Pretty Pony Time

In the book “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” Stephen King divides time into several classifications.  One of them is called “Pretty Pony Time” and describes the good times, the times that will flee from you when you aren’t paying attention.  It’s a good reminder to savor your enjoyment of those times, and it also carries additional meaning for me.  Most of my road trips are spent in a “Pony Car”, the 2005 Mustang I inherited from my father after he died suddenly in 2011.  Sitting behind the wheel of that car connects me to him and it’s one of my favorite places to be.  I had one more full day of driving ahead of me as I headed out of the Land of Enchantment and back home.

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As is tradition, I awoke early Sunday morning.  Daylight Savings Time had ended overnight and by the time I checked out of the El Pueblo Lodge in Taos, the sky was already transitioning from black to deep blue.  I poured myself a cup of coffee in the lobby, thanked the staff for their hospitality, and headed east on Highway 64.

The previous night at dinner, I struck up a conversation with a lovely couple that had recommended a drive along the Enchanted Circle, a scenic byway that originates in Taos and encircles Wheeler Peak.  Although I didn’t have the time to take the entire circle, my journey east would allow me to enjoy the southern half through several canyons and the Carson National Forest.  Although I’m about to describe my journey, please understand my words pale in comparison to actually experiencing this amazing landscape.

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The two-lane highway weaves through canyons and alongside the Rio Fernando de Taos.  Several campgrounds and small communities emerged from the forest as I rounded corners, though it was still too early for much activity.  As the sun continued to rise, the clouds swirling around the peaks turned bright orange; it looked like the treeline had caught fire.  The paved switchbacks were much easier to handle than the previous day’s gravel lanes along the Rio Grande.  By the time I emerged into the Moreno Valley, the sun was barely peeking over the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east.  The town of Angel Fire was still shrouded in shadow.

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My first stop of the day was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park.  It opened in 1971 and was the first major Vietnam memorial in the US.  It features a UH-1D Huey helicopter that saw service in Vietnam, a chapel, visitor’s center, a statue of a soldier writing a letter home, and a scale model of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in DC.  It was also COLD!  The temperature was around 40 F and the wind was gusting at 45 mph.  I explored quickly before dashing to the car to thaw my hands on the cup that held the last remnants of my morning coffee.

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The last leg of the Enchanted Circle took me to Eagle Nest and the lake it sat beside.  There, I branched off east, drove around Green Mountain, and snaked through the Cimarron Canyon.  It was another beautiful drive, this time alongside the Cimarron River on the old Santa Fe Trail.  I can’t fathom the difficulty of getting through that terrain in a covered wagon.  When I arrived in the town of Cimarron on the east side of the canyon, there were numerous historic markers dedicated to frontier days.  I didn’t stay long, but I vowed to return and explore the area fully with Samantha.

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The terrain morphed from the green forest and rocky slopes of the canyons to the golden plains of Colfax County as I motored towards my last major stop on the trip, Raton.  The town had quite a collection of vintage neon signs and a great historic downtown district.  I felt great remorse for packing SO MUCH into my weekend trip; I didn’t get nearly the time I wanted to explore.  I did, however, take the time to grab a quick breakfast (and more coffee!) before continuing east towards Oklahoma.

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Highway 84 took me through Capulin, Des Moines, and Grenville.   These communities all had a population of less than 150 and were barely hanging on to incorporation.  I stopped for gas in Des Moines and had a chat with the woman running the lone convenience store: they saw mostly long-haul truckers, utility traffic, tourists coming to the Capulin National Monument, and Santa Fe Trail buffs.  The landscape was pretty desolate until I reached Clayton, which quickly returned to isolated countryside through the Oklahoma Panhandle.

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Most people find that kind of drive boring.  I can understand that, but it also provides a view into a way of life that is completely foreign to me.  Cattle ranches, large farming operations, and rural living on a scale that I can’t quite comprehend.  Life moves slowly in these parts, and I would probably learn a lot if I slowed down to observe more carefully.  Like the rest of the weekend, though, I couldn’t dally.  I had a long way to go yet.

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I had left Taos at 6:30 AM and didn’t arrive in Tulsa until 6:45 PM.  The odometer on the Mustang had surpassed 165k miles, with nearly 1,300 added over the previous three days.  A long weekend of driving, sure, but there were so many moments of awe that I barely noticed the aches that came with that much time in the driver’s seat.  I must budget more time and take Samantha to Los Luceros, the Cimarron Canyon, and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  These places must be savored, and I hope those of you reading get the chance to do just that…and that it is your own Pretty Pony Time.

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Capturing Time (part two)

This is part two of my day spent traveling to Española and Taos.  For part one, click here.

The eventful morning had me in an excellent mood.  My window was down and my radio was cranked high as I entered a valley.  Small artistic communities dotted the shoulder as the two-lane road snaked around mountains and the Rio Grande river.  The sudden appearance of an old Frontier Gas sign told me I’d arrived at my next stop: The Classical Gas Museum.

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The collection of roadway relics in Embudo, NM is the work of Johnnie Meier.  The man has spent decades collecting a great variety of rusted and restored roadside paraphernalia.  Signs, license plates, gas pumps, even a partially-restored Valentine Diner.  Johnnie is also active in the New Mexico Route 66 Association, having lead it on several occasions.  He has restored over a dozen neon signs over the years, including a full replication of the lost signage at Albuquerque’s KiMo Theatre.  To say we had a lot to talk about would be an understatement.  I had a blast getting to know him a little bit and shared a bit of my passions in return.  I had to tear myself away eventually, but I promised I’d keep in touch.

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A few miles down the road, I branched off the main highway onto a smaller two-lane that ran right alongside the Rio Grande.  It was a beautiful drive; the sound of the river and the steep rock slopes on either side gave my journey a magical feeling.  At Taos Junction, a small truss bridge crossed the river.  Once again, I was out-and-about taking photos with the energy of a kid.  No doubt the people fly-fishing in the river were curious about my excitement, but it was a silent curiosity.

My excitement was tempered somewhat when I got back in the Mustang and realized I would have to take a crazy switchback drive up the side of the valley to get out.  I had flashbacks to the Moki Dugway as I navigated the gravel path; thankfully, I didn’t encounter any significant opposing traffic.  When I reached the top, I took a triumphant break and marveled at the mountain range in the distance.  What beautiful country!

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Next on my list was another bridge, though this one was quite a bit bigger.  The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is 1,280 feet long and sits 565 feet above the river!  It’s an engineering marvel.  Although I was happy to take photos from the nearby scenic outlook, I dared not join the dozen-or-so other tourists that had walked out on it.  I had enough trouble with the height from the parking lot.  I drove over it just fine, anyway.

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My final sight-seeing stop of the day, was a third bridge.  The John Dunn Bridge also spans the Rio Grande, a bit farther north.  I was greeted with yet another steep, rocky road on my approach.  It was so bad I almost turned around…but, thankfully, I didn’t.  The bridge itself sits beautifully in another valley.  As stressful as those drives were, the views were worth it.  I’m just happy the car didn’t rattle to bits.

I pulled in to my motel in Taos close to sunset.  I took a stroll down to the town square, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and retired.  It had been a long and productive day on the road…with one more long day of driving to get home.  But, if you know me, you know it wouldn’t be a straight shot.

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Capturing Time (part one)

Nothing lasts forever.  That fact is why I quickly planned a weekend road trip to the Land of Enchantment.  There is an abandoned motel in Española, NM that has a great old sign I’ve wanted to photograph for a long time.  When I received word that demolition was close at hand, I knew if I waited it would be too late.  In that same spirit (and because I am always excited when I’m on the road) I awoke early on Saturday and left Shamrock before the sun touched the horizon.

I was treated to a beautiful sunrise in my rear-view mirror as I motored west on I-40.  I made a few brief Route 66 detours along the way: in Vega for a photo of the blazing clouds and in Glenrio, the ghost town at Exit 0 that straddles the Texas/New Mexico border.

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I entered New Mexico on the old gravel alignment of Route 66, a part of the road I’d never taken before.  It seems to have always recently rained before past visits and I didn’t fancy getting stuck in the mud.  It was a dry & peaceful drive through the countryside, where the only remnant of Endee’s incorporation is a crumbling adobe-type structure that proclaims Modern Restrooms.  I’ll let you guess if that is still true.

Once I found true pavement again, I picked up speed. I stopped for breakfast in Tucumcari at Kix’s and checked-in with the folks at the Blue Swallow Motel (who have my 2018 Route 66 Calendar for sale, by the way).  Farther west, at Cline’s Corners, I left the Mother Road-adjacent interstate and headed north towards Santa Fe.

My change of direction brought with it a change in the skies; the beautiful blue that New Mexico is known for became obscured by low clouds, as if the state had imported some of the Oklahoma weather I’d left behind on Friday.  It didn’t dampen my spirits, though; Santa Fe was just as pleasant as I remembered, though my visit was brief.  Española was near.

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Although I’d called a retail store across the street from the shuttered motel a few days prior to confirm the Arrow Motel was still there, I found myself fearful.  What if the sign was gone?  What if I was too late?  I didn’t allow the doubt to take much of a hold, and as I’d been lead to believe the Arrow Motel still stood…mostly.  The first thing I noticed when the lodge came into view is that an acrid smell of burning hung in the air.  It had been on fire at some point and the blackened building stood ominously next to an overgrown parking lot.  But, right next to the road, the sign stood unburnt.

I happily buzzed around the neon sign and took a lot of pictures.  After only a few minutes, unintelligible yelling began to waft from the husk of the motel.  Rather than come face-to-face with whoever was so upset so suddenly, I hopped into the car and skedaddled.  I was happy with what I’d come all this way to get.  It was a little after lunch time, but I wasn’t yet hungry after my excellent breakfast…so I continued north on Highway 68.

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Not far out of town, I saw a Historic Marker for Los Luceros.  I pulled over to take some photos of the signage, as I knew Michael Wallis would soon be releasing a new book detailing the history of the culturally-significant property.  When I’d told him I was heading to New Mexico, he talked about how beautiful the site was but set expectations that it’s not open for normal public viewing.  With that in mind, I continued north after I’d taken my photos.  However, a mile down the road, I turned around.  I was right here.  I might as well go down the side road and see if I could get a photo from the fence line or something.

Much to my surprise, the gate was open.  I looked carefully for any ‘No Trespassing’ signs or anything warning me to stay out, but there was nothing.  I drove onto the property cautiously, weaving down a picturesque gravel road until I came to a modern-looking adobe building.  When I went to look closer, it appeared that some kind of small event was going on.  I quickly returned to my car with the intention of leaving as quietly as I’d arrived.

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As I was putting my camera away, a woman approached with two dogs.  I introduced myself and explained that I’d wandered in and didn’t mean any harm.  It turned out that she was a member of the cultural board in charge of preserving the property.  When I told her about my journey from Tulsa, she gave her blessing for me to walk down the gravel road to the river and look around…so I did.  I was amazed; the property is sprawling and consists of many buildings.  The centerpiece is a 5,700 square foot home from the 18th Century, which had started as a four-room building in 1712.  Although I’d missed the beautiful fall colors for the most part, the wooded grounds were beautiful and serene.  When I made it down to the Rio Grande, I just stood there for a time.  Although I took a handful of pictures, none of them did the site any justice.

By the time I actually left Los Luceros, I’d spent a little more than an hour there.  It was a lovely bit of luck; I hope I get to go back someday and really experience it.  My day wasn’t over; it was only 2:00 PM and I was headed to Taos for the night.  I’ll write about the rest of the day’s journey in Part 2.

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Making Time

You can’t control inspiration.  You can seek it studiously, you can create circumstances that foster it, you can dig through tedium until you find it…but, after all is said and done, it’ll come when it pleases.  Convenience has nothing to do with it.  On Wednesday, the bulb of inspiration clicked on in my brain and would not be ignored.  The fact that the source of the inspiration sat 660+ miles away was a minor detail.  I put a plan together quickly.

I left Tulsa on Friday afternoon; the sky was nothing but low cloud-cover and occasional drizzle.  I-44 westbound to Oklahoma City was its usual self:  boring and clogged with impatient drivers.  I was pleased when the state capital was in the rear-view mirror.  Just outside of El Reno, the sky finally opened up and sunshine welcomed me to the flattened landscape of Western Oklahoma.  Fields of cotton dotted the landscape like forgotten blankets; if it had been a little colder, I might’ve mistaken it for snow.  The miles turned quickly as I skittered across the plain.

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I didn’t exit the interstate until I was close to the state border.  Outside of Texola, I joined my familiar friend, Route 66, which had been snaking around me all afternoon.  I immediately felt at ease; I had the road to myself and the low sun cast warm light on the patched pavement.  I stopped to take photos of a historic marker on the west side of town, the site in 1952 where the Mother Road was officially rededicated as “The Will Rogers Highway” as part of a publicity push.  It didn’t seem to matter that the road had been called that since Will died in a plane crash in 1935.  The marker is of the newer granite variety; the original plaque now sits near the Santa Monica Pier in California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean from Palisades Park.

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Minutes later, I was turning miles in the Lone Star State.  My shelter for the night was not far away in Shamrock, Texas.  I’ve been through the town many times, but I’d never stayed overnight.  Actually, that’s not true.  In 2014, before I’d become fully Route 66 Aware, Samantha and I took a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Albuquerque.  It was so sudden that we left Tulsa pretty late.  Though I’d wanted to keep going, fatigue required we stop in Shamrock at about 2:00 AM to sleep.  I didn’t know the U-Drop Inn / Conoco Tower station, the town’s most famous landmark, even existed until the next morning.  In any case, this night in Shamrock would be the first time I’d see the beautiful art deco gas station fully aglow.

On the recommendation of my friend Jim Hinckley, I booked a room at the Western Motel.  The owners were very friendly and excited to talk to me about my travels.  I enjoyed a great dinner at Big Vern’s Steakhouse nearby; it’s one of the better steaks I’ve ever had.  Additionally, they serve this unique bread that’s something between a cornbread muffin and a yeast roll.  It’s dense and delicious; they call it ‘beer bread’.  I had a second piece for dessert.

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By the time my meal was complete, the last light of day was fading from the sky.  I spent a good amount of time taking photos from all around the restored station.  As I did, I met a few people doing the same:  one guy had a full, professional setup and another fellow had just pulled over in his car and was using his cell phone.  Equipment matters less than the passion behind the lens; they were both really happy to be there.  The latter gent was from Seattle and had been on the road for weeks.  He and his wife traveled east across the northern section of the country, to Maine, then came south and was now heading back to the Pacific.  He’d even stopped in Okmulgee, back in my home state.  What a small world!

An exciting evening, yes…but as excited as I was, this was only a fraction of the weekend’s journey.  The entire reason I’d headed west in the first place awaited me in New Mexico.  Was I crazy?  No, but, I wasn’t exactly sane either.  Saturday would start before sunrise.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 losttulsarestaurants@cloudlesslens.com 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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