The morning of August 19th held the promise of great riding weather, namely sun, warmth and no rain. After a spartan continental breakfast, we explored the main street of Cuba, Missouri on Washington Blvd, which is old Route 66. This old town is known for its historical murals that were painted back in 2003 in an effort to attract tourists and revitalize the downtown core. Whether or not it has had the intended effect is hard to tell, but there is no denying the aesthetic value it has added to the buildings and allure to Route 66 travelers. These murals are more than just beautification since each one tells a story about the town’s history.
My last visit to Cuba was back in 2008 and it seems that more shops are now thriving in 2013. Clearly, many local businesses have Route 66 travelers are their target market and its global tourism that keeps these old towns alive. Despite a plethora of shops, we could not find a decent coffee place that was open. Every now and then, one finds examples of poverty and decay hidden near the well maintained shops. Striking contrasts are a constant feature of Route 66 and this is one of main attractions. Everyday life unfolds in manifestly different ways every few miles and shows you the real America where people do not live in mega cities (20% of the population).
After Cuba, the next stop was World’s Biggest Rocking Chair at the Route 66 Outpost in Fanning, MO. In addition to its colossal roadside attraction, the Route 66 Outpost is a great store with a bewildering assortment of Route 66 souvenirs, T-shirts, confections, beverages, hunting gear and more. Elaine bought a few hat pins and I got a 66 themed white T-shirt. I knew the next few days would be very hot, so white shirts were in order.
The next stop was at the near legendary Route 66 Motors in Rolla, MO. It is a small privately owned garage that specializes in restoring and selling classic cars and has been in business for decades. Inside we found a number of vintage cars in various states of restoration. This place truly has an old world feel to it and takes one back to a simpler time when American cars still had soul and inspired designs.
Our next destination was the Totem Pole Trading Post in Rolla, MO. This year marks its 80th year in business since they first opened in 1933 and it claims to be Missouri’s oldest Route 66 Trading Post. I had driven by their iconic sign back in 2008 , but did not go inside. So this time, I would not pass through without seeing the store. It’s quite the place inside, full of Route 66 merchandise and other items. They proudly display their long history with a series of chronologically displayed photos. Being a family run business, they are rightfully proud of their legacy on the Mother Road and make you feel welcome in their home.
The next destination was a real treat. For years, I have looked at photos and read about the 66 Drive-In Theatre located in Carthage, MO and wanted to see it for myself. On my last two motorcycle trips along Route 66, I had to bypass this landmark. On this trip, time was on my side and I was determined to visit this iconic landmark. I must confess to having a fondness for drive-in theatres, they have a charm and character one does not find in all these new Megaplex cinemas. It comes from a time when families, not corporations, owned movie houses and each theatre was different from the next.
The 66 Drive-In is actually larger than I expected, at least compared to the drive-in’s I remember from my youth. This old theatre is in excellent condition and has kept its original features such as the kid’s playground, the snack stand and the old ticket booth. The theatre was closed until later in the evening, however, Elaine was able to squeeze through the gates and take some photos of the playground area.
Daylight was fading into darkness and we had a long ride ahead before putting down for the night in Yukon, Oklahoma. I made the decision to postpone anymore sightseeing in Missouri until our trip back home. Instead, I wanted to take advantage of what little light was left to make a brief visit to Route 66 in Kansas. There is only 13 miles (21 km) of Route 66 on Kansas, but it is worth the time to see it. The old stretch of road has been frozen in time since the 1950’s.
During my Route 66 trip in 2008, I recall that Kansas seemed hard hit by the recession, in particular, the towns of Galena and Baxter Springs. Five years later, things are looking better for these tiny towns and I also wanted to return to a terrific roadside Cafe that used to be called “Four Ladies on the Route”, now renamed to “Cars on the Route”. The building is old Kan-O-Tex service station constructed in the 1920’s. The new owners have done a terrific job of converting this old service station into a cafe, without destroying its past.
In the parking lot, there is 1951 International Boom truck that inspired the character of “Tow Mater” in the Disney movie Cars. Since the movie’s release, the proprietors have doctored up this old truck to look like its movie alter-ego. When I first saw this truck back in 2008, it had the eyes, but lacked the bucktooth grin and rusty paint job. Nonetheless, it still conveyed a sense of being a cartoon character.
We enjoyed a few beers, chatted with the staff and watched the sunset behind the cafe. Time had deprived us of anymore roadside attractions and the next few hours were spent riding in darkness along the interstate in Oklahoma. The evening ride turned out to be more than bargained for because the interstate was festooned with construction, lane closures, speeding truck drivers and chilly evening weather.
August 19th was a full day indeed that took us well past the first 1000 mile marker on our trip and we still had Texas, New Mexico and Arizona ahead of us. I was also looking forward to a breakfast cooked by Elvis.