Well, this is post number 998. That means I have just two more posts to go before coming up with a way to reward those who have followed my wanderings and ramblings for 1,000 posts. Do you have any suggestions? As is often the case, my weekend was consumed with a flurry of activity, most of which was centered on the quest to become a writer when I grow up. Of course that means a number of pressing projects unrelated to this pursuit were again pushed to the back burner – fixing a flat tire on Barney the wonder truck, scraping the eaves, replacing the tub surround, tax preparation, and similar items that have been hanging over my head. The publisher sent the text for the Route 66 encyclopedia, at least “A” through “Q”, with notes, requests for changes, and questions. So, the final edit stage of the project was the primary focus.
Sunset in Glenrio
They also sent a list of images approved as illustrations for the project. The adjustments to this list, including the submission of alternates, and then the writing of captions for about 1,000 images will be the focus of at least a weekend or two, and a few evenings, once the text is complete. This is always one of the more exciting aspects of writing a book as it becomes easier to envision the finished product. With images from the collections of Joe Sonderman, Mike Ward, and Steve Rider constituting about 80% of the illustrations for this book, the anticipation is far greater. The deadline for all of this is March 1. This was a secondary reason for the filing of an exemption request in response to the summons for federal court jury duty selection during the month of February. I worked in the office until noon on Saturday, and as my wife was hosting a baby shower for my daughter-in-law at the house during the afternoon, grabbed some lunch and went back to work on the encyclopedia in relative silence. At home, I worked for another hour, and then watched a movie with my dearest friend. On Sunday, after our traditional mornings activities, I again fastened my butt to the chair and glued the eyes to the computer screen. I took a break late in the afternoon to answer correspondence, and to send a flurry of emails pertaining to upcoming appearances – Bookworks in Albuquerque, the Route 66 Fun Run, KABAM, Wheels on 66 in Tucumcari, and the International Route 66 Festival in Victorville. Today, a scheduled day off from the job that pays the bills and that supports the writing habit, will be spent in imitation of Saturday afternoon and Sunday, with the exception of an appointment with the optometrist this afternoon. It looks as though I have turned writing and photography into a full time job. Now if I can just figure out how to turn it into one that pays … On a more serious note, as nice as it would be to make this the primary source of our income, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I derive such enjoyment out of sharing our adventures, and encouraging others to explore through that sharing, as well as adding depth and context to adventures, that it is impossible to think of anything more rewarding. Even better, it has opened the door to meeting the most fascinating and encouraging people. What a blessing it is for a small town redneck to have friends from all over the world.
In recent weeks the inbox has filled with questions pertaining to Route 66, travel, and my schedule. As many of these questions pertain to obscure places along the highway, its history, and yet unpublished updates to my schedule, I thought the sharing of answers might be of benefit to other fans of the double six.
WHERE IN ILLINOIS CAN I FIND A COMMUNITY ALONG ROUTE 66 THAT SEEMS TO BE UNDISCOVERED? Dwight, Illinois, in the district around the train depot. Dwight has a wide array of wonderful Route 66 attraction such as Ambler Texaco, and excellent places to eat such as the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant.
However, if you venture into town there is a sense that Dwight is little more than a time capsule preserved into the modern era, a place where the fame of Route 66 has passed it by. The train depot, a bank designed by Frank Loyd Wright, the former Keeler Institute with its Tiffany inspired stained glass windows, and the Country Manor Restaurant with it park like grounds dominated by the most fascinating windmill are but a few of its treasures.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME FOR TRAVEL? Well, that would depend on what you are looking for on your trip. Most of your festivals and events that center on Route 66 take place from May through September. However, the months of June through August are brutal along the segment between Kingman and Victorville.
My preference is mid May to mid June, or late September into mid October. On occasion you will encounter cold weather or storms during this period but overall it is the only times of year where you will have near perfect weather along the whole route.
We enjoy seasoning our trips with long walks. Strolling across the Chain of Rocks Bridge when it is near one hundred degrees and the humidity is at almost the same level, or making the trek to the summit of Amboy Crater when the temperatures are exceeding 120 degrees and even the snakes are seeking shelter, just isn’t very enjoyable.
Our last journey along the double six was made in October. To be honest, it was one of our more enjoyable trips. As a bonus, we had fall colors along most of the route.
QUITE OFTEN YOU MENTION ROUTE 66 DETOURS. IF THE TIME FOR OUR SCHEDULE IS LIMITED, AND WE CAN TAKE BUT ONE DETOUR, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR SUGGESTION? My hands down favorite is Prescott, Arizona, about sixty miles south of Ash Fork, especially the downtown district around the courthouse square.
Prescott is unique in that the downtown area, the historic district did not go through the evolution of decline and rebirth. With the exception of the cars that line and clog the streets, it is still 1950 here.
There are three excellent historic hotels, countless restaurants, some family owned for more than fifty years, an authentic Old West saloon, excellent museums, and even night life. What people seek along Route 66 is found in Prescott in spades.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE RESTAURANT ON ROUTE 66? Yes, several. For authentic atmosphere, good food, and tradition it would be the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, Illinois.
I love pie and cobblers. Fortunately the places I know of for the best pie are spaced enough to keep me from having withdrawls but not so close together I tire of the treat.
The Palms Grill in Atlanta, the Midpoint in Adrian, Texas, and the Pine Country Restaurant in Williams, Arizona rate at the top of my list.
ARE THERE SPECIFIC MOTELS I SHOULD INCLUDE IN MY TRIP? Yes, by all means, yes. Few things enhance a Route 66 adventure like being able to keep the illusion of time travel alive when the sun goes down. There are a number of great old motels found along Route 66, Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide, published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation is an excellent reference source.
My favorites (I have not experienced them all as of yet) are the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, the Munger Moss in Lebanon, Missouri, Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, Motel Safari, also in Tucumcari, and the Wigwam Motels, one in Holbrook, Arizona, and one in Rialto, California, the best of the pair.
HOW OFTEN IS YOUR SCHEDULE PAGE UPDATED? An effort is made to update it as soon as a new appearance is confirmed. For 2012, I will be a Bookworks in Albuquerque on the February, 26, at the Route 66 Fun Run in Kingman on the first weekend in May, the KABAM festival in Kingman the second weekend in May, the Wheels on Route 66 event in Tucucmcari on June 9, the International Route 66 Festival in Victorville, California in August, and the biggie, Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri in late October where the long awaited Route 66 encyclopedia will make its debut.
Pending are two events in California, one in Santa Monica and one in Burbank.
I am not sure when the quest to use my writing and photography to promote Route 66, its unique culture, and the people who give it life and vitality began. However, I do know who set that quest in motion – Bob Waldmire. We met shortly after he began moving into the old Hackberry General Store in Hackberry, Arizona. Even though I lean a bit toward the red neck side my view is that there is a danger of becoming so narrow minded you can look down a beer bottle with both eyes if you don’t associate with, and cultivate friends from a wide spectrum of life. Bob was at the far end of my spectrum. Over the years Bob and I became fairly good friends. And as that friendship developed I began to see Route 66, a highway that had been a part of my life since infancy, in a different light. The rest, as they say, is history. Initially my writings were centered on the development of the American automotive industry, specifically between the years 1885 and 1940. The one deviation was a weekly travel column written for the Kingman Daily Miner. Meanwhile, I promoted Route 66 in my corner of the world and became frustrated by the lack of progress in preserving its unique attributes in my adopted hometown. With the exception of one particular endeavor, my contributions were rather anemic. I served as the chairman for the organizing committee of the Arizona Route 66 Association in charge of the Route 66 Fun Run. We introduced a few changes. Some, like relocating the main event from Centennial Park to downtown Kingman became integral components for the event. Others, like hosting a display of Shelle Grahams work at the Hotel Beale, fell by the wayside. The first real opportunity to promote the entire road through my work came with the contract to write Ghost Towns of Route 66. This book provided me with an unprecedented opportunity to add depth and context to the Route 66 experience as well as shine the light on towns where the resurgent interest came far to late. With the Route 66 encyclopedia project, I was presented with an incredible opportunity for the promotion of the road. In October of 2011, as we traveled Route 66 to promote the ghost town book, and to gather photos for the encyclopedia, I began to expand on this line of thought and to develop the idea of using the books debut and initial promotion to bolster the promotional efforts of a community along the road. The question of where followed us in our travels. Pontiac and Atlanta, Barstow and Santa Monica, Tucucmcari and Kingman all seemed like ideal places for what I envisioned. Then we arrived at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri to sign books along with Riva Echols and Joe Sonderman. Even though the reception was a bit anemic there was a magic in the air; Connie’s determined enthusiasm, Jane Reed’s friendly focus, and the sense that this was a town where my support in the form of drawing media attention could be utilized with effectiveness. And so we selected Cuba Fest in Cuba for the big kick off. Then we will take the show on the road. May I be of service to you and your efforts to promote Route66 or your unique community? If so, please drop me a note and lets see what I can do to help.
The names roll off our lips with little thought to the story behind them. Chevrolet is a car, not a Swiss immigrant who came to the United States in the employ of Fiat, became a racing legend in the promotion of Buick, and who joined forces with William Durant to launch an automotive empire that become an American icon. Chrysler is also a car, not some fellow named Walter who was instrumental in keeping GM afloat during some very difficult times. Likewise with Dodge, Nash, Buick, Edsel, Ford, Cadillac, and Studebaker. We drive along Route 66, see the signs that ring with familiarity – Winona, Kingman, Barstow – and never give thought to the stories, or people, behind the names. Mention Cuba and fans of the highway think Wagon Wheel Motel, not an island in the Caribbean. Mention Romeroville and few will think Don Trinidad Romero. Those individuals who lent their names to products and towns have been awarded a very dubious form of immortality. Their names are remembered and spoken throughout the world decades after their demise, but few know who they were. The Stanley brothers were the fellows who manufactured the steam car. They were also the fellows who invented the dry plate photographic process that became the cornerstone of Eastman Kodak and manufacturers of quality violins. The Don Trinidad Romero or Romeroville was a man without a country after the United States gained control of the New Mexico territory. He was also a prosperous freighter on the old Santa Fe Trail, a prominent rancher, the territorial representative to Congress, and sheriff of San Miguel County. His home in Romeroville was the showplace of northeastern New Mexico. It was there he hosted formal dinners and entertained a wide array of prominent gusts such as President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, and General William T. Sherman. For fans of the double six, Afton is that faded old town in Oklahoma with a former DX station that has been transformed into a “must see stop.” However, for Anton Aires it was a tribute to his daughter, Afton Aires, and a memorial to his former home in Scotland along the Afton River. Kingman will be forever linked to America’s most famous highway resultant of a song that proclaimed this as THE road for getting your kicks. Meanwhile, the industrious, adventuresome, and somewhat vain, Lewis Kingman, a railroad location engineer who named this stop for himself, has been relegated to obscurity. And that little town in Illinois known worldwide for the hospitality and good food found at the Ariston Cafe is the legacy of Electus Bachus Litchfield. So, the next time you decide to motor west, give some thought to the names you see along the way. There might not always be an interesting story behind them, but there is most likely a very interesting person. As a bit of a shameless self promotion, if your curious about the names of the towns along Route 66, I am quite sure you will find my next book, a Route 66 Encyclopedia & Atlas, of interest as I provide a concise history for every town on every alignment of Route 66! The book is scheduled for an October of 2012 release with an official debut being scheduled at the Wagon Wheel Motel during Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri.
By nature, I am a rather inquisitive person. So, I suppose, that is one reason the research for the books and feature articles I write intrigues me so. And as I can’t help but think there are others that share my proclivity to finding pleasure in obscure facts, a certain pleasure is derived in sharing what is learned. As a result, being contracted to produce the Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas, and generous editorial parameters that allowed for up to 150,000 words of text, was akin to being a painter whose imagination was unleashed with a commission that allowed him to move from portrait painting to creating the artistry of the Sistine Chapel. However, the excitement derived in contemplating the massive blank canvas before me was tinged with a sense of apprehension as this work, a time capsule chronicling the 85 year history of Route 66, was seen as a sacred honor, a thought that magnified my obsession with accuracy. Before the work of writing commenced, I created a basic framework for the project that included the need to have a concise history of every community on every alignment of Route 66. Then I buried myself in research, a project that manifested in an entire file drawer filled with notes. Years ago I learned that in the quest for information you will find the strangest things in the oddest places. When offered the opportunity to write a book on the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company (subject of interview with Jay Leno, the clip is toward the bottom of this column), I jumped at the chance. Writing a book represented the fulfillment of a childhood dream. This led to the learning of another lesson. Before accepting a project, always ask why no one had attempted it before. As it turns out, little had been written about Checker because there was very little information available. It had been a family run operation from its inception, with the exception of a brief period in the 1930s when the founder, Morris Markin, lost control of the company and turned to E.L. Cord for assistance in regaining control of the helm. Most decisions were made among a very small circle and there was very little promotional material produced as the company allowed the product to advertise itself. Further limitations on available material for research was derived from the fact that Markin owned another company, Checker Taxi, that he sold the cars to and through. As a result, the period between 1922 and the end of World War II was an almost completely blank slate. Here was a company that had produced, in small numbers, a job specific designed vehicle that dominated much of he American taxi business and there was almost no documentation. Here was a company that produced an incredible number of specialty, niche market vehicles and there was only the faintest of paper trails, few photographs and fewer existent models. In fact, when I wrote this book there were less than twenty existent Checker built vehicles to represent the period between 1922 and 1958! Needless to say, I was faced with a daunting task. My first attempt at unraveling the Checker story was through the front door, a series of phone calls to the Checker company in Kalamazoo in the hopes of scoring an interview with David Markin, the founders son. When these efforts were rebuffed I turned to a friend who worked in the transportation wing of the Smithsonian Institute archives. Imagine my surprise when I learned that their collection of pre war material consisted of five photos, two brochures, and a couple of trade journals from the 1920s! That was when I instituted my research in odd places starting with the Detroit phone book. In the 1970s a writer by the name of Stanley Yost had gained access to the Checker files and written a book about some of the various Checker models. A the time he had lived in the Detroit area, and the photography shop that had copied the photos he used as illustrations was also in that city, or at least it had been thirty years before. Well, to make a long story short, the photography shop was still in business, the gentleman who had owned the shop before selling it in the 1990s was still alive, and with just two phone calls, I had his phone number. As it turned out this was a dead end for he had lost contact with Mr. Yost when he moved to Florida. Even worse, the photos from the Checker archives, and his negatives had been donated to a now defunct museum. Back to square one with but one lead, Mr. Yost, a WWII bomber pilot who kept in touch with the surviving members of his crew, enjoyed vintage cars and airplanes. After spending a bit of time browsing the member registry of the Society of Automotive Historians and the Antique Automobile Club of America, and looking for areas in Florida where car shows and plane shows were often held together, I had a list of towns where a Mr. Yost, if still alive, might reside. I called information in the first town, was given a phone number, gave it a dial, and a very elderly Mr. Yost answered! We talked for quite awhile, he provided with me information as he remembered it, and informed me that he had obtained a number of factory photos and negatives (some on nitrate film and some on glass negatives) from Checker and dozens of other companies during he 1950s. He then had these made into slides but had given them away years ago. When we hung up I wrote a note to myself pertaining to getting a picture of the Kingman Army Airfield from the Mohave Museum of History & Arts and sending it Mr. Yost. Then I turned to tracing other leads. A week or so later, Mr. Yost called and said he had found two boxes of the automobile slides in the attic. He was unsure of the exact contents but if I was willing to pay shipping, they were mine. Two weeks later I was the proud owner of more than twenty one of a kind Checker photos! As a bonus I also had pictures of Buffalo Bill Cody taking delivery of his 1903 Michigan, Ben Turpin with his new McFarland, and hundreds of other rare photos. With that experience at the forefront of my thoughts, I set out to unravel the secrets of America’s most famous highway with an excitement only equaled by the start of a Route 66 adventure.