MURDER AND MAYHEM ON ROUTE 66

The current projects are proving to be quite consuming largely as a result of the fact they are so fascinating I loose complete track of time. For the companion to the popular Route 66 Encyclopedia there will be a Route 66 historic atlas.
After lengthy debate, discussion, and research it was decided that there would be a mere seven topics. However, the depth of these subjects is such that initial research leads me to believe that it would be possible to fill several books.
One of these topics is filming locations on Route 66 for movies, television programs, and music videos. Another, and the one that has really sucked me deep into a research time sink, is Route 66 crime scenes.
Examples of the dark but fascinating tales uncovered include a police officer gunned down while serving a truancy warrant, a bus robbery that went horribly wrong as there was a policeman on board, a deputy killed by Bonnie and Clyde, and an oddly named murderer by the name of Willie “baby face” Doody who killed the police chief in Berwyn during a vicious crime spree. There was definitely a dark side to life along Route 66.
This morning work will continue on the first installment of Jim Hinckley’s America, a new video series focusing on obscure but fascinating places along Route 66 and the road less traveled. The focus will be on an often overlooked but perfectly preserved segment of the pre 1920 National Old Trails Highway east of the Kingman historic district.
This will serve as the primary location for presenting the history of the 1914 Desert Classic race that the press dubbed the Cactus Derby. This was the seventh and last in this series of races that garnered international headlines as it featured the most famous drivers of the time, a grueling 671 mile run across the Mojave Desert and northern Arizona, a grand prize of $2,500 and a diamond studded medal that procalimed the winner was master driver of the world, and an absolute carnival atmosphere including a chartered train filled with costumed and drunk businessmen.
The race kicked off under cold, cloudy skies on November 9, 1914 at 5:30 in the morning at East Lake Park in Los Angeles. The drivers would follow the National Old Trails Highway to Ash Fork before turning south to Prescott and the finish line in Phoenix.
They set off in intervals of two minutes and with the exception of J.F. Pink who lost control on the wet pavement and hit a telegraph pole four miles from the starting line, the nineteen entrants hit the San Bernardino checkpoint within seconds of each other.
At Cajon Pass as the rain turned to snow, the pack began to break up as drivers struggled with weather, alternately muddy or icy roads, and mechanical problems. The driver of a Metz flipped on the icy road, the second car to fall by the wayside, and soon it was a neck and neck race between Barney Oldfield at the wheel of the white and red Stutz he had driven to a fifth place finish at the Indianapolis 500 and Cliff Durant (son of William Durant, founder of GM) who was driving a Chevrolet.
From Victorville to Barstow the press and spectators were presented with a real race. Louis Nikrent, winner of the 1909 race at the wheel of a Paige, Louis Chevrolet driving a Chevrolet, Olin Davis, the defending champion, pushing a monstrous Simplex 90, Durant, and Oldfield, were seldom more than seconds apart with speeds often reaching 65 miles per hour over muddy roads.
An engine fire stopped Oldfield, temporarily. This resulted in Durant taking a six minute lead at the Barstow checkpoint.
Oldfield regained the lead near Ludlow but the brutal road conditions were taking their toll. Only fifteen vehicles arrived at Needles, the finish line for the first day.
Mechanics were kept busy through the night as they dealt with bent axles, broken frames, and all manner of mechanical maladies. One of the casualties was Louis Chevrolet who was forced to leave his car and continue the race as the mechanic for Durant.
And so it went. Eleven drivers arrived in Prescott at the end of day two, six crossed the finish line in Phoenix.
Even though Oldfield lost serious time after becoming stuck at the New River Ford and had to be pulled free by a mule team, he claimed victory with an elapsed time of 22 hours and 59 seconds. Second place went to Nikrent with a time of 23 hours and 35 minutes.
A few other sites we hope to shoot today are the Kimo Cafe, now Mr. D’z, the church where Carole Lombard and Clark Gable married in 1939, and a segment of Route 66 in use since it was signed as the National Old Trails Highway in 1913. It should be an interesting day.

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