Posts Tagged ‘Route 66’

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.

Cyrus Stevens Avery: The Father of Route 66

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

An undaunted champion of human rights and civic causes throughout his almost ninety-two years, Cyrus Stevens Avery — a proud Tulsan by choice — led the effort to establish U.S. Route 66, the most famous highway in the United States and possibly in the world. Without the hard work and persistence of the untiring Avery, it is doubtful that U.S. 66 – the 2,400-mile ribbon of asphalt and concrete that ties together eight states between Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California – ever would have become a reality.

As a result of his dedication and diligence, Avery — founder of the U.S. 66 Highway Association — has become known to tens of thousands of admirers, including legions of travelers and historians, as “the Father of Route 66.”

Born in Stevensville, Pennsylvania, in 1871, Avery came with his family to Indian Territory in a horse-drawn wagon when he was in his teens. He grew up on a farm near Spavinaw Creek in the Cherokee Nation. An energetic highway entrepreneur long before most roads were even paved, Avery graduated from William Jewell College at Liberty, Missouri, and launched his business career in Vinita and Oklahoma City. In 1907, the year Oklahoma became a state, he wed his wife of sixty-five years, Essie McClelland. The Averys established their home in Tulsa, where they raised three children and Cy soon became a successful business and civic leader.

Besides launching several businesses and boosting many major public-works projects, Avery emerged as a voice of reason in 1921 when his adopted city was the scene of bloody racial violence. During the turmoil when the notorious Klu Klux Klan terrorized African-American citizens and brought murder and mayhem to Tulsa’s streets, Avery supervised a victim-relief effort and stood firm against the forces of intolerance and bigotry.

Nicknamed “Mr. Democrat,” the politically active Avery, who among other duties served as a Tulsa County commissioner, was a proponent of the good-roads movement even before he became the first chairman of the Oklahoma State Highway Commission. He served as a leader of the American Association of State Highway Official and also acted as a consulting highway specialist as the federal government developed a national system of numbered highways.

Avery’s efforts paid off when Route 66 became a reality. “We assure you that U.S. 66 will be a road through Oklahoma that the U.S. Government will be proud of,” Avery wrote shortly before November 11, 1926, the day U.S. Route 66 was officially born. Avery’s words hold true today for the many people who continue to use the long stretches of “the Main Street of America” that remain.

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!

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.

Old Roads

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

As I travel this land I witness cities coming back to life. I see buildings of value with architectural merit and historic significance saved and recycled. I hear more and more voices speaking up for the built environment, for preservation, for honoring our history and culture. I listen to children and adults of all ages who truly care about saving the past, protecting what is left today, and who also are committed to fight the good fight in the future.

I am, of course like some of you, a helpless and chronic optimist. I see no cure or hope for that condition ever changing. And for that I am pleased.

Perhaps that explains in part why I travel ALL roads. But if there is a choice involved, I choose the old ones — the historic roads — every time.

I keep in mind the words from so long ago of the renowned English artist and poet William Blake:

“Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.

This country still has such roads — roads of genius.

To be sure, the land is also crisscrossed with no shortage of interstate highways and byways built to try to handle the constantly increasing glut of vehicles that crowd the lanes.

As I already told you, I drive ALL roads. So do all of you. We have no choice. Even I possess a Pike Pass to make my journeys more efficient when I traverse Oklahoma’s turnpike system.

Yet I also construct my daily life in such a way that as often as possible I shun the Pikes and superhighways and go to the winding two-lane bands of varicose concrete and asphalt. Some times I even seek the timeless trails of dirt and stone. I prefer traveling the roads of genius.

That requires not getting oneself in the position where you are forced to “make time” as some say. Like everyone I am seduced by all of the technology created to supposedly make our lives more efficient and expedient. But sometimes — sometimes — it is so good to choose an old path. Click off the cell phone, switch off the CD and the AC, roll down the windows, ease up on the gas and experience America before the nation became generic. Before the country was littered with gargantuan malls, slap dash franchises and chains that all came out of the same cookie cutter.

When you travel one of many remaining stretches of the Lincoln Highway — the Father Road — making its way through thirteen states from Times Square to the Golden Gate, you encounter a broad range of pure Americana.

When you find yourself on the Tamiami Trail with a belly full of stone crabs and sporting a fresh sunburn, you can become a Miccousouke Indian on the prowl for gators, a smuggler bringing in a load of contraband, an eight-year-old kid hoping Dad pauses at Everglades City so you can buy a carved coconut head.

When you rise and fall on the High Road to Taos in the Sangre de Cristos, you become part of an O’Keefe canvas as you pass through a litany of villages where people once uttered the language of Cervantes in this often puzzling land that time forgot.

And when you cruise Route 66 through eight states between Chicago and Santa Monica, you can transform yourself into anything or anyone you want to be — Billy the Kid, Woody Guthrie, Dorthea Lang, Tod and Buz, Ma Joad, Easy Rider, Lightning McQueen, Elvis.

Journeys down the historic roads are up close and personal. You are not as distant from the ecology of the land and from the people who live there, as you are when you drive an interstate highway. On the old roads you are physically closer and more connected to the land and the people. You use all your senses during the driving experience. Sometimes it is good and sometimes not so pleasant. You may see the woman in hair rollers mowing her lawn and smell the freshly cut grass, on the other hand you also pickup the aroma of fresh road kill. You may dine at a greasy spoon and come away with ptomaine or you may find a cafe serving a meatloaf platter worth dying for.

It can be a crapshoot. The old roads are never predictable. You find the good, the bad, and the ugly but come away with memories —both bitter and sweet — that enrich your life and stay with you forever.

Historic road treks promise the quintessential road trip for all those willing to steer clear of the predictable, the banal, and the humdrum. If, however, only the predictable will do and the notion of adventure and discovery bring on anxiety, then a historic road trip should be avoided at all costs.

These old roads are paths for travelers, not for tourists. There is a huge difference between the two. Tourists invariably stand out amongst the locals. You can tell if someone is a tourist with a single glance. They are the folks who when they go abroad always want to take America along for the ride. And when they travel in the United States, they still look and long for the familiar from their hometown. They flock to the franchise eateries and the chain motels because they know what to expect. They are not risk takers and will never take a chance, even if it could lead them to a memorable place or a person that they will never ever find again.

Tourists have a tendency to gawk at history and culture from afar. They do not wish to get too close. Also there is the time factor. Tourists are in a hurry, willing to fit in as much of the ordinary and predictable as possible as long as it is safe, cheap, and by all means comfortable. Interstate highways and turnpikes are their made-to-fit courses of choice.

Travelers on the other hand are more apt to enjoy cruising one of the historic highways. People who hanker for the hidden places off the well-beaten tourist path know that is the way to go. They are flexible, curious, and ready to discover new things and in so doing perhaps discover something new about themselves.