This weekend the primary obstacle to concentrating on the task at hand, namely working on the Route 66 historic atlas in an effort to get ahead of schedule before departing for Joplin was the weather. It was absolutely picture perfect – slight breeze, an intermittent misty rain, and a high temperature in the 82 degree range.
This was not a day to be in the office working on a book, or anything else. This was a day for long walks, sitting on the back porch with my dearest friend and reading a good book, or just simply watching the cloud shadows dance across the face of the mountains.
I did make time for a bit of porch sitting but the majority of the weekend was spent with my backside chained to a chair amidst towering piles of notes, files, and reference books. The price we pay for success, or eating on a regular basis …
The primary focus this weekend was on developing the crime scene and disaster sections for the new book. In recent years the old double six has become a happy place, a sort of time capsule with an overlay of Disneyland. Even fans of the double six have trouble looking beyond the tail fins and neon into the dark corners and recesses, the places where mayhem and tragedy lurk.
So, I have assigned myself the task of shining a bit of light into those very dark places. As you may have suspected, a few of those corners are quite dark indeed.
Case in point, a particularly gruesome case in Collinsville, Illinois during the 1920s. Apparently an argument between two roommate miners over a beer escalated and one of the gentlemen killed the other one. Then, while enjoying a pleasant dinner washed down with the aforementioned beer, he leisurely cut up the corpse of his former friend.
My assumption is that the murderer was a bit intoxicated when it came time to dispose of evidence. How else can you explain the fact that he disposed of the body parts in a nearby creek, tossed the knives in a cistern, but neglected the brain left in the washroom?
A few of the incidents predate the old road but were so fascinating I felt they should be included, especially since they took place at a time when people were driving automobiles across the country.
In Tucumcari, just before 1910, a disgruntled son-in-law decided to eliminate the father-in-law. Then he, and a couple of friends, hit the dusty trail with a posse, on horseback, in hot pursuit.
In the first engagement the outlaws won and young member of the posse died amongst the sage. The second encounter ended with one of the outlaws dying of a mortal wound.
And so it went for several days but now there were several posses in pursuit. More research is needed but it appears as though the assassin made it to Albuquerque and disappeared. His partners weren’t so fortunate.
A few of the crimes read like stories from today’s headlines. As with every study of history they have a tendency to change an individuals perspective.
In 1952, in Grants, New Mexico, a pair of brothers had decided that the only thing that kept them from moving on to bigger things than petty crime was patrolman Nash Garcia. So, on April 11, 1952, the brothers waited until spotting Garcia’s patrol car, and then set out on Route 66 at a high rate of speed whipping through red lights and weaving in and out of traffic.
Just west of town they turned onto a dirt road and waited in ambush. As officer Garcia turned onto the road in pursuit, one of the brothers armed with a high powered rifle put a round through the windshield. When the officers car came to a stop, they pulled Garcia from the car and beat him with the rifle until the stock broke. They hid the body and patrol car, then they returned and set fire to the car, something that led to their arrest.
Crime scenes, hitchhiking serial killers and psychopaths were but one part of my literary adventure this afternoon. The rest was stories of disasters such as passenger train wrecks five miles west of Tucumcari in the 1930s, a horrible bus crash at the Isletta crossing in 1930, or floods at Hydro and Needles that washed cars as well as buses from the road.
Fortunately I am balancing this quest to craft a three dimensional picture of life on Route 66 when it truly was the Main Street of America with things a bit lighter. So, the next writing session will be devoted to chronicling the development of happy places such as the Chain of Rocks Amusement Park, Grand Canyon Caverns, and Fairyland Park.
After that, I will spend a bit of time in uncovering places with a celebrity association, or that may have appeared in a movie or two. That should be interesting.
Next on the list for the weekends tasks – getting a presentation together for Dale Butel’s next tour group from the land down under, boxing the staggering array of material I am taking to Joplin (books, photographic prints, promotional materials from places up and down the road, etc.), and plotting the daily schedule for the road trip.