In the era of renaissance when Route 66 is viewed as America’s longest theme park, a place where neon and tail fins reign supreme, it is easy to forget that US 66 was an artery of commerce. It was traveled by truck drivers, families on vacation or in search of a new life, gangsters, murderers, hitchhikers, salesman, farmers, and even celebrities. That simple fact was driven home recently. First, with completion of the caption file for a book about the dark side of Route 66 history. Second, through work on a joint project between Kingman Main Street and the Mohave Museum of History & Arts in Kingman, Arizona.
Andy Sansom, the archivist at the museum, has been digging up some most interesting articles as part of our project to document the city’s film and celebrity heritage. He has also been finding some tantalizing tidbits pertaining to proposed Hollywood linked projects and celebrities in Kingman.
Apparently a sequel to The Grapes of Wrath was planned. The film was to be entitled Route 66. This is the second time I have found reference of this movie. The first time was while combing archives in Oklahoma for The Route 66 Encyclopedia. In the mid 1950s Pearl Bailey was in Kingman for a bit while searching for a suitable property that could be developed as a dude ranch. In consideration of the date I have a strong suspicion that she wasn’t given the red carpet treatment. She purchased Murray’s Dude Ranch in Apple Valley, California, a resort complex promoted as “the worlds largest negro dude ranch.”
This week I learned that Joe DiMaggio made a stop at the Gaddis Cafe during a drive to California. I also discovered that actress Veronica Lake was a guest at the Beale Hotel during attendance of a wedding in Kingman. Another little treasure was confirmation of a persistent local legend; Louis L’Amour had a connection to the area.
The prolific author of books and novelettes about the west worked at the Katherine Mines about 30 miles west of Kingman and occasionally stayed with friends that lived in town. And apparently he did a bit of amateur boxing at the Sump, a spacious basement tavern under the Beale Hotel. Interesting stuff to say the very least.
Counted among the more famous celebrity associations is Buster Keaton. He set up headquarters at the Beale Hotel in 1925 while filming Go West at Tap Duncan’s Diamond Bar Ranch north of town. And of course there is the March 1939 celebrity wedding between Clark Gable and Carol Lombard at the Method Episcopal church on the corner of Fifth and Spring Street in Kingman. Legend has it that they spent the first night as husband and wife at the Durlin Hotel, now Oatman Hotel, on Route 66 west of Kingman. All I can add to that legend is that they married in Kingman around 3:00, had a small reception, and drove to Boulder City, Nevada before returning to Los Angeles for an early morning press conference. The famous couple did drive to Kingman on Route 66 and so would have passed through Oatman.
For a more current celebrity sighting consider this, Pamela Anderson did a photo shoot along Route 66 in Kingman for Playboy magazine. And that led to a charge of indecent exposure by the city police department. Jean Claude van Damme was the recipient of a speeding ticket in Kingman, and Adam Sandler was recently spotted at Floyd & Company. I arranged a lunch reception for William Shatner at Rutherford’s 66 Family Diner in Kingman during his Route 66 tour.
The list of celebrity association with Kingman is surprisingly lengthy; Edsel Ford, Louis Chevrolet, Barney Oldfield, Andy Devine, Willem Defoe and Judge Reinhold to name but a few. And it seems that the list just keeps growing.
This past weekend during the annual Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona Route 66 Fun, I met a delightful elderly couple that have been enjoying each others company and road trips together for more than seventy years. However, what made their story truly fascinating was the fact that many of these adventures, including participation in the Route 66 Fun Fun, have been made in a Plymouth that they had purchased new at dealership near San Leandro, California in 1950.
During our conversation about life, adventure, travel, raising a family, and keeping a car on the road for nearly 70 years, the owner of this one of a kind automotive time capsule said something that really hit home, especially since recent weeks have found me engaged in an epic struggle to find a center, a place where work and life are balanced, and that overpowering sense of being suffocated in a thick black satin curtain is kept at bay. “Plan for the future but don’t loose sight of one simple fact, today is yesterday’s future. Take one step at a time, one day at a time and don’t become so focused on the future that you forget to live today.”
The Route 66 Fun Run is Jim Hinckley’s America personified; cars, a celebration of Route 66 and the great American road trip, fascinating people, and good friends. As the event has been a father and son day for almost 30 years, I strive to avoid work as much as possible. Still, I am one of the fortunate ones and that enables me to blur the lines between work and life.
My son and I started the day by strolling the streets of Kingman and talking cars. When it comes to diversity, I know of no other automotive event that compares to the Route 66 Fun Run. As an example, this year vehicles ranged from the stunning one owner 1950 Plymouth to a customized Kenworth, a Morris Minor pick up truck, a Tesla, a ’55 Ford “glass top” Crown Victoria, a 1958 Imperial, a handful of Model T and Model A Fords, hot rods, rat rods, vintage four-wheel drive trucks, and colorful convertibles counted in the dozens.
Dale Butel, Jim Hinckley and Efren Lopez
At noon I shared a bit of the event with an Adventurers Club live program from Freedom Apparel, and then we had lunch (excellent pulled pork sandwiches) at Floyd & Company Barbecue and Wood Fired Pizza. This was followed with a delightful gathering of friends at Beale Street Brews Coffee Shop. My dearest friend, son, and I finished up the day at Grand Canyon Caverns were we met with Dale Butel, owner of Australian based Route 66 Tours, his spring tour group, photographer Efren Lopez, and John McEnulty, owner of the caverns. We talked, shared stories, and laughed late into the evening.
Sunday kicked off bright and early with muffins, coffee, and an early morning drive back into Kingman where I spoke about the infancy of the American auto industry before a group on tour with Sam Murray’s New Zealand based Gilligan’s Route 66 Tours. And that was followed with a breakfast at Rutherford’s Route 66 Family Diner with some old friends.
If you ever have an opportunity, I can highly recommend the annual Route 66 Fun Run that is always held on the first weekend in May. It is quite the event, 160 mile long block party on the most famous highway in America.
Always something to see at Chillin’ on Beale in Kingman, Arizona
From March to September on the third Saturday afternoon of the month, Beale Street in Kingman, Arizona, just one block north of Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66) is transformed into an automobile enthusiasts version of paradise. As a bonus there is great music, a vibrant historic district framed by stunning skylines of towering buttes, mesas, and spires of stone, cold beer served at two award winning microbreweries, and a delightful array of diverse restaurants. In October the date for the Chillin on Beale festivities is adjusted to coincide with the arrival of Craig Parish’s Route 66 Motor Tour. (more…)
Moving buildings from the Kingman Army Airfield to Kingman. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts
Kingman, Arizona has a long and colorful aviation history. Each chapter has led to a number of diverse contributions to the community. In 1919 the Gulf-to-Pacific Squadron set up to use the airfield in Kingman, roughly the location of Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill Road today, as a base for a series of historic flights over the Grand Canyon. From High in Desert Skies by William Kalt III, “On February 24, 1919 locals provide “70 high-test” gasoline and Mobil “B” oil for the aircraft and Lt. Jones pilots a history making aerial exploration of Arizona’s spectacular chasm.”
“Returning to Kingman, the aviators attempt to fly above a fierce wind, but the capricious currents play mean all the way. After landing, Lt. Searle telegraphs Arizona Governor Thomas Edward Campbell, writing, “Lt. E.D. Jones and I made first flight over Grand Canyon today. Very cold, scenery wonderful, impossible to describe. Wednesday expect to make moving pictures.”
In 1928, T.A.T (Transcontinental Air Transport) came to town. Pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh was in charge of establishing air ports for the fledgling airline, and in 1929 he arrived in Kingman to survey a site and oversee construction. The Hotel Beale served as his headquarters, and Amelia Earhart attended ribbon cutting ceremonies when “Port Kingman” opened. Surprisingly the terminal building survived decades of urban sprawl and is today a part of the Brown Drilling complex.
As I live in Kingman, Arizona, and have a bit of a reputation in the
Courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts
international Route 66 community, the recent Sacha Baron Cohen attempt at comedy has been the subject of countless emails, text messages, and Facebook messages. I didn’t watch the program, and didn’t even listen to more than a few random minutes of the video. I didn’t need to. It was obvious that he merely supplied the rope, and then let his victims hang themselves.
I am not sure what I found more disgusting, the displays of blatant prejudice from my adopted hometown, or the fact that in America today a man can profit from inciting lynch mobs, yelling fire in a crowded theater, and selling used cars at the scene of a bloody accident by labeling it “comedy” or “entertainment.” There is so much good and positive in Kingman, including a large segment of the population, but once again the town has been given a black eye that will take a long time to heal. After all, we are still remembered as a town where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh found a nest of like minded people and even a partner in crime. (more…)