Archive for the ‘Overview’ Category

During my Route 66 trip in 2008, I shot about five hours of video and edited it into this five-minute film, which won second place at the First Person Impressions national film competition.  See how many sights you can name!

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1472915&dest=-1]


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Valentine Diners

Valentine Diners began their nearly forty-year career in Wichita, Kansas during the Great Depression. Invented by Arthur Valentine, they were prefabricated eight-to-ten-seat diners that one or two people could operate. Valentine diners could be found along roadsides to attract travelers, in industrial areas to attract workers, and in small towns.

Though the buildings were prefab, the menu was not – it was up to the owner of the diner to make it successful with his or her cooking.

Unless the diner was purchased in full, each (early) unit had a wall safe inside the door, where the owners would put a certain percentage of their profits for a Valentine Representative to collect on his rounds. 

Because the diner was delivered on a flatbed truck, if a diner owner stopped making payments, the flatbed would return and take the diner away.

A few genuine Valentine diners exist on 66, though hardly in their original forms.  We tried to eat at one in Sanders, AZ, but it was closed on a Sunday morning.  A Valentine Diner in Winona is closed and likely up for sale.  The diner at the Twin Arrows Trading Post (picture later) is boarded up.  I’m not sure that any others are currently up and running as restaurants – I believe that there’s one in Santa Rosa, NM, used as a construction company office.

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Loose Ends

New Mexico has a lot less drivable Route 66 than Oklahoma.  It seems that much of our tour was interstate

What stretches it does possess, however, are absolutely wonderful.  There’s a 9-mile stretch east of Albuquerque, seen from the top of a mountain,  that stretches over rolling hills to the horizon.

The surrounding country is enormous, filled with red rock, some black lava, and cut through by the BNSF railroad whose cargo trains go back and forth along the landscape continuously.

What impresses me most about New Mexico is the amount of vintage stuff in the small towns.  The sign for the defunct Club Cafe is still up in Santa Rosa.  Tons of motels in various states of repair still have neon in various states of repair.  Defunct 66 is much more palpable in New Mexico, if the road is not.

Tomorrow: Arizona after an evening in the El Rancho Hotel Motel in Gallup.  This is the place that classic movie stars stayed while filming westerns.  Impressive.

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In 1926, the Whiting brothers of St. John, Arizona realized that with just a little bit of lumber and a couple of gasoline pumps they could turn a huge profit with motorists in the Southwest. 

Among their other target markets was the newly-established Route 66.  Service stations grew into small stores, cafes and motels. 

By the 1990s, the chain was out of business, but during its heyday, the red and yellow WB signs were as frequent as 7 Eleven stores.

West of Albuquerque on old 66 you can still see the ruins of a few Whiting Brothers filling stations and motels.  We stopped by an old one today that probably won’t be around for many more years.  Only one functioning WB store exists on 66 in Moriarty, east of Albuquerque, but it was not on our agenda today.

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Loose Ends

Between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, fewer vestiges of old 66 exist – mostly remains of gas stations

Just north of Oklahoma City, absolutely nothing would suggest that 66 ever existed.

We were so tired this evening following the drive, we didn’t make it to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial as we would have liked.  Perhaps tomorrow, but it will take some backtracking.

Tomorrow is a big drive, too – we start in Oklahoma, cut through the northern Texas panhandle, and finish in Tucumcari, NM.  I’m not sure that internet will be available tomorrow night, but keep checking until you see something.

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You can’t think of Route 66 without thinking of the 50’s and 60’s.  And you can’t think of the 50’s and 60’s without thinking of Raygun Gothic architecture.

Raygun Gothic is a generic term for 50’s motel/bowling alley/diner design, a’ la the Jetsons.  Think of neon signs that look like sputnik.  Acute angles, boomerangs, parabolas and flying saucers were the inspiration.

Raygun Gothic can include Streamline Moderne (think of an old airstream camper), Art Deco, and Googie/Populuxe/Doo-Wop (think of the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign).

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Supply and Demand.

The story of Route 66 is simple.  When cars were invented, people needed roads to travel long distances.  Early roads were called “auto trails,” but varied in quality, and were often built by chains of small towns along a path.

In 1918, Federal Highways started popping up – official routes from place to place.  In 1927, Route 66 became the official Route from Chicago to Los Angeles by linking bits and pieces of three separate “auto trails” – The Lone Star Route, National Old Trails Road, and the Ozark Trails System.

It would be another 11 years until the entire road was paved.  Money was made by farmers pulling cars out of the mud when it rained. 

There could not be a more inconvenient time for a road to be part paved and part gravel and dirt.  Farmland dried up in the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, and 200,000 farmers moved west to California along the route. 

The route also became popular with truckers moving goods from city to city and state to state.

With all of this traffic, gasoline was needed.  Service stations popped up.  Motels and cabins, lodges and campgrounds, restaurants and diners popped up, too.  Indian Trading Posts and tourist traps of every type became popular.

Small towns that Route 66 went through bloomed.

Then, President Dwight Eisenhower decided it would be a pip if people could drive through the US without stopping.  In 1956, he signed the Interstate Highway Act.

Traffic on the interstate no longer had to go through Glenrio, Texas or Catoosa, Oklahoma.  Motels and diners and tourist traps were no longer needed, and died, by old Route 66, on the roadside.  Whole towns like Bagdad, California were literally wiped clean.

Today, Route 66 still exists, in large part, going through ghost towns as well as major cities.  The early 1927-38 dirt road still exists in some areas, too.  Some sections of the old road have been demolished completely, or replaced by interstate 40.  My hope is to follow the old route as best I can.

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