|Water’s Edge Motel in Gravois Mills, Missouri.|
After bidding adios to our friends at the Water’s Edge Motel in Gravois Mills, we rolled south, first on state highway 5 and then highway 7. The we picked up Route 66 near the Devil’s Elbow and commenced to mosey.
|The long closed store and cabins near Stony Dell
east of Arlington.
The next stop has become a favorite of ours, the 4 M Vineyards store just to the east of Fanning, home of the world’s largest rocking chair. This is a real throwback that sparks an array of memories from childhood road trips with every stop.
|The Wagon wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri.|
As we drove into Cuba, and past the colorful murals, Shelly’s, and the charming old homes along the shade dappled road that once carried an endless stream of traffic on Route 66, the now familiar sense of warmth that comes with visiting an old friend chased away an entire year of frustrations, job related issues, worry, and anxieties. Then when we arrived at the time capsule that is the Wagon Wheel Motel and found it to be teeming with members of the Route 66 family that feeling was magnified ten fold.
|Cuba Fest 2014, Cuba, Missouri. (Judy Hinckley)|
Mike Wallace, a friend from Ohio and a mechanic confirmed my initial thought that with care and an eye on oil levels, we could drive the Jeep back to Arizona. Then Frank Kocevar, the former owner of Seligman Sundries, offered to tow us home if need be. So, with all concerns alleviated, I made a few phone calls in the hope of finding a shop that would be open on Saturday.
The evening was still young and the best was yet to come. After dinner a small car show developed at the wagon Wheel Motel, a birthday party for Joe Loesch of the Road Crew unfolded, and a Route 66 family reunion commenced in earnest.
Then it was off to the commons to set up my table and to kick off the official debut of The Illustrated Route 66 Historic Atlas. The early morning fall chill, the ebb and flow of crowds, the smell of wood smoke under a kettle of slow cooked apple butter, unhurried conversations with friends, the raising of the stars and stripes with troops from Fort Leonard Wood in attendance, laughing children, excellent music, and good food transformed the day into something almost magical. As a bonus, I sold a number of books!
|Authors Cheryl Eichar Jett and Joe Sonderman at the 2014
Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri. (Judy Hinckley)
The schedule for Sunday called for a leisurely drive to Route 66 State Park for their open house where I was to make a presentation and sign books, meet with Rich Dinkela to discuss development of his Route 66 events website, and then commencement of the long return trip with the days end scheduled for the Munger Moss in Lebanon. First, however, was a wonderful early morning visit with Connie Echols, owner of the Wagon Wheel Motel, that included pleasant conversation, fresh coffee, and pumpkin bread from the 4-M Vineyards store.
Recent conversations with Dan Rice, owner of 66 to Cali on Santa Monica Pier, Jane Reed, a driving force behind the transformation of Cuba, Missouri utilizing the resurgent interest in Route 66, and Josh Noble, the tourism director in Kingman, have left few doubts that former U.S. 66, now known lovingly throughout the world as Route 66, is alive, well, and thriving. Evidence of this is found all along the highway.
Just look at the exponential increase of popularity being awarded 66 the Mother Road, or check out the reviews on Tripadvisor for properties such as the Wagon Wheel Motel, the Munger Moss Motel, the Blue Swallow Motel, the Motel Safari, the Galaxy Diner or the Ariston Cafe. Surf the net in search of Route 66 related sites and forums.
Still, as exciting as this is, I can’t help but feel we are missing something of great importance in the single minded focus on iconic Route 66. The resurgent interest in this highway is more than the fostering of a bastion of mom and pop enterprise, it is the template for a new era of small business and a catalyst for the development of heritage travel that could fuel the renovation of historic businesses on other bypassed highways.
Route 66 is in a league of its own. No other highway in America can hope to ever equal it in popularity but is it possible for other communities connected by other forgotten highways to ride on its coat tails and emulate what is taking place on Route 66 with a degree of success? Can colorful communities that are rich with history such as Coldwater, Michigan on historic and scenic U.S. 12, or Towanda, Pennsylvania on U.S. 6, or Craig, Colorado on U.S. 40 move into the shadow of Route 66 from the darkness of obscurity?
The development of heritage travel tourism is about more than economic development, it is also the rediscovery of what has made this one of the most amazing countries in history and the rebuilding of a solid foundation for the future. This pride, this building of links with the past for a strong future, this passion for a return to a pregeneric world, is a tangible force all along Route 66. What if this spirit, this passion was unleashed in the communities along U.S. 6, U.S. 50, U.S 30?
I have been giving thought to this a great deal in recent months. It was in conversation with Dan Rice about the rise of heritage travel that the ideas came rushing to the forefront of my thoughts.
But why stop there. If we dare to imagine, let us dream big.
Could heritage travel be a cornerstone for an American renaissance? Imagine small town America where small grocers thrive by selling locally grown produce, and, as in Cuba, shoe stores serve generations of customers and the owners know their customers and their families by name?
Imagine the possibilities of an America where the essence of Route 66 is coupled to the wonders of the modern era. Imagine the wonders possible with the unleashing of the entrepreneurial spirit manifesting all along Route 66. Dare to imagine a world where the journey is again just as important as the destination.
Travel Route 66 in 2012 and unleash your imagination. Get your kicks on America’s most famous highway, catch a bit of the enthusiasm you will find there, take it home, and turn it loose in your community to see what will grow.
For the past several years we have launched into the dawning of a new era with our ratings of sites and attractions along Route 66. So, without further introduction …
BEST ORIGINAL RESTAURANT
On our road trip in October we tried out quite a number of restaurants, cafes, and diners along Route 66. Most were very good, some were absolutely excellent, but there was only one Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, Illinois, a living time capsule in most every sense of the term.
The food was excellent, the prices were acceptable, and the service was very professional. But it was the authenticity and the very subdued Route 66 hype that rounded out the perfect package.
BEST ORIGINAL MOTEL
We have not tried every motel along Route 66 but among those we have tried there is only one that stands out for its originality. As a bonus, the owners are quite amicable, the rooms are exceptionally clean with but the thinnest veneer of modern amenities to provide comfort without distracting from the sense of stepping back in time, and the rates are more than reasonable.
So, if you are looking for a real time capsule for lodging, our vote is for the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri.
The mythical Phoenix rose from the ashes, a symbol of renewal. On Route 66 in 2011 there are two properties that exemplify the very meaning of renewal.
Both of these properties reflect the passionate hard work of the owners in their effort to provide a sense of time travel without the sacrifice of any modern amenities. Both of these properties have risen from the ashes of obscurity and decay to become destinations.
These properties, the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, California, and the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, make it quite clear that mom and pop enterprises are alive and well on Route 66.
A hearty thank you to Kumar Patel and Connie Echols for your hard work, your dedication, and inspiration.
MOST ENTHUSIASTIC NEWCOMERS
Without the people that make it something truly special, Route 66 would merely be another dusty road with an important and colorful history. Without the people it would never have been transformed from highway into icon, and without the people it would never have survived into the modern era with such a promising future.
Ensuring this promising future are the newcomers, those people who have recently discovered the highways charms, that have been entranced by it, that have been transformed by it, and that are passionate spokesmen for it. For 2011, I would have to recognize the Mueller’s, the new owners of the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, as the highway’s most enthusiastic newcomers.
MOST ENTHUSIASTIC COMMUNITIES
On rare occasions entire communities can be swept up by the history, the color, and the magic of Route 66. Those that due are often transformed from drab, dusty, colorless modern communities with historic districts into thriving, colorful, vibrant towns that exude excitement and promise.
For 2011, this category is shared by two communities, Pontiac, Illinois, and Cuba, Missouri. I also have two to nominate that are nipping at their heels – Tucumcari, New Mexico, and Atlanta, Illinois.
This was really a difficult choice to make as there are so many excellent ones including the Devil’s Rope Museum, McLean, Texas, the National Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma, Route 66 Mother Road Museum, Barstow, California, Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum, Pontiac, Illinois, the Route 66 Museum in the Powerhouse Visitor Center, Kingman, Arizona, and the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma. However, it was the Route 66 Museum in the Lebanon-Laclede County Library in Lebanon, Missouri that really grabbed my attention on this last years travels.
I really can’t explain what made this museum such a standout. I am unsure if it was the friendly staff, the fascinating exhibits, or the incredible Route 66 dioramas gifted by the Bor family of Holland that reflect the international passion for this amazing highway.
This was another tough call and I hope no one is offended by my selection as we found hospitality most everywhere on Route 66. Still, for us there were two exceptional standouts in 2011, Cuba, Missouri, and Amarillo, Texas.
At the Route 66 Festival in Amarillo, we, and everyone else who participated received the red carpet treatment. In Cuba, at an event with Joe Sonderman at the Wagon Wheel Motel, we were treated as family in town for a visit.
MOST OVERLOOKED ATTRACTIONS
With our trip to Amboy Crater this past weekend, the list of most overlooked attractions just got a bit longer. In addition to the crater, I would add Memory Lane in Lexington, Illinois, Walnut Canyon National Monument just to the east of Flagstaff, Arizona, Hualapai Mountain Park, 12 miles south of Kingman, Arizona, the schoolhouse museum in Goffs, California, Palo Duron Canyon south of Amarillo, Abraham Lincoln’s home and neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois, and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on both sides of the Colorado River near Needles, California.
BEST KID FRIENDLY STOP
If I were limited to just one stop on Route 66 for the kids it would be Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Stuanton, Illinois. Simple, old fashioned fun just as it was when Route 66 was the Main Street of America is at the very heart of what makes this my favorite kid friendly stop.
BEST GUIDE BOOK
Published the National Historic Route 66 Federation, the EZ 66 Guide by acclaimed author Jerry McClanhan has yet to be beat. It and the Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide, also published by the federation, are the two guides we travel with.
BEST ROUTE 66 BOOK FOR 2011
My favorite acquisition in 2011 was the latest title by Joe Sonderman and Jim Ross, Route 66 in Oklahoma. This is the first joint effort between Sonderman and Ross, but I have been adding the latest Sonderman release as soon as they become available.
A very close runner up would be Route 66 Sightings by Jim Ross, Shellee Graham, and Jerry McClanahan.
It is never easy to compile our annual “Best of List.” There is always the concern we will present the wrong impression about attractions or businesses (such as 4 Women on the Route, Afton Station, or Angela’s Cafe) because they were not included.
Simply put, there just isn’t enough time to list all of the amazing places awaiting discovery along Route 66. And if there were, by the time I finished the list it would be old news as some of our favorites, such as Zeno’s, are gone, and we have discovered new ones, such as the Palms in Atlanta, Illinois.
Would you care to share your list of favorite places on Route 66?
With the focus on Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri, the proposed venue for the debut of the Route 66 encyclopedia, next October, I have begun laying the ground work for what could be a very exciting year for us as well as the Route 66 community. In addition to Cuba Fest, it looks as though the Red Carpet Tour in in Illinois is shaping up to be a major event as is the New Mexico Motor Tour in June. Then there is the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit being developed for the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman.
But it is the tour that centers on Cuba which is garnering a great deal of my attention. This little project has morphed from a promotional tour for the book into an opportunity to provide publicity for the people and businesses along the highway, to promote and raise funds for museums and historic societies on Route 66, and now, to promote the importance of history to students at schools.
Initially, in an effort to derive media attention for the book, I envisioned driving the highway from end to end in a Model A Ford. This evolved to making the trip in a Nash, Studebaker, or Hudson manufactured between 1939 and 1953. Now, the focus has narrowed.
As one facet of the trip will be to speak at schools and encourage students to see history as something more than a dry, dusty subject that is as exciting as a three day insurance seminar, there can be only one vehicle suitable for this endeavor – a Hudson Hornet. The immediate association with the animated film Cars will instantly ensure interest from students.
So, the quest is on for a suitable vehicle that we can transform into the award winning Marshall Teague racer of the 1950s with “Fabulous Hudson Hornet 6” emblazoned on the doors. The quest is also on for suitable corporate sponsors to underwrite the endeavor, sponsors who will derive international publicity as a result of their support.
This is all still a pipe dream, a rough hewn plan, a little something to encourage people to see vintage cars as more than a trailer queen, an investment, or potential street rod project, and Route 66 as the ideal highway for using these vehicles as time machines. Still, eight books were once pipe dreams so …
So, mark your calendars for October and make your plans for a trip to Cuba. You miight want to make reservations at the Wagon Wheel Motel in advance, as I know at least one room has already been reserved.