Last Thursday, Sam flew to New York to spend a few days with her family. Although I couldn’t join her, I was super happy for her. She hadn’t been up for a few years and, although her family was at the wedding, it wasn’t quite the same as being home. She would also get plenty of playtime with her niece Avery, who she dotes on something fierce. Her trip freed me up to make some plans of my own. As usual, I planned a little road trip. “Little”, of course, didn’t stay that way. By the time I returned home on Sunday evening, I put over 1,000 miles on the odometer!
Since my little trip had grown so much, I decided to get a head start and leave right after work on Friday. I figured a night’s stay in El Reno (just west of OKC) would give me a good jump-start on Saturday’s itinerary. On the way down, I stopped in at a Route 66 eatery I had been meaning to try out: Ann’s Chicken Fry House. The little restaurant was once a service station and they have a few classic cars on the property to recall those glory days. They are well-known for their chicken fried steak, so of course that’s what I had. It was really good! I still mark Clanton’s in Vinita as the best, but Ann’s is right up there. Great service, too! On the way to my hotel, I saw the restored sign on Yukon’s grain silo lit up for the first time — it is glorious and you can see it coming for miles!
I awoke before sunrise, eager to get on the road…only to be greeted with a frosty windshield! It was below freezing, much to my surprise; I had only glanced at the weather before I left and saw sunshine and mild afternoon temperatures. Once I’d warmed the car (and myself) up, I hopped on old Route 66 and headed west. I timed it perfectly so that I arrived at the Canadian River bridge at sunrise. It was gloriously absent of motorists; I had the 38-truss span to myself. By the time I reached Lucille’s Station in Hydro, the sun had risen completely, bathing the landscape in a warm orange glow. There’s something special about the early hours of a weekend morning, especially when I’m on the road somewhere. It’s my favorite part of the day. And that’s not just because it also comes with breakfast food. That’s an added bonus!
I greatly enjoyed driving the hilly two-lane road through the countryside, usually as a solitary vehicle. By the time I got through Weatherford and Clinton, the rest of the world had woken up. I found plenty of little sights I had missed entirely on my last drive through this stretch of the Mother Road, and others that I hadn’t given proper attention. It’s amazing what a difference it makes having Jerry Mcclanahan’s EZ-Guide as my co-pilot; Oklahoma isn’t great about signing the road and guiding travelers organically. We aren’t special in that way, though…none of the states do it right.
One of the stops I was most looking forward to was the Timber Creek Bridge, which is just outside of Sayre. I had somehow missed this bridge EVERY time I came out west, even though each time I saw it from I-44 and made a note to stop the next time through. I happily buzzed on and around the bridge as the distant interstate traffic zoomed by, oblivious. The bridge itself is threatened with replacement, so who knows if it’ll be here next time? Nothing lasts forever, and that’s the enduring message of Route 66. A few minutes later, I arrived in the town of Erick. That’s where I finally met Harley Russell at the Sandhills Curiosity Shop, which I wrote about here.
I crossed the Texas border at about 11:30 AM. When I arrived in Shamrock a few minutes later, I was shocked to encounter an abnormal amount of traffic. It turned out that I had arrived in Shamrock during their annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival! The parade had just concluded and a car show was gathering at the U-Drop Inn. One of my favorite buildings on the entire route was surrounded by classic cars! I walked around and talked to folks while I took pictures, introducing myself to the Chamber of Commerce folks working at the Station and even meeting the Mayor of Shamrock! Even though the whole town was packed, I drove a few blocks south of 66 to see the restored Mongolia Service Station; one of the sights I’d missed entirely on my previous journeys.
Winding farther west, I made my next stop in the town of Alanreed. You can’t even really call it a town anymore; it’s a collection of houses and a few dilapidated reminders of Route 66’s golden years. The bright spot is a partially-restored “Super 66” service station. It gets pretty overgrown in the summer, so I was happy to see it before the foliage was out of hand. Unfortunately, the tiny community has seen some vandalism recently. An old historical marker (which included a Texas Route 66 shield) was stolen from the cemetery and the historical marker at the service station had been defaced. It’s really disheartening to see this kind of destruction. Several properties in Oklahoma and Missouri have had signs stolen and damage inflicted recently. I just can’t make sense of why someone would do such a thing.
I arrived in Amarillo ahead of schedule, which was a good thing. My early arrival meant I could go on a side-trip down to Hereford, taking me about an hour southwest of Amarillo. Just past the town is a series of dirt roads that seem to be leading to nowhere but farmland and cattle ranches. Out in the middle of that Texas flatland is a small concrete chapel flanked by barbed wire fence. It’s all that remains of a World War II P.O.W. camp. There were no signs leading me to it, and the historical marker at the site is tucked in the back; if a friend hadn’t alerted me, I’d have never found it. I imagine that a lot of people that live nearby have no idea it’s out there. The air was still and silent as I walked the small memorial, wondering what it must have been like for the Italian prisoners.
By the time I made it back to Amarillo, I was hungry. I stopped in at my friend Dora’s antique shop (Texas Ivy) and visited a spell while I waited for my buddy Croc to call me. Bob “Crocodile” Lile was one of the first Route 66 roadies I met last year and a good friend. We met up at his Art Gallery just before 5:00 PM, which I’d never actually seen with my own eyes. Croc makes jewelry and mosaics out of paint chips that fall off of the cars at Cadillac Ranch; they’re really something special. While I was admiring the works in his gallery, a woman named Phyllis stopped in and talked to us about a new book she put together, designed as a Route 66 showcase for children. It was pretty cool, and very much like many of my Route 66 experiences: being in the right place at the right time.
Dinner was great, as was the beer. It was the perfect cap to a wonderful day of driving! I saw many things I hadn’t seen before, even though I’d been down the same road. Sunday would be a day of all-new experiences; I was heading up to the Oklahoma panhandle to visit a part of the state I’d never seen before.