It opened in 1947, or maybe 1952 as the Marble Motel. Or maybe the facade was remodeled in 1952. It’s early history is a bit of mystery. But there is no mystery about the value of the treasure that is Earl’s Motor Court at 512 E. 3rd Street on Route 66 in Winslow, Arizona. It is priceless. And it is the oldest operating motel in this historic town rooted in territorial Arizona history.
I have been hearing wonderful things about this venerable old motel for several years. And I wasn’t disappointed.
HIstoric properties are a lot like vintage cars. You can restore a car or truck and turn the old relic into a dependable driver. You can restore them to better than new condition and still have a tangible link to another era. And when you take them out on an old road like Route 66, they become a time machine. But they are only original once.
For me our stay at Earl’s Motor Court was time travel, or at least as close as I can get. We rolled into the parking lot and in an instant I was transported to 1964.
With clarity I could see pa with one sunburnt arm propped on the door, and a tanned hand with scarred and gnarled knuckles on the wheel of his nearly new 1964 Ford Fairlane. That dark blue sedan with three on the tree carried the family on many an adventure until it was rear ended by a drunk driver on a rainy dark night near Fort Sumner, New Mexico back around 1969.
We usually camped along the road about as often as we stayed in a motel in those years. But on the nights that we slept in a bed rather than in a bedroll, the backseat or the back of the truck, it was usually in a motel just like Earl’s Motor Court.
The places where we stopped for the night often dated to the 1940s, or maybe even the 1930s. They were no competition for the likes of Holiday Inn or Travelodge. And they weren’t generic. Each was as unique as a sunset at the Painted Desert.
The motels showed their age, but in a pleasant welcoming way, sort of like grandpas house. Management was often a family affair with kids my age sweeping floors, cleaning windows, or taking out garbage. The office was usually the families living room. The family dog was the greeter.
The repairs made over the years were functional and were a blending of syles. Likewise with the furniture. But the owners kept them clean. During the months of winter there were often home made quilts on the bed. And there were the personal touches like home made muffins in the morning, or fresh fruit.
I have some fond memories of those travels that with the passing of years have faded a bit like a sepia toned print. A stay at Earl’s Motor Court, and a visit with Blas, Angela, the boys, and Buffalo that was going grey at the muzzle, restored those memories. And for that I will always be grateful that this gem is being preserved for a new generation.
Tucumcari, New Mexico is known throughout the world for its neon lit time capsules and renovated Route 66 motels where the line between past and present are blurred. However, few visitors know that a veritable cornucopia of architectural gems, quaint coffee shops, and tangible links to more than a century of New Mexico history are awaiting discovery within blocks of the soft colorful neon glow on Route 66.
The charming Odeon Theatre that opened in 1935 is revered treasure in Tucumcari, as it should be. But how many people known of the stylish H H Theatre with its vintage ticket booth that is located just a few blocks away?
Located between 1st Street and 2nd Street on East Main Street this theatre opened in 1917 as a performing arts center for vaudeville acts. Shortly after opening, a screen and projector were added and in 1921 it was renamed Princess Theatre.
It was given a facelift with a Streamline Moderne facade in 1938. Finished with a cream and chocolate color with deep brown trim and accent lines it was the talk of the county. After being damaged in a 1943, it was remodeled.
Opportunity often knocks softly. I can imagine it being returned to its former glory and serving the community as a performing arts center. I wonder if there is a benefactor with passion, an ability to build cooperative partnerships, and ambition that can see the theatre as it could be instead of as just a forlorn relic?
The Heartland Tour is winding down. An exploration of historic Tucumcari, and a meeting with passionate and ambitious visionaries that see a bright future for the city at a coffee shop that hints of renaissance, will be counted among the highlights.
But this has been an adventure on lost highways lined with ghost towns. It has been a voyage of discovery as we found not one, but two great places for superb enchiladas. And on our journey through the desolate Panhandle of Oklahoma, we discovered the charming and delightful Vanilla Bean Cafe in Alva.
And now, we wrap up our last night on the road at Earl’s Motor Court in Winslow, Arizona. This little gem has stirred childhood memories of family road trip in the early 1960s.
My friends, in coming weeks, in blog posts as well as podcasts, I will be sharing some wonderful road trip inspiring stories. Become a follower or subscriber to ensure you don’t miss an episode or installment.
In less than 12 months the mayor and city manager of Pontiac, Illinois flew to Oklahoma, evaluated an Oakland/Pontiac collection of cars, research materials, and historic promotional materials, negotiated its acquisition, rallied the community to support the endeavor and assist with the renovation of an historic building, and opened a stunning museum across from the courthouse. This and other transformative projects were launched and brought to fruition in the midst of a major national recession, and at a time when the city’s leading employer was closing. Leadership is an amazing thing.
The Pontiac/Oakland Museum is fascinating and very well designed. And, of course, it is also a destination for legions of Route 66 and automotive enthusiasts.
This morning, last day for the 7th annual Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois a riveting panel discussion with the former mayor, city manager and the retired tourism director chronicled the amazing transformation of the city’s historic business district. The demonstrable increase in tourism related revenue for the city was stunning. The discussion also highlighted the resultant diverse and dynamic economic growth that resulted from that revitalization.
Today it is not just the Pontiac Museum that is a destination. The entire village is a destination with an international reputation. And, increasingly, it is a destination for new companies and other businesses. Incredibly this town with a population of just 12,000 people has had a Hampton Inn and Best Western motel complex open, and another major hotel is in the planning stage.
The colorful murals, the eclectic shops and museums, and diverse array of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops make it a place that is hard to leave. If I had one complaint about Pontiac it would be that is in Illinois, and I don’t do winter. I am a desert rat.
My presentation on the importance of cooperative grassroots partnerships highlighted examples in various Route 66 communities with an emphasis on Kingman and projects such as the narrated self-guided historic district walking tourdeveloped by Kingman Main Street. And even though it was the closing program, the Q & A session indicated that I ignited a few imaginations.
End of the day at the 7th annual Miles of Possibility Conference
Tomorrow the Heartland Tour sponsored in part by the City of Tucumcariand the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona continues with a drive to Cuba, Missouri for a visit with an old friend, and a fact-finding tour. We will miss Pontiac, the superb meals at Baby Bulls restaurant, the friendly people, and the village that is chock full of colorful surprises. But is time to roll west, get back home, and get back to work.
Stuckey’s with their signature yellow signs and pecan logs. Hiway House in the southwest. Sambo’s. Howard Johnson’s. Travelodge. Van de Kamps restaurants with their signature windmills.
If you remember these roadside institutions chances are that you were driving, or riding in the back seat arguing with your sister, on the highways of America in the 1950s or 1960s. And chances are that they figure prominently in smile inducing childhood memories.
Today at the 7th annual Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois, less than one block from Route 66, I was immersed in a flood of childhood memories, and memories of my time spent as a gear jammer on runs from Kingman, Arizona to Oklahoma City or Wichita, Kansas.
The conference opened with Stephanie Stuckey who gave a most interesting presentation about her namesake company. The story she told was a love letter to her grandfather that had launched the company and proved himself adept at adapting to changing times. It was also a study in how a company dies when it becomes a brand severed from the original vision.
And it was also a tale of inspiration as with heartfelt honesty Stuckey shared her passion to give the iconic company a new lease on life. In the process she is writing history stories for a future generation of entrepreneurs.
The conference is a scaled back version of the US Highway 66 Association conventions. As a bit of historic trivia, at the 1931 convention in Elk City, Oklahoma, an estimated 20,000 people attended an event that centered on the business of Route 66.
In a future blog post I will provide a summary of this year’s conference. And I will also provide information about the dates and location for the 2023 event.
The Route 66 museum complex in Pontiac, Illinois, a highly recommended stop, is now well stocked with signed copies of my books.
Now, to wrap up today’s missive I would be remiss if a few reviews about restaurants and motels. These are based on stops made during the 2022 Jim Hinckley’s America Heartland Tour.
Reviews of all stops made during this tour will be added to our Tripadvisor page. Some will be added to the recommended locations section of this website.
My first review is a warning. If you stay at the Best Western Inn at 2326 N Arkansas Avenue in Russellville, Arkansas, I have two words of warning. First, check the room and bed thoroughly before checking in. Second, don’t just drop your room card. Ask for a receipt and check for large overcharges such as for long distance calls.
Now, a place that I can recommend. Baby Bull’s in Pontiac, Illinois offers a wide array of traditional diner food, and some with Greek or Italian twists. I have tried this restaurant for all three meals, eaten something different on each visit, and have yet to have a bad meal. Even better, most meal prices are less than $15.
Last but not least, don’t forget the contest that is an opportunity to win a copy of one of my latest books. Just catch a photo of the Jim Hinckley’s America sign during our fall tour and share it on social media with the hashtag #jimhinckleysamerica. It’s that simple.
This week Pontiac, Illinois is host city for the seventh annual Miles of Possibility Conference. As this charming town has come to symbolize how the Route 66 renaissance can fuel revitalization of a blighted historic district and provide a community with an economic boost, it is a fitting location for the conference.
The conference is rooted in the conventions hosted by the U.S. Highway 66 Association ninety years ago. The association was born of simple precepts – with marketing and road improvements the newly minted US 66 would become an artery of commerce that provided communities along that highway corridor with nearly economic opportunities limited only by the imagination.
And so, Cyrus Avery and a small group of visionaries early in 1927 established the association in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The organization had two primary goals. Lobby to have the highway paved from end to end. And to develop tourism initiatives by borrowing a slogan from National Road and National Old Trails Road promotional campaigns and market Route 66 as the Main Street of America.
This long vanished roadside oasis stood at the summit of El Trovatore Hill along Route 66 near Kingman, Arizona. Authors collection
Paving, making the double six and all-weather highway from end to end, took longer than expected. It would the late 1930s before the last pavement was placed over the gravel and dirt near Valentine, Arizona.
The various marketing campaigns that centered on tourism development were overwhelmingly successful. Largely resultant of the associations work, this storied highway that officially no longer exists is the more popular than at any time in its history.
And that popularity made manifest in Route 66 associations in Europe, Canada and Japan, festivals in Europe, and tours along the iconic highway that is a part of the highways infectious magic will be a part of this week’s conference. But as with the original conventions, it is also about the business of Route 66 as evidenced by the list of speakers that includes Stephanie Sucky, CEO of Stuckey’s, and granddaughter of founder W. S. Stuckey, and Bill Thomas, Chairman, Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership.
From its inception, except for the years of the apocalypse, 2020 and 2021, we have included the conference in our fall tour. This year the Heartland Tour sponsored in part by Visit Tucumcari and the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona includes book signings, presentations and speaking engagements, and meetings with tourism directors as well as tour company owners, business owners, and event organizers.
A report about Route 66 trends, tourism, the centennial, etc. based on the conference and meetings will be written on return. It will be made available on request.