On the docket for today are two new items. One is the introduction for a series I am developing. As always, your thoughts and insights would be most appreciated.
The second item is something that I am quite certain you will enjoy. Several weeks ago we announced a contest and requested that readers submit stories about their special Route 66 memory. Well, the first in this series is truly amazing.
As to the series I am developing, it is a reflective one built on decades of driving the back roads of America, often in vehicles manufactured before I was born, an incurable fascination for the history of this amazing nation, and an insatiable need to understand these changing times where truth is fast becoming a matter of opinion, and Route 66 is morphing into America’s goodwill ambassador to the world. In part this reflection is being fueled by seeing the nation through the eyes of my grandchildren which in turn magnifies the sense that I am now well past the half way point in this adventure we call life.
If I were to distill my quest, my goal in this need to understand, it would be to discover or rediscover the America that inspires, that fills foreign visitors with enthusiasm and excitement. I want, I need to move beyond the divisive rhetoric that threatens to render this republic and to transform this incredible experiment in self government into an historical footnote and find the America of which the oppressed of the world dream about. I am in search of the greatness, the boundless opportunity that lures immigrants from throughout the world.
This quest for understanding is not new. However, the intensity of the desire is. It will now be a central part of my focus.
The initial step on this journey will begin Friday evening with our first major gallery showing at Beale Street Brews & Gallery in Kingman. I will watch expressions and listen with attention to the response photos of Route 66 illicit.
On Saturday, when I sign books at the Powerhouse during the Route 66 Fun Run, I will again listen and watch. What is it that inspires people to join together here in Kingman to celebrate the mystique of an old road, the love for the automobile, and the passion for the Great American road trip?
On Sunday evening, and on Monday morning, my quest for understanding will take on an international perspective as we (my dearest friend and I) meet and travel with the folks from Australia on tour with Dale Butel. In exchange for sharing my love and passion for this nation and the deserts of the southwest, I will bask in their enthusiasm, their excitement for legendary Route 66 and America. That should serve as a solid foundation upon which to launch my quest.
Now, the first of the stories about what makes Route 66 special as written by our readers. These are being reprinted without editing.
“It was late spring, 1940. I was seventeen, Floyd, my brother was 18. We lived on a little farm near Coldwater, Michigan and with the exception of a trip to Chicago in 1938, I had never been more than fifty miles from home. Now, I was preparing to join my brother on a trip to California as after a winter and spring of hounding ma and pa, they had agreed to let us go and take the jobs offered by uncle Frank in Bakersfield.
As a couple of dumb kids still wet behind the ears, when we were first offered the jobs our idea was to make the trip in the 1921 Ford we have had went in halves on ($6.50 each) the year before. A stipulation of approval for us to make the trip was the purchase of a better car.
So we worked at all kinds of jobs that winter, sold the T model for $20 after transforming it into a truck, and with a $20 loan from pop, purchased a bright yellow 1929 Chevrolet roadster for $60 after the owner agreed to throw in a set of new tires. This was the six-cylinder model.
I think it was about the 20th of May when we took to the road. The night before was spent pouring over a brand new atlas, a gift from a teacher, counting and recounting our money, and loading the car. Pa spent the evening fussing over the car and unloading the car as we had tried to load it down with with everything from borrowed tools to most everything we owned as well as stuff we traded for that we thought we might need.
There was little sleep for us that night and so we were up well before the sun. Ma fixed us a solid breakfast, and a basket filled with chicken, cake, and a jug of lemonade. She wasn’t real happy about us leaving but bit her lip damn near bloody and didn’t say much.
We followed U.S. 12 west, then to avoid all of the city stuff around Gary, Michigan City, South Bend, and Chicago, turned south on county and farm roads. I think we picked up U.S. 66 somewhere south of Joliet.
Pa had sent uncle Earl who had a farm near Springfield a letter and asked him to put us up. That was our target for the first day. The trip was uneventful and all I can recall is the overwhelming sense of excitement and adventure, the thrill of seeing license plats from California, Arizona, and places I had only read about, our lunch under a tree along a little stream, and a sense the whole world was going back and forth on this road and we were a part of that.
We spent two days at uncle Earl’s farm before continuing our trip. Floyd insisted on driving everytime we go near a city so I finagled ways to take a longer turn behind the wheel by avoiding them if possible. That is why we crossed the Mississippi north of St.Louis.
Crossing that river was a really big deal. I felt like Lindy did when he crossed the Atlantic and just had to stop on the other side to dip my toes in that muddy water.
Floyd would never admit it but he was a lousy navigator. That is how we ended up in St. Louis even though I had taken a wide swing to the north. It was just to the west of St. Louis I saw my first big wreck.
One of those stylish ’37 Hupps had crossed the center line and a White pulling logs had knocked it onto its top and scooted it down the road and into a ditch. I remember that as though it happened this morning as I really liked the lines of those Hupps but it was the sight of that little blond girl all twisted up along the road that I remember most.
That sure put a damper on the mood and excitement for sure. The police had us turn around, go back toward the city and then follow some side roads.
When I was a kid I had been given a box of old dime novels by grandpa and read them till the pages fell out. So, when I started seeing sings about Tulsa, Amarillo, and New Mexico, I sat up and took notice. These were the places I had read about.
Except for the time we stayed on uncles farm we strung rope and stretched a tarp when it came time to bed down for the night. We were in the little town of McLean in Texas when Floyd suggested we stay at a hotel and take in a movie. They didn’t seem real keen on renting to a couple of kids but I swear Floyd had a gift for gab, he could sell tickets on a Hell bound train and have the folks thanking him for the ride. Besides he had two shiny silver dollars to plunk down on the counter. Boy did we feel like big men!
As I recall, the theater was just a couple doors down from the hotel. At the time I didn’t know why it was so important to buy that penny post card as a souvenir. After Floyd was killed during the war, that card and all of the memories of that night, that trip that it brought back made it one of my most important treasures. It is one of the few things I have kept for all of these years.
Our little Chevy never missed a beat all the way across New mexico, Arizona, and that California desert. The only trouble we had was somewhere east of Holbrook.
We had passed through a rain storm near Galllup and were clipping along at a pretty fair clip in Arizona when we cleared a rise and dropped into a stream running crossing the road. We were farm boys and should have known better but the water was deeper and faster than we expected and we drowned out that little six banger.
As luck would have it, an Indian fellow, the first I ever saw, came by in a truck, a Dodge I think. He saved out butts as we would have most likely lost everything if he hadn’t waded out there with a chain and pulled us across with that truck.
We had wanted to see the Grand Canyon, but an afternoon spent getting the Chevy running again, a promise to our uncle in California, and dwindling finances prevented that excursion. It would be 1955 and a family vacation to Arizona before I got to see that big hole.
In spite of the dime novels, the movies, and pretty penny post cards sent by uncle, nothing prepared me for the deserts of California. They scarred us good about that desert crossing in Needles and we ended up topping off the tank, buying a gas can with extra gas, a second spare tire, oil, a water bag, and God only knows what all. What a bunch of maroons. They saw us coming and fleeced us good.
We waited until night fall and set out into the great unknown with well stoked apprehensions. We stopped at the top of the long grade west of town to let the radiator cool and I was awe struck by that big empty with washed out colors under a sky so clear and full of stars.
You could hear cars coming from both directions as the drivers grabbed gears on the grade long before you saw their lights. It was sight to behold.
As it turned out, there wasn’t much to worry about. Between there and Ludlow were a number of oasis, travelers grabbing a wink or two along the road were plentiful, and there was a fairly steady stream of traffic all through the night.
Our jobs in Bakersfield were to be for the summer but we stayed on until late 1941. On December 9, Floyd enlisted in the Marine Corps and I signed up for a hitch in the army.
My brother never made it back to the Michigan farm. I did but only for awhile as the GI bill allowed me to go to school in Detroit.
The next time I drove Route 66 it was with a wife and two kids in 1955, and a 1951 Pontiac. The road had changed a bunch in 15 years but I was surprised by how places or names on a sign would trigger a memory of the trip in 1940 and make me feel as though Floyd was right there with us. I suppose that is why, much to the kids dismay, I had to stop in McLean for a movie.
For Christmas my grandaughter gave me a Route 66 book written just after the highway had been fully bypassed. That, your stories and photos, and as well as a few other books have refreshed the memories of my brother, our big trip, and that trip where I first introduced my family to the wonders of Arizona and New Mexico.
I wished I could take one more trip down Route 66. I wished I could do it in a yellow 1930 Chevrolet or a black 1951 Pontiac. I told my grandaughter it would even be okay if we drove her Toyota.
But except in my imagination, my traveling days are over. So, I have to depend on you and everyone else who is keeping the memories alive. Thank you.”