who knows?
We stopped for lunch at the Ariston cafe, owned by the Adam family since 1924. The hostess, half of the husband-wife team running the place, seated us. She handed each of us a bundle of Route 66 goodies that included Ariston postcards, a luggage tag and an Ariston magnet.
The food was wonderful and the service was great. After lunch, Mrs. Adam had us pose under the neon Ariston sign behind the bar, and pretending to use an antique, upright telephone. We left that place stuffed and happy, needing an afternoon nap.
We got back to Streamwood Sunday night, two days earlier than planned, and bought a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. At Ethyl’s house, we collapsed on the family-room sofa.  It was all we could do to pick up a fork to eat. Next day, we walked around in a daze, suffering road-lag. Lucy was glad she had a couple of days to catch up on her rest before flying home.

Yes, it was a tiring trip, but the experience was certainly worth it. We hope to do the second half of The Mother Road in the fall of 2019. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

BRAKING FOR GIFT SHOPS


The roadsides along Route 66 are flecked with rusted antique trucks, gas stations both crumbling and restored, colorful murals, and gift shops. Did I mention that we brake for gift shops?

On Day 12 of our journey, we took a slight detour via MO38 to see a quarter-scaled (1,200 pounds) model of the Hubble Space Telescope in front of the county courthouse. Dr. Edwin Hubble, for whom the scope was named, was from Marshfield. Again, we found more murals. We didn’t spy any gift shops, so we continued our trek.
Near the intersection of I-44 and Route 66 we stopped at Redmond’s, which bills itself as the largest gift shop in the world. It had a huge assortment of gifts, from pottery to Coca-Cola memorabilia, but only a small section devoted to Route 66. By this time, I was looking for a Swiss Army knife with “Route 66” engraved on it, something I had seen earlier. Redmond’s didn't have any, but it had good prices. We recommend it.
Our next stop was Lebanon, where we took photos of the old Munger Moss Motel, which has been at that site for 72 years. Its colorful signs give the mileage to cities across the USA and the world.  We went inside the gift shop, of course. One Route 66 book said we had to do that if we couldn’t stay the night at the motor court.
The shop was a big disappointment. It was tiny, didn’t have a good variety of gifts, and smelled like cigarette smoke mixed with dust and grime. An elderly woman came out of the back room looking as if we were interrupting her soap opera. When I expressed disappointment that she didn’t have any Swiss Army knives with Route 66 on them, she said I would just have to look somewhere else. It wasn’t so much what she said, as it was her attitude when she said it. She was downright rude. We don’t recommend this shop. 
It took us a while to find Devil’s Elbow, which is both a city and the name of the original, twisty, Route 66 that crossed an historic iron bridge at a bend of the Big Piney River. I don’t know what we were expecting, but the bridge was a bit of a disappointment. It was just an iron bridge. Still, it was interesting to drive on the old roadbed.
        Once back on the four-lane version of Route 66 that bi-passed that iron bridge and the many curves that led up to it, we headed for the next I-44 on-ramp. That led us to 270 North, which took us around St. Louis. We stopped at the first exit in Illinois that had some motels, found a La Quinta in a place called Pontoon Beach, and there we rested.

Friday, June 8, 2018

TAKING OUR TIME ON ROUTE 66

When Route 66 was commissioned as a national highway in 1926, life moved at a slower pace. Lucy and Ethel decided to take their cue from that era by lollygagging around the hotel this morning until checkout time at 11 a.m. It was a wise idea, because we felt refreshed by the time we left Tulsa.
Getting back onto Route 66, we went through small towns like Catoosa and Verdigris, heading for Claremore. It’s the birthplace of humorist Will Rogers, Oklahoma’s favorite son. Rogers, who was killed in plane crash in Alaska in 1935, was a master of all media in his time. He was a cowboy who roped steer on the family ranch in nearby Oologah, where he was born. He was a newspaper columnist, a star of radio, vaudeville, wild west shows and the movies.
Annette on the porch of the Rogers house
Rogers was a pioneer in early silent pictures, staring in 50. When talkies came out, he grabbed hold of them, too. As one of the informational plaques at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum stated, if he were alive today, he would be embracing Facebook and Twitter. His column appeared in 169 newspapers and totaled 20 million words by the time he died.
When we left the museum, we went 13 miles off Route 66 to his birthplace. First built as a one-room log cabin in 1870, the house was completed as a two-story Greek revival ranch house in 1875. It had to be moved a bit in 1960 when the Army Corps of Engineers damned up the Verdigris River river to form Oologah Lake, which the house now overlooks.
From Claremore we tootled on down 66 East toward Kansas, hoping to make it to Springfield, Missouri, before bedding down for the night. From the Kansas state line at Galena  to the Missouri state line at Carl Junction is a mere 13 miles, but it was one of the most picturesque portions of the return trip. We managed several photo opts, including cows in a pond (a common sight along Route 66), a rare bridge and a giant rocking chair. We had a good laugh when Annette tried to check in on FaceBook to see where we were. Her location service said, “Nowhere on Route 66.”  She thought someone traveling the road must have interjected that description, but there was a cafe with that name a couple of miles down the road. 

We stopped at the Miller Pecan Company in Afton and bought pecans, candy and a nut cracker (Lucy is a nut for gadgets), posed for photos in the store’s giant, outdoor rocking chair, then stopped at the Rainbow Curve Bridge two miles west of Riverton. Built in 1923, the latter is a single-span, concrete bridge over Brush Creek, and is the only remaining Marsh arch bridge on Route 66. James Barney Marsh was the engineer who designed the bridge, along with others across the USA.
Before hopping back on I-44, we stopped and made a reservation for the night at Best Western’s Rail Haven Inn on Route 66 in Springfield. Good thing we called ahead. By the time we arrived around 6:30 p.m., the only other room available besides ours was a jacuzzi suite. 
     The Inn is a lovely throwback to the early days of Route 66, with classic cars parked out front and two antique gas pumps near the office. Built in 1937 as cottage cabins, it was enlarged several times. It looks more like a motel now, with an L-shaped configuration. It has  been restored and is quite modern, but has a folksy feel. All 92 rooms are on one level. When Annette went out for ice, a cool breeze was blowing and people were sitting outside their doors chatting, as if in some small town in the 1950s. It was a peaceful ending to another long day.

Yep, that's Elaine.



Thursday, June 7, 2018

MIDPOINT AND BEYOND


Shamrock, Texas, surely has has more murals per population than any other city on Route 66, including Pontiac, Illinois.  Everywhere you turn, on motels, cafes, garages, even a dumpster, there’s a mural. 
Mural by Tye Thompson
  Most of them were painted by Tye Thompson, a talented visual artist who also sings and strums his guitar at Big Vern’s Steakhouse from time to time. We met him during dinner in Shamrock Monday night (June 3), and he was quite a talker.
  Between Shamrock and Adrian, Texas, Route 66 again meanders back and forth across and under I-44. Part of the original road is inaccessible because it has turned back to dirt. That, plus some repaving, kept us off the Mother Road for several miles, but we took solace in knowing the old roadbed was being maintained.
  We arrived at the Route 66 midpoint in Adrian, about 30 miles west of Amarillo, around noon on Tuesday. From there, it is 1139 miles east to Chicago, 1139 miles west on to Pacific Ocean in California. The Route 66 Cafe wasn’t serving food other than pies already baked, and restrooms were closed because its well quit operating. “Life is short, eat dessert first,” is Lucy & Ethyl’s  philosophy, so I had chocolate pie and Annette had pecan. Then we went on to Russel’s Truck Stop for lunch.
Majestic wind turbines wave
 at passing motorists.
Lucy & Ehtyl at Route 66 midpoint.
Our journey across the Texas panhandle took us through several wind turbine farms, which offered a modern contrast to the old windmills we saw in almost every field. The tall, white turbines have a certain elegance about them that reminded me of cranes standing on one leg, or majorettes twirling their batons. The ranches we passed covered vast expanses of land dotted with cattle. We could see mesas in the distance. It was beautiful country.
Even though Adrian was our goal, we went into New Mexico becauses it was so close. We’ll cover New Mexico to California next year. We turned around and headed east, stopping to visit the famous Cadillac Ranch before getting a motel in Amarillo. 
Lucy in her new Caddy
     Built in 1974 by local millionaire/philanthropist Stanley Marsh III, Cadillac Ranch is easily one of Texas's most recognizable attractions. Eleven rusted, gutted-out Cadillacs are lined up and planted hood-first in the dirt. Visitors are encouraged to bring spray paint and let loose on this monument. We sprayed our names on a couple of the cars, which are so covered with layers of paint they don't resemble their original selves. 
On our way to Palo Duro Canyon Wednesday morning, more wind turbines and wildflowers waved at us from both sides of the road as we wound our way along Canyon Road. We spent several hours in the canyon, the second largest canyon in the USA, “the grand canyon of Texas.”

    It was about a 10-mile loop down and back up again. Annette had to close her eyes several times going down, because the canyon was on her side. It scared her silly. The canyon was beautiful, but I enjoyed even more the barn swallows nesting under the porch rafters back at the welcome center.
Barn swallows at Palo Duro
Back in Amarillo, we took in the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum,  then retraced some of the route that we came into Amarillo on, so we could go through the historic district. I bought a small teapot from Canada that had a foal on the lid and a horse-shaped handle.
We left Amarillo about 4 p.m., figuring we’d drive about an hour and find a motel. However, there were none to speak of between Amarillo and Shamrock, so we wound up in that mural town again.
Today, I woke up with several birthday wishes awaiting me via Facebook Messenger and texts. A couple of more came in, along with a phone call this afternoon. It was nice to be thought of on my 39th birthday!
Lucy found her a cowboy!
Other than turning a year older, today wasn’t a very exciting day on our journey. We had intended to take the interstates to Tulsa for speed, and had hoped to make it to Oklahoma City for the night. We took Route 66 out of Amarillo to avoid the road work on the interstate, and stopped just across the state line in Texola, Oklahoma, at a tiny cafe cum souvenir shop. I needed a Texas Route 66 magnet and a hat for my oldest grandson, Gabriel. We bought a few more things, then got back on the interstate and got off again at Elk City. We made another souvenir run on the Route 66 museum, the same one we stopped at headed west. Then we got back on the interstate. We made good time, only getting confused once when I-40 led to I-35 and then I-44. Our GPS apps seem to confuse the access roads with the interstates, which in turn confused the hell out of us. 
     We made it through Oklahoma City around 1 p.m., so went on to Tulsa, taking the southern route around the city. We checked into a motel at 3 p.m., had dinner about 4:30, stopped by Drysdales western store, then came back to our room. The road has begun to take its toll on us, so this will be an early night.
Rusted trucks go to Route 66 to die along the roadside.










Motel breakfasts in Texas often feature waffles
 shaped like the state.

Monday, June 4, 2018

CROSSING OKLAHOMA


After two late nights with George Strait, Lucy and Ethyl were ready for some rest. So on Sunday, Day Six of our Route 66 Adventure, we slept late,  Not a very exciting morning, but you do what you gotta do.
We checked out of the hotel at 11 a.m., then ate at Dilly’s again because we both wanted the same dish Annette had eaten on Saturday. Called Avocado Toast on the menu, it consisted of a piece of toast topped with avocado slices, Neufch√Ętel cheese and cherry tomatoes, with arugula. After breakfast, which was more of a brunch, we were back on the road again. We took I-44 to Bristow, where we rejoined Route 66. We went through more rolling hills, passing pastures dotted with round hay bales, a graveyard for old, rusting road-paving machinery, and a lot of livestock.
Round barn, Arcadia, OK
Arcadia, OK
      In Arcadia, we toured the historic Old Round Barn, and spent a few dollars in its gift shop. Built in 1898, the barn was falling apart when a retired building contractor saved it with the help of a volunteer group known as the “over-the-hill gang” because each member was over 65 years of age. Round barns originated in England, but are rare in the United States.
OK City National Memorial
     We didn’t stop again until we got to Oklahoma City, where we toured the Oklahoma City National Memorial and got our National Parks passports stamped in the gift shop. The memorial occupies the grounds where the Murray Federal Building once stood before it was destroyed, along with 168 lives, in the 1995 bombing that rocked the nation. Walking around the grounds, seeing the empty chair sculptures representing the fallen victims and the old elm tree that survived the bombing, put us in a somber mood.
After the Memorial, we went by the state capitol building to take a few photos, then followed 66 through Bethany, Yukon and into El Reno, where we stopped for the night. On Monday, we headed west again, weaving over and under I-40 as Route 66 meandered this way and that. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let them tell Day Seven’s story all the way into Shamrock, Texas. We’re only 100 miles from Amarillo, and we plan to get an early start so we can make “Amarillo By Morning.”



The flags of Route 66 states


Art Deco building, Clinton, OK

179-foot oil derrick, Elk City

Windmill collection in Elk City

Texas at last!





TAKE US BACK TO TULSA

Part of the fun of attending George Strait concerts is connecting with other fans. Annette keeps up with many on the George Strait Junkie and GS Fan Club Facebook pages, but it doesn’t take social media to recognize them in person. In Pawhuska, a gaggle of gals from Texas wore matching Strait Down 66 shirts they had made up especially for the concert, complete with glitz and glitter. Day Four of Lucy and Ethyl’s Route 66 adventure began with breakfast at the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile seated next to this lively group.
By the time we got to the Friday night concert, Annette had hooked up with several  Junkies she knew from Facebook, some wearing GS tees, others GS hats, all excited to see each other and The King. 
Like us, many of them were staying at the DoubleTree in Tulsa, about a block from the BOK Center where both concerts were held. While waiting in the hotel lobby for the shuttle to take us to Dilly’s Diner, we met a husband and wife from Hot Springs, Arkansas, who sat with us on the shuttle and during our midday breakfast. She was hoping George would sing “Cross My Heart” that night. It was played at their wedding 17 years ago and she had never heard him sing it in concert.
  Asleep At The Wheel opened for George both nights, which tickled me because I had never heard them in person. Their western swing rocks, but I fell in love with a plaintive, love-gone-wrong song by the late Guy Clark called “Dublin Blues.”


George put on a great two-hour show, singing about 30 of his hits. He did a two-song tribute to the late Merle Haggard and closed the set with “Unwound.” He didn’t disappoint the woman from Arkansas, either, and next day on Facebook she was trying to find someone who had recorded him doing her wedding song. I hope she does.
George always comes back for an encore. This time he did four more of his songs and two Bob Wills ditties, “Take Me Back to Tulsa” and “Milk Cow Blues.” He closed with a few lines of “The Cowboy Rides Away.” When he asked his audience to come back Saturday night, a woman near me said, “Who goes both nights?” Uh, we do, lady.
Saturday we had another midday breakfast at  Dilly Diner in Tulsa’s Blue Dome District. The latter is named for an old service station/garage that has a blue dome on top and resembles a mosque. It’s empty now, but the city can hardly tear it down because the arts and entertainment area is named after it.
We had purchased VIP tickets that included a concert poster and a buffet dinner with open bar for the second night. Even drinks made with Codigo 1530, the expensive tequila brand in which George has a business interest, were included in the price. Jared Tyler entertained. I had never heard him before. He was good, especially with my glass of wine, and better still with the Codigo Italian margarita. I bought his two CDs.

George’s concerts were sponsored by the Hard Rock Cafe and were the first in a series to celebrate the BOK Center’s 10th anniversary. Hard Rock had a photo booth at the VIP dinner with a blank backdrop, but when the picture came out of the printer, it appeared as if you were standing next to George onstage. They printed two copies of each photo and texted you a copy. They also handed out tee-shirts, sunglasses, ear buds and koozies. 
Annette and I had seats one in front of the other Friday night, but Saturday night we were on opposite sides of the stage. We’ve found that we can get better tickets when we buy singles. A man seated near Annette proposed to his wife while George sang, “Check Yes Or No,” handing her a piece of paper that said, “Will you marry me? Check yes or no.” She checked yes.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

STILL KICKING ON ROUTE 66


After picking up Route 66 in Fenton, our first stop Wednesday (Day Two) was the Null and Crossbones Dreadful Collectibles in Pacifico, Missouri. Its huge display of metal art caught my attention, and I really wanted the giant gray steer.  It would’ve looked awesome by my pond. Getting it home would have cost more than the sculpture itself, though.
We had problems navigating the Mother Road for several miles. It took many twisting turns back and forth under the interstate, and while the Route 66 signs were plentiful, they didn’t say East or West on them. We finally figured out how to read our Route 66 map, then stopped at some brick teepees along the roadside. Before I could turn the engine off, a guy came out of one shouting that we couldn’t take photos until we went inside the museum and store. He said that would cost us $2, which would be applied toward any purchase. He showed us some  arrowheads, played a tune on a flute, tried to sell us some Indian jewelry and the flute. I bought a magnet. 
Down the road, we stopped in Cuba, another town known for its murals. We had lunch at the Missouri Hick Barbecue, which had a mosaic map of the USA embedded in its entrance patio with the entire Route 66 marked. Next door, we snapped photos of the restored Wagon Wheel Motel & Gas Station. No gas was flowing from those antique pumps, and it looked like the former motel cottages were now small apartments.
Our next stop was Springfield, via I-44, and we took pictures of two 1956 Fords displayed at the old Rail Haven Motel. Best Western now operates the place, which was built in 1938. A replica of their classic neon sign was erected a few years ago. We plan to spend a night there on our return trip.
     From Springfield we programmed Carthage, Missouri, into our GPS, because a Route 66 book described it as a special interstate-free drive with rolling wooded hills, green fields and  old roadside remnants.  At this point, we were tired of running parallel to I-44, and delighted in passing dozens of rusted tractors, dilapidated barns and ponds with cows cooling off from the 90-plus degree heat. It was tempting to join them. During this section, Route 66 was called State Highway 266. In fact, most of the route now bears local highway names.
We ignored the signs advertising the Uranus Fudge Factory of St. Robert because it sounded unappetizing. Passing through Barnsdall, we took a photo of the sign proclaiming it the home of Anita Bryant and Clark Gable. In Commerce, the birthplace of Mickey Mantle, we found Mantle’s statue at the high school baseball park. In Spencer we took pictures of the recently-restored remains of the Little Spencer gas station. Its sign still showed gas at 12 cents per gallon for regular, 14 cents for “ethyl.”

Motoring on through Albatross, Rescue, Avilla, Carthage and Joplin, we crossed the state line into Galena, Kansas. That’s where I whipped into a junk shop called Picker’s Post. I bought a vertical, wooden “Welcome” sign that features every Route 66 state and was made by an 87-year-old Galena woman. Annette found some collectible tins. But they didn’t have a Kansas Route 66 magnet. So we stopped at another shop down the road, where we dropped some more money on Route 66 license plates and magnets. Considering that Route 66 runs but 13 miles through Kansas, we figure we spent more money per mile there than in any other state along the west-bound route.

     We spent our second night in Miami, Kansas. Next day, we detoured to Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Annette wanted to see the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile, made famous by Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman television cooking show. Drummond has revitalized the small town, which has several interesting shops. We decided to stay the night. Ree’s boarding house was full, but a shop owner found us a room at the restored Whiting Hotel. We stayed in the Cowboy Room, which, did not live up to its name. It didn’t come with a cowboy. Talk about false advertising.
Next morning, we were back at the Mercantile for a hot breakfast and more shopping before heading Strait to Tulsa.

Somewhere between Miami and Pawhuska