Saturday, October 26, 2019

QUILT SHOPS & CONRAD HILTON




       It was Ethel who spotted the billboard advertising the JT Ranch Quilt Shop. Google Maps took us right to it, in the small town of Cisco, Texas. Located about 100 miles west of Fort Worth and just a handful of miles off I-20, it’s a town of 3900 people who take pride in their high school football and girls volleyball teams, who decorate for Halloween and lined their main street — Conrad Hilton Boulevard — with gaily painted old bicycles.
       The street is so named because Conrad Hilton started his hotel chain with a single hotel he bought there in 1919. According to one of the clerks at the quilt shop, he came to town to buy a bank, but the owner raised the price when Hilton arrived. The latter noticed the booming business going on at the local Mobley Hotel, so he bought it instead. Today, the former hotel is a community center and local museum with a dozen white rocking chairs stretching across the ground-level, cement front porch and a statue of Hilton on the lawn.
       As for the quilt shop, it is named for the cattle ranch owned by the shop owner and her family. Ethel managed to drop a few dollars there, despite the fact that it was the third quilt shop we had visited during our three-week, cross-country trek.
       We lunched at the Slowpoke Farm Market, which features grass-fed beef and other products its owners either raise themselves or buy from friends and nearby farmers. Each table features a wire cup with two dozen Scrabble tiles for the diner’s entertainment while waiting for the food, which arrived quickly. Ethel had organic pinto beans simmered with a ham hock and accompanied by cornbread made with cornmeal and whole-wheat flour. Lucy had a three-cheese mac-’n-cheese that had slices of bratwurst in it, accompanied by broccoli salad. The pies were like none you’ve seen since sitting at your great-grandmother’s kitchen table. Despite choices such as peanut butter cream, cream cheese pecan, apple crisp and sea-salt chocolate pecan caramel, we passed on desert.  
       All in all, Cisco proved to be a serendipitous experience that re-affirmed our tradition of not passing up a spontaneous side trip down a back road. 


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

DON'T EAT GRAPES IN A HONDA PILOT




If you are following Lucy and Ethel’s backroads adventures on Facebook, you know we’re doing the second half of Route 66. We did the first half — Chicago, Illinois, to Adrian, Texas — last year. The second half will take us from Adrian to Santa Monica, California, where Route 66 ends at the pier. 

We left Alabama Sunday, October 6, and drove I-40 to the midway point in Adrian, which is about 30 miles west of Amarillo. After two days of cruising along just fine, Monday evening we encountered a problem that threatened to strand us in Amarillo, cost Lucy (me) lots of money and give us nightmares. The problem? Suddenly, my car wouldn’t shift into reverse!

I have a 2017 Honda Pilot Elite, with electronic gear shifting via buttons in the center console. It had been shifting just fine, then suddenly wouldn’t go into reverse. We found a motel and parked across three spaces with the front-end pointed outward so we could leave without backing up. I have the cell phone number for the salesman who sold me the car, and called him. He had never heard of such a problem! I googled it, and discovered it could be a bad solenoid or low transmission fluid — or something more serious. Having had the car serviced right before I left, I felt pretty bummed about the possibility of low transmission fluid.

I didn’t sleep much that night. Next morning, when I cranked up the car and tried to put it in reverse again, lights and error messages flashed where the odometer is supposed to be. “Transmission failure” and “blind-spot monitor system failure” popped up. As if I weren't worried enough!

We were at the local Honda dealer at 9 a.m. A young man named Dillon took all our info and showed us to the waiting room. We had our needlework and were prepared to spend the day. Imagine our surprise when Dillon returned in five minutes. “I fixed it,” he announced, a big grin spread across his face. We were stunned. “What was the problem?” I asked. “Was it some button I pushed by mistake?” Holding up a teeny-weeny grape stem, he asked, “Was someone eating grapes in the car?” We both nodded. “I found this stem stuck under the reverse button.”

Can you believe it? A tiny grape stem! When he removed it, all the warning lights went off, the reverse gear button worked, and we were good to go. I hugged him, did a happy dance, and told him I took back all the horrible things I’ve said about automobile dealers. We were at their mercy, and they were so refreshingly honest!


So, we jumped into the car, laughing and bouncing in our seats. As we said our last good byes, I promised to give Brown Honda of Amarillo a great rating on Facebook. As we pulled off, I glanced sideways, and saw Dillon talking to another technician, who was smiling broadly. I’m sure that grape stem was the topic of conversation around the coffee pot all day. It certainly was for Lucy and Ethel, who will stick to apples and bananas from now on!

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!