Sep 292015
 

This was the first day after my accident and somehow it still seemed surreal to me.  When I woke up, I noticed that my body was spotted with bruises, patterned like some sort of a fat middle aged giraffe.  It made me chuckle a bit, because I looked ridiculous with the bruises and the road rash.  I felt some pain in my joints, but nothing so drastic that I could not get on with my day, albeit with a fresh pair of pants.

For motorcycle road trips, I always make it a point to bring at least one extra pair of pants.  I’m glad I did, since the accident left my favourite pair of cargo paints a tattered and blood stained mess.  As someone who despises shopping, perhaps the worst aftermath of the accident is that someday I will have to shop for a new pair.

Bloodied and torn pants from the accident

Bloodied and torn pants from the accident

Nostalgia For Albuquerque and Beautiful New Mexico Vistas

There were a lot of miles ahead and I was looking forward to spending some time both in Albuquerque and Flagstaff.  Also, some of the best riding in the Southwest is between New Mexico and Arizona.  It is astonishingly beautiful terrain under azure blue skies.  Nothing but infinite horizons and striated mountains and buttes.

Albuquerque holds a special place in my heart as it marks the beginning of my love affair with Route 66.  Way back in 2000, when I was living in North Andover, MA., I flew into Albuquerque and rented an SUV to explore Route 66 all the way to Flagstaff.  I had the luxury of three full days on the road to travel this relatively short distance.  I was able to take time to explore every nook and cranny of Route 66 between Albuquerque and Flagstaff.  Indeed, it was a very  rewarding trip and it changed my life.

Back then, there was a lot more of Route 66 alive and well in Albuquerque.  Within a day of being there, I knew the Southwest was the place for me. I had a room booked at the historic El Vado Motel and ate my first meal at the Route 66 diner.  I was instantly captivated by the Sandia Mountains, the Painted Desert, the small roadside towns and the incredible vistas that never seemed to end.  The Southwest was in my blood and I made it my mission to live there.  Luckily for me, I was able to live in Phoenix for just over 3 years, from 2000 to 2003.  Through a series of unfortunate events, I had to move back to Canada, but in my heart, Arizona is still my true home.

So here we are 15 years later and the spirit of the Mother Road is still alive in Albuquerque, but some of it is waning.  Historic motels, such as the El Vado and the De Anza Motor Lodge, are no longer in business.

De Anza Motor Lodge, Route 66, Albuquerque

De Anza Motor Lodge, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico

De Anza Motor Lodge, Route 66, Albuquerque, NM

De Anza Motor Lodge, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Longing for the El Vado Motel

On a personal level, the closure of the El Vado motel is saddening.  It was in business for over 70 years and its historic neon sign with the Indian Chief was enshrined in Route 66 lore.  It was the end of an era and a really great motel.  Today, the property is fenced off and in a state of decay.  The city of Albuquerque purchased the land and removed the neon sign in order to preserve it.  Whether or not the El Vado will ever re-open remains uncertain.  Similary, I had also stayed at the De Anza Motor Lodge back in the early 2000’s and it will be missed.  Here are some shots taken back in 2009 before the sign was removed.

El Vado Motel, Albuquerque, New Mexico (2009)

El Vado Motel, Albuquerque, New Mexico (2009)

El Vado Motel, Albuquerque, New Mexico (2009)

El Vado Motel, Albuquerque, New Mexico (2009)

These days, Albuquerque is increasingly split into poor sections in the east and university students in the west.  Somehow it just felt different, perhaps it was my distorted perspective after the accident, but there is also the reality of historic businesses going out of business and the subsequent changes to the city landscape.

Back to the 1950’s at the 66 Diner

On a lighter note, the fantastic, 1950’s themed 66 Diner is still going strong.  I love this place to bits, it takes one back to a simpler time with great home cooked American food and milkshakes.  Perhaps it is a bit kitschy, but it is done right and remains true to its roots.  It is a facsimile of days gone by, but it was well done with just the right dose of nostalgic decor and historic authenticity.  I expect that the 66 Diner will remain in business for a long time.

66 Diner, Albuquerque, NM

66 Diner, Albuquerque, New Mexico

66 Diner, Albuquerque, NM

66 Diner, Albuquerque, New Mexico

After a tasty milkshake, it was time to motor on to Flagstaff, AZ.  There was precious little time to really explore and re-discover Albuquerque, not to mention several historic Route 66 places along the way.  As I have seen them many times in the past, it was not a great loss, but still, a part of me really wanted to have the luxury of more time and chance to spend at least two more days on the road to Arizona.  In a perfect world, I would never leave the southwest 🙂

The distance between Albuquerque and Flagstaff is 325 miles (523 km), not a very long ride, but still one that has to be done in a day.  My goal was to be in Flagstaff early evening so I could enjoy a nice dinner and relax for a bit.  Moreover, I had to manage my time carefully so I could be in Barstow, CA, by Sunday.  A total of 677 miles (1089 km) would be covered in two days.

The Continental Divide

There was time available to make a few stops en-route.  I could not resist seeing the Continental Divide again.  A continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, or else is endorheic, not connected to the open sea.  More to the point, it is a good photo opportunity set against some beautiful mounts and there is a cool Indian trading post onsite.

Continental Divide, Route 66, New Mexico

Continental Divide, Route 66, New Mexico

Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post

Upon arriving at the Arizona, New Mexico border, I paid a visit to the Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post.  It is a place I have frequented several times, both as a tourist and a resident of Arizona.  It is a “must see” place for Route 66 travelers and decent place to get some souvenirs.  There are many shops there which sell a mixture of cheap souvenirs and high quality jewelery.  I bought my girlfriend a necklace and earrings, and I purchased a few cigars for myself.

Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post, Route 66 , Arizona/New Mexico Border

Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post, Route 66 , Arizona/New Mexico Border

Teepee Trading Post, Route 66, Arizona/New Mexico Border

Teepee Trading Post, Route 66, Arizona/New Mexico Border

Riding Westward on I-40

Then it was back onto I-4o towards Flagstaff, it was already after 5 PM and I wanted to make sure there was still time for dinner.  There are so many great Route 66 attractions between the border and Flagstaff, but I would have to pass them over and check a few out on the way back home.  Nonetheless, it is beautiful countryside and in a way, the voyage across northern Arizona felt like home again.

Cruising on I-40, Northern Arizona

Cruising on I-40, Northern Arizona

I made a few brief stops en route to take photos of the setting sun and Humphries Peak on the horizon.  It is hard to miss this majestic mountain, after all, it is the highest natural point in Arizona, with an elevation of 12,637 feet (3,852 m).  The mountain is situated 11 miles north of Flagstaff.

Looking Towards Flagstaff on I-40, Arizona

Looking Towards Flagstaff on I-40, Arizona

Arrival in Flagstaff, Arizona

My tank was almost bone dry when I rolled into Flagstaff.  After refueling, I rode down Route 66, which brought back a flood of great memories.   I was looking forward to dinner at Granny’s Closet restaurant, one of my favourite Arizona eateries.  The country style or “down home” cooking is really good and it has an old school ambiance reminiscent of the 1950’s and 60’s.  Lucky for me, the prime rib au jus was the nightly special.  It was delicious and tender.

Granny's Closet, Flagstaff, AZ. (2013 road trip photo)

Granny’s Closet, Flagstaff, AZ. (2013 road trip photo)

During dinner, I made a few phone calls to book a room close to the restaurant and much to my chagrin, all the local motels were booked solid.  There were a few rooms available at the Holiday Inn, but for inflated prices.   Eventually, I managed to book the last room available at the Western Hills Motel and it was a crappy smoking room.  I am no stranger to this motel, it used to be my “go to” place when I lived in Phoenix and made weekend trips to Flagstaff.  For the most part, it is basic, clean and right on Route 66.  However, the downside is that it borders the train tracks and all night long, you are kept awake by the blast of locomotive horns.  Moreover, the prices have doubled since my last visit.  Gone are the days of budget summer accommodations on the Mother Road!

Western Hills Motel, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Western Hills Motel, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico

On the following day, the mandate was to arrive in Barstow, CA and with that comes a punishing ride across the oven-like heat of the Mojave desert.  A far cry from the cool mountain air in Flagstaff.

Sep 212015
 

Let’s face it, riding a motorcycle is not the safest thing in the world.  If you want safety, buy a Volvo and drive it as little as possible.  For the rest of us, we know that sooner or later, a motorcycle accident can happen and it happened to me. July 14, 2015 was a day that started out well enough, but halfway through, I got into an accident that nearly wrecked the bike, left me road rashed and battered.  More on that incident later…

It Started Off as a Good Day

It started out as a perfect Texas summer day: bright skies, not too much wind and low humidity.  I slept soundly the night before after a great steak dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.  I stayed overnight at their motel, so it was a short walk back to the restaurant for a very satisfying, Texas sized, breakfast.  It seemed like a good day was ahead, I would put down a lot of miles and enjoy Route 66.

Before getting back on the road, I snapped a few photos of the Big Texan Steak ranch in the morning sun.  Hitherto, I only had night shots of this famous place and I failed to notice the ever so-cliched Cadillac with bull horns affixed to the hood.  Now that’s a great look!

A True Texas Car

A True Texas Car

Arguably second only to the Big Texan Steak Ranch, the Cadillac Ranch is Amarillo’s most famous Route 66 roadside attraction.  Even though I have seen it three times before, I always like going back to see it again.  It is truly never the same place twice, each day the colors and graffiti on the buried cars are renewed by countless tourists armed with spray paint and occasionally, inspired imagination.   I fired up the Harley and headed west out into the desert, home of the Cadillac Ranch.

The Cadillac Ranch

On my way, I stumbled upon a new Route 66 attraction, the Oasis RV Resort, which pays homage to the Cadillac Ranch.  Either I passed by this place on my last Route 66 road trip or it is new business.  Either way, the giant cowboy and the gorgeous vintage Cadillacs mounted on sloped stands caught my eye.  Definitely worth stopping for a few photos.

The giant cowboy was interesting enough, but on closer inspection it turned out to be propaganda for the Second Amendment (the right to bear firearms).  Okay, I have no issue with that, but what I could not figure out is why he is not carrying any firearms?   After all this is Texas, he is a cowboy and he’s an advocate for the Second Amendment.  Poor chap, I felt like he was neutered.

Second Amendment Cowboy, RV Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Second Amendment Cowboy, RV Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Once I had my kicks at the Oasis RV Resort, it was time to get back on road and take some photos at the Cadillac Ranch.  It must have rained during the night or the day before, as the field was quite muddy and normally it is bone dry.  I liked the change on the terrain, somehow it added some texture to the photos and I was not inhaling fine dust.  As expected, there were plenty of people lurking around with spray paint adding to the inches thick layers of paint adorning these Cadillacs buried in the desert sand since 1974.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

From Wikipedia: Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, U.S. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm. It consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs: the tailfins) from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Vega, Texas – Last Town Visited with an Intact Motorcycle

The next Route 66 town west of Amarillo is Vega, TX.  There’s not much to see or do there, but it still has one or two businesses trying to capture motorists with some roadside kitsch.  I made a brief video and took a few shots and then it was off to the Midpoint Café in Adrian, TX.

Roadside Kitsch, Texas Style

Roadside Kitsch, Texas Style

Midpoint Café in Adrian, TX

The Midpoint Café derives its name from being the midway point between Chicago and Los Angeles along Route 66. the Café’s slogan is “when you’re here, you’re halfway there”.

Route 66 Midpoint, Adrian, Texas

Route 66 Midpoint, Adrian, Texas

It was built in 1928, expanded in 1947 and during Route 66’s golden years it was open 24 hours a day.  It is the oldest continuously operating Route 66 cafe between Amarillo, TX and Tucumcari, NM.

Adrian was bypassed by I-40 in 1969 and the Midpoint experienced a sharp decline in business.  By the late 20th century, the town’s population dwindled to 220 people and in 2008, only 149 people were left.  Things looked bleak.  In 1990, Fran Houser purchased the business, naming it the Adrian Café.  Her original plan was to establish an antique shop at the site.

Since then, the Midpoint Café has experienced a renaissance thanks to worldwide tourism on Route 66 and its rebranding.  From wikipedia:

Efforts to put “Historic Route 66” back on the map date to 1987, with Angel Delgadillo’s Arizona Historic Route 66 Association obtaining historic signage on Arizona State Route 66. Other US Route 66 states soon followed, using the “Route 66” brand to attract visitors from as far afield as Europe and Australia.

The Midpoint Café’s current name and identity were adopted in 1995 on the advice of travel author and US Route 66 Association founder Tom Snyder.

    “The president and founder of the U.S. Route 66 Association called me one day. He said, ‘Kid, you better do something because you are at the midway point of Route 66. You need to change that name.’” — Fran Houser, former owner of the Adrian Café

The shop began selling antiques on consignment by 1997 alongside its “nostalgia food” menu of breakfasts, hamburgers and the home-made desserts which it calls “Ugly Crust Pies”.

This strategy has worked and today, the Midpoint is a very busy place.  In fact, it was so busy, that there was only one parking spot when I arrived.  Inside this vintage themed restaurant, I cooled down from the mid-day’s heat with some ice-cream and iced tea.  Afterwards, I took some photos at the midpoint sign.

Midpoint Cafe, Route 66, Adrian, Texas

Midpoint Cafe, Route 66, Adrian, Texas

Roadkill, Texas Style

Next, I was in for a real Texan surprise: a rattlesnake that was run over by a pickup truck. Somehow the snake was still moving, but without a head. Seems the autonomic nervous system was still working.

Rattlesnake Roadkill

Rattlesnake Roadkill

Before heading back on the road, I made a brief stop at an old Phillips 66 gas station currently undergoing renovations.  It looks like there is still quite a bit of work to be done before it becomes a new Route 66 roadside attraction.

Phillips 66 Gas Station, Adrian, Texas

Phillips 66 Gas Station, Adrian, Texas

Phillips 66 Gas Station, Adrian, Texas

Phillips 66 Gas Station, Adrian, Texas

I was excited about seeing New Mexico again and spending some time in Tucumcari as well as Santa Rosa.   However, the day ahead was not what I expected, and both the Harley and I nearly met our demise.

The Monsoon Came and Then the Harley Went Down!

Just as I was leaving Adrian, a desert monsoon rolled in.  Within seconds, the rain came down hard and fast, it only a minute to soak the road and my clothes.  I continued riding down Route 66, waiting for the rain to abate or find a safe spot to put on my rain suit, then all of a sudden, about 100 feet ahead, I noticed a metal gate pulled across the road just as it curved to the right.  Instinctively, I pulled in my brakes and then bike skidded on the slippery road, I lost control and I’m going down!   I am thrown off the bike and rolled on the ground a few times, from the corner of my eye I could see the bike flipping over, once, maybe twice.  Everything is happening in slow motion and the adrenalin kicks in.  At some level, I know I’m not seriously injured, but before this whole horrible event is over, my first thought is: can I ride and is the bike still roadworthy?  Being stranded in the middle of a Texas desert is not a pleasant thought.

It all seems so unreal and I am shaken and injured.  When the adrenalin is rushing through your veins, pain is numbed and you do not know how hurt you really are.  I get up and start to walk, I flex my hands and thank God there are no broken bones.  However, I got a case of road rash and blood is flowing out of both forearms, right hand and left knee.  The Harley came to rest on the road’s shoulder and it sloped into a small ditch.  Next step is to check out the bike, I could see some debris on the road, but it’s plastic, no major parts came off.  Good, maybe it will still run, but first I have to get it out of the ditch.

Norwegian Samaritans To The Rescue

I struggled to upright the 850 lb bike to no avail, the slope in the ditch made it really difficult and I am injured.  A minute or so later, some good Samaritans come to my rescue.  They are a Norwegian couple touring Route 66.  No doubt, they had not planned on helping out a stranded and injured biker, but what the hell, it will make a great story for them.  They made sure I was okay, gave me some water and a towel to wipe off the blood.

The husband helped me get the Harley out of the ditch and back on the road.  I pulled in the clutch to start the engine and it runs, but there is a problem:  the roll bars were bent in and I could no longer use the heel and toe shifter to change gears.  The left side roll bar would have to come forward about two inches.   Eventually, the Norwegian and I used our combined strength and we bent back the bar just enough to clear the shifter.

I tried to call my insurance company, my girlfriend, Melissa and my buddy Michael in Phoenix.  However, I could not get good reception and was unable to make any calls.  One way or another, I would have to travel to the next town to use my mobile phone.

Bruised and Damaged,  Harley and Rider Carry On

The Harley still runs, but it is quite damaged and is most likely a write off.  The question is whether I can still ride it since the bulk of the damage is to plastic components.  The engine, frame, tires, lights and brakes are fine.  The handlebar has a slight bend and the windshield is cracked.  I tested all the controls and they work.  Time to give it a test ride, I get back on and go a half mile up and down the road, it seems roadworthy.

The real test is whether it would handle highway speeds.  So, the Norwegians suggest they follow me for a few miles on I-40 and if there is any trouble, they offered to help.  However, if everything is fine, I would give them the thumbs up and we part ways.  After 10 minutes of highway riding, I was confident things were good and I gave the thumbs up signal.

Calling Out In a Ghost Town

I would have to make a stop further west to see if I could get cell phone reception and also document the damage to the bike.  Ironically, the next exit on I-40 is Glenrio, NM a ghost town right on the Texas border.  There was no reliable reception in Glenrio, just abandoned buildings.  Oh well, may as well take a few photos and a video to document the accident.

After departing Glenrio, I knew there was nothing but desert ahead until Tucumcari, NM, around 44 miles due west.  Once in Tucumcari, I would make my phone calls and look for some bandages and duct tape.  I stopped at a little Mexican restaurant, and ordered iced tea and a sandwich.  I called Melissa, told her about the accident and understandably, she was very upset and worried.  It took me a while to reassure her I was Okay and was going to continue on the road trip.  I also spoke with my buddy Michael DiGregorio in Phoenix and he offered to come rescue me if required and put my bike on his truck.  The downside is that he is 10 hours away.  I was unable to contact my insurance company as the lines were busy and after being on hold for over a half hour, I gave up.  Seems like it was a popular day for accidents.

Tucumcari, New Mexico.  Blood? Yes! Bandages?  No!

My arms were still bleeding and I used up several napkins mopping up the blood.  The poor girl working behind the counter must have been really confused.  I needed bandages, gauze and antibiotic creme, but Tucumcari is a small New Mexico town and  most of the businesses were closed by 5 PM.  Only two small pharmacies in town and they were closed.  There was NOWHERE to get any first aid supplies.  Oddly enough though, I was able to purchase duct tape at an Ace Hardware store.  I taped up the loose bits of plastic, did my best to secure the fairing against further damage and then it was back on the road.

The day was almost gone and what a shitty day indeed.  I was confident that I could go on to Albuquerque.  I knew it would take a few days for my wounds to close up and I would be dealing with aches, pains and bruises along the way.  Big deal, its not the end of the world!  When I take account of the accident, I feel like fortune was on my side, I mean I could have been seriously injured or even killed.  What a lucky person I am to sustain only minor injuries and still continue on my trip.  It was the best outcome for a bad situation.  It also tells me Harley-Davidson’s are tough bikes.  The damned thing skidded and flipped over itself and it still rides!

The road ahead was a wet one, the New Mexico skies were gray and there were intense periods of rain.  It was a understatement to say I was on edge riding in the rain after the accident, but I was determined to make concentration trounce fear.

Josephs’ Bar and Grill, Burritos and Insurance

I stopped for dinner at Joseph’s Bar and Grill in Santa Rosa, NM.  Joseph’s is a wonderful Mexican restaurant that originally opened in 1956.  The famous Fat Man logo was a fixture on the Club Cafe built in 1935 on Route 66.  The restaurant closed in 1991 and fell into a state of decay and disrepair.   Joseph and Christina Campos purchased the building with plans to reopen the Club Cafe. Unfortunately the building could not be restored and it seemed the historic Fat Man logo would be lost forever.  The Campos who also own Joseph’s Bar and Grill, just down the street, decided to bring the Fat Man logo home to their restaurant.  Today, the Fat Man log survives and has become a Santa Rosa and Route 66 icon.

Fat Man logo at Joseph's, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Fat Man logo at Joseph’s, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

After the day’s events, something as simple as a burrito at this historic restaurant was like manna from heaven.  It was the first time in hours I was able to relax and let the stress leave my body.

While waiting for dinner, I finally spoke with my insurance company and provided them with details of the accident.  They were really helpful and offered assistance to get me back home in case the bike was no longer roadworthy and medical coverage if needed.  After all, that’s why one has insurance.

Onwards to Albuquerque

I’m a stubborn SOB and despite the accident, I was determined to make it to Albuquerque.  There was another 115 miles ahead and the ever present threat of rain.  This damned monsoon season, it can happen anytime during the summer months.  Fortunately, dinner at Joseph’s allowed me time to relax, regroup and refuel, I felt confident I would make it to Albuquerque before 10 PM.

Dark Skies Ahead. Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Dark Skies Ahead. Santa Rosa, New Mexico

I arrived in Albuquerque and eventually found a modest motel on the western fringe of the city.  It was 9:30 PM,  I was exhausted and come hell or high water, I would get myself some Jack Daniels and do my best to put the accident behind me and make a short video of my thoughts on this unfortunate, but lucky, day.

Sep 132015
 

Pressure comes in many forms, in most cases it is caused by others demanding your time and resources and in other cases, it is self-caused.   I have to admit on this day I was feeling a lot of pressure, all of self-caused by my travel agenda and expectations.  There was still a lot of ground to cover and I was supposed to be in Barstow, California the following weekend to meet up with my friend, Ray Huston.

Many More Miles Ahead

As mentioned in my previous post, the pace traveled with Markus was a slow one, including leisurely stops to enjoy Route 66.  This was my first traveling alone again and I could feel the clock ticking since there was over 1,320 miles (2124 KMs) to travel to Barstow.  The road ahead was going to be a scorcher, with average daily temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38C).  I had to triage which places I would visit and which I would bypass along Route 66.  There was just no way to make as many stops as originally planned.  Many of them I have seen before, so, as much as I would like to see them again, they would be passed over.

Purchasing a New Video Microphone

An important item on my agenda was to replace the faulty video microphone, so I could have decent audio for interviews.  I finally found a real camera store in Tulsa that sold good quality microphones, so I dug into my pockets and purchased a nice Sennheiser microphone, which was put to use the same day.  The downside was that it took almost two hours to get to the camera store, check out some microphones, make a purchase and get back on the road.

There was considerable traffic in Tulsa on account of road construction and detours.  My GPS went brain dead a few times, giving me bad directions and I seemed to be going in circles.  The constant starting and stopping in 100 degree heat meant both the bike and I were overheating.  Eventually, I found the way back onto the interstate and had time left for a couple Route 66 stops before Amarillo, TX

A Wild Goose Chase to the Rock Cafe

Back in 2008, I visited the Rock Cafe, in Stroud, OK and thought it would be a nice treat to see this picturesque road side attraction once more.  For some reason, my GPS was struggling with Oklahoma. It took me on a goose chase along some back roads and instead of steering me to the Rock Cafe, I arrived at another Route 66 diner, which looked interesting, but it was closed.  Not good…the heat was merciless, it was 85% humidity with temperatures well over 100F.  I had to cool down for bit before getting back on the road, the heat was truly debilitating.  About twenty minutes later, I arrived at my intended destination and I was sweating buckets.

Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK

Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK

The Rock Cafe derives its name from the local sandstone used in its construction.  The cafe was built in 1936, it officially opened in 1939 and the famous neon sign was constructed in the late 1940s.  It functioned as a Greyhound bus stop during the second world war and from 1959 to 1983, owner Mamie Mayfield kept it open 24 hours a day until she retired at age 70.

In 1999, a category F3 tornado damaged the neon sign as well as several local businesses.  In 2001, the Rock Café was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, qualifying it for matching grants and loans to finance its historic restoration.  With a federal grant and a loan of $30,000 in matching funds, the Rock Café was restored with new heating and air conditioning systems, replacement of the original wiring, restoration of neon signage and a return of the building to its original layout.

Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK

Restored Neon Sign. Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK

In 2007, travelling Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire, depicted the café in one of his works.  The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives also devoted part of an episode to the Rock. The January 2010 edition of “Oklahoma Living” magazine named the Rock Café “Best Oklahoma Diner”, featuring its proprietorm Dawn Welch, in a cover photo.  Similar to my previous post, for CARS on the ROUTE, there is another tie in to the Pixar movie “Cars”.  The Rock’s owner, Dawn Welch, a long-time promoter of U.S. Route 66 in Oklahoma, is the basis for animated character Sally Carrera.

Sally Carrera

Sally Carrera from the movie Cars

Meeting “Elvis” in Canada County, Yukon, OK

I avoided eating at the Rock Cafe, so I could have a late lunch at a true Route 66 experience: the Fat ElvUS Diner in Yukon, OK.  It combines an old school diner, with great food, generous portions, walls jammed with Americana decor and it’s run by an Elvis impersonator.  Since discovering this place back in 2008, I have always made it a point to stop there on my Route 66 trips.

The owner, Darin Thrasher aka “Elvis Thrasher” is one of Route 66’s best kept secrets.  There is a lot of pride and promotion of the Mother Road in the diner’s decors and souvenirs, as well as the home cooked food.  Everything is traditional here: the meals are cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients, nothing is reheated or prepackaged.   The bottom line is that this is some of the tastiest diner food on Route 66.  If that was not enough, he is also an award winning Elvis Impersonator.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Darin Thrasher aka “Elvis Thrasher”, owner of the Fat ElvUS Diner

I presented Darin with a print of his likeness which I transformed into Banksy style graffiti.  It astonished me to learn that he had already seen this image on the internet and he was wondering what was the source.  Now he knows and my print occupies a spot on his wall of souvenirs and mementos.

Banksy Style

My Banksy Style photo at the Fat ElvUS Diner, Yukon, OK

I ordered the aptly named Fat ElvUS burger and even with a healthy appetite, it was a challenge to finish this delicious and meaty treat.  After lunch, I asked Darin for an interview.  It was time to break out the new video microphone and put it to work.   I am glad he took time out of his schedule for some music and words about Route 66.

When I left the Fat ElvUS diner, I realized how late it was.  It was 5:30 PM and I had to get to Amarillo, Texas by PM for the Big Texan Steak Ranch.  I  booked a room at their onsite motel and wanted to make sure I had time to enjoy a proper steak dinner.  I had to cover another 245 miles in 105F heat and there was no time left for sight seeing.  I got back on I-40 and rode like a madman, only stopping when I needed gas or water.  So, I topped off my tank before leaving Yukon, OK and rode non-stop for 3 hours.  I stopped only once to refuel in Alanreed, TX, about 67 miles east of Amarillo.  About fifty minutes later, I rode up the to the Big Texan, mouth watering with anticipation of a giant steak and cold beers.

Big Steak and Beers at the Big Texan Steak Ranch

The legendary Big Texan Steak Ranch is the Lone Star state’s quintessential Route 66 attraction.  Everything about it is big, bold, loud and over the top.  The restaurant has mastered the art of roadside promotion.  Any motorist traveling I-40 is bombarded with signs advertising the “Free Steak 72 oz challenge”.   Basically, anyone who can eat a 72 oz steak, along with two sides and a salad in under an hour gets the meal for free.  Most fail, but those who succeed get a spot on their wall of fame.

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Big Texan Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

The reigning champion of the 72 oz steak challenge is Molly Schuyler, a 120 lb woman who downed three 72 oz steaks and the sides in a mere 20 minutes!  It just defies all logic, if you have a hard time believing it, just watch this video.

Big Texan Steak Ranch

Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

The place was packed and I was seated at the bar until a table was ready.  Their beer is brewed right on the premises and it’s very good, in fact it’s better than many micro-breweries.  After a long day of riding in desert heat, it tasted like nectar from heaven.  As I was no longer riding, I could drink to my heart’s content.  Some 25 minutes later, my table was ready and so was my appetite.  I ordered a 21 oz top sirloin, it barely fit on the plate!

Steak

21 oz Steak

After finishing this behemoth slab of meat and downing a few more pints of beer, it was time to interview one of the staff and talk about the Big Texan Steak Ranch as well as the 72 oz free steak challenge.  Thankfully, I was still sober enough to operate my camera and ask a few coherent questions.

After another pint, it was time to call it a day and walk across the parking lot to the motel room.  Indeed it was a good day and worth the self-imposed pressure to arrive in Amarillo.  Between the Fat ElvUS diner and the Big Texan, I had consumed enough meat to last me the week.  Let’s face it, Oklahoma and Texas are not two states known for their salads and vegetarian restaurants.  Meat rules!

Sep 052015
 

Some days can be a mixture of simple fun and bitter sweetness.

This was the last day that Markus Foerster and I would be traveling together, he was on a deadline make his way up to Nebraska to cover an international volleyball tournament.  He would have to leave by mid-afternoon and there was a lot to see along the way, so we had to use our time wisely.  Markus really wanted to see the famous “CARS on the ROUTE” cafe in Galena, Kansas.  This quirky little place was instrumental inspiring characters, such as Tow Mater in 2006 Pixar Movie “Cars”.  This was my 3rd visit to Galena and I was looking forward to seeing it again.

Springfield, MO.  A Very Short Visit

After breakfast, we made a quick drive through downtown Springfield, MO and photographed a few buildings.  No doubt, Springfield has a lot more to offer, but we had to be in Kansas by early afternoon.

Shrine Mosque, Route 66, Springfield, MO

Shrine Mosque, Route 66, Springfield, MO

66 Drive-In.  Not Quite As I Remembered It.

A good Route 66 roadside attraction in Missouri is the “66 Drive In” located in Carthage.  If you open up any of the tour books on Route 66, you can find its image, but what we saw was not quite the same.  The large “66 Drive In Theatre” writing that used to adorn the back of the movie screen was gone. Perhaps they are repainting it and will restore the writing, after all, that was its stand out feature.

The theatre opened in 1949 and during the 1950’s the screen was widened from the original 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9 widescreen to lure people away from their TV sets.  It remained in business until it was closed in 1985, it was renovated and re-opened in 1998.  The theatre has operated continuously since then and shows movies on fridays and weekends.

66 Drive In, Route 66, Lebanon, MO

66 Drive In, Route 66, Carthage, MO

66 Drive In, Carthage, Missouri back in 2013

66 Drive In, Carthage, Missouri in 2013

Gary’s Gay Parita Sinclair Gas Station. Another Route 66 Legend Closes Down

Our next stop was another famed Route 66 roadside attraction, Gary’s Gay Parita Sinclair Gas Station, in Ash Grove, MO.  Gary Turner’s Sinclair Gas Station was a re-creation of a circa-1930 gas station owned by Fred and Gay Mason that stood in the tiny hamlet of Paris Springs, Missouri, until it burned down in 1955.  Gary Turner passed away in January, 2015 and the business was closed.   There is a great interview with Gary Turner done by National Geographic if you want to learn a bit more.

I really hope someone steps up to the plate and re-opens this historic business that entertained visitors from around the world.  Many of the old guard along the Mother Road are passing on and the next generation needs to keep it alive.

Gary's Gay Parita Sinclair Gas Station, Ash Grove, MO

Gary’s Gay Parita Sinclair Gas Station, Route 66, Ash Grove, MO

Gary's Gay Parita Sinclair Gas Station, Ash Grove, MO

Gary’s Gay Parita Sinclair Gas Station, Route 66, Ash Grove, MO

Cars on the Route and Melba The Mouth: The Origin of Tow Mater

Anyone who has seen the Pixar Movie, “Cars” would recognize the character Tow Mater.  Well, the origin for the character and allegedly the movie, can be found at “Cars on the Route“, in Galena, Kansas.

Back in 2008, I first visited this great little spot and it was called “4 Women on the Route”, so called because the 4 owners were all female.  This little cafe and gift shop is a restored Kan-O-Tex service station originally built in 1934.  It remained vacant and abandoned until 2007 when it was fully refurbished, complete with old gas station pumps and vintage cars.

Cars on the Route

Cars on the Route, Route 66, Galena, KS

Parked outside there is 1951 International boom towing truck which inspired the creation of Tow Mater.  As I recall, back in 2008, the truck only had a pair of eyes places inside the windshield and since the release of “Cars”, it has undergone modification to more closely resemble Tow Mater.  Apparently, John Lasseter, the creator of “Cars” visited this establishment several years ago and was inspired to create characters based on the old vehicles parked outside.  As to what extent “4 Women on the Route”, helped form the storyline and movie is open to interpretation, yet there is no Lasseter’s drew deep influence from Route 66.

Tow Mater

Tow Mater

Tow Tater

1951 International Boom Towing Truck, the inspiration for Tow Mater

Tow Mater look-a-like

Tow Mater look-a-like at Cars on the Route

One of the original owners of “4 Women on the Route”, Melba Rigg, aka “Melba the Mouth”, happened to be working that day and boy, were we in for a treat.  She is a veritable bundle of energy and information about Route 66 and the old trucks parked outside.  She can definitely talk up a storm and does a fantastic job entertaining visitors from around the world.

Melba the Mouth

Melba Rigg aka “Melba the Mouth”

In the hour or so Markus and I were at “Cars on the Route”, we saw dozens of visitors running the gamut from bikers, to families, international tourists and children.  It seems that Galena has seen a renaissance since the release of “Cars”.  Back in 2008, I thought Galena was on the verge of becoming a ghost town.  Most businesses were boarded up and there were no people around, I’m glad to see this is no longer the case.

Farewell to Markus Foerster, It’s Been a Pleasure Traveling With You.

The visit to Galena was the bittersweet portion of the day.  It was time to bid farewell to Markus Foerster, who had traveled with me for the last 4 days and it was time for me to travel solo out to Barstow, California, well over 1300 miles west.

The sun would soon be setting and I figured I had just enough time to see visit Miami, OK, a town I had overlooked on my previous Route 66 road trips.  I made a brief stop there and took a few photos and got back on the interstate to ride out to Tulsa, OK and call it a day.  There is really not much in Miami and I though the best roadside attraction was Waylan’s Ku Ku Hamburgers. It is an old school hamburger restaurant that would have been right at home in the 1950s.

Waylan's Ku Ku Hamburgers

Waylan’s Ku Ku Hamburgers, Miami, OK

Overall, this day was a bit thin on miles traveled.  No matter, it was my last day with Markus and we decided to spend it at more leisurely pace and enjoy our last few hours together over some lunch and beers at “Cars on the Route”.  Time well spent I dare say and hearing “Melba the Mouth” entertain and educate visitors about Route 66 brought a certain magic and charm into our lives.

Where has the Time Gone?

Tomorrow was another day and I was starting to feel the heavy crunch of time weighing down upon me.  I had not traveled as many miles as planned and knew I would have to make up time by taking the interstate out to Texas and forgo a number of stops along the way.  Two and half weeks on the road to travel from Ajax, Ontario to Barstow California is a lot of ground to cover.  Perhaps even a tad too ambitions.  That said, I did not regret the 4 days that Markus and I traveled together, it was a one of a kind experience that could only happen on Route 66.