Gilligan’s Spring Tour (II)

If you missed my previous post that covered the journey from Paris Springs to Joplin, Missouri — check that out here.

As I ate my breakfast and visited with my New Zealand traveling companions in Joplin, I noticed they were all wearing small red pins. At first I thought they were little guitars, but I soon realized they were poppies. I knew that poppies were a common symbol for World War I, but I didn’t quite understand the significance of wearing them on that day. I asked one of the gents sitting across from me and he told me it was ANZAC Day.

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ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The holiday and remembrance marks the anniversary of the 1915 landing by ANZAC forces at Gallipoli, the start of an eight-month campaign that marked the first major losses for the two countries in the first World War. Since that time, ANZAC Day has evolved into a day remembering losses in all wars. Before we set out for the day’s journey, everyone gathered outside for solemn remembrance punctuated by “The Last Post”.

You can read more about the traditions of ANZAC Day here.

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Our first stop that morning was a delightful mural in downtown Joplin. It featured a map of Route 66 along with a fabricated half-Corvette stuck out from the wall that folks could pose around if they so desired. After a few quick pics, we continued west into Kansas and the town of Galena. The New Zealanders loved getting to pose with the collection of Pixar-esque vehicles at Cars on the Route. As everyone wandered about, several local vehicles drove past and gawked at the crowd. Several honked and waved, surely wondering how far these people had traveled to see their little corner of Kansas.

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We had one more place to visit in The Sunflower State: the Brush Creek Bridge in Baxter Springs. I’ve photographed this concrete Marsh Arch bridge many times, but never with such a collection of cars on it! We were joined by Sam’s other vintage automobile, a 1966 Oldsmobile, which had broken down on the way to Chicago a few days before the tour started. Although the group boisterously encouraged me to do so, I did not scale the sides of the bridge for more photos.

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Our first stop in my home state was the Dairy King in Commerce, OK. The Dairy King occupies an old Marathon service station, which originally opened in 1927. Although it has traded gasoline for burgers and ice cream, it has operated continuously for 92 years. Today it’s operated by Charles Duboise and his mother, Treva. Charles is known around the region for his knowledge of local history, which he tells with great gusto; notably the time that Bonnie and Clyde killed a local constable. Dairy King is also known for serving the “one and only” Route 66 cookie. They are pretty tasty! I’ll definitely be back when I can stay longer, I just gotta remember to bring cash. No cards or checks!

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Not far down the road in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh) we made our next stop: the Coleman Theatre Beautiful. I am excited any time I step into this gorgeously-restored 1929 theater and listened intently as our group was told about the history of the Coleman, from the early Tri-State Mining days to the restoration that took place in the 1990s. The stage was being set up for a performance to take place that evening; the main set piece was a giant radio dial!

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I skipped ahead past the Ribbon Road alignment to get everything set at Clanton’s Cafe, our lunch stop in Vinita. Everyone was starving by the time they arrived, which was a good thing: Clanton’s always takes good care of their guests. Sam purchased a few orders of their famous calf fries and offered them to the group before telling everyone what they actually were. To my surprise, it was mostly a non-event. It was a much bigger deal when we all surprised Sam with a piece of cake and a room full of people singing him Happy Birthday.

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The rest of the journey to Tulsa was more of a free-form experience. The tour booklets and hand-programmed GPS units gave travelers the option of any-or-all of several attractions, including Totem Pole Park in Foyil, the J.M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, and the Blue Whale in Catoosa. I headed straight for the Blue Whale so I could chat with Linda Hobbs, who runs the gift shop. Kiwis came and went in a piecemeal fashion as I wandered around the familiar old roadside attraction and had a nice visit.

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That evening, I joined the gang for a final meal together at Baxter’s Interurban, conveniently right next to their hotel. The next morning, I waved goodbye to my travel companions at Route 66 Village in west Tulsa. I headed back to work as they continued west towards Oklahoma City. It was a fun couple of days & I’m envious of their experience as they progress towards Texas and New Mexico.

It occurred to me that leading tours is something I’d like to do more of in the future. I’ll have to look into that…

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Gilligan’s Spring Tour (I)

For the last several years, I’ve met up with the Gilligan’s Route 66 Tour group as they’ve come through Tulsa. Gilligan’s is operated by Sam Murray, a gent from New Zealand that also owns and operates a 1916 boutique hotel on the south island. As such, Sam’s bi-annual tours typically cater to Kiwi travelers. They fly into Chicago, rent a fleet of Mustangs, and drive Route 66 all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It’s always a treat to meet the folks making the journey with him and this year I had the pleasure of following along for a few days.

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On Wednesday, I set out from Tulsa to Paris Springs, Missouri in order to rendezvous with the gang at Gary Turner’s Gay Parita station. I had time to make a short detour, so I stopped for a bit near the town of La Russell to photograph a historic bridge. The clouds were low and air was thick with moisture; it gave the secluded country road a bit of a mystical feeling. The Spring River rushed by beneath my feet as I walked the grated deck. It was just me and the tweeting birds.

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I arrived in Paris Springs just after 11:00 AM, which was perfect timing – it wasn’t even ten minutes later that the first Mustang emblazoned with the Gilligan’s Tour logo arrived. Before long, the rest of the pack had surrounded the little Sinclair station. Roughly two dozen New Zealanders wandered the grounds and talked to George and Barbara, who run the station now that Gary has passed on.

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Bob “Croc” Lile and Jim Livingston (both from Amarillo, TX) were also tagging along with the tour group and working on their book project, I Am Route 66. A German couple had also come along for the trip this time around, driving one of Sam’s vintage cars…a big old boat of a Mercury. An Englishman and his daughter was also in a Gilligan’s Tour Mustang, but he was doing the self-guided version of the tour to allow for a bit more flexibility. We encountered him several times over the next two days.

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After about half-an-hour of exploration, the group saddled up and continued west. The next big stop was at Red Oak II, a remarkable community outside of Carthage, MO. You could call it a ghost town, but it isn’t really – it’s the handiwork of local artist and creative spirit Lowell Davis. Lowell’s home town of Red Oak had completed faded off the map by the 1980s and Lowell decided to convert his cornfield into an homage of sorts. He bought a number of buildings from the original town (as well as other rural communities that had suffered the same fate) and moved them to his farm. So, Red Oak II is and isn’t a real ghost town. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

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Although I’ve been to Red Oak II several times, this visit was the first time I had the honor of meeting Lowell Davis himself. He’s a real charmer with a great sense of humor and a wealth of knowledge. His passions go beyond his homemade town, however: Lowell is known worldwide for his painted art and metalwork, too. The “Norman Rockwell of Rural Art” has sculptures all around Jasper County, notably throughout nearby Carthage. Red Oak II itself is full of quirky, fun metal art and the old barn houses an art gallery of Lowell’s works. The whole place is just magical.

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I left Red Oak II just a bit before everyone else so I could drop in and say hello to Debbie at the Boots Court in Carthage. We visited for a few minutes and I told her how I’d discovered that Bob Boots, son of Arthur (original owner of the motel), had been the original owner of the Boots Drive-In in Tulsa! She directed me to where I could find the late Bob Boots’ grave marker in town – it was emblazoned with images of the Boots Court and the original Boots Drive-In, also started by his father, right there in Carthage.

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The destination that day was Joplin, Missouri. Before dinner, we were treated to a bus tour headed by Patrick Tuttle, director of the local visitor’s center. He took our group around town to show us areas impacted by the devastating 2011 tornado. The tornado was nearly a mile wide and caused enough damage to be the costliest single tornado in United States history. It also killed over 160 people. Cunningham Park has been turned into a memorial to that terrible event; there’s an interpretive plaza that overlooks the rest of the park with several “pencil sketch” outlines representing destroyed homes. The park is a beautiful tribute to all that was lost in that terrible event.

Night fell and we all dined together; I loved hearing everyone’s excitement about the things they’d seen and the people they’d met so far. Several travelers began asking me questions about Oklahoma and I, too, was excited about the things we’d be seeing together the next day. For the time being, however, we’d all earned a good night’s rest.

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To Be Continued…

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Rendezvous in ABQ

When I was elected as the new President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, I also became a board member of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership.  This nationwide group just entered their third year of operation and their annual board meeting took place last weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After taking the Mustang in for a check-up, I packed a bag and headed towards the Land of Enchantment.

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Driving all the way from Tulsa to ABQ in one day is doable, but not advisable. I spent a quiet Wednesday night in Shamrock, TX (The Western Motel, right across from the U-Drop Inn, is comfortable and economical) and continued early Thursday morning. Rather than head straight west, though, I took a detour through the Texas panhandle for a very important stop.

When my mother was a little girl, her family lived in Pampa Texas. I’d recently come into possession of a few old photographs from that time with a street name on the back – but no specific address. Using Google Maps, I found where the photos had been taken…but the street view was way outdated. I had no way to know if the house still stood.

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Thankfully, it was still there – and I was able to take a few photographs. I also drove by the site where my grandfather once owned a service station – though today it’s a Braum’s. I bought a coffee and went on my way.

The next place I stopped, just over the border in New Mexico, was a small town called Nara Visa. In 2000, it supposedly had a population of 112…but that number feels really inflated in 2019. The only signs of life came from the occasional car coming through on Highway 54. The truck stop was closed, the bar was shuttered, and one of the motels had collapsed.

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I soon found myself in Tucumcari, but I wasn’t quite ready to settle on a straight shot to my destination. Instead, I took the 1926-1938 alignment of Route 66 northwest to Las Vegas, NM. The road through the mountains was a beauty; a recent snowfall cloaked the ground in sun-shaded spots. By the time the road took me past Santa Fe, though, the weather had warmed and all the ground was dry.

I took the off-ramp once more at Tewa Pueblo so I could cross off another stop on my map. The Santo Domingo Trading Post dates back to 1922 and enjoyed a spot on that original Route 66 alignment for a little over a decade. The trading post survived after the Main Street of America was re-routed, though, and it served the community until the owner passed away in 1995. Six years later, a fire nearly claimed the site but it has since been mostly restored.

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Finally, after a long (good) day of driving, I arrived in Albuquerque. My home for the next few days was the El Vado Motel – a remarkably resuscitated roadside relic.

The El Vado was essentially abandoned when the city took over some years back. Parts of the adobe were caving in and the parking lot was filled weeds rather than tourists. Today it’s a stunning example of 21st Century vision. The parking lot was turned into a large, lounging patio area (complete with swimming pool – a vanishing amenity). The front few rooms have been converted into “food pods”, basically small restaurant spaces. Several other rooms hold retail shops and a tap room sits adjacent to the main office. Reminds me a bit of Mother Road Market back home, actually.

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And the rooms – marvelous! They have been restored using the same building methods and materials as were used back when the motel was originally built in the 1920s. Although the covered garages were converted to additional rooms, they were designed with history in mind. They are fronted with deeply-tinted glass to simulate those car ports of long ago. There’s even an event space in the back. The restored neon sign out front is the icing on the cake.

El Vado Sunset

It’s the perfect place for a bit of rest – or a bit of work, as was the case for me. The next few days would be full of introductions, revelations, exploration, and recommendation. But all of that will have to wait for another post.

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The Brookshire Motel

In the summer of 2018, I was put in touch with a man named Robert Brooks. Robert is a successful spinal surgeon in the Tulsa area…but I didn’t need surgery. I did have a great desire to speak with him about history. Robert had a connection to an eastern landmark on Tulsa Route 66 that seemingly nobody knew much about: The Brookshire Motel.

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The Brookshire in 2014

When I first laid eyes on it, The Brookshire Motel was an empty shell of a roadside motel near 11th and Garnett. Although their old neon sign still stood, I’d never seen it lit. In fact, I’d never seen ANY lights on at the property. Most of the windows were boarded up and the single car in the lot spoke of a single resident in the old office building. In my research, all I’d found was a series of scandalous arrests and legal issues in the late 1980s and 1990s.

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Meeting Robert Brooks

Robert’s story went back a ways farther. His parents owned and operated the Brookshire back when 11th and Garnett was a country intersection known as “Dead Man’s Corner.” What follows is the history of his parents and the Brookshire Motel as he knows it.

Cecil Jesse Brooks was born in 1906 in Crossett, Arkansas. Cecil’s father was in the railroad business, but abandoned the family early on. Cecil, his mother, and his brother Silas moved to Tulsa in about 1907-1910. Cecil’s mother started a boarding house on Admiral between Peoria and Utica.

Gusetta Juanita Sechrist was born in 1904 in Wichita Falls, TX. When she was 7 (1911), the family moved to Pawhuska Oklahoma in a covered wagon to follow the oil boom. Her stepfather, Raul, became a butcher and lived in Osage County his whole life. After graduating from high school, Gusetta took the train to Tahlequah Teacher’s College. Once her schooling had completed, she moved to Tulsa. She took up residence in the Brooks boarding house while she taught & attended Draughon College (later known as Tulsa School of Business.). Cecil would occasionally borrow his Mom’s car to pick Gusetta up from school; soon, they started dating. Cecil and Gusetta later married.

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Cecil Brooks and a Clermont Club delivery van

Cecil worked as an accountant for an oil company before opening a sundry shop on North Cheyenne and West Haskell. He also owned and operated Clermont Club Bottling Company for several years on Archer, one block south of the Brady Theater. Fun fact: Clermont was the first company to bottle Dr. Pepper in Oklahoma.

After the depression, Cecil owned and operated a sundry store at 4th and Harvard and a billiard hall on 11th Street across from Skelly Stadium. Their son, Robert, was born in a nearby duplex (7th and Harvard) in 1946.

In 1950, the Brooks purchased a motel at 11017 E 11th St and renamed it the Brookshire. To help make ends meet, Cecil also drove a cab at night. Five years after their purchase, 11th street was widened from two lanes to four. A block of rooms next to the road were demolished to make room for the expansion. From that point on, the lowest room number at the Brookshire was 7.

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Rooms 1 – 6 were demolished in 1955. That’s 11th Street on the left.

The most significant building at the motel is the office building, which also served as residence for the Brooks family. Rooms 7 & 8 are directly behind the cottage/office. 9 & 10 (SW corner of the property) had garages while 11 & 12 (immediately north of 9 & 10) did not. The six rooms in the back were built shortly after the first six rooms were demolished in 1955. The room numbers on that building started at 21 as Cecil didn’t want a Room 13. Although swimming pools became very popular, one was never added to the Brookshire. This was partially due to the fact that Robert’s brother Silas tragically died in a drowning accident shortly after the family moved to Tulsa.

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Cecil and Gusetta. Rooms 9 & 10 in the background.

At some point, the Brooks’ purchased the house next door (to the west, now demolished) and divided it into thirds for additional lodging. The house came with a laundry, which was offered for use to guests. The garage was converted into a workshop with a regulation pool table in the back. Also, two trailers were placed on the property just east of the cottage and were offered as longer-term accommodation.

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Cecil’s had a philosophy, which he even printed on stationary: “I live by the side of the road and I am a friend to man.”

The cottage/office had a front door and a back door. The back door was utilized by patrons wishing to rent rooms by the hour. Robert, who lived at the Brookshire until 1963, learned to not ask questions or acknowledge these customers in public if he recognized them. On the flip side, he was fascinated to learn the many dialects he heard from customers that hailed from around the country.

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Gusetta and Robert in front of the office/cottage

The Brookshire was doing so well that Cecil purchased another property farther east. The stone tourist complex at 15625 E 11th St became Brookhaven Court; the rooms there were mostly rented to tradesmen and businessmen on a weekly basis.

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Brookhaven Court

The Tulsa water lines had not yet made it that far into the country when they first owned it, so the Brooks had an old GMC pickup truck fitted with a custom steel tank in the back. They would go to town, fill it up, and bring it back to replenish the cistern that provided water for Brookhaven. Robert remembered the view of Tulsa from their hill was a stunner, as the Brookhaven sat on the highest point directly East of Downtown.

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Ready for water delivery to the Brookhaven

Around 1970-72, the Brooks’ sold the Brookshire to a man named Jerry Gordon. The Brooks moved out to the Brookhaven where they lived in the mail house. After a period of time, Jerry defaulted on his payments for the Brookshire and ownership transitioned back to the Brooks family. After some work to get the place in shape, it was sold again…this time for good.

After they sold it the second time, Robert knew little about the Brookshire Motel’s history. The Brooks lived at the Brookhaven until Cecil passed in 1981 at 78 years of age. The old tourist court was then sold to Jack and Verna Lewis. Gusetta lived until the age of 101, passing away in 2005.

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Cecil and Gusetta. Sign for the Oasis Motel in the background

The Brookshire itself faded along with much of Route 66 in that era. In 1984, one year before Route 66 was federally decommissioned, the motel was purchased by Madhu Patel. Business was getting slower every year and budget motels to the east were close to the Interstate and siphoning guests. Several high profile busts and other negative headlines only furthered the motel’s decline. It continue to operate as a motel for many years, though, even with a poor reputation. Eventually, however, it shuttered completely.

Since I’ve been involved in the Tulsa Route 66 Commission, we’ve been trying to find a way to save the property. It was in bad shape, but the bones were still intact. Route 66 travelers seek out authentic experiences and we saw an opportunity to revive a forgotten relic. However, that journey came to an end on February 6th, 2019.

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A photo was posted on Twitter and I rushed out the door. Ten minutes later, I stood on the pavement of old Route 66 in front of the Brookshire Motel, watching the cottage belch smoke into the evening sky. Fire had claimed the long-standing survivor at 11th and Garnett. A visit by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture confirmed that the main building was beyond saving.

Gone, but not forgotten. Can it be resurrected? Anything is possible – but I am highly doubtful at this point. Rest in Peace, Brookshire.

Many thanks to Robert Brooks for his story and sharing the vintage family photographs that fill most of this post.

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A New Chapter on 66

Last October, the President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association announced he would not be seeking re-election in 2019 due to an imminent move to Texas. As the meeting adjourned that day, one of the members of the association came up to me and proudly said they’d already nominated me for the position.

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Chandler, Oklahoma

I thought long and hard about it. Brad Nickson had served the association well for six years and I already had a lot on my plate. I didn’t want to potentially serve in the role and not give it the attention it deserves. When the association met on Sunday, January 27th, I decided to go for it…and after a vote, I was elected President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. I am excited to see what the future holds, and this has also given me the opportunity to look back and examine the journey that has brought me to this moment.

Compared to most everyone else I know in the greater Route 66 community, I am a newcomer to the fold. I’d been on and around Route 66 most of my life (having lived in Claremore and Tulsa) but I’d never really paid attention to it. I took my first “66 specific” road trip on July 5th, 2013. I drove from Tulsa to Miami, OK to see the beautifully restored Coleman Theatre.

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The moment I had finally traveled Route 66 end-to-end; Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis

Soon after, I explored 66 from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. In 2014, I ventured into southwest Missouri and as far west as Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2015 I finally drove the rest of the route through California, Arizona, and Illinois.

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I knew none of these people when I took this photo in 2015; many are now friends

Along the way I met so many wonderful people that I now consider friends. The first “roadie” I met was Dean Kennedy, who gave me a lift from the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, MO to the 2015 Gasconade Bridge Rally. I met authors like Jim Hinckley and Michael Wallis. I met passionate collectors like Steve Rider, Mike Ward, and Joe Sonderman. I met fellow photographers like Judy Walker and Jax Wellborn. I visited with business owners like Laurel Kane, who would later officiate my wedding, and Croc Lile. I became connected to a great family.

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Lebanon, Missouri at sunrise

In January of 2017, Brad Nickson asked if I would like to be the Tulsa County Rep for the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. By then I was serving on the Tulsa Route 66 Commission and helping occasionally with the Tulsa-based Route 66 Alliance. I said yes and time sped up beyond my comprehension. How is it 2019 already?

With these roles and the launch of my book last year, I have had much less time to spend on the road. There have been times when my camera has stayed in its bag for weeks at a time, only coming out for a specific local purpose. I don’t expect that to change drastically this year, but I do already have a few trips lined up that I am really looking forward to.

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Lunch at the Tumbleweed Grill in Texola, OK

Looking back, I can see how I got here even if I can’t quite reconcile how quick it was. I am honored to be a part of the Route 66 revival happening across the country and proud of the work we’ve done in Tulsa. All of the friends I’ve made on 66 helped get me to where I am today and I am so grateful for them.

Most of all, I am eager to find ways to help others join this community, whether they’re on a one-time bucket-list trip down the Main Street of America or if they’re like I was: someone that jumps in the deep end and falls in love with what Route 66 symbolizes.

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New roadway shields, a project by the Tulsa Route 66 Commission

Here’s to a great 2019 and beyond. See you on the road!

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A Successful Launch

In August of 2016, I wrote a blog post that would have a greater impact on my life than I could ever have imagined. Two months after that visit to the Charcoal Oven in Oklahoma City, I received a call from a publishing company in Chicago; they’d come across what I’d written. A short time afterwards, I had a contract for a book. More than two years later, the result of that contract hit the streets: Lost Restaurants of Tulsa was a reality.

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I hoped it would be a success, naturally…but I had no idea what was in store for me. It all started on December 1. The first place that the public could get their hands on the book was a craft and local goods show at the Tulsa Garden Center called Carols and Crumpets. Sam sells her jewelry there every year and I got to tag along with my book. With no advertising or fanfare, I sold more than a box. A good sign, but I dared not think much of it.

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On Sunday the 2nd, I invited the families that I had interviewed for the book to my home for a celebration. Several people came by, including a few I’d never met in person, and we had a splendid time. During that day, my publisher also let me know the book was already heading for a second printing – and the book hadn’t even hit shelves yet.

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December 3rd was the official Launch Day. I started off by appearing on Good Day Tulsa at the local ABC affiliate. I was pleasantly surprised to find a friend there that was also waiting for a little time on the television: Briana Shepard. She was there promoting her upcoming craft show and had also helped put me in touch with a member of the Bishop family, an integral part of my book. It was also Samantha’s birthday and we celebrated with our usual tradition: a drink at Hodges Bend.

A few days later, I spoke to the Tulsa World and they wrote a wonderful article about the book. I spoke at a local Rotary meeting and to the Lions Club. I was interviewed on the local NPR station. It was a whirlwind and I hadn’t even had the big launch event yet.

My first book signing was at Ida Red, a gift shop/soda fountain downtown. It was First Friday in the Tulsa Arts District, but a cold front kept most people home that night. Still, I had a good stream of people come in to get a copy of the book.

The formal launch event was originally set for Saturday, December 8th at the Tulsa Historical Society. It had been postponed due to a particularly dire weather forecast…but when the day came there was no winter weather. I decided to go up there anyway in case people showed up — and I’m glad I did! Over 50 people came in to see my presentation and buy a book. I was delighted.

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I felt that the turnout would eat into the rescheduled event on Monday evening, but to my great surprise another 120 people showed up to hear me speak and get a bite of some “found” foods. Samantha had spent all day cooking and baking to provide goodies from a few restaurants featured in the book. We had Hot Toddy Bread (Middle Path Cafe), Baked Fudge (The 1800/The Garden), Blackbottom Pie (Pennington’s), and more. It was a massive success!

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Over the next two weeks, I had a near constant stream of book signings all across town. Decopolis, Whitty Books, both Barnes & Noble stores. I brought Morning Buns (Bakery on Cherry Street) to Magic City Books and My Pi Pizza to Mother Road Market.

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I stopped by KTUL again on December 20th for a second spot on Good Day Tulsa (the first one had been interrupted by a national story) and once again bumped into a friend: Michael Wallis. He was there to talk about his new book about Los Luceros in New Mexico. We were waiting in the Leake Conference Room, named after a previous owner of the station – coincidentally, a man who I’d interviewed about another venture of his, restaurant The Razor Clam.

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My last book signing event of the year took place at Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios on Saturday, December 22nd. By then, the publisher had requested a third printing and books were sold out across the city. I brought my last box of books and sold out in less than an hour. I also learned that the book had climbed to #2 on the Oklahoma Nonfiction Best Seller List.

I am thankful. I am awestruck. I am honored. I had hoped the book would be a success and it has surpassed my wildest dreams. I am so very happy that it has been received well and that it is being enjoyed by people across generations. The family stories contained within those pages are important and I am beyond happy that they are now captured forever.

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Thank you to everyone that bought a book. Thank you to everyone that came to one of my talks. Thank you to everyone that told me how excited they were to read these stories. Thank you to everyone that supported me and helped me at every stage of this process. Most of all, thank you to Samantha. I am so blessed to have a partner that is so supportive and so encouraging. I am grateful for you all.

“What’s your next project?” is the question I am most often asked. Truly, I don’t know. I want to get back out on the road and explore new places with my camera. I want to learn more about Tulsa, especially the restaurants I didn’t get to feature in the book. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to write another one some day. For now, though, my next project is a nice long rest.

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America’s Corner

In late November, my friend Nic asked if I had been down to Oklahoma City to see the Railway Museum. I told him I hadn’t, and that was as good an excuse as any to get out of town. I had been stuck in a loop of book-related activity and really needed a break. The timing couldn’t have been better.

Once we left Tulsa city limits, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. 2018 has had far fewer road trips than previous years for a variety of reasons and I think of the open road often. I was so thankful to have a day where it was just me, a friend, and my camera.

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We took I-44 down to OKC to make sure we had plenty of time to explore. There are signs as you enter the city welcoming you to ‘America’s Corner‘. I have always found these signs a bit ridiculous. What kind of nickname is that? It doesn’t have much in the way of marketability. I guess I’m not the intended crowd. Anyway…

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The Railway Museum is wonderful! They have several beautiful locomotives showcasing various eras of rail history along with a number of other interesting cars. There’s a caboose from the late 1800s, a passenger car that has a giant model railroad inside, and more. Nic is something of a railhound so we spent a good deal of time wandering the exhibits and exploring the tracks. The museum recently took possession of an old railway turntable, which I’d visited a few years ago when it was still in an active rail yard. In the coming years, the museum hopes to install it and provide demonstrations.

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Just a few blocks away, the 45th Infantry Museum beckoned for us to explore some more. The grounds of the museum house an impressive collection of vintage military vehicles, from jeeps to tanks to helicopters to airplanes. The museum itself is in an old armory – and I was extremely impressed with the collection. In addition to the artifacts you’d expect to see (firearms, uniforms, and other accouterments from eras of American warfare) they have items taken from Hitler’s personal bunker and original artwork from illustrator Bill Maudlin. Even more vehicles are stored inside, too. Something I didn’t know: the 45th Infantry Division liberated Dachau. There’s a whole room dedicated to it at the museum. It’s a place I really need to re-visit with Samantha.

After our heavier-than-expected visit, it was time to grab a bite to eat. We dined at the nearby Geronimo’s Bakery, a no-frills restaurant known for their burgers. Nic and I sat and ate while the owner discussed the state of football with a long-time customer. It felt very much like the small-town diners I enjoy so much while exploring much smaller towns.

OKC Milk Bottle

There were a few places I wanted to show Nic that he hadn’t visited before. First was the Milk Bottle Building, a classic Route 66 attraction on Classen Blvd. The little 350-square-foot building was once a grocery store, incredibly, but today appears to be empty. The giant milk bottle on top advertised local Townley Dairy for decades, but has advertised Braum’s since I’ve known it.

OKC (2).jpg

We also stopped at Skydance Bridge on the south side of downtown. I didn’t realize how much work was going on with city development right now; currently, the pedestrian crossing that spans I-40 is a bridge to nothing but fences, dirt, and construction equipment. Our visit there was short, as was our stop at the Centennial Land Run Monument. Since we still had plenty of daylight we decided to take old Route 66 home.

Stroud Ozark

It was refreshing to be a Route 66 passenger for a change. I was able to talk about all kinds of local history as we headed east, stopping in a few of the towns for photos. My favorite stop was at the Ozark Trails obelisk outside of Stroud. Although the poor thing is totally covered in graffiti (as it has been for some time) it’s a reminder of a time long past, a time before Route 66 even. There are very few of the old trail markers left…only two in Oklahoma. It’s hard to imagine what long-form travel was like back then.

It was dark by the time we made it back to Tulsa, which is the way I like it. It was a day well-spent exploring places new and old. As I mentioned at the start of this post, this was from November – the last few weeks of my life have been entirely engulfed in Lost Restaurants of Tulsa book stuff. It’s been GOOD stuff, of course…news interviews, presentations, and lots of book signing events. I have a few more events before Christmas if you haven’t made it out to one yet! I have been humbled by the response so far.

December 18th: Mother Road Market (6 to 8 PM)

December 19th: Barnes and Noble on 71st (4 to 7 PM)

December 22nd: Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios (11 AM to 2 PM)

January 19th: Full Circle Books in OKC (3 to 5 PM)

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