Texas Welcomes the World

Last weekend, I took a trip west to the Texas Panhandle. It was finally time for Texas Welcomes the World, the 2018 International Route 66 Festival! It had been a long time since I’d seen many of my roadie friends and I was excited to attend my first “official” International Route 66 Festival. I arrived in the early afternoon of Thursday, July 12th. When I was in Shamrock last fall, I pre-booked a room at the Western Hotel across from the famous U-Drop Inn.

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I’ve written about the stunning Art Deco service station before; it’s an Americana treasure. Every night at dusk photographers descended on the neon icon like a swarm of moths. Truthfully, the Conoco Tower is outlined in LED thanks to significant hail damage a few years back — but it looks spectacular. My first stop wasn’t the U-Drop, but in the town of McLean 20 miles west.

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Shamrock is the home of about 1,950 people. Rather than try to cram everything into the small town, events were spread out to surrounding communities. McLean is the home of the first Phillips 66 Station in Texas and the Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum. The first official event of the festival was an unveiling of two models made by the late Willem Bor. Willem was a big inspiration for me early on…I even gave him and his wife a tour the last time he was in Tulsa. It was important that I be there to honor his memory.

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As expected, the models were stunning. Willem was a really gifted artist and made most of his models with only photographs as his guide. Models representing the Super 66 Station in Alanreed, TX and a Whiting Bros service station in Shamrock now have a permanent home and get to be enjoyed by thousands of people each year. The unveiling event was also the first place I ran into my roadie friends like Dora Meroney and Steve Rider. The community of Route 66 enthusiasts that flood these gatherings is the real reason I come out. It’s like a family reunion!

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For most of the weekend, the Shamrock Community Center was where I could find most of my friends. They were selling goods or sharing collected memorabilia in a giant vendor hall. Each evening, we broke bread together. Well, as many of us that would fit. We tended to overrun every restaurant in town. There aren’t many overflow options in a place like Shamrock but we made do. A few days back, I wrote about a lunch I had in nearby Texola, OK that you should definitely check out if you missed it.

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Saturday night we had a big banquet and concert by The Road Crew, the unofficial band of Route 66. The Road Crew performs at a great many Route 66 events; they even wrote an entire album of original music inspired by the Mother Road. They’re not just a band, they’re true roadies themselves. I always enjoy hearing them live in the company of so many like-minded folk. It also fun to hear their song about Ron Jones sung while he’s in attendance!

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My weekend wasn’t all about Route 66.  I took some time to do a little exploring since I wasn’t anchored down in the vendor hall.  I drove out to Clarendon to see their courthouse and unusual amount of public crosses (read more about that last bit here.) I stopped in Claude to take photos of an old service station. And I drove out to Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo, the second-largest canyon in the country! It was beautiful. Every afternoon, storm clouds amassed and threatened…but I only got rained on once, that first day in McLean.  Let me tell you, though, it was a gully washer!

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In what felt like a matter of hours, it was Sunday morning and time to go home. The last event of the festival was the traditional e-Group Breakfast, which was also a first for me.  Mike Ward, a well-known roadie with a vast postcard collection, has also run a Yahoo Group for Route 66 since 1999. For many years, the group has organized a breakfast gathering at the International Festivals. In addition to catered food, door prizes are given out thanks to the many donations from the e-Group members. There’s always enough for everyone and, sometimes, enough for two rounds of giveaways.

One of the items I walked away with came with a Certificate of Authenticity! It’s a small box of debris from the Painted Desert Trading Post, a Route 66 landmark that has been abandoned since the 1960s. It’s been mostly unreachable since that time and is starting to fall apart finally, but a Co-Op of 10 Route 66 enthusiasts banded together to buy the property. They’re working to arrest further deterioration of the property and ensure it remains available for decades to come. I know a small box of rubble sounds weird to non-enthusiasts, but it was a big deal to me.

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All-in-all, I had a great time. I made many new friends like Gary Cron from California, Dan Oberlin from St. Louis, and Guy Randall from Colorado. These guys were long-time roadies that had a wealth of knowledge that I soaked up like a sponge. It was sad to say farewell, but I knew I’d see many of these folks in a few weeks at the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Missouri. There’s always something happening on the road!

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OH – and I bumped into the National Trust for Historic Preservation Crew on the way home! They were heading west through El Reno as I was heading back to Tulsa. I had been able to spend a little time with them in Tulsa before I left and it was lovely to see them again. Safe Travels, friends! And if you haven’t signed their petition to show your support for making Route 66 a National Historic Trail, what are you waiting for?? Check it out below:

https://savingplaces.org/preserve-route-66

 

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An Oasis in Texola

This weekend, I drove out to Shamrock Texas for the International Route 66 Festival, “Texas Welcomes the World.”  I’ll have a lot to say about my time here later, but today I want to share with you a little place just on the Okie side of the border in Texola.

By the time the Post Office was built in 1901, Texola had already been through several names (Texokla and Texoma) and had switched from being a part of Texas to Indian Territory multiple times; it seemed to change every time someone surveyed the area.  Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and forever placed Texola on the Oklahoma side of the border. Route 66 was established in 1926 and the little town grew to nearly 600 people by 1930.

However, the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era stunted the growth of this little town. Today, Texola is home to 36 residents spread out over less than one square mile. In early 2013, a new business sprung up in this quiet ghost town: the Tumbleweed Grill and Country Store, also known as Water Hole #2.

“There’s no other place like this place anywhere near this place so this must be the place.”

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Artist Masel Zimmerman moved to Texola from Florida some years back. She completely renovated a 1930s-era building and created a restaurant within spitting distance of the Lone Star State. Her little building is the modern day equivalent of a classic general store.  You can get groceries, clothing, motor oil, necessary items, and of course Route 66 swag — much of it customized for Texola or the Tumbleweed itself.  But there’s also the cafe, which is what brought me through the door.

When you walk into Water Hole #2, you greeted by a handful of simple tables. The food is traditional roadside fare, all freshly prepared. I’d heard the burger was good, so that’s what I ordered.  As my lunch was being prepared, I sat in the relative silence and admired Masel’s artwork on the walls. It was comforting to enjoy my iced tea with only the sound of the ceiling fans and the distant sound of a spatula scraping a skillet. There was no waitstaff; Masel handles everything herself.

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The burger was, in a word, tremendous.  The beef was fresh and the fries were hand-cut. The top bun had been quite literally branded with a Route 66 shield.  The flavor was pure and simple. I’ve had a great many burgers in my life and this was one of the best. Afterwards, I browsed the gift shop and met a traveling trio that stopped in as they traveled from Nashville TN to San Francisco. The Mother Road calls to them all.

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Masel and I talked for a few minutes before I headed back to Shamrock. She said business was really down this year and lamented the loss of Gary Turner in Missouri a few years ago. He’d been a big supporter, making sure travelers know to stop at her border cafe. She said that she has some days where she doesn’t have a single customer walk in the door.

The Tumbleweed isn’t visible from the interstate and the vast majority of her business comes from Route 66 tourism. Even then, getting the word out can be difficult in the modern age. I took her card and told her I’d tell everyone: stop in and see her if you’re in the area! You won’t regret it.

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Needless to say, I’ll be stopping in to see Masel any time I’m out this way. Here’s a great video my friend KC Keefer put together in Tumbleweed’s first year. Very little has changed!

 

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You Said We Couldn’t Do It, But We Did

There’s a new mural along Route 66 in Tulsa.

Many travelers and locals know of the Meadow Gold sign near 11th and Peoria. Right next to the brick pavilion that serves as a home to that iconic neon structure, on the east side of the building that houses the Corner Cafe, a colorful artistic work recreates part of the sculpture at Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza and exclaims, “You said we couldn’t do it, but we did.”

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Photo courtesy of artist Josh Butts

What does that mean? Well, that’s a great question…and an important one in the overall story of Tulsa’s success.

In 1901, oil was first discovered in what would become Tulsa County. When oil was struck at the Sue Bland #1 Well in the town of Red Fork, it rocketed 30 feet over the derrick in spectacular fashion. By the next week, thousands of men had poured into Indian Territory to seek their fortune. At that time only a railroad bridge connected Red Fork and Tulsa across the Arkansas River. The only way for most citizens to cross was by fording the river or using the ferry.

Tulsa city leaders recognized the need for a sturdy, reliable crossing across the Arkansas and tried to pass a bond issue to pay for a wagon bridge. The citizens of Tulsa, however, weren’t convinced. The Red Fork oil strike hadn’t resulted in a large discovery and many locals felt that the excitement was over.

Enter three local men: logger Melville Baird, merchant Joseph Don Hagler, and banker George T Williamson. They believed that oil was the future of Tulsa and pooled their own money to build a bridge across the Arkansas River.  On January 4, 1904, the new wagon bridge opened to the public.  On the top of the truss a small placard read, “You Said We Couldn’t Do It, But We Did.” It became a testament to Tulsa’s resiliency and spirit.

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In November of 1905, the Glenn Pool Oil Field was discovered.  This monumental oil reserve is considered by many the true start to Oklahoma’s oil boom and is what lead to Tulsa being billed as the Oil Capital of the World. If that wagon bridge had not been in place, it stands to reason that Sapulpa would instead be the second-largest city in Oklahoma and Tulsa would be the suburb.

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In 1917, the wagon crossing was replaced with a state-of-the-art multi-span concrete arch bridge. It was a beautiful, modern construct with multiple lanes for traffic and rails in the middle to support the Inter-Urban Trolley. The new bridge was spearheaded by Tulsa County Commissioner Cyrus Avery, who was also heavily involved in the Good Roads Movement to improve lanes of travel throughout the country.

Avery’s passion for roads lead to his appointment to the group tasked with designating and numbering the new federal highway system. This included Route 66, which Cyrus successfully lobbied to have routed through his home town of Tulsa. He used the 11th Street Bridge as a focal point for this decision, citing it as the best crossing across the Arkansas River in the country.  The rest of the committee agreed and in 1926, the Mother Road was born.

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The Eleventh Street Bridge was abandoned in favor of a modern bridge, built alongside the historic crossing, in 1982. It still stands today as the Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge.  The severe deterioration of the deck prevents even pedestrian traffic. Due to a price tag of nearly $20 million, restoration efforts have not yet borne fruit. But, with history as our guide, perhaps there will be an opportunity once again to tell the doubters:

You Said We Couldn’t Do It, But We Did.

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(historic photos courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum)

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The March of Time

It’s been a little over seven years since I received that terrible phone call, the one that signaled a new age of my life. It’s a little surreal to look back at my world at the time of my father’s sudden passing. I feel like I was just a kid then, even though I was nearly 30; so much is different today.

None of my photography had ever been printed.  My knowledge of local history and tourism was limited at best.  Route 66 wasn’t even in my vocabulary. In fact, I hadn’t taken a single road trip in Oklahoma since returning home from my ten months overseas. It boggles my mind how much I’ve learned and accomplished since Dad knew me.

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On Father’s Day, I set out on a very familiar path; the road I know best, actually. Samantha joined me as I drove north from Tulsa into Osage County.  I’d wager that I’ve driven that stretch of road (Highway 75 to 20 to 11 to 99) more than any other two-lane in my life.  It was the road to my grandparent’s house (on both sides) and then it was the road to Dad’s. It’s still the road to much of my family. Some of it has changed, but much of it has not.

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I stopped in Barnsdall on the way up and took some time to walk Main Street.  At 8:30 in the morning in a town of 1,200 it was predictably still. Most of what I observed mirrored the town of my memory.  Bigheart Pizza, the resale shop, the post office, Andy’s Hamburgers. Several storefronts had burned down over the years (including my great-aunt Estelle’s beauty shop) and a few had been replaced with sheet-metal impostors. The grocery store I used to visit with grandma has been gone for decades; the “newer” store was recently put up For Sale, a victim of the Dollar General down the street. Overall, the town hangs on.

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When we arrived in Pawhuska, a brand-new service station greeted us on the edge of town.  The commercial impact of Ree Drummond’s Mercantile had continued to spread.  There were multiple new shops and restaurants downtown surrounding the Triangle Building, which itself is being beautifully renovated into a new hotel. I can’t believe how quickly it’s all happening. Most of the businesses were closed (it WAS still Sunday in a small town, after all) but I wonder how long it’ll be before these local-owned shops start operating seven days a week. My destination wasn’t the Merc or the Buckin’ Flamingo, though.

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The Pawhuska City Cemetery sits on a hill northwest of the city center.  Much to my surprise, even though Sam and I had been together for nearly five years, I’d never taken her there to visit Dad’s grave. When we got out of the car and approached the Martin plot I was surprised to see that the area was covered in beautiful little wildflowers. It was quite moving. I wanted to speak, but couldn’t, so we just stood there for a while. Eventually, I was able to talk a bit about all of my family members at rest there: Aunt Kim, Grandpa Hardy, Grandma Gail, and the Tony Martin.

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After we’d celebrated a few old lives, we visited my cousin Blakelea to celebrate a new one.  Blakelea and her husband Ora Brown are new parents, and little Conagher has been a part the world for about two months now. I’m not so great around babies, but Samantha was on Cloud 9. Ora took pity on me and drove us out into the ranch he works on for a little exploration. He showed me a few cattle pens they still use from the 1970s, when the railroad still ran out that way.

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We drove back into the deep pasture and onto the old rail bed itself, where you could see the path cut into the prairie to serve the Iron Horse. Today the path is overgrown and barely a road. We eventually made it to a dismantled bridge across Clear Creek: little more than a few bare concrete pillars in the wilderness.

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I did find an old date nail in a piece of the trestle, which Ora kindly dislodged for me. It’s labeled ’26’ meaning it was forged in 1926…the same year that Route 66 was formed. Ora also told me about a few other places in the area (including an old cave supposedly used by the Dalton Gang) that could be accessed on horseback. Guess I’m going to have to get over that phobia!

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Samantha and I bid farewell to our cousins and headed back to town.  We made a quick stop at Lookout Mountain before heading back to Tulsa. It’s not much of a mountain, really, but it does provide a beautiful view of the landscape.

It had been a good trip…a positive trip. Change isn’t bad; it’s an inevitable part of life. There’s a lot I never had the chance to tell my father; I never even got to say goodbye. But I know he would be proud of the man I am today and even more proud of the man I’ll be tomorrow.

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Uncommon Attractions

When I woke up early on Sunday, I was eager to get back on the road.  The EconoLodge in Hays, Kansas was fine, sure, but why lie around when I could be out exploring?  Besides, it’s cooler in the morning. However, I was shocked when I walked outside and discovered it was only 58 degrees.  I had dressed for the blazing afternoon heat!  My coffee served as a wake-me-up AND a warm-me-up as I hopped on the interstate and headed east.

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My first stop was not far away at the Cathedral of the Plains in Victoria. Technically, it’s called the Saint Fidelis Catholic Church…and since it’s not the home of a bishop, it’s not even a cathedral.  But in 1912, William Jennings Bryan gave it the grand title that has stuck to this day.  Although it was Sunday morning, it was still quite early.  The congregation had not yet stirred and I had the streets to myself.

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I didn’t have a very defined route for the day’s travel, but I had plenty of Google Maps markers to guide me down old US 40. I weaved through several small towns like Russell and Dorrance…I doubted my early visitation had anything to do with their empty streets.  By the time I arrived in Wilson, I could finally see signs of life.  A shopkeeper was tidying up her storefront, a couple talked over coffee in front of the Midland Hotel, and the little gas station diner had a full parking lot. On the east end of downtown, I was surprised to discover a giant colorful egg in a little plaza.  I investigated.

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Wilson is known as the Czech Capital of Kansas. In the 1870s, a group of immigrants settled in town to work on the railroad and brought their culture with them. There’s a big festival every summer and the World’s Largest Hand-Painted Czech Egg.  It’s 22 feet tall!  The Midland Hotel across the railroad tracks was used for filming in the 1973 film Paper Moon.  That’s a lot for a town of less than 1,000.

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From Wilson, I briefly detoured north.  After a lovely drive through the rolling hills surrounding Wilson Lake I arrived in Lucas, home of S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden. Samuel Dinsmoor was a Civil War veteran that became something of a social commentator through his art, which decorates the land around the cabin he built in the early 1900s. For twenty years, he built a sculpture garden that represented what he considered the Story of Man.  The house is surrounded with amazing concrete artwork; its a see-it-to-believe-it kind of place.  Alas, I was still running pretty early and the cabin was not open for a proper visit.  I must return someday.

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I started to think about home after I finished looking around Lucas and plotted a course to the southeast.  Of course, a straight shot was unacceptable…there was plenty to see as I headed back to Oklahoma.  I stopped for a walk at Mushroom Rock State Park, one of several natural wonders in central Kansas.  It’s the smallest state park I’ve ever heard of at 5 acres; I could walk end-to-end very easily.  The handful of significant rocks that give the park its name are unusual and magnificent.

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I weaved through a few more communities as morning became afternoon: Brookville, Abilene, Woodbine, Enterprise.  I stopped for a few minutes on a gravel road to watch a crop duster do his thing.  I didn’t make another proper stop until I was enticed into the town of Lost Springs thanks to a Santa Fe Trail highway sign.  Sure enough, a small stone monument stood proudly in the “city park”. I don’t think the town had a single functioning business, but there were a few abandoned buildings that were lovely to photograph. Thanks, National Historic Trail sign!

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As the afternoon wore on, I became weary.  I drove through Marion & Augusta with less desire for exploration; I took some photos of neon signs and a few old buildings, but didn’t dally long.  When I entered Winfield, the town of my father’s birth, I just drove through.  I had considered taking photos of the old hospital, but it’s now part of a large correctional facility and inaccessible. Oh well.

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When I re-entered Oklahoma in late afternoon, I figured it would be a good idea to finally eat something. Since I’d be passing through Bartlesville anyway, I stopped in at Murphy’s for dinner.  And let me tell you, that’s never a bad idea.  GRAVY OVER ALL! By the time I got home, I was tuckered out.  It was a great weekend of new sights – I hope you enjoyed following along.

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Rock, Chalk, and the Land of Jayhawks

Early Thursday morning, I took Samantha to the airport so that she could spend a few days with her family back in New York.  The house is awful quiet when it’s just me, so I made plans for a little Route 66 trip with a friend on Saturday.  When those plans fell through, I decided to modify my plan and set out on my own. That’s the chain of events that lead me to spend thirteen hours in the driver’s seat on Saturday!

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Instead of spending a day on the Mother Road as I’d originally planned, I ventured northwest into Kansas. Back in April, I learned about a few old Phillips 66 stations at the NCPTT symposium; I wanted to see them for myself. My first stop was in Wellington, where a beautifully restored station sat under a big shade tree.  Although a lot of care went into making the station look authentic, it’s currently empty.  I sure hope it gets a tenant soon so all that work doesn’t go to waste.

From the seat of Sumner County, I headed west.  I zigzagged through several small towns such as Argonia (home of Susanna Salter, the first woman Mayor in the United States), Danville, Harper, and Duquoin.

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Outside of Duquoin, there’s a small Marsh Arch Bridge over Sand Creek.  The name of the tributary is appropriate, as I didn’t see any evidence of water at all. The bridge dates back to 1929 and I would be shocked if it saw even 5 vehicles a day in modern times. As such, it’s in excellent condition. I really love this bridge design and I’m glad Kansas has so many to see.

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My next stop came in Kingman. I’m familiar with Kingman, Arizona but this was my first time to visit the Kansas variant. The town was named after Samuel Kingman, a former chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court (the Route 66 Kingman gets its name from a railroad engineer.) I walked around the beautiful downtown Main Street and waved at the few pickup trucks that passed by while I snapped photos of the architecture. Of note is the historic Kingman Theater, which dates back to 1920.  I’ll have to come back at night so I can see the marquee all lit up!

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By lunchtime, I had arrived in Pratt.  Not only was there another Phillips 66 station to capture, but a great sign for Donald’s Serva-Teria out on the highway. The business dates back to the 1950s and has changed owners a few times…but the Googie neon still stands proudly out front mostly intact. I don’t know if it still lights up, but I sure hope so.  Satisfied with my stops, I continued west.

I passed through several more small communities before I entered Mullinville.  It would’ve gone without mention had I not encountered a large Metal Art installation on the west edge of town.

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I was shocked to see all kinds of provocative symbols and blatantly political attributions mixed in with whirligigs, windmills, and other sculptures.  It’s all the work of the late M.T. Liggett, which is a whole story on its own.  Read all about him and his work at Roadside America. It’s something else.

My next stop was out in the middle of nowhere. Since Samantha’s Nissan gets better gas mileage, I left the Mustang in Oklahoma…and boy am I glad I did. The dirt road that lead to the Mulberry Creek Bridge was carved INTO of the dadgum earth, with portions of it enclosed on both sides by walls of earth as tall as the car.  Some of the ruts would’ve surely high-centered Dad’s old two-door Ford.  With a little hopeful muttering, I made it to the abandoned bridge with no real issues.

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The bridge itself has been closed since 2012.  A local landowner won a fight with the county to keep it from being demolished…but it’s still closed off to traffic. The two spans were originally part of a larger Arkansas River crossing in Dodge City and date back to 1906; they were moved out into the country in the 1950s. Today, they rust in solitude under the prairie sun, hoping to one day be of use again.

Speaking of the Dodge City, that was my next stop.  I’d planned to explore the downtown district and possibly a museum, but a huge event that had the whole area cordoned off.  It looked like a car show had just wrapped up as the roads were full of vintage automobiles literally getting the hell out of Dodge.  I opted to keep going rather than wait for the commotion to die down. I’ll just have to come back!

After Dodge City, I took another dirt road (a less treacherous one, thankfully) to visit the site that inspired me to drive to western Kansas in the first place: Monument Rocks.

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Also known as the Chalk Pyramids, these beautiful rock formations were selected as a National Natural Landmark in 1968. Although they’re on private land, the owners graciously allow visitation free of charge. When I turned the engine off and got out of the car, the world was quiet save for the breeze, my footsteps, and the click of my camera. I marveled at the 70 ft tall buttes and arches and took my time exploring.  Just south of the rocks, a small obelisk marked a stop for the Butterfield Overland Despatch, a mail and freight service from the 1860s.

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It had been a long, enjoyable day…but it wasn’t quite over.  My final stop (and where I opted to bed down for the night) was Hays, the town where ‘Buffalo’ Bill Cody earned his nickname.  I explored the charming brick streets downtown (which included one more old Phillips 66 Station) and dined at Al’s Chickenette, a roadside restaurant that would be right at home on the Main Street of America.  They, too, have a beautiful neon sign…but hail damage from a few years back has kept it dark for a while.  The waitress I spoke to was hopeful that they’d have it relit later this year. Regardless of signage, though, the food was heavenly.

As the sun set, I ambled to a local motel and stretched out.  It was a long, lovely Saturday full of exploration…with a bit more to come on Sunday as I made my way back home.

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Along Route 66

I came across an old Tulsa World article in the archives at the library recently. It was written a few months after Route 66 was federally de-certified and I found it quite interesting.  I have transcribed it below (exactly as written) with the photos from the article.  I’ll chime in a bit at the end.


Along Route 66 by Nick Foltz / Tulsa World

September 23, 1985

Like a meandering stream, U.S. 66 wandered 2,000 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., crossing eight states.  Right in the middle of it was Tulsa, and many weary travelers stopped here to get their kicks on Route 66.

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For several decades, the 11th Street Bridge, above, has funneled motorists into downtown Tulsa. Small diners like the one in southwest Oklahoma, top inset, were designed to serve travelers quickly. Build in 1929, Vinita Conoco station’s trim, clean lines were meant to blend with residential area.

U.S. 66 dates back to 1926, and was the path for cross-country adventure for daring drivers of Tin Lizzies.  U.S. 66 had been in existence for years when Henry Ford started producing the Model-A, and gasoline was hand-pumped into cars that still had running boards, rumble seats and transmissions that didn’t know how to shift for themselves.

Like trees and vegetation hugging the banks of a stream, thousands of businesses spring up along the highway. The steady stream of traffic nourished diners, gas stations, hotels, garages and “tourist courts” as motels were called in the Depression years.

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In June of this year, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials voted to strip the trafficway of its “U.S.” designation and it became simply Highway 66. A victim of the interstate system, it had been replaced largely by I-40.

The 59-year-old highway still generates memories for motorists who traveled it in its early years: the aroma of frying hamburgers at a roadside stand, the dark, coolness of beer taverns, the mustiness of hotel rooms with evaporative coolers instead of air-conditions, cafe nickelodeons with faces swirling a rainbow of lights and ice cream parlors with marble-top tables and creaking ceiling fans.

Less romantic was the washboard surface of the highway that made it almost impossible for drivers to go to sleep at the steering wheel. As cars bumped along, they seemed to travel almost as far from side to side as they did forward.

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Park Plaza Court was built in 1930 with Alamo-style facade.

In Tulsa, U.S. 66 cut a swath down 11th Street and Southwest Boulevard in its 396-mile Oklahoma journey.  The Oklahoma leg has been the subject of an intensive research project by Oklahoma State University historians who have submitted a list of 33 structures as nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.

Tulsa structures in the list include the Brookshire Motel, 11017 E. 11th St.; Will Rogers Motor Court, 5737 E. 11th St.; a structure that has been an auto dealer-ship and is now Elgin STreet Auto Trim, 1401 E. 11th St, a filling station, now the Car Care Clinic, 209 W. 11th St., the 11th Street Bridge over the Arkansas River; Park Plaza Court, 3512 Southwest Boulevard, and 66 Motel at 3660 Southwest Blvd.

A former auto dealership, now the Claremore Tire Co. at 625 W. Will Rogers, Claremore, and the Rock Creek Bridge west of Sapulpa, are also on the list.

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Auto trip shop on East 11th Street served as auto dealership in early years, according to researchers.

Dr. Joseph A. Stout Jr. researched the road’s colorful history, conducted field research by interviewing old-timers along the famed road, and wrote the text of a 65-page survey, edited by Dr. Mary Ann Anders.

Stout said the work allowed him to make a nostalgic study of the buildings “that represent the beginning of Americans becoming a mobile society – when they started traveling cross-country by car.

“Life was a lot less complicated then – there were no nuclear bombs, for instance – and it represents a period that we don’t want to lose. The roads were narrow and abominable, but they also had Burma Shave signs,” Stout commented.

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Tall, steel superstructure above, marks old bridges like the Rock Creek span west of Sapulpa.

The survey was financed by a historic preservation grant of about $120,000. Stout said he did not know how long it would take the National Register of Historic Places to respond to the list of nominations.

 


Reading this in 2018 is a mixed bag of emotion.  This was written before any historic associations were formed and nobody really knew what a movement Route 66 tourism would become. It makes my heart happy to know that so many people have a strong, positive connection to the Mother Road today. But there’s also a sadness in how much we’ve lost.

The sites mentioned in Tulsa that were submitted to the National Register are also a mixed bag today:

  • Brookshire Motel (abandoned and endangered)
  • Will Rogers Motor Court (demolished)
  • Discount Muffler (saved and in use)
  • Elgin Street Auto Trim (saved and in use)
  • Car Care Clinic (saved and in use)
  • 11th Street Bridge (closed off and unsuitable for traffic)
  • Park Plaza Court (demolished)
  • 66 Motel (demolished)

The Claremore site (Claremore Tire Co) has also been demolished but the Rock Creek Bridge has been saved.  I certainly hope that the current federal legislation marking Route 66 as a National Historic Trail passes and the efforts of preservationists continue to bring awareness to the roadside inventory along the Main Street of America.

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