Back to the Route

I hadn’t taken a Route 66 specific road trip in quite a while.  Sure, I followed a Military Vehicle Convoy in September…but that wasn’t really about the road itself.  I did spend some time on Mother Road with Michael Wallis in June; but, that wasn’t directly specific to 66 either.  I was having withdrawals!

I was happy to get up early on Saturday, get out of town, and spend some time on that familiar two-lane highway.  The day’s journey would take me towards the center of the state, to Arcadia Oklahoma.  Samantha was content to stay home and continue preparations for her booth at November’s Affair of the Heart show.


I left the house early enough that there was still a good selection of donuts left at Livi Lee’s at 31st and Harvard.  They’ve been putting a LOT of work into the shop since they took it over a few months ago; I have been *SO PLEASED* with their progress.  Decades ago, the site was known as Shaw’s Drive-In (Home of the Dixieburger!) but I’ve only ever known it as a donut shop.  Some years back, a prior tenant tried to restore the sign but did a poor job.  Today it’s bright, cheerful, and gorgeous!  Neon is going on it soon, too — I can’t wait!

I enjoyed my coffee as I rolled on to Route 66, cruising west out of Tulsa.  It’s amazing what it does to your mind when you cruise with intent.  Even on stretches of road I could drive with my eyes closed, I’m alert & open to exploration.  I could see a new mural, or an old building with a fresh purpose, or I could discover something that was there all along.  The Wake Island Memorial in Bristow fits in that latter category.  It’s the only national memorial in the United States dedicated to the island’s defenders in World War II and sits just a few blocks off of 66 at a VFW Post.

To Arcadia

I was surprised at how large the display was:  multiple decommissioned military vehicles, memorial plaques, granite monuments…even a bit of coral embedded in the sidewalk.  Why Bristow?  Well, according to the Tulsa World, the mayor attended a veterans reunion in Oklahoma City in the early 1970s. He met a group of veterans that wanted a memorial, and he just made it happen.  It was dedicated in 1978, though it hasn’t been recognized as an official memorial.  That means they have no federal funding for upkeep.  It’s absolutely worth a visit, though, with lots of information and a beautiful setting next to a city park.  I hope they are able to get nationally registered soon.

To Arcadia-2

After passing through Stroud and Chandler, my stomach informed me that the single donut I had enjoyed for breakfast was no longer sufficient.  Much to my excitement, the Butcher BBQ Stand stand near Wellston was open; I’d been wanting to try their food for a while.  The setup was simple:  you walked up to a window on a converted outbuilding, ordered, and ate at one of several picnic tables out front.  As I stood in line (which was longer than I’d expected) I read an impressive list of awards and accomplishments for the food.  When I took my first bite of pulled pork a few minutes later, I could see why.  It was FANTASTIC!  I’d also ordered burnt ends, smoked mac ‘n cheese, and a rib.  It’s no hyperbole to say it’s the best barbecue I’ve had on Route 66; it’s in the Top 3 all-time best BBQ for me period.  Maybe Top 2.  I ate so much that I didn’t eat another morsel for the rest of the day.

To Arcadia-4

I arrived at in Arcadia a few minutes after noon & pulled into Pops.  Jim and Shellee had just released a new book, Secret Route 66:  A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, and were holding a book signing.  They’ve each written multiple books on various road-related topics over the years and I have enjoyed them all; it’s an honor to also call them my friends.  I was pleased to see quite a crowd at the soda stop; Jim and Shelle were engaged with interested folks the whole time I was there.  They sold quite a few books, too!  Once the event wrapped up, a group of us grabbed a bite to eat (just a drink for me; I was still too full to even THINK about eating) and we visited awhile.

To Arcadia-5

Me, LaSandra and Brad Nickson (of OK Rt 66 Assn), Jim Ross and Shellee Graham

By the time I waved farewell and headed back towards Tulsa, the sky threatened rain.  Thankfully, it held off long enough that I was able to take the Mustang down a dirt/gravel road in Lincoln County that I’d marked on my map.

To Arcadia-10

On a dead-end road, a rare iron Kingpost truss bridge spans Eagle Creek.  I only know of one other Kingpost in Oklahoma; their simple construction doesn’t allow them to be very long.  I had the scenery to myself, save for a herd of curious cattle on the north side of the bridge.  They seemed to wonder what in the world I was doing out there in the country, taking photos of a rusty old bridge.  I’m sure if any locals had driven by, they’d wonder the same.

To Arcadia-14

When I rejoined the paved highway, I planned to hop onto I-44 as soon as I could.  However, I ended up staying on Route 66.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, really…just out of habit I suppose.  For my loyalty, I was treated to a beautiful rainbow in Stroud.  In Biblical terms, the rainbow is a promise from God that He would never flood the Earth again.  In social symbology, the rainbow represents freedom of self in the LGBTQ community.  As I weaved through the Oklahoma countryside that beautiful Saturday afternoon, that celestial prism was the promise of the open road and the freedom that comes with slowing down.

It’s not driving to MAKE time, but to HAVE a good time.  I sure did.

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Lost Tulsa Restaurants – Help Needed

I am still researching for this project – please spread the word! I’m interested in stories, photos, and other details from any-and-all Tulsa restaurants that were beloved but are no longer around.

Rhys' Pieces

I need your help!

I am currently researching information for a book about Tulsa’s Lost Restaurants.  Although I can’t capture them all, my goal is to put something together that shows the history of the city through the diners & favorite hangouts that have come and gone.

I need YOU!  These places come alive with your stories, memories, and photographs.  Please e-mail me at with any stories or photos that will help others step back in time. The photos can be interior or exterior, just as long as it’s yours.

Here is a list of the specific restaurants I already know I’d like to feature:

  • Pennington’s Drive-In (4235 S. Peoria Ave.)
  • Metro Diner (3001 E 11th St)
  • Blue Dome Diner (313 E 2nd St)
  • Bishops (15 e 3rd st) (10th and Boston)
  • McCollums (5717 E 11th St)
  • Boots Drive-In (17th and Sheridan, east side of street)
  • Golden Drumstick (4903 E. 11th St.)

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A Veteran Affair

As much as I like to take a road trip to a new location, it’s also nice when the scenery comes to ME.  I took the day off today not so I could turn miles on an Oklahoma back-road or experience roadside nirvana in an old diner; I took the day off so I could drive to Claremore and follow a convoy along Route 66.  This wasn’t just any old convoy: this was the Military Vehicle Preservation Association and a collection of antique military vehicles heading down the Mother Road! From their newsletter announcing why they chose Route 66 for this year’s journey:  

“World War II caused a marked decline in civilian and tourist traffic, but it stimulated new business along U.S. 66, when it acted as a military transport corridor moving troops and supplies from one military reservation to another.  Motels saw an increase in occupancy, as families of servicemen stationed at military bases stayed for long stretches. But more significantly, Route 66 facilitated perhaps the single greatest wartime mobilization, as thousands of job seekers headed to California, Oregon and Washington to work in defense plants.”

MVPA Tul-43

I was made aware of the 2017 Convoy early last year; it’s been on my calendar for a long time.  Thanks to the Route 66 Alliance, I was even able to send some calendars for the convoy goodie bags. I’ve been excitedly following along as they prepare for the month-long road trip.  On Saturday, September 16th they left Chicago heading west.  They plan to arrive at the Pacific Ocean in mid-October but, of course, they had to come through the Sooner State first!  I met up with the convoy in Claremore mid-day today at the Expo Center, where the group had stopped for a lunch break.

MVPA Tul-66

It was stunning to see so many immaculate old vehicles parked in the home town of Will Rogers.  Jeeps, ambulances, cargo trucks, troop carriers, wagons, trailers, even a motorcycle.  Most were from the American armed forces but there were several imported vehicles from abroad; there were representatives (both drivers and transport) from Australia & New Zealand.  Some were veterans and others had restored vehicles in honor of veteran family members.  Everyone was friendly and talked happily as I walked between the parked aisles of the rolling museum.  Several local veterans had come out to greet the travelers, too; a few were too frail to walk and were being wheeled around to share their memories with those that understood.  It was really touching.

MVPA Tul-159

I met Janine McKluskey & her husband Dan, the Convoy Commander.  It was great to meet in person finally, as we’d corresponded about the calendars months earlier. Dan was pretty busy helping with minor repairs and keeping things organized, but Janine talked to me a bit about their crew.  She also took me around and pointed out a few things I’d missed, like the recovery vehicles they had along for the inevitable breakdown.  There was a fancy portable bathroom trailer they’d named the “White Castle.”  Many of the trailers had been retro-fitted as recreational vehicles, providing unique lodging for their owners.  I asked if they’d stopped at the J.M. Davis Arms Museum while in town but, alas, it was closed.

MVPA Tul-76

At 1:00 PM sharp, the convoy rounded up and headed towards Tulsa.  I lit out a few minutes early so I could set up on the southwest side of town for photos of the convoy on the move.  They had a police escort all the way out of Claremore!  I followed along Route 66, watching motorists on both sides of the road marvel at the unexpected parade.  Unfortunately, there was no police escort through Catoosa or Tulsa; the convoy broke up a bit as they rolled into town.  I had a few more photos in mind, so I raced ahead.  The convoy is limited to 35 MPH so all the vehicles can keep up; I had the benefit of I-44 and the Mustang!  Several of the convoy drivers remarked at my speed (and ubiquity) as they noticed me at each new stakeout spot.


The destination of the day’s drive was the VFW Post in Sapulpa.  I pulled in at the tail end of the convoy, parked, and continued taking photos.  My friend Jerry McClanahan had come up from Chandler and we visited for a few minutes.  I thanked the McCluskey’s for putting the convoy together and headed home as everyone started preparing for dinner.  What a thrilling day!  In addition to the photos I’ve shared throughout this post, I have a gallery of the entire day below.  Feel free to look through and comment if you know the make/model/year of the vehicle!

2017 MVPA Route 66 Convoy Gallery

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Throwback Article – Claud’s Hamburgers

While researching my upcoming book about Lost Tulsa Restaurants, I came across a decades-old article about a Tulsa burger institution that is still going strong in the 21st century.  It’s one of my all-time favorite local burger joints, Claud’s.  I got a kick out of it and thought you all might enjoy it, too!

Claud’s Family-Owned Hamburger Haven Still Heavenly

by Suzanne Holloway / World Food Editor / Tulsa World / Friday, December 12, 1980

Hamburgers were invented 80 years ago at Louis Lassen’s Lunch in New Haven, Conn., according to “Roadfood,” a guide to regional restaurants. Some rowdy sailors from Hamburg, Germany, contributed the name, the story goes.  Today the building that housed the tiny restaurant is a New Haven landmark and Louis III still broils the same style burger and serves it on toast with cheese, Bermuda onions and tomato. (2017 Edit: not so fast, Connecticut!  A burger needs a bun, not toast.  Here’s a little more about the invention of the hamburger as we know it…)

Claud’s, 3814 S Peoria Ave., came along 54 years later and it’s part of a fading genre – a family owned hamburger restaurant that has survived the competition of fast food chains.

Claud’s has a counter with 12 stools, a big carry-out business and a clientele that includes both truck drivers and Mercedes owners.  The hamburger, now a national institution, is the great leveler. “That’s what I like about it,” owner Claud Hobson admits.  “I see people every day from every walk of life and every educational and income level.”

“His hamburgers are the old fashioned greasy kind you hardly ever find anymore,” one loyal customer explained. Hobson thinks she means “juicy” instead of “greasy.”  He takes pride in buying good grade chuck and grinding it without removing any fat.  That adds flavor and moisture, he believes.


We visited Claud’s the day after Thanksgiving and his plain cheeseburger tasted wonderful after a surplus of rich holiday foods.  We were lucky to find two adjoining seats, but customers were soon standing behind us waiting to be seated.  It’s fun to watch the fast moving production line at work in the narrow cooking space.  Hobson has the meat patties stacked to his left, buns in a stainless steel box and the cut French fries under the counter behind him.

When a patty “hits the grill” he sprinkles it with salt and nothing more.  No fancy seasonings.  The bun halves are warmed on a separate section of the grill and the finished burger is passed on to his son Larry who covers the bun generously with mustard and garnishes it with a pickle and onion slices.  He also sacks orders for carryouts.  Another son, Clifford, comes in early to order food “to set up.”  Everybody knows his job and nobody crosses over unless an emergency occurs, Hobson said.

Patties are thin and Hobson presses them down with a pancake turner.  This isn’t a California style kitchen and you needn’t expect hamburgers to be topped with everything from avocado slices to bean sprouts and piccalilli.  Hobson will “work with the customer” and you can have onions cooked with the meat, a tomato slice and mayonnaise instead of mustard, if you insist.  But never lettuce.  “I respect people who like lettuce, but it chances the taste of a hamburger,” Hobson said.

The plain hamburger is 85 cents, a double meat burger, $1.65 and a cheeseburger, $1.05.  Even if you like thick burgers with all the extras, you’ll find Claud’s hamburgers delicious.  French fries have a fresh taste and the creamy coleslaw, made from a family recipe, has a slightly sweet flavor.  Hobson once was a cook for Bishops, a restaurant fondly remembered by longtime Tulsans.  He opened his first hamburger place in 1954 at 6102 E Admiral Place and moved to his present location in 1965.  Claud’s has stainless steel equipment, freshly painted white walls and a neat look.

37 years later and the Claud’s I know is exactly the same.  Here’s a snapshot of another article I found, dated almost a year later (10/8/1981).  Thankfully, the stools were replaced at some point after.


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Palace on the Prairie

It feels like it’s been a lot longer than three weeks since I’ve taken a road trip.  The end of August was pretty busy:  my article in Tulsa People came out, I prepped a selection of my photography for display at a local coffee shop, and I spent Labor Day weekend at DragonCon in Atlanta.  I woke up today with a blank calendar and a strong desire to spend some time in the driver’s seat.  It didn’t take long for Samantha and me to decide on a destination, and before 9:00 AM we were heading northwest to Ponca City.

I’ve been to Ponca several times before; however, it’s always been a quick stop without much exploration.  Several friends had recently spoken very highly of the Marland Mansion and we were both game for a historic home tour.  Not far from our destination, a sign on the highway grabbed my attention and diverted our path.


Michael Wallis had told me several fascinating stories about the ranch when we spent time on the road together earlier this year.  Similar to the Marland Mansion, it was a place I’d heard about for ages but had never actually seen myself.  We took the rough county road through the countryside to the remains of the Miller Bros’ 101 Ranch.


The ranch had been an enormous operation consisting of a refinery, cafe, dairy operation, & general store.  When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the ranch was most known for their Wild West Show that included the likes of Bill Pickett, Tom Mix, even Buffalo Bill Cody himself.  Oil was discovered (with the help of E.W. Marland, who we’ll talk about in a minute) and the ranch flourished. Around the time Route 66 was established in 1926, it was the largest diversified farm and ranch in America at 110,000 acres.  Michael calls it, “the epicenter of where the West of imagination collided with the West of reality.”


By the Great Depression, though, things had changed.  Two of the three Miller brothers had died, the Wild West Show was no longer a big attraction, and eventually bankruptcy was declared.  All that’s left today is a collection of historic markers, the foundation of the magnificent White House, and a few scattered outbuildings.  Several colonies of fire ants are the only modern occupants at the 101.


Ponca City wasn’t far away.  We had some time before the daily Mansion tour, so we stopped in at the Pioneer Woman Museum.  Boy, am I glad we did!  The museum is small but packed with some really cool stuff.  The main exhibit is a showcase of prairie life from back in the Land Run days; the lady at the front desk even showed how the old turn-of-the-century looms worked!  The temporary exhibits were tailor-made for Samantha: one on quilting and one on notable Oklahoma women in the news!  We could’ve spent hours poring over the artifacts and detailed profiles, but we had to get to the tour.

Now, I’ll admit something here.  I had always thought the “Marland Grand Home” was the mansion everyone was talking about.  The Grand Home was built in 1916 and sits close to Ponca City Hall.  It’s nice and all, but, it’s not the Marland Mansion.  The Mansion was built a decade later in a more secluded part of town and is a LOT MORE IMPRESSIVE.


The Mansion looks more like an Italian castle.  It consists of 43,000 square feet spread out over 55 rooms on three floors.  12 of those rooms are bedrooms and 3 are kitchens.  In addition to the main house, the grounds contained a game sanctuary, a T-shaped swimming pool (each section being Olympic-size in length), a chain of five lakes, a boathouse, stables, a garage, a golf course, and polo grounds.  The Mansion took three years to build; it’s massive.


E.W. Marland himself had an interesting life.  He grew up in Pennsylvania and became a self-made millionaire by the age of 33 thanks to his work in the oil industry.  However, E.W. lost his fortune in the financial panic of 1907.  He moved to the new state of Oklahoma and he struck it rich again; by 1920, he was worth $85 million and controlled 1/10th of the world’s known oil reserves.  He parlayed his riches and industry into the founding of the Marland Oil Company; unfortunately, less then a decade later, he lost his fortune a second time. Banker J.P. Morgan Jr. bribed the board of Marland Oil while E.W. was away and forced him out; Morgan turned the empire into CONOCO and Marland was once again without cash flow.


Though he never regained massive wealth, E.W. took what he had left and went into politics.  He became a representative to the US Congress and the state’s 10th Governor. Because of his loss of income, he only lived in his extravagant Mansion for two years. He moved into the chauffer’s cottage and eventually sold the grounds to Carmelite Monks.  Sisters of the order turned the place into a girl’s school, which it remained until the Mansion was sold to the city in 1975.


The most interesting part of Marland’s story, though, is his personal life.  He’d married in Pennsylvania but didn’t have any children.  After moving to the Sooner State, he and his wife Mary Virginia adopted her sister’s two children (George and Lydie).  Virginia suffered from a chronic illness and died in 1926; two years later, E.W. had Lydie’s adoption annulled and he took her as his second wife.  She was 28, he was 54…and they were together until he died in 1941.  Needless to say, their relationship was a topic of much discussion.


There’s a LOT more to these stories; I need to sit down and read The Real Wild West and watch the new documentary based on Marland’s life.  As it was, though, walking through the grand mansion was quite a treat.  I highly recommend going on the guided tour; we learned a lot and were given access to rooms that are normally off-limits.

Full photos from the Marland Mansion here:

We wrapped our day in Ponca with a terrific meal at the local-owned Garrett Wrangler Restaurant.  I had breakfast, Sam had turkey and dressing, and we both shared a slice of pie.  A day trip from Tulsa doesn’t get much better than that.

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DragonCon 2017

2017 marked my eighth year as an attendee at Atlanta’s DragonCon.  For the uninitiated, DragonCon is one of the biggest pop-culture conventions of the year.  Most people have heard of Comic-Con, and this is kind of like that — but it covers so much more.  It started as a celebration of fantasy culture (hence the name) over 25 years ago.  At some point, the content expanded to cover everything in the geek/nerd world:  television, anime, comics, puppetry, science, writing, art, cosplay, and so much more.  The convention itself became a chapter in the book of pop culture.  No matter what your nerdy heart is passionate about, you’ll find a family at DragonCon.

That’s what brings me back every year:  family.  It’s interesting to look back and see how things have changed in my life since that first, somewhat spur-of-the-moment road trip I took in 2010.  Six of us piled into my friend Brad’s van and we drove overnight from Oklahoma to Georgia for the festivities.  Our traveling group has fluctuated through the years, but there’s always been a friend from home that has joined me for the journey.  The Con itself, though, just continues to grow.  The crowd estimates from my first year were about 35-40k.  This year they estimated over 80,000 people descended on downtown Atlanta.  Some days, just walking from A to B is a challenge.

My Con family also continues to expand.  I spend most of my time each year wandering the halls of the host hotels, snapping photos of people in costume and being a part of some of the best conversations.  There are many familiar faces now, some of which I don’t know by name.  We know each other by sight (and sometimes, by costume.)  We light up, say hello, & talk about how life has been over the last twelve months.  We talk about our fandoms and remark to one another about the amazing craftsmanship on display from the heavy-duty costume creators.  It’s the largest family reunion you’ve ever heard of.

Most years, I don’t go to any panels.  There are always celebrities that attend and host Q&A panels, but it’s rare that I’m so excited about one that I’m willing to sacrifice hours in line just to see them in person.  With many, I’m able to visit the Walk of Fame (the autograph room) and just chat for a minute during a slow time.  And, if I am wandering at the right place at the right time, I may just run into someone in one of the many lobby areas.  That’s how I’ve met Walter Koenig, Richard Hatch, David Warner, Carol Spinney, and others.  Those names may not mean anything to some people, but to the fans of their particular genres these names are well known.

So, I wandered.  I visited with old friends and took the time to make new ones.  As you can imagine, I took hundreds of photographs over the four day event.  I’ve embedded a few of my favorites at the end of this post.  The entire photo set is uploaded to my Flickr account here:


To my Con friends:  thanks for the good times and I’ll see you all again next year.

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Samurai Darth Vader

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Arya from Game of Thrones

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Taco Belle and Chihuahua Beast

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Hades from Disney’s Hercules

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Ganondorf from Legend of Zelda

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Lady Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas

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I Love Lucy

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Vietnam era soldier; the backpack played era-specific music and radio broadcasts

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‘Fork the Patriarchy’ Ariel

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Oklahoma Route 66 in Tulsa People Magazine

I’m so very proud to announce that the September issue of Tulsa People is out – which includes a four-page article I wrote that highlights some of the sights to see along Oklahoma Route 66!

It’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it inspires people to get out and experience the road for yourself.  The magazines are free and available at many places around town:

Google Maps Link of Distribution Locations

If you’re not in the Tulsa area, there’s a digital version of it here:

Tulsa People – Oklahoma’s Mother Road

Oklahoma Route 66

Oklahoma Route 66

Also, in the month of September I will have a photo exhibition at Fair Fellow Coffee in Tulsa.  It’s a great little coffee shop in the Kendall-Whittier District, right on the original alignment of Route 66.  Stop in and support a small business if you’re in the area!

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