Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Talkin' the Talk - Route 66 Style

Day 5: 220 Miles
Total: 1,658 Miles

Today was a day for both exploring and meeting new friends. Route 66 is more about the people you meet than anything else; and like yesterday, we made several new friends. The day began with us backtracking a few miles from our overnight haunts in Baxter Springs, Kansas to Riverton and then Galena, Kansas. First stop was the Rainbow Bridge shown below. This is the last of its style on Route 66. I was told that it had once been covered in graffiti before being restored. When I was here four years ago it was beautiful, and it still is. Gorgeous bridge architecture; definitely one of the gems of Kansas.

Another Kansas gem is the 4 Women on the Route store in Galena. Still run by three of the four women (the other passed away), this is a nicely restored gas station turned gift shop and snack shack. Unfortunately for us the women weren't there when we arrived, but brother Robbie greeted us warmly and kept us entertained with stories of the restoration of the station and especially with stories about "Tow Mater". 

For those of you familiar with the movie "Cars" you may recognize the vehicle standing in-between Sharon and I. This is the tow truck Pixar used as inspiration for Tow Mater in the movie, and also in Cars 2. They had a coloring contest to name their truck (since they couldn't really use the movie name) and a young schoolgirl came up with the winning name - Tow Tater. So if you want to see the truck and learn why Tow Mater drives backwards so well, take a visit to see the 4 Women (and Robbie of course).

We quickly re-drove the 13 or so miles through Kansas, entering Oklahoma fairly early in the day. We drove through Commerce (home of Mickey Mantle) and Miami (home of a beautiful little downtown area) before reaching Afton and meeting our new friend Laurel. Laurel operates the Afton Station and Route 66 Packards Museum. The facility is a restored DX gas station, and there are 18 vintage automobiles on display; mostly pristinely restored Packards. 

Laurel was a joy to talk to and a wealth of information about the Mother Road. She moved from Connecticut to Afton, Oklahoma 10 years ago and has become a Route 66 fixture. Thanks for sharing your time with us Laurel!

Our next stop was a famous icon on the Mother road - the Blue Whale of Catoosa. The whale was built in 1970-72 and became the focal point of what was to become the swimming hole for an entire community. There were typically 100 - 150 kids swimming there every day during the summer at its peak. Eventually the swimming hole was closed in 1988 and the blue whale fell into a state of decay. Three local Chamber of Commerce presidents headed up the effort to restore the whale, and much funding came from local business owners who used to swim there as children. The whale is a thing of beauty, and even though there is no longer swimming allowed in the pond, people are free to picnic, fish or just walk onto the whale and take in the scenery. Most of the information here was passed on to us by another new Route 66 friend we met - Blaine Davis. Blaine is the curator of the whale and it was his father who first built the whale.

We then drove through Tulsa, which has a number of great old neon signs and a few nicely restored motels along the route. We took a few pictures along the way, but we were getting hungry and knew we couldn't eat until we reached Stroud, Oklahoma, home of the Rock Cafe. I ate there in 2007, and planned to stop by again in 2008 when I was driving my dad's car back from California to Michigan. The day before I was scheduled to get there, the Rock Cafe burned down. The rock walls were unharmed but the rest of the restaurant was destroyed. Owner Dawn Welch decided to rebuild, and today was our first opportunity to see it. The exterior looks virtually identical to the way it was before, and the interior is very nicely done. The only disappointment was that we didn't get to meet Dawn.

The Rock Cafe is yet another tie-in to the movie "Cars." The female car in the movie, voiced by Bonnie Hunt, was based on Dawn.  

After dinner we proceeded to Chandler, Oklahoma where we are staying the night in another well-known facility, the Lincoln Motel. It is in the process of undergoing a restoration and is an enjoyable place to stay. Once we checked in we decided to see if we could catch up with yet another well known Route 66er, artist and writer Jerry McClanahan. Jerry's book, "EZ 66 Guide for Travelers" is the bible for traveling from Chicago to Santa Monica and back again unscathed. Virtually everyone who travels the route uses this guide. I have had it for all three of my trips and was looking forward to meeting him. So we called him on his cell phone and he met us at his studio where we talked for a half hour or so. Very friendly, nice guy, and we learned lots more about Route 66 as a result of talking to him. Sharon also bought a really cool print of his.

So now we're caught up. I'm not really sure what's in store for us tomorrow, but I know it will be a new adventure and we will meet more amazing people.


1 comment:

Aunt Mona said...

I'm enjoying your trip from a distance! I'm so happy for you!