Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

The S.S. Admiral

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

This fine old craft is mentioned in Route 66: The Mother Road. I have fond memories of it, here’s a taste from my book:

“On summer afternoons, below the well-used Route 66 crossing [the Chain of Rocks Bridge], shrill whistles from the calliope of the S.S. Admiral could be heard up and down the river. The Admiral, an all-steel excursion luxury liner with five mammoth decks, became a fixture on the riverfront. It was popular with natives and visitors to St. Louis and was billed as the world’s largest inland steamer. On summer evenings couples sipped cold beer and danced in air-conditioned comfort as the big ship churned through muddy waters beneath a canopy of stars and moonlight.

During the late 1970-s and early 1980-s, the steamer’s hull was damaged and the excursion ship became snarled in financial difficulties. It ended up moored at the downtown levee alongside renovated sidewheelers and a floating McDonald’s restaurant. The S. S. Admiral stopped cruising the river and the sound of its calliope could no longer be heard at Chain of Rocks.”

Ollie’s Station

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Ollie's Station

In the photo Michael and Suzanne Wallis at Ollie’s Station, on Route 66 (AKA Southwest Boulevard), Red Fork, Oklahoma. Ollie’s Station Restaurant is a popular eating establishment for Mother Road travelers. The railroad motif, including ten running model trains, also attracts a large number of train buffs.

New Orleans

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

New Orleans

Jim Fitzgerald and Debbie Courtney in rear, Michael Wallis and Suzanne Fitzgerald in front, on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, 1968.

We came from all points and converged in “The Big Easy.” It was the spring of 1968 and some time in New Orleans seemed like a sweet tonic for all of us.

We were young, confident, and the world was our oyster. Speaking of shellfish, we ingested plenty at Felix’s, the cozy bar on Iberville Street where folks have devoured tasty ice-cold oysters on the half-shell for generations.

This photograph taken by Proud Mary Wall, one of our gang, shows Michael and Suzanne and behind us Jim Fitzgerald and Debbie Courtney. Jim is one of Suzanne’s brothers and is now my literary agent. Debbie went on to become a country-western singer. The four of us are ambling down Bourbon Street, the famous avenue that spans the length of the French Quarter.

Only a couple weeks before our New Orleans adventure, American soldiers swept into the South Vietnamese village of My Lai and massacred 504 unarmed and unresisting women, children, and old men. It would be almost a year until word of this tragedy became public. Just short days after the photo was made, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be shot dead in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel and then shortly after midnight on June 5, Robert Kennedy would be mortally wounded in Los Angeles.

But on that bright day on Bourbon Street, our bellies filled with oysters and beer, we were far from war and knew nothing of what was to come. We were midnight ramblers and daydreamers out for a stroll and fast falling in love.

Woolaroc Buffalo Skull

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Woolaroc Buffalo Skull

In January 1926 — about three months after oil tycoon Frank Phillips officially unveiled his new Woolaroc lodge at his ranch in Oklahoma — his first major shipment of animals — a herd of buffalo — arrived at the ranch. Phillips already had cattle grazing in the pastures, and a dozen buffalo were growing fat in a meadow, but he wanted more. The new buffalo Phillips selected came from Pierre, South Dakota, and were part of the largest wild herd left ion the country. A total of 183 buffalo were shipped — 120 for Phillips, 53 for the Miller brothers at the 101 Ranch, and 10 for Waite Phillips’ new ranch located in the mountains of northern New Mexico.

Phillips could boast that he owned the second-largest herd of buffalo in captivity in the United States. His 132 buffalo put him ahead of Pawnee Bill, the showman who kept a sizable herd of bison for his Wild West show. Only the Millers’ herd of 200 buffalo was larger than the herd at the Frank Phillips Ranch.

In tribute to Buffalo Bill Cody, a childhood hero, and because of the importance of buffalo in the development of the American West, Phillips selected the big shaggy animal — the monarch of the plains — as the official symbol for his ranch. A buffalo-head illustration adorned the ranch stationery, and when the herd was thinned or an old animal died, their skulls were tacked on the lodge walls or in prominent places around the ranch.

The buffalo skull in this photo is from the original herd and was presented to Michael Wallis after the publication of Oil Man, his biography of Frank Phillips.

Mid-Point Cafe on Route 66

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Mid-Point Cafe

When you’re here, you’re halfway there!

Route 66 travelers should keep in mind that a worthwhile stop awaits them at Adrian — a highway on the western end of the Texas Panhandle. There life continues for a handful of highway businesses including the Mid-Point Cafe & Gift Shop, one of the oldest eateries on the Mother Road.

Originally only one room with a dirt floor when it opened in 1928, the café has added importance other than its continuous service and superior food. A monument sign just across the road acknowledges that Adrian and the café is the official midpoint of Route 66, equidistant between Chicago and Santa Monica. People from around the globe have taken countless photos in front of the sign. Either direction, it’s 1,139 miles.

Those who are smart enough to enter the cafe are in for a real treat. Not only are the daily specials and succulent burgers some of the best on the old road, but the Mid-Point is the place where the famous Ugly Crust Pie originated and is still served.

Big Texan Steak Ranch

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Big Texan Steak Ranch

All of my many journeys down the linear village of Route 66 take me through a diversity of places ranging from big cities to small farm and ranch towns and, of course, the wide open spaces. Since I was a teenager one of my favorite stopping points along the way is the Big Texan Steak Ranch nestled deep in the heart of the Texas Panhandle on the eastern edge of the high plains city of Amarillo.

Although no longer on the original Mother Road alignment, this steak lover’s paradise remains one of the most revered icons on every Route 66 travelers’ “must experience” list.

Like so many of the great culinary palaces travelers encounter, each and every visit to the Big Texan Steak Ranch is memorable. And I am no exception. People from around the globe flock to the place and keep coming back for more. They show up in every kind of motor vehicle imaginable, including one of the Big Texan’s own limousines with longhorns mounted on the hoods.

Some of the diners are locals, who over the years helped establish the Big Texan’s enormous gastronomic reputation. Many are travelers who read about this oasis of hospitality in guidebooks or saw it featured on television shows and in documentary films. Others come because they are curious after hearing countless stories about the place and what transpires inside the cavernous building. But most people who stop are interested in what the Big Texan does best — make hunger pangs vanish.

Simply put, this legendary highway mecca is tailor-made for anyone who enjoys good food and entertainment. The Big Texan routinely turns out beefsteaks so succulent that even diehard vegetarians have been known to fall off the wagon and depart as dedicated carnivores looking forward to their next visit.

That has been the case ever since 1960. That was when the late R. J. (Bob) Hall, formerly a Kansas City restaurateur, his wife Mary Anne, and their growing brood of kids founded the Big Texan alongside Amarillo Boulevard, one of the aliases still used by U.S. Route 66 as it snakes through town. In no time the ingenious entrepreneur’s towering sign of a long-legged Texas cowboy lured swarms of weary and hungry motorists off the Mother Road to refuel on choice steaks cooked over open flames and served with all the trimmings.

Folks knew they would feast on top-quality fare because there was nothing instant at the Big Texan except the service. I was one of those diners. Since the first time I cut into a Big Texan steak when just a sun-tanned boy of summer, I have known I would never leave the table hungry or disappointed. The Big Texan and the Lee family have never let me down. I am willing to bet good wages they never will.

Even when Bob Lee moved the business from its original site to a new location next to Interstate 40 I stayed loyal to the Big Texan, as did many other Route 66ers. In truth the Lee family had little choice but to relocate. It was either make a move or face what so many other businesses suffered — death by interstate.

By November 1968 Interstate 40 muscled its way past the Amarillo city limits and business at the Big Texan plummeted overnight. Bob Lee could not stop the inevitable. As I was later to write about the coming of the super slab: “Most of Lee’s customers vanished as quickly as a pat of soft butter on a hot-baked spud.” Bob Lee himself told me that he never forgot that fateful day when his “business went to absolutely zero.”

Instead of whimpering and turning tail, the Lees persisted. In 1970 they moved to the present location where to this day the Big Texan Steak Ranch remains a staunch Route 66 supporter and successfully competes with the generic cookie-cutter joints crowding the interstate highway. In 1976 after a horrific fire gutted the west wing of their restaurant, the Lees rolled up their collective sleeves and rebuilt. In fact, they expanded and added more features just as they always have done throughout the many years of serving the public. That is why legions of Route 66 travelers pause to buy Mother Road mementos and tangle with all manner and size of grilled beef. The Lees have never forgotten that it was Route 66 that “brung them to the dance.”

That is why I will always stop there. I stop to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on the time of day. I stop to see the best marketing gimmick on Route 66 when some stalwart soul attempts to devour the famed 72-ounce Big Texan steak and all the trimmings in an hour or less, or shell out a buck for every ounce. I go there to spend the night in one of the comfortable cowboy-style motel rooms. I go there to soak in the Texas-shaped swimming pool after a hot day on the open road. I stop to stock up on the latest in Route 66 souvenirs and road treasure. And I go there to see old pals and make new friends, knowing there will be plenty of both each time I show up.

Although founding father Bob Lee passed away in 1990, leaving behind Mary Anne and their eight children, the Big Texan remains in loving hands. Today the three eldest Lee siblings — Bobby, Danny, and Diane — jointly own and operate the business complex and continue to dispense the same hospitality that has always made the Big Texan a success.

Bon apetit!

Last Stand Hill

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Last Stand Hill

Michael and Suzanne at Last Stand Hill in Wyoming. They are looking southwest. The markers indicate where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 41 members of his regiment were killed by victorious Sioux and Cheyenne warriors on June 25, 1876. Along with the soldiers, 39 cavalry mounts also were killed, some by soldiers themselves to use as defensive breastworks. All the markers are on the western slope of the hill, 10-20 yds. from the crest. One marker indicates where Custer’s body was first buried before being interred at West Point. The view from this spot includes the Little Big Horn Valley where the immense Indian camp skirted the Little Big Horn River.

Michael and Suzanne, 1968

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Michael and Suzanne

The first time I ever saw Suzanne was when I walked into that classroom at the University of Missouri — a raw and ready guy straight out of the Marines. I was struck by those Irish-Danish looks. Her smile and hair and eyes knocked my socks off.

That was in 1967. Nothing has changed that way.

Our lives blended in the turbulent and wonderful 1960s and since those long ago days we have become one in so many ways. She inspires me, counsels me, and keeps me on course.

Once I tried to find the right words to describe how I feel about this woman. Then it struck me — I remembered being a little boy and coming downstairs at Christmas and seeing that tree. I recalled the tinsel, and gifts, and the candles and ribbons. That’s what it is like being with her — that is what it is like every time I’m off somewhere and come home or those times when I look up and she walks into the room. It all comes back full force and I‘m a kid again moving down those stairs and I’m seeing those lights. She still gives me that Christmas light feeling.

My Irish luck held when she came into my life.

Fort Builders

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Fort Builders

On May 7, 1955, I proudly wore my coonskin hat when Giselle MacKenzie sang the top tune of the week on Your Hit Parade. Like every one of my pals, I knew the words were true. We sang Crockett’s ballad at the top of our lungs as we built forts from old Christmas trees and cardboard boxes, transforming the neighborhood into our own version of Crockett country.”

From the Personal Introduction, David Crockett: The Lion of the West, by MIchael Wallis, W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Michael Wallis and Marian Clark

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Michael Wallis and Marian Clark

In 2004, best-selling author Michael Wallis and Marian Clark, the recognized authority on all culinary aspects of Route 66, teamed up to produce Hogs of 66: Best Feed & Hangouts for Roadtrips on Route 66, published by Council Oak Books. In this now classic road book, Michael regales his readers with personal stories from the historic Mother Road while Marian shares generous tips on havens of hospitality and dining options along the entire length of the highway as it makes its way from Chicago to Santa Monica. All together, the book is a savory stick-to-the-ribs stew sure to please any travelers of the open road.

The Spinners

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

The Spinners

“The Spinners,” Santa Fe, New Mexico, Jan. 1, 1970. From left, Easy Gravy, Michael Wallis, Louis De Carlo, Suzanne Fitzgerald, James Fitzgerald (kneeling), Proud Mary Wall, Ed from the East, Soapy Foster.

On the very first day of 1970, we climbed into a battered red Chevy pickup truck in Santa Fe, and struck out for Taos. Joining us was our brother Jimmy, between boot camp and Vietnam, along with a band of creative co-conspirators – Proud Mary, Louie, Easy Gravy, Soapy, Ed from the East, and the pickup’s owner, Matt, who during the years of the Vietnam draft lived by the alias of T.K. Flannigan. Filled with much of the spirit that drove Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, we dubbed ourselves the Spinners.

As gypsy-footed as our name and spontaneous as our freshly-drafted New Year’s resolutions, we made the decision to leave in a heartbeat. Some of us wore remnants of our old army and Marine uniforms, others were clad in vintage cloaks and plumed hats and an assortment of colorful caps, mittens, and costumes. Between us we had a few dollars, a couple of old blankets, a bit of rum, and a lot of hope. A tarot card – The Fool – dangled from the rearview mirror.

It was bitterly cold and snow covered the ground. In deference to the low temperature that hovered in the teens, we didn’t take the preferred High Road to Taos that winds through a string of mountain villages. Instead, we chose the more direct route on the highway that slices through canyons and rock walls flanking the icy Rio Grande.

We were on a quest, hoping to find a woman we had heard and read about. We believed she could help us understand all we would need to know in order to start a renaissance. We were young and filled with optimism. No challenge seemed too great – not a seventy-five-mile ride on a frigid winter’s day in the back of a pickup, not the ordeal of securing shelter for the night, and not even the rather lofty notion that the Spinners could actually launch a major cultural movement.

Michael Wallis Interviews Andy Warhol

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Michael Wallis Interviews Andy Warhol

In 1980, while working as a Special Correspondent in Time Magazine’s Caribbean Bureau based in Miami, Michael Wallis covered iconic Pop artist Andy Warhol’s visit to Miami Beach. Warhol’s series of silk-screen prints called “10 Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century,” depicting such luminaries as Gertrude Sten, the Marx brothers, and Albert Einstein, had just opened at the Lowe Art Museum in nearby Coral Gables. Warhol also was keenly interested in seeing the stunning architecture of the Art Deco district that was just emerging in the South Beach area thanks to the efforts of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), founded by Barbara Baer Capitman, a noted preservationist. Wallis was not only working as a journalist in the area at that time but also was a member of the MDPL and a close friend of Ms. Capitman.

“My fondest memory of the several days I spent in Warhol’s company,” recalls Wallis, “was how he enjoyed taking photos of all the photographers who appeared wherever we went during his stay in the Miami area. He carried his own small camera and constantly used it to snap pictures of the restored hotels of South Beach as well as the journalists on his trail.”