A good nights rest and eager anticipation resulted in a very early departure from Bristow, Oklahoma – 7:00 AM. After exploring the old section of town a bit we stopped at the Tractor Supply Store for a couple of items and braced ourselves for the traffic of Tulsa.
To fortify ourselves for the battle ahead we stopped in Sapulpa at the Subway across the street from a massive buffalo sculpture for a mid morning brunch. On this trip we had discovered the new Subway breakfast sandwich and found them to be a near perfect mid morning pick me up, especially at $2.50, including coffee.
In our travels we have also learned that the Subway shops in the heart of communities are often the modern incarnation of the old cafe where the locals gather for coffee. Sapulpa was no exception and we had a delightful conversation about area history with the mother and daughter team behind the counter whose family had lived in the area for more than a century.
The original game plan was to sail around Tulsa by taking I-75 north and then US 244 east. The carefully planned escape route was quickly abandoned courtesy of road construction, subsequent detours, and other unexpected road issues (missed turns, etc.) that resulted in us driving through the heart of the city.
We found Tulsa to be a treasure box in regards to vintage urban architectural styles. We also found it to be little different than Phoenix, Albuquerque, or Burbank in regards to congestion and maddening traffic.
At Catoosa we gratefully resumed our Route 66 odyssey with eager anticipation as Claremore with its many links to Will Rogers, and Afton Station were just ahead. An hour of exploration in Claremore left us wanting more and so we added this to our of places that warranted further exploration on the return trip.
Afton, in particular Afton Station, was destination one for the day. Laurel was such a help in regards to the latest book, Ghost Towns of Route 66, I wanted to say thank you in person and express my appreciation by giving her some prints of scenes along Route 66 in Arizona.
Laurel was out for the day but we were undaunted as our plans called for a stop on the return leg. Still, we explored the station and all its hidden corners as well as Afton itself.
Initially I had excluded this town from consideration as the the new book was about ghost towns and Afton still has a population numbered in the hundreds. However, after exploring the town and talking with Laurel it was apparent that the town may not qualify as a ghost town in the traditional sense but when viewed from the context of what once was it is apparent that this old town is less than a shadow of its former glory.
Vintage automobiles are the passion that first inspired me to write. The collection of cars at Afton Station grabbed my attention from the moment I stepped into the garage and saw the warm glow of the towering Packard sign. Automobile built by this legendary manufacturer may be the centerpiece of the collection but there were two cars in particular that really quickened the pulse. One, a maroon Studebaker coupe, is a vehicle that I have dreamed of owning at least since the days of childhood when laying on the backseat and watching the girders of bridges and their shadows (including the Chain of Rocks Bridge) through that wrap around rear window was a source of amusement on long trips.
The second vehicle to snag my attention was an ultra rare Hupmobile sedan. This particular vehicle, and its near twin the Graham Hollywood, utilized the body dies of the classic Cord 810/812 and was the swan song for both companies. As I recall, production was less than 200 vehicles.
Packard built automobiles were pure class in every detail. Nowhere is this more evident than in the quality found in the luxurious prewar models. As evidence consider this striking mascot/hood ornament on a yellow coupe in Afton Station.
If you have the remotest interest in vintage automobiles Afton Station has to be added to the list of places to see on your travels. Moreover, if you want to understand what fuels the passions and fascination with Route 66, you only have to spend an hour or so at Afton Station.
Curiosity was the primary motivation for the next destination on our journey of exploration as secret tourists on Route 66. The nine foot wide highway near Narcissa will leave you wondering how in the world this could have made sense to anyone.
This fascinating historical artifact also provided us a pleasant opportunity to drive the back country of Oklahoma without the need to worry about holding up traffic as we gawked. Our only regret here was that it was to early for a picnic and that we had planned on dinner in either Baxter Springs or Riverton.
Miami and Commerce were filled with a myriad of time capsules that encourage one to park, walk the streets, and to peek into windows. Rating very high on my list of attractions were the Coleman Theater and Waylan’s Ku Ku Burger.
We deviated from Route 66 before Quapaw as I was curious about Picher, the ghost town/slash toxic wasteland near the Kansas border. I have been following the tale of the towns tragic plight for years and wanted to see it for myself.
Our next stop was a disappointment in the sense of concern about what the future may hold. For dinner we had decided to try the Cafe on the Route in Baxter Springs. As always the food was a step above average but there was the sense that something was off.
The floors were not clean. In fact there was food under the table next to us that was there when we came in and was there when we left. There was indication the bathroom had not been cleaned for a day or two. The table was sticky. When we went to pay our bill the cashier never stopped talking on her cell phone and instead acted as though we were a distraction to a very important conversation. It is things such as this that can break a business and I would hate to see this landmark fall by the wayside.
North of Baxter Springs may be one of the most photographed sites anywhere on Route 66. This stunning bridge amidst a scene of bucolic tranquility appears almost mythical to the modern eye. There is something about the bridge and the setting that instantly inspires reflection about bygone days on on legendary 66 and other American highways.
For me the reflective mood is fueled by fond memories. It was the summer of 1964 and my dad had stopped at a shady spot in sight of this bridge to replace a bald tire with the spare that had the faintest hint of tread.
Lured by the sound of the stream and invigorated by the freedom of being unleashed from the confines of the old blue Ford I set forth to explore under the watchful gaze of my older sister. Tossing rocks from the shore quickly gave way to wading which in turn led to immersion, courtesy of the wet rocks.
The folks were not overly happy with my adventure.
What drive across Kansas on Route 66 today would be complete without a visit with Melba at 4 Women on the Route? To say she exudes enthusiasm about her town, the station, and Route 66, would be akin to saying winter is cold in Duluth. With folks like this to keep the road alive there is little doubt fascination with the double six will continue for years to come.
One of the most anticipated parts of our adventure was southern Missouri. I have more than fifty years of memories associated with this section of Route 66 and have long awaited the opportunity to introduce my dearest friend to the beauty and friendly people found here.
We found Joplin to be an interesting blend of the old and new woven into a tattered tapestry of color. However, it was the ghost town trail through Carthage and Avilla, with its charming circa 1915 post office, to Springfield that really captured our imagination.
Encapsulating the essence of this section of Route 66 would have to be Spencer and Gay Parita. Driving the little spur through Spencer reawakened my desire to own a bone stock 1931 Model A Ford pick up truck.
To drive this road is to experience time travel. To drive this road in a Model A would be a complete immersion into a world long past.
Springfield was our destination as as it was to a business/slash vacation stop I had made reservations in advance to ensure we had a restful stay. This leads to another lodging recommendation – the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven.
I had selected this motel for its reputation for cleanliness and proximity to the stores scheduled for book signings the next day. As an added bonus I discovered it was a vintage property recently listed to the register of historic places with a very reasonable price, $54.00 plus tax with a continental breakfast.
Our room was small but in part this was due to the furnishings that included a large bed and a massive recliner! For a delightful blending of the old and new, as well as cleanliness and price, this motel rates at the top of our list.
We ended the exciting, dramatic day in a rather undramatic, boring way – laundry at a nearby laundromat. A late dinner at Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches followed by a serenade of soft, gentle rain and pleasant nights sleep rounded out a truly wonderful day on legendary Route 66.