After several weeks of weather that ran the gamut from late fall to early summer, sometimes in the same day, the frustrations and pressures of the day job that supports the writing habit, the self induced pressures of laying the groundwork for the new book, Ghost Towns of Route 66http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760338434&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, finalizing plans for the trip to Amarillo where the kick off for the books promotional tour will begin at the International Route 66 Festival, we were well overdue for a day of adventure on Route 66. As added incentive we felt a proper send off for a friend returning home to Australia next week was in order.
So, after a relatively calm morning at the office and a quiet lunch, we packed the Jeep, topped off the tank, and headed west on Route 66 for the former ghost town of Oatman. The weather was just a bit on the warm side and the wispy clouds in the deep blue sky provided a sense of whimsy.
As this has been my stomping grounds for almost a half century, I provided Dave, our Australian friend, with the fifty cent tour on the way to Oatman. I pointed out the Oasis, an often overlooked service station and roadhouse, long a private home, that dates to the late 1930s, and the remains of the family homestead including the garage my dad and I built from lumber obtained when we razed the Episcopal church and a couple of old houses in Kingman.
Stop one was Fish Bowl Springs with its million dollar views just below the summit of Sitgreaves Pass on the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66. As it was a warm and pleasant afternoon there was a near constant stream of traffic more reminiscent of a time when this was the main Street of America than the empty, forgotten highway I remember during the mid 1960s.
At the summit, the site of Snell’s Summit Station we again stopped to take in the spectacular views. When I first this site in about 1966, the skeletons of the visible register pumps still stood as silent sentinels on this ridge.
Reflecting the changes in gold prices was the activity at the mine in Goldroad. The vast tailing’s are transforming the town site and erasing some of the last vestiges from a time when this was a thriving community.
Oatmans is, well, Oatman. A thin veneer of originality with a heavy overlay of cobbled together store fronts emulating what once was and a sea of tourists that clog the narrow main street providing a glimpse of what it must have been like to drive Route 66 through town in about 1930.
Without tourist towns like Oatman would most likely have vanished from the map. However, tourists, and catering to them, without a cohesive plan can erase the very historic vestiges of a community that the tourists come to see. Oatman is fast approaching that point where the original is washed away by the flood of t-shirt shops and souvenir stands.
|Dave Gurney and Jim Hinckley at Cool Springs|
The Oatman I recall from the 1960s, and even the early 1970s, was largely an authentic ghost town with a population of around fifty. The stores were mostly empty and there were gaps along the street where buildings once stood.
The bar and restaurant at the hotel were about the only things going. Even there it was often possible to sip a beer for an hour and see no one but the bar maid.
The head frames from the old mines still cast long shadows. Many of the business still had the faded signs painted on their false fronts and one, the old Copeland Lumber building, still had a wide array of merchandise hidden behind windows encrusted with thirty years of grime.
In those years Goldroad was a sea of building shells that faced quiet streets. The old mill was a haunting concrete warren with a safe buried in a rear wall.
|1934 Dodge at Chillin on Beale Street|
After braving the sea of humanity and walking Oatman from end to end, we began the return trip with a stop at Cool Springs and a brief stop at the site of the Fig Springs Station. Jack Rittenhouse, in 1946, noted this facility was closed but in the mid 1960s much of the shell remained.
We ended the day with a wonderful evening at Chillin on Beale Street, a free event held on the third Saturday night of each month, April through October. As always it was a pleasant relaxed event with people lounging in beach chairs or strolling the streets to gawk and the incredibly diverse array of vehicles on display or cruising Beale Street.
|1960 Volvo at Chillin on Beale Street|
Even though the event is open to one and all, the organizers always have a theme and the vehicles displayed that fit in that theme receive a dash magnet commemorating the night. Last year there was topless fun on Route 66, a salute to convertibles, and an orphan show, a salute to automotive orphans.
Last night it was animal style – cars bearing animal related monikers (Impala, Cougar, Pinto, Maverick, Barracuda, etc.). As always the diversity of vehicles was nothing short of amazing – a Studebaker Hawk with original supercharged V8, low rider Nissan’s, new generation Thunderbirds, a Hudson Hornet, Model A Fords, original and street rods, vintage military Jeeps complete with twin fifty caliber machine guns, a vintage deuce and a half, a 1960 Volvo, and even a Sunbeam Alpine.
It was about as perfect a day as one could have. Of course I had the advantage of having two friends to share it with and Route 66 to set the mood.