On numerous occasions circumstances have led me to believe that old Route 66 may connect more than the past and future, and bridge more than international cultures. As Rod Serling used to say (cue the music), this is the Twilight Zone.
My latest excursion into the surreal world of bizarre coincidence on Route 66 involves a professor from the University of Oklahoma, an obscure book about that highway published about fifty years ago, one of the few existent copies turning up in a collection in Australia, an interesting class project, and a photo from 1962.
The story starts with Gary Grees, the professor. Apparently, in the process of developing a class he discovered this illustrated book about Route 66 service stations by Ed Ruscha in about 1962, and set out to find a copy.
In the process he located a copy of the book in Australia, and learned that the author currently lives in Los Angeles. He also discovered Jim Hinckley.
The class Grees developed evolved into a road trip to meet the author, and to locate the sites photographed for his book. In an effort to assist in the latter endeavor he began contacting local historians along Route 66.
Well, in our initial conversation he asked questions about the Flying A station in Kingman. I assumed that we were talking about the former station owned by Bob “Boze” Bell’s father that currently houses Lomeli’s Garden Arts.
Gary Grees offered to send me the Kingman area photos to assist with further identification. I received more than photos, I received a very big surprise.
The Flying A station in the photo wasn’t Bell’s station, it was the old Hobb’s truck stop. The cafe in that picture is currently my office, the last remnant of that truck stop, the place where I had my first conversation with Gary about identifying the photo!
This is the first encounter of this kind, nor is it the strangest. The hands down strangest encounter occurred about thirty five years ago.
At the time I was working in the mines at Santa Rita in New Mexico. This is the oldest continuously operated mine in the United States with origins stretching back to about 1790.
Long ago the mining town by this name had been swallowed by the massive open pit that replaced underground mining at the turn of the 20th century. All that remained were a few empty buildings, a cemetery,and a bar.
Well, one day, at the end of my shift I stopped in the bar to have a cold beer with my brother-in-law, a born and bred Kingman boy who had relocated to the Santa Rita area several years before. As I was a recent transplant the talked turned to changes and developments in Kingman.
As so often happens with such visits, by beer two we were well on our way on a trip down Memory Lane. A favorite watering hole of ours in years past had been the Honolulu Club in Yucca, Arizona along the post 1952 alignment of Route 66.
There we were reminiscing about smoky nights and cold beer when the bar tender chimed in with, “The Honolulu Club is in Oatman.” Needless to say that got my attention, especially since the Honolulu Club in Oatman had closed in about 1946.
As it turned out, her father had been a half owner in the Oatman version of the Honolulu Club, and her mother had worked at the Arizona Hotel in the 1930’s. Now our conversation took a whole new tack.
A runner up to this story, maybe even a tie, occurred about eight years ago. I was working the counter in the former Hobb’s Truck Stop Cafe, but for another company, when an elderly gentlemen stopped in to rent a car as his was in the garage for repair.
There was a bit of friendly business conversation during the rental process. That is how I learned that he was making a road trip on Route 66 to chase a few memories made on a grand adventure in 1952, had developed car trouble near Kingman, and was renting a car to drive to Lake Havasu City to visit with a war buddy (WWII) that he had located through a veterans organization.
Then I looked at his drivers license, with a Jackson, Michigan address, and the conversation took an interesting turn. Not only was that his old hometown, a place he had only recently returned to after more than a fifty year absence, but he attended school in Vandercook Lake, a a little place on the outskirts of Jackson.
Well, my dad grew up in Vandercook Lake (Hinckley Boulevard), had attended the same school, and still lived in Jackson. Wait, it gets better.
The big road trip of ’52 he was reliving, well that grand adventure had included three friends from school who were celebrating the survival of military service in World War II. One of those friends was my dad.
The long and short of the story is this. After that trip these old friends had drifted apart, lost track of each other, raised a family, and retired.
The friend in Lake Havasu City was one of the road tripping foursome from that magical summer of ’52. A third member of that group had died of cancer. Until we met, he had not been able to locate the last of the four musketeers
Cue the music –