Okay, what is the link between Route 66, Barney Oldfield, and Louis Chevrolet? Give up? Well, to make a short answer into a long story, the story begins in the late spring of 1908 when some of the leading businessmen in Phoenix, Arizona, gathered together for some relaxation and spirited conversation about the future of the Territory of Arizona.
Now, even in a remote outpost of civilization such as Phoenix, the automobile, its future, and its role in society, were the favored topic of conversation among the movers and shakers of the community during the first decade of the 20th century. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that in this meeting, with attendees that included George Purdy Villard, president of the fledgling Maricopa County Automobile Club, and Dr. George Vickers, owner and publisher of The Arizona Republican, now the Arizona Republic, the primary topic was automotive in nature.
In particular, there was spirited discussion about the future of gasoline engines as the primary mode of power for automobiles versus the popular and proven steam engine, or for urban settings, electric cars. Surely there must have been a bit of drinking involved. How else can one explain the idea of an automotive race from Los Angeles to Phoenix across the desert on tracks and trails that would have been recognizable to Wyatt Earp or Henry Wickenburg?
The race began at the stroke of midnight on November 7, 1908 in front of the Hollenbeck Hotel at the corner of Second and Spring Streets in Los Angeles. The course would lead through Pomona, Ontario, Palm Springs and Indio, cross the Colorado River by ferry at Ehrenberg, and across Arizona through Salome and Buckeye into Phoenix.
When the dust settled 30 hours and 36 minutes later, F.C. Fenner, and his “mechanician”, “Happy” Forbes, driving a White built steamer dubbed Black Bess were declared the winners. The proponents of gasoline engines must not have been to happy as Fenner had whipped a new Kissel Kar, an air cooled Franklin, and an Elmore with a steam powered automobile that was four years old and that had already logged more than 50,000 miles in the Arizona desert!
The excitement generated by the event, as well as income earned by a bit of friendly wagers and the attention garnered for the city of Phoenix, and the need to prove the superiority of gasoline powered automobiles, called for a rematch. So, another contest was scheduled for November of 1909 with the race now officially titled as the Desert Classic and derisively labeled by reporters as the Cactus Derby.
The event was now more than a mere contest between gentlemen to settle a point and win a silver cup. A purse with a $1,300 grand prize lured professional racers and amateurs alike. This time the entrants numbered ten, including the original four, three of whom were driving their cars from the previous years. The exception was Fenner who decided to retire his now famous steamer and enter the race with a new Isotta Fraschini.
Motorcycle cops in Los Angeles ensured there was a respect for speed limits, at least in the city. In spite of this precaution, the racers became tangled with spectators and city traffic, which resulted in one racer, John Burr, a former L.A. county sheriff, being involved in an accident that left him critically injured.
The winners of this challenging event, the Nikrent bothers, Joe and Louis, driving a Buick finished with a running time of 19 hours, 30 minutes. As a testimony to the grueling conditions found along the course, only four of the ten entries crossed the finish line.
The international attention focused on the race led to the organizers immediate announcement of another race scheduled for November of 1910. Even though the course remained the same, and the roads were not improved, the winning time for this event was 15 hours and 45 minutes, a testimonial to the dramatic and rapid improvements being made in automotive technology during this period.
To ensure the excitement remained at a fever pitch, the course was altered for 1911, as well as 1912 and 1913. In 1911 and 1913 the course ran south to San Diego before turning east and zigzagging back and forth across the Mexican border to cross the river at Yuma.
The 1912 race followed the course of the earlier races as far as Palm Springs, and then turned south to Brawley before crossing the river at Yuma. By this year the event was large enough, and the publicity wide enough, to attract international legends of racing such as Barney Oldfield.
The 1914 race would mark the end of this now largely forgotten series. Fittingly, it would be the grandest escapade of all. The course would follow the National Old Trails Highway, the future path of Route 66, from Los Angeles to Ashfork in Arizona, before turning south to Prescott, down Yarnell Hill, and into Phoenix.
The list of entries in themselves were more than enough to grab headlines and included Barney Oldfield, Louis Chevrolet, and Louis Nikrent, the local Phoenix boy turned celebrity that had driven in every race. At the traditional starting line on November 10, 1914, there were twenty cars.
The first casualty, H.J. Pink driving a Thomas, occurred within the first hour when his car slid into a ditch on a tight curve. As the racers crossed the Mojave Desert, the mechanical devastation began to mount.
Adding to the circus like atmosphere in towns and sidings along the way were a rowdy and inebriated group that called themselves the Howdyites and chartered a chain they dubbed the Howdy Special. By the time their excursion reached Kingman, their exploits had resulted in confinement to the train.
After leaving Needles the racers roared tot he Colorado River, crossed on the railroad bridge, set out for Topock, and then began the climb to Oatman and over the Black Mountains at Sitgreaves Pass. Today, when driving the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 through these mountains, just east of the hairpin curve at Goldroad, you can see remnants from this road immediately below.
Broken frames and radiator supports, stripped clutches and broken gears, blown head gaskets and bent wheels were just a few of the maladies addressed at the pit stop in Kingman at the Old Trails Garage. Then the survivors, including Barney Oldfield at the wheel of a Stutz Bearcat and Louis Nikrent with a Buick, raced away from Kingman, across the wide Hualapai Valley and into Hackberry with mere seconds separating their times. The excitement and bets were building.
The late fall rains had transformed the road into a sea of mud at Ashfork and south to Prescott. Reports on the front page of The Arizona Republican, November 11, 1914, stated the mud was so thick in Prescott that Barney Oldfield was hitting both curbs on the wide corridor of Cortez Street.
The destruction of the automobiles, and the ingenious repairs made, were nothing short of spectacular. Bill Bramlett driving a Cadillac claimed fifth place, with two whittled down fence posts wired into place as replacements for broken steering components.
Still, he did better than most of the entrants as only seven vehicles crossed he finish line. The first was Louis Nikrent but as this was a timed event, the crown went to Barney Oldfield whose elapsed time had eclipsed Nikrent by 36 minutes.
The Cactus Derby is now little more than a forgotten footnote to automotive history. But for those who cross the Black Mountains on now legendary Route 66, they do so in the shadow of barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet.


In all honesty, I expected the resurgent interest in legendary Route 66 to taper off or at least level off. My foolish assumption was that folks would have found a new fad that would lure them away from the magic carpet of asphalt that is old U.S. 66.
Okay, so I was wrong. My recent excursion to Amarillo made it quite clear the popularity of this iconic highway is here to stay. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest the wave of interest is still building and this is fueling an amazing resurgence of the mom and pop enterprise that was swept away by the rise of chain motels and restaurants, mega shopping centers such as Walmart, and the ever increasing speed of American society that demands faster everything.
Only on Route 66 will you find an nearly empty McDonalds next to a busy little cafe or a Holiday Inn with a half full parking lot while the place across the street built in 1955 has a full house where guests talk and laugh away the evening. To experience Route 66 as it is today is a heady feeling that time has slowed to an absolute crawl, a dizzying sense of standing with one foot in the past and one in the present.
I spend a great deal of my time immersed in the history and culture of this old road. Still, when we travel it there is a sense of renewal and of excitement that is highly addictive.
Add the slightest of detours to your Route 66 excursions, such as Hualapai Mountain Park south of Kingman or Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo, and you have a life time of ever changing vacations with limitless possibilities on America’s longest attraction. Develop friendships along the way, something that is almost impossible not to do, and old Route 66 becomes, in the words of Michael Wallis, a linear community with a very extended international family.
Perhaps the most invigorating aspect of the resurgent interest in this old road, is to see time rolled back in dusty and forgotten towns, and life restored to places once thought dead. The now classic animated film Cars, portrays this transformation beautifully.
In Tucumcari, a town that presented the illusion of being on life support just a few years ago, a stunning transformation is underway. Empty buildings mere steps away from demolition are being transformed and given a new lease on life as colorful Whiting Brothers, and vintage Texaco, Sinclair, or Phillips 66 service stations.
The now iconic Blue Swallow Motel, dating to 1939, has new owners and is a lodging choice for thousands of enthusiasts traveling the old road. Likewise with the Motel Safari that dates to 1960.
In this, Tucumcari is not alone. At the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, a place that seems suspended in time with its dirt parking lot and dated furnishings, it can be difficult to find a find room without advance planning. Likewise with its older cousin, the lovingly refurbished Wigwam Motel in Rialto, California that dates to 1949, the historic Munger Moss in Lebanon, Missouri, or the circa 1938 Wagon Wheel Motel, another beautifully refurbished property, in Cuba, Missouri.
In closing, I have a few quick Route 66 related news items to share. The exact date has not been set for the 2012 International Route 66 Festival but the host city of Rancho Cucamonga in California has been selected. For more information contact the Historic Route 66 Association of California.
I am not a big fan of reservations, especially when traveling Route 66, as they add deadlines to what is supposed to be a leisurely and relaxing adventure. Still, as crazy as this sounds, if you plan on attending, and want to stay at one of the classic Route 66 historic motels or hotels in the area, such as the Wigwam in Rialto, it might be a good idea to consider making reservations soon.
I spoke with the proprietor yesterday in regards to his order for signed copies of my new book for the gift shop and was informed he already has received open reservations. These customers simply told him that when the dates for the festival are announced to put their name down for that time. I must confess, we have also made reservations for that weekend as this our favorite stop when business takes us to the west end of the L.A. metropolis.
The final item of the day pertains to reccomendations for dining discovered, or rediscovered, on our last trip. In historic Las Vegas, New Mexico, a very slight detour off Route 66, splurge for a lunch (upper end of the medium price range) at the historic Plaza Hotel with its million dollar view of the historic plaza.
An old stand by that I never tire of reccommending, or eating at, is hte Midpoint Cafe in Adrian., Texas. The long and short of itis this, no Route 66 trip can be considered complete without least stopping for pie and coffee.
A new discovery was made in Amarillo. Dolly’s Diner on old Route 66 in hte historic San Jacinto district offers great food at very reasonable prices. As a teaser, even the potato chips are home made.


Well, it looks as though we have a successful launch, at least in regards to the addition of an option to purchase a signed copy of Ghost Towns of Route 66 directly from the blog. The hope is that in the next week we will also be able to offer Ghost Towns of the Southwest, now in a third printing, Backroads of Arizona, and Route 66 Backroads.
Meanwhile, lets talk ghost towns. Specifically the very unique ghost towns, some with origins stretching to before the time that there was a United States, that are found along Route 66 from Illinois to California.
Each has a very unique personality but they all have one thing in common, a main street that will forever be Route 66. Moreover, the demise of each is directly tied to the wave of progress that continuously transformed Route 66 from its inception with an almost never ending progression of realignment and that eventually swept the Main Street of America from center stage.
One of the goals in writing this book was to add depth and context to the Route 66 experience as well as tinge the restored glow of colorful neon with a hint of sepia. Additionally, I wanted to give forgotten places where the resurgent interest in this amazing highway came to late a well deserved moment in the spotlight, places like Goffs bypassed in 1932, and Spencer, Missouri, as well as Afton, Oklahoma, and Lawndale in Illinois. 
Few segments of Route 66 are as haunting or as delightful as the pre 1952 alignment from San Jon in New Mexico to Glenrio in Texas. All along this dusty track the second hand became the hour hand when Route 66 was moved to the north to accommodate the ever rising tide of traffic and it stopped completely when the destination became more important than the journey leaving Route 66 as an historic footnote.
San Jon withered on the vine. Bard vanished. Endee was left to the ghosts and will soon return to the soil from which it was carved. Glenrio was suspended in time and the winds whisper the stories for those who take the time to listen.
In Endee the era of the frontier succumbed slowly to the advent of a new era. In 1907 rustlers were rousted from their safe haven hear by a stalwart passe and in 1909, a few cowboys made their point on the subject of temperance by riding their horses through a meeting with guns blazing.
Glenrio just may be every Route 66 enthusiasts favorite ghost town. However, few who stop to give the imagination free reign at the old Longhorn Cafe and Motel, realize that long before there was a highway signed with two sixes, this was a prosperous community with a hotel, a newspaper, and a train depot.
For timelessness, my favorite drive is the pre 1937 alignment from Santa Fe to Romeroville in New Mexico. Here amongst the pines and ruins that were ancient when the conquistador “discovered” New Mexico, legendary Route 66 follows the Santa Fe Trail through towns founded, and almost unchanged, from the dawn of the American republic, and past the hallowed grounds of Glorieta Pass, the scene of a pitched battle during the Civil War fought to preserve that great republic.
For raw beauty of the jaw dropping, awe inspiring kind, there is no place like Sitgreaves Pass on the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in western Arizona. Here the ghosts of better times, Goldroad and Oatman, are of the modern era with origins dating to the dawn of the 20th century. 
Route 66 has always the road of dreams and shows little sign of relinquishing that role. The next time you motor west, or east, on the highway that is best, save some time for an empty place or two as the ghost of the lost highway have many stories to share.



The research for books and feature articles I write provides a wide array of enjoyment. There is the sense of discovery in brittle old newspapers, in letters written long ago, and in finding the quiet cafe where locals have bellied up to the counter for coffee and pie with travelers passing through on the cracked asphalt two lane highway outside the window since at least the year Ford introduced the Model A to replace the tin Lizzie. Still, all of this pales beside the enjoyment derived from sharing these dusty gems with others, and encouraging them to make their own voyage of discovery on the road less traveled.

Route 66 in America’s most popular ghost town,
Glenrio, Texas.

I have found these simple pleasures in every book and article written but it was the years with Cars & Parts magazine and the penning of a monthly column, The Independent Thinker, where the hunger for discovering and sharing became an almost all consuming passion. Adding fuel to this fire were contracts to write Ghost Towns of the Southwest and Ghost Towns of Route 66.
In The Independent Thinker I was able to share the inspirational stories of men like Ralph Teetor, the prolific inventor that gave us cruise control who was blinded in an accident at age five, and the amazing story of the brothers Stanley whose legendary steamer brought them acclaim and fame that has spanned more than a century and obscured their earlier achievements such as the photographic process that served as the foundation for Eastman Kodak or the manufacture of quality violins. 
In Ghost Towns of the Southwesthttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760332215&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, I shared my voyage of discovery by introducing readers to once famous lawman such as Commodore Perry Owens, the man who tamed Holbrook, and Jim Roberts, a survivor of the Pleasant Valley War that had his last shootout with bank robbers in the 1920s. Perhaps my most exciting find in the research for this book was the story of Jeff Davis Milton, a man of incredible durability and skill whose parents had an allegiance to the old Confederacy.
At age 15, he came to the conclusion that clerking in a store just wasn’t his cup of tea and took to the life of a cowboy. This was followed by a stint as a Texas Ranger, a position obtained through consummate skills as a horseman and a proficiency with a gun, and a small lie about as his age as was three years to young for the minimum requirement.
In the years that followed, his well deserved reputation, honed as a constable in El Paso, and as a border agent who policed the district from El Paso to Nogales alone, grew exponentially. It was for that very reason the robbers who planned to hit the train in Fairbank, Arizona, made sure Davis wouldn’t be riding shotgun on the night planned for the raid.
What they could not know was that on that cold dark night in February of 1900, Davis had volunteered to fill in for a sick guard. As it turned out for the bad men, Three Fingered Jack Dunlap, Bravo Juan Yaos, and two brothers whose names have been shrouded by the mists of time, this change in plans would prove fatal.
When the train pulled into the station, the desperado’s mixed among the crowd presenting the illusion of drunk cowboys as they moved closer to the open train car where Davis stood in the door. Thinking they had the element of surprise in their favor, they opened fire.
Davis was struck twice in the arm and fell back into the baggage car where he made a tourniquet from his shirt while the outlaws riddled the car with gunfire. With the crowd scattered by the gunfire, the outlaws stood alone as Davis, with his arm bound tight and a shotgun in the other hand, returned to the door and opened fire.
When the smoke cleared, the brothers and Juan Yaos were dead, and Three Fingered Jack was mortally wounded. Davis recovered but never again had full use of his arm. 
This didn’t hamper the tough old lawman. In the years to follow he again took to patrolling he border, alone, accepted a position as a federal guards on transports returning anarchists back to Russia, and other assorted tasks. He died quietly in Tombstone shortly before the advent of World War II.
In Ghost Towns of Route 66http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760338434&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, the sense of excitement in discovery, and the sharing of those discoveries climbed to a feverish pitch. Here was an opportunity to breathe life in to the dry bones of towns along America’s most famous highway where the resurgent interest came to late and to add context as well as depth to the Route 66 experience.
There was Romeroville in New Mexico where presidents and world leaders once vacationed, and the towns fascinating namesake, Don Trinidad Romero, and the discovery that Lawndale in Illinois was once more than just a dot on a map and a wide spot in the road. I discovered the book written by Emily Post in 1916, By Motor to the Golden Gatehttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0786419407&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, and gained a new perspective on the once feared La Bajada Hill between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Still, all of these grand adventures in discovery could not prepare me for the current endeavor, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas. With this project my inquisitive mind has been given free reign to find answers to the questions spawned by other answers and questions, and with each new discovery the hunger to share grows.
What is the story that links the Kleen Spot and the Green Spot motels in Victorville? What amenities were offered to travelers at First American Camp in Romeroville, New Mexico? What is the story of Little Chum’s Lodge in Springfield, Illinois?
As I meditate on how much remains to be discovered and written about in this project, there is the realization I will need to listen carefully for the voices in the empty places, chase the ghosts of the lost highway, and spend just a little more time living amongst the dead. 
In a somewhat unrelated note, I am quite excited to announce that, if all goes as planned, we will have Paypal in place on the blog for the ordering of signed copies of my books as well as a “Print of the Week.”
I should also note that the Lile Fine Art Gallery accessed via the tab at the top of the page, will remain the exclusive distributor of our limited editon prints. There are but two prints left in the Ghost Towns of the Southwest series.



From its very inception Route 66 has been the highway of change, of transition, and nothing in the modern era indicates that this is about to change at any time in the near future. As an example consider the article about QR codes in the last issue of 66 The Mother Road, a new electronic magazine, a publication that exemplifies the collision of the past and present that is Route 66 today.
GPS guided Route 66 geocaching is fast becoming a popular new way to add some zest to the Route 66 experience. Now add some QR code based electronic kiosks along the route, a few more places to spend the night like the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, the Motel Safari or Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, and a cafe or two such as the Midpoint in Adrian, Texas, and legendary Route 66 becomes a tangible bridge between the historic past and the future that looms on the horizon.  

Glenrio, Texas

Just imagine the possibilities of blending the past and future along Route 66; the old Texas Longhorn Cafe in Glenrio, Texas with all power being generated by the wind and sun, CNG and electric charging stations masked as old visible register pumps at vintage stations that appear a holdouts from the Gilmore or Whiting Brothers chains, GPS linked guided tours narrated by Michael Wallis. The possibilities are truly only limited by the imagination!
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, there are folks like me, Joe Sonderman, the new trustees of the iconic Blue Swallow Motel, and Gary Turner of Gay Parita who seem to spend more time looking back than forward. I like to think we have been entrusted with the task of ensuring that the colorful history of this amazing highway is not eclipsed by the excitement of the future or the romanticised version of what once was. We are the balance at the other end of the scale.
In between is each and every one of us who enjoy cruising the old road, making new memories, conjuring old ones, and watching the renaissance of legendary Route 66 with eager anticipation. The life blood of Route 66 has always been the people and that is something the future can never change.
Now, let me share a few quick updates. I received notification today that Arizona Highways profiled Kerrick James, the artistic and primary photographer 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&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, with an interview about his involvement with the project and the international fascination with Route 66. This interview was posted on their blog.
I should also note that the August issue of True West http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B00005N7VL&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrmagazine with feature a three page review of the book with photos. My hope is that this feature will emulate the old road and bridge the distant past on the western frontier with the more modern era, an odd time when people were cruising a road that would become Route 66 in their Model T Fords while posse’s were chasing cattle rustlers on horseback across the plains near Endee, New Mexico.  
While on the subject of Endee, let me share a few tidbits gleaned from old newspapers while conducting research for the current project, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas. It would seem this community, and much of the surrounding area was a bit slow in regards to adapting to the modern era represented by the dawning of the 20th century.
In 1907, a band of cattle rustlers were rousted from their headquarters in Endee by a heavily armed posse who had tracked them from Tucumcari. In 1909, a temperance meeting was interrupted by mounted and masked cowboys who rode their horses into the meeting and proceeded to shoot up the mirrors, the glass ware, and then stampede the anti drink crowd out into the street.
On a final note, if you have purchased a copy of Ghost Towns of Route 66, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts in regards to how it has affected your perception of Route 66 as well as how it might have influenced your travel plans on that highway. If you haven’t purchased a copy plans are under way to add Paypal purchase opportunities to the blog before the end of the month.