Route 66 #1

Route 66 #1
Route 66 Museum

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Year in Review

Believe it or not I started this blog nearly three years ago in 2011. I was only able to write four posts that first year, and could just never find the time to sit down and get more post out even though I was unemployed at the time. What's ironic about this is that since June of this year I have written nearly 63 posts, and on top of that I have a very demanding full time job. But, I digress I know I should be talking about this year.

What I have enjoyed the most about writing this blog, is watching the way it has evolved this year, and also the way in which my own thought processes have evolved too, as I learn more about Route 66 and its history. It has always been my goal to see Route 66 in a different light then what is traditionally been put out there, and that for me has been something I have been able to see and do with far greater clarity then ever before this year.

One thing I've come to realize this year is that perhaps my point of view's and need to connect events historically are a bit swayed by my identity as a Chicagian. I don't mean to say that I scoff at the myriad of small towns on Route 66 regarding them as podunks filled with hicks, but rather I see it as part of the many rail, highway, water, and air routes that sprung forth from the crossroads that make Chicago what it is. In a way the Sears (Willis) Tower seems to stand as a symbol of Chicago the symbol of the western most of the great eastern cities, a bastion district set out on the prairie representing the old and new United States. But what I find interesting is the location of the Willis sits between Adams and Jackson, west and eastbound 66 respectively. In a way the westward looking face of the Willis looks almost like a person, it's shoulders erect, it's left arm resting, and high up accentuated by "The Ledge" one can't help but detect and almost stoic looking face that gazes westward as the tower and city itself look out if the lands it's railroads, roads, and catalog houses created in 19th and 20th century's. Most importantly it's looking west down Route 66. 

I've also come to realize this year that there are places that just get burned into your memory on Route 66. For me Winslow, AZ and its La Posade Hotel and Turquoise Room drift into my memories a lot. As does the Mesalands Dinosuar Museum and Wigwan Curios in Tucumcari, NM. I also think a lot about the friendly folks out in Needles, CA. But there are a lot of great places out there and by no means am I intentionally leaving those folks out. 

This year has also made me realize that if Route 66 is to survive, a new generation must take the wheel even if the previous one isn't willing to give it up. Don't get me wrong the previous generation of baby-boomers who traveled the Route as kids and as young adults have left us a legacy, and have been careful to document the Route as they remember it. Times are changing though, and years are passing and the Gen Xer's and older Gen Y's are ready to take on that legacy. Perhaps we don't remember it as it was, perhaps our first trip out west was on an inter-state, and perhaps we never saw Bob's dinner on Route 66 in Hometown USA when it was open, but none the less history cannot stay alive unless the culture that bares it, keeps it alive and hands it on to the next generation. Yes, some of the sentimentality will be lost, but for the most part it will be the unimportant parts that really serve no one but those exact few remembering. 

For Route 66 to stay alive as the older generation wishes they need to realize the uniquely American nature of Route 66. That Route 66 is America, it's our point if view, our culture, and our society on a 2500 mile stretch of highway. When visitors from foreign countries come to visit Route 66 they come to visit it becuase of how American it is, not becuase if it's international appeal. International visitors are welcome to visit as much as they like, but if the routes appeal and history is to survive then its time for the next generation of Americans to take over and keep it that way. 

Last but not least, and not to blow my own horn, I've realized how important a blog like this is. Having been exploring and researching Route 66 for years, I know how much information is it there. I also no how much of it is junk, and how very little help there is out there for someone looking to travel Route 66 as a family. 

So I would like to thank all of you who follow me directly or on Google Plus, and for reading my articles when you can. For now I wish you a Happy New Year, and I look forward to writing more in 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Memories of the Warbonnet Livery

Electric trains and Christmas Trees have been a normal pairing for over a hundred years now. So when sitting under my tree last night with my two sons watching the train go around it hit me that the Santa Fe Warbonnet livery must appear under more Christmas Trees then Bing Crosby's White Christmas is played on FM radio stations during Christmas time. 

The Warbonnet livery of red and silver, is the same livery that graced Santa Fe's diesel motive power in front of its great passenger trains like the Super Chief, El Capitan, and many others in Santa Fe's passenger fleet. For the past 60+ years though the Warbonnet livery has also graced electric trains staring with Lionel's  Santa Fe F-3 in 1948. This particular unit by Lionel would become iconic not only for Lionel, but Santa Fe, and the hobby of electric trains in general. 

Even though the Warbonnet livery hasn't been used in front of a passenger train since 1971, Santa Fe has used it from time to time on their modern freight locomotives. Before the BNSF merger and the appearence of the "Pumpkin" livery Santa Fe was using the old Warbonnet on such locomotives as the Dash 9, and SD-70. Although I haven't seen any ACE's or AC's in the Warbonnet livery supposedly BNSF has a few as part of a "Heritage" series today. 

In the realm of electric trains though the Warbonnet livery is alive and well. The set under my tree is a Lionel El Capitan set from 2008, Lionel re-released this set in 2012 as it's Super-Chief set alought both sets are identical. But leaving the comfort of Lionel, we see other manufactures making and selling Warbonnet sets, by the bushel full over the years. The livery can be found on locomotives from Z to G Scale, in a wide range of sets. In a quick review of a Christmas ad from a local hobby shop for instance I was able to find a Bachman N and HO set both featuring Warbonnets, the Lionel Super Chief set I spoke about, and a loose Alco in Warbonnet livery by USA Trains in G scale. Of course these are just a few of the more well known manfacturers, and excludes others out making trains in the Warbonnet livery like MTH, Atlas, LGB, Marklin, and K-line all examples of modern manufacturers.

So 60+ years and a myriad of toy train manufacturers translates into a lot of trains made in the iconic Santa Fe Warbonnet livery. Which if you do the math of trains and Christmas Trees means there are a lot of these trains making the evergreen circle right now.

With that said I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!!! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Life Along the Route

It was early December of 2004 and I had just gotten my son to bed. I decided to sit down at my desk and read the December issue of Arizona Highways. I had a few hours to kill till my wife got home from class, so I was able to get lost in that issue. It wasn't the usual Arizona Highways fair of stunning photos and little story's and history's from Arizona's many wonders but a collection of Christmas memory's about life in Arizona. Their where wonderful stories from all over the state, from Bisbee, Tucson, Yuma, and of course stories from along Route 66. 

There was a story from about life before Christmas vacation at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, another story about a Navajo women making her way from Gallup to fight deep snow on the Navajo reservation to be with her family over the holiday break, and another about a women remembering a bitter-sweet bus trip from Kingman during World War 2. It was a fantastic read that put me in a Christmas state of mind, and really made me think about life elsewhere over Christmas. 

Chicago sky scrapers adorned with red and green lights for the holiday. 

At the same time though I have to believe that there are folks dreaming about life on my end of the route too. Dreaming about the glitz and glamour of Chicago during Christmas. Suddenly understanding the full meaning of the lyrics to Silver Bells. Growing up in someplace like Elk City, Oklahoma, or Needles, California the lights of State Street, the rush of the shoppers, and the dressed up windows of Marshell Fields (yes I know its Macys), and other stores would seem almost intoxicating and fill one with Christmas joy especially when you never even imagined anything like it before. 

You see as I always say that's the thing about Route 66, there is so much territory and so many different ways of life, yet one road links everyone. For Christmas unlike Thanksgiving though each region, and it's cultures and beliefs have their own traditions and takes, on the holiday. 

Throughout the Southwest for instance the the festival of the La Posada takes place, a nine day festival celebrating the coming of Christmas, and culminating on Christmas Eve with the La Posada reinactment in which a young couple wonders from house to house looking for shelter the same way Mary and Joseph did before Christ birth. This is followed by midnight Mass and then Tamales and Posola into the wee small hours of Christmas. 

In the Midwest on the other hand we jump into Christmas on Black Friday. From there on in the small towns along the route have weekends filled with parades, craft shows, Christmas pageants, breakfasts with Santa, and cookie exchanges. In suburbia houses are decorated to the hilt with lights to help break the darkness of Decembers long cold nights. Midwesterners also turn the oven up to give the house a little extra heat, and to bake batch after batch of cookies shaped like Christmas icons. While midnight masses here are only followed by coffee or hot chocolate and folks get it bed right after so Santa can deliver his goods in the wee small hours. 

Town squares across country combine small town life and down home Christmas spirit. 

In the miles of desert that Route 66 covers through California,  Christmas is often marked by folks making special trips to towns far away to do the Christmas shopping since there own towns are too small for much of anything. This gives shopping day a special feel of  excitement as one must manage to hide gifts, while trying to peak at what was just bought for them all when traveling in the same vehicle. But although snow is an uncommon visitor to these areas the nights do get cold, and the winds get bad. While on the coast Christmas and beach life mingle to create the odd images of Santa on a surf board. Considering that many of the areas in California along 66 have been settled by Midwestern transplants it's not uncommon to see the same traditions of baking and Christmas light insanity pop up in the usually snowless warmer terrain. 

The terrain, the cultures, the history, and the miles all play a role in how Christmas is celebrated on Route 66. There are many traditions and many other celebrations I missed here. But I have no doubt one could fill a book with such Christmas time legacys, by just traveling from town to town. 

So no matter where you are take a few minutes to lose yourself along Route 66, and imagine how Christmas in celebrated from Chicago to LA, and all points in between. 

I hope you have a Merry Christmas, and in case I don't get another article out between one and then I wish you a Happy New Year too! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Steaming Through Christmas Cards

Well it looks like we are getting into that time of the holiday season when we have to waste a night at a desk or table scribbling out Christmas cards till our hands are soar. It’s not one of my favorite tasks, which is probably why we always end up doing it at last minute in my house. 

In a way it is nice to send Christmas cards out though since its this connection to the past when folks would once communicate via actual letters, and actual mail, and when seeing words written to you in ink meant something. That and I guess I do enjoy getting cards to because it’s a meter of what friends you have gained and lost over the year, which is food for thought as the new year approaches. But, my absolute favorite part about Christmas cards is the images on them, pictures of everything from the Holy Family and Nativity, to cartoon characters, to landscapes, but by far though my favorite Christmas card images are those of trains in the winter. 

I don’t know what it is that makes trains and winter pair so well. It seems as if artist, both in the painted and photographic mediums have had an obsession with it for a long time though. I think in the steam era it was the contrast of the jet black engine against the white snow, or in those night time shots the way the light and snow, and steam all played off of each other to present an air of mystery and power. So it only seems right that such images would appear on Christmas cards, at a time of year that already conjures up imagery of snow, and trains separately. 

Outside of images I have seen depicting trains waiting in various yards around Chicago to make their outbound trips into the snowbound land, I have also found a few of the Super Chief, and other Santa Fe passenger trains I love passing through the snow covered lands of the Southwest. As awesome as the contrast is between a black steam engine and the white snow there is nothing as unique and dare I say it cozy looking as one of the Santa Fe’s polished aluminum engines float through the snow surrounded by snow topped red cliffs. There is a sense of coming home in these images that just makes those viewing them delve into it for a while and live there filled with holiday cheer, as the mind visits Gallup and Flagstaff. 

Here are some links to look at these images for yourself an maybe buy a few cards if you like them. Keep in mind I’m not affiliated with any of these vendors so in now way and I endorsing there product or selling it.


What's Route 66's future? Families!

A few weeks ago noted Route 66 author Jim Hinckley asked "What are your thoughts about the future of Route 66?", on his blog. Of course Hinckley asked this question rhetorically mainly to lay out some interesting facts about 2013 tourism and planning events taking place for next year. But, this question has stuck with me over the last few weeks and I thought I would take the time to examine the question and answer it here.

Over the past decade many on and/or with an interest in Route 66 have opened their hearts and doors to the influx of international travelers. Now don't get me wrong I don't have an issue with this at all. As a matter of fact there is something heartwarming and that makes you proud that one of the biggest symbols of freedom in the world is Route 66, and people come from everywhere to experience it. At the same time though I can't help but feel that the Route 66 community hasn't really thought the international tourism concept out, and I am afraid it may come back to bite them in the near future. 

You see international tourism is up becuase the Dollar is down. Without breaking out my international banking textbook from college, here is how I can explain what that means. An international traveler can get more Dollars for their form of currency. Let's use British Pounds for example, for one British Pound a traveler from the UK can get a $1.75 (+/-). So they can buy more for less meaning an American vacation is a great bargain. 

This is all well and fine, but I think many overlook the fact that there are a lot of factors that can quickly change this situation. I mean with our economy the way it is I'm sure we all have our doubts whether or not our Dollar could ever again become an international powerhouse, but it can happen. So the question then remains if the Dollar should climb in value internationally, what happens to the pool of international tourist? Well to be honest that pool drys up as each currency loses value against the Dollar. 

For the Route 66 community which has almost become dependent on international tourism over the past decade this would be a disaster. But, I'm here to help and provide my ideas as to how the Route 66 community can take the potential downturn in international tourism in stride. 

What's my blog about? Route 66 for families, and this is an area the Route 66 community hasn't bothered to take seriously. The Route 66 community has a domestic audience that has heard of Route 66, but is unaware of its relevance. This isn't becuase Americans are ignorant of there own history, but becuase the importance of Route 66 isn't exactly something taught in history class or put on the High School civics exam. Route 66 in the minds of most Americans is a small niche of our history, but considering it lacks the relevance of things like the Civil War, or various presidents it gets pushed off to being Americana for fun rather then for history. It's also hard for American who are used to monuments and parks all being in a certain area, to imagine a monument of history being a neary 2500 mile long stretch of highway, that is still alive in most areas.

What the Route 66 community needs to do is take the giant gift wrapped with a big red bow given to it by Disney-Pixar in 2006 and known as Cars and use it to really capture the minds a hearts of kids and their parents. Then the community needs to educate from there presenting itself in family friendly chucks. They need to let families know they don't have to travel the whole route, but get a feeling for it here and there. 

The Illinois Tourism Board for example is using this approach. Illinois is breaking Route 66 down into family friendly portions, and even presenting ideas for family activities along the way. Imagine if all of Route 66 did this and did it in an advertising campaign before the start of summer the same way individual states and other tourist attractions do. 

So once again Route 66 community look to your own country and look to families wishing to experience Route 66 and the old fashion road trip for your future. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving on Route 66

It’s the day before Thanksgiving can you feel the excitement? The day before Thanksgiving has always been one of the busiest travel days of the year and has been by tradition for the number of years. When you look up in the sky tonight look for the lines of lights in the sky of airplanes in the landing patterns. Around O’Hare we can almost read by these lights. Or if you choose to look at the train stations for any larger city and see the crowds fighting their way off trains, and you will see this travel holiday is very much alive. Of course the highways are also loaded to the brim as well. 

It’s a fair guess that Route 66 will see some traffic in many spots today too, but probably no where near what it use to see. 

When it comes to Thanksgiving I have always had a love for the holiday. Not because of Turkey and all that even though that helps, but because of the day before the holiday and all the energy the need to travel generates that in essence kicks off the holiday season. It’s also one of those times of year when you find yourself able to get into the spirit of things, and even begin to feel the way things use to be. I think it has a lot to do with Thanksgivings traditions, and maybe the fact that I have traveled portions of the route on this holiday as well. 

Thinking back on my own memories of following the route from Chicago to Rolla as a kid on the way to Mountain Home, AR to see my grandparents, I can channel the feelings so of what must have been. I can imagine folks traveling home to here and there to towns on the route or relatively not that far from it. In my minds eye I can see the fall foliage which in the milder climate around Missouri all the way to Texas clings on the trees a little later then it does in Chicago. I can only imagine driving the route in each era, and being homeward bound. Fighting the traffic and rolling through small town after small town, anxiously waiting to see home and everyone I love again. 

There’s a sense of people all experiencing the holiday in their own ways, and with foods that are traditional to them. I can see tables with foods made from local ingredients, honeys, peppers, avocados, mutton, beef and etc. I see pies off all types made with local flare, and wines and beers of all types. The holiday is about sharing and giving thanks and people up and down the route all do that but in their own way that is all still uniquely American. 

Lets not also forget many of the little towns along the way too, many of which probably have traditions of there own for Thanksgiving. Look at Winslow, AZ for example which has a Thanksgiving parade dating back to the 1940's. How many other town have there own little things they do, such as community Turkey dinners, and adopt a serviceman programs, or even goofy odd little things that are just fun traditions. 

The thing is when we think Route 66 we are often filled with images of Summer, and station wagons, Disneyland, California Beaches, and Cubs games. We never see the route that exist outside of Summer, that year round home for people who live with the route daily 365. There is something really splendid about seeing the route at a different time of year, and I think Thanksgiving on into Christmas is probably the best times to see Route 66 outside of its pop culture box.  

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving, and if you are traveling be safe!

Thanksgiving Memories of Rail Travel

For me there is no single holiday that is so quintessentially American and synonymous with travel as Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving or should I say the day before Thanksgiving has long been held as one of the busiest travel holidays of the year for decades, well back to the golden age of railway travel. 

If you have never traveled by train cross country then you don’t know the sense of community you get on such a trip. There is something really unique about traveling a long distance in the limited yet communal space of a train. You eat with your fellow passengers in the dining car, relax with them in the lounge car, and hop off the train with them to get some fresh air, and maybe hunt for souvenirs at those exaggerated stops here and there. It’s a unique experience that makes you feel like a human in our modern world of social media and disconnection. You see its not like car travel where your off in your own compact little world, and its also not like airline travel where it’s pointless to talk to your fellow passengers because you will only be with them for a few hours and likely never see them again. With train travel though, you will see your fellow train passengers over and over again possibly for a few days based on your destination.
My reason for talking about the joys of train travel not only has to do with the fact that this is a train travel related blog, but because I want to talk about my own experiences traveling on the Southwest Chief the day before Thanksgiving.

The year was 2000 and I was on my way back home on the Southwest Chief. I had traveled from Chicago to Barstow, CA about a week and a half earlier to see my girlfriend (now Wife). It was the second time in my life I had traveled cross country by train, the first time was also on the Southwest Chief but I only went as far as Flagstaff, AZ. This time in 2000 would mark the first time I would travel by first class though, an experience I would suggest to anyone.
My story starts on November 20, 2000. The Southwest Chief rolled into Barstow about two hours late. After a long teary goodbye with my future wife in an almost classic movie style, I climbed onboard the train and was taken to the transition car at the front of the train. Here the conductors tried to sort out my printed first class reservation with Amtrak, compared to their passenger listings that showed me as coach. Luckily this didn’t take to long and by the time I got to my room it was set up for the night, and considering it was shy of 12AM that was a good thing. I feel asleep talking with my future wife via a still new technology called “texting”, making sure she made it from Barstow 30 miles back to her hometown.
The next day was a Tuesday and I began to meet some of my fellow passengers at breakfast. It was at this point I could begin to feel the excitement of the oncoming holiday. That Wednesday though November 22, 2000 is when everything really came alive on the train. Breakfast and lunch conversation from all over the dining car where about Thanksgiving, people talking about who they were going to see, and how much more traveling they had to do to get there. With the train running late there was concern that some people wouldn’t make connections in Chicago with other trains. I remember having breakfast with one couple who where going to have Thanksgiving with family in Pennsylvania and they where a little concerned we would get in too late for them to hop the next train to Pennsylvania. For the most part though there was just this joy and light I saw in everyone something I hadn’t seen in people as an adult.
As the train rolled on one of the most entertaining things to hear where announcements from the conductor about goings on at back of the train in coach. Apparently the coach seating was beginning to fill with college students, some of who in their excitement to get home where beginning to become a bit mischievous. Announcements came warning passengers at the back of the train to “Not play with the PA system, or they will be put off the train at the next stop!”, this was followed up about an hour and a half later with “Use of alcohol by minors is strictly prohibited on trains, anyone under the age of 21 caught drinking will be put off at the next stop and turned over to the local Sheriff”. Don’t worry it gets better, about an hour later we hear “Smoking and controlled substances are both prohibited on trains, any passenger caught smoking on board, or having just left a bathroom that is filled with smoke will be put off the train at the next stop, and turned over to the local Sheriff”. I later choose to ask my porter what was going on in back of the train, and thats when he explained the glut of college students picked up here and there and the sudden party atmosphere that had broken out. I was half inclined to join them.
The train sadly rolled into Union Station Chicago 3 hours late and yes some of the nice folks I had met on board did miss their connections. Union Station itself was a madhouse just from Amtrak passengers alone, remember back then the economy was good and folks traveled more. I was sad to step off the Southwest Chief in a way that night, since I found the excitement of my fellow travelers about going anywhere to celebrate Thanksgiving intoxicating. But on the long car ride home I realized something, in a way I celebrated a special Thanksgiving with a different kind of family in a more communal sense. Living, talking and eating with my fellow passengers I got to learn about what they give thanks for, and what was important to them and it wasn’t all that different from what was important to me. So if you want to experience Thanksgiving in a different sense try a train trip one day.

I wish you a happy a joyous Thankgiving!!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dagget Nabbet

Last week I had the privilege of guest blogging for The Boron Sun. The piece I wrote was about the 1940 film 20 Mule Team, a forgetten film I had seen some years back, and that had some relevance to the town of Boron's history. In the process of doing research on the film, so I could dot all my I's and cross all my T's, I discovered the film was actually suppose to be set in the town of Dagget, CA

Now, being a Route 66 enthusiast and amateur historian my mind suddenly clicked in with the question, "Dagget? Isn't that a town off 66?". 30 seconds later and with the help of Google maps I had my answer, yes Dagget is off of old 66 directly East of Barstow. Then I began to see Dagget in my mind with its hodgepodge of desert abodes, and it's creepy looking experimental solar power plant with that weird tower. If you didn't know any better you would mistake Dagget for being nothing more then Barstows outskirts which in all reality it is.


In the process of doing my research though I actually found some information about the town that was actually somewhat astonishing. Turns out Dagget at one time was very much the place to be, and a lucrative one at that. This small now nearly forgotten town was a hub for silver and boron mining in the 1880's and believe it or not it is actually the latter element and not the former that bought the town most of its wealth. 

No considering Dagget saw its good times in the 1880's and 90's we can rule out Route 66 being part of that sort of. If we figure that 66 was preceded by a number of previous trails we could think of it that way. But it's safe to say more then likely Dagget was the hub of silver and boron mining operations do to its access to the Santa Fe Railway whose tracks ran through Dagget on the way into Barstow and Santa Fe's yards and Harvey House there. 

Calico, a town to the North of Dagget was actually where most of the silver mines where. But Calico was not serviced by and major rail links, meaning silver was transported to Dagget for rail shipment, and in the process a lot of money exchange hands in this town making it a boomtown. 

But, at the same time borates where almost as lucrative, since borates much like now days had many uses and attracted buyers. Boron of course had to be mined in bulk throughout Death Valley, and was carried into Dagget via the famous "20 Mule Team". But the 20 Mule Team where slow, and could only carry so much, and it was only a matter of time till a railway the Borate and Dagget, was established as a spur line to carry borates out of Death Valley and into Dagget as the name implies. 

The Borate and Dagget Railway became highly lucrative and spurred the creation of the Pacific Borax Corporation, later called US Borax, maker of the famed Boraxo soap product and modern miner and distributor of borates. But Pacific Borax would eventually move to Mojave, California 78 miles to the West, due to the fact that it served both Santa Fe and Southern Pacific trains and lines to San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

Dagget wouldn't decline though until after World War 2 since the towns airport would enter defense contractor service during and for briefly after the war. 

The town would also see a lot of traffic from Route 66, since Route 66 ran directly through town. This also helped associate Dagget with one of Route 66's most famous movies derived from one of its most famous literary works. The film version of Grapes of Wrath would be filmed on Route 66 in Dagget in 1940 coincidentally the same year 20 Mule Team was made about Dagget but not filmed there. 

More then likely Daggets final decline happened after I-40 moved traffic south of town. Meaning Dagget was another victim of the Route 66's decommissioning. Dagget is another town whose identity existed long before Route 66, but whose fate became intertwined with Route 66 as time wore on. 

If your following Route 66 you will pass through Dagget between Newberry Springs and Barstow. Make sure you look for it and any signs of what once was. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Route 66 and the Big Chain Restaurant

There's this general consensus among Route 66 devotees that chain restaurants, motels, and stores where part of what killed Route 66. The basic theory behind that thought is that Route 66 equals Mom & Pop joints, and "chain joints" equal the interstates and super slabs. 

In a way that thought process isn't all that wrong. Chain business's are near many interstate exits, and passers by are more inclined to stop at one of these places, like Walmart, McDonalds, or Comfort Inns, then they are to head deeper into town for that Mom & Pop place. In many circumstances the Mom & Pop places, places that fronted on Route 66, have succumbed to these chain influences. 

What I think a lot of old time Route 66er's don't think about is that one of those chain monsters is actually a Route 66 child. That's right McDonalds was originally founded by the McDonald Brothers in San Bernadino, CA. The original restaurant at North E St, and West 14th stands only about a mile or so East of Route 66. One could only imagine that Route 66 travelers would probably take the side trip down 14th to visit the unusual burger joint locals guided them to.

But that's not the whole story. It was a Chicago businessman (that's right Chicago another Route 66 town) Ray Kroc who saw the potential of the burger joint and encouraged the McDonald Brothers to expand, while investing his own money to make it happen and becoming the first franchisee. 

In 1955 Kroc opened the first of the franchise stores in Des Plains, IL. The town of Des Plains, is a suburb of Chicago in Northwestern Cook County, the same county as Chicago. Des Plains itself is not on Route 66 but it's less then 20 miles from it, making it still relatively close. 

Both the first McDonalds Brothers, and Ray Kroc stores are museums now. You can visit them on either end of Route 66 to see how far the restaurant has come since being a little burger joint in San Bernardino, CA. 

The thing is though that "McDonalds" is probably considered to be the king of franchise/chain restaurants. That's right McD's is suppose to be this faceless corporation dishing out homogenous food coast to coast along interstates, and killing Mom & Pop diners. Yet this faceless corporation has its roots in Route 66, and started as a Mom & Pop, or should I say Brother & Brother itself in San Bernardino, CA. 

So the next time you read or hear someone criticizing "Big Chains" on Route 66, don't forget to think that Route 66 itself gave birth to one of them. That says something about 66 itself helping the US grow in the post-war 1940's. 

Route 66 Movies - Route 66: The Marathon Tour

My guess is that your not getting ready to head down Route 66 within the next few months. As matter of fact this being a blog about family Route 66 travel, I'm guessing it's going to be late Spring till you begin to think about it again. All I have to say is why wait? Why not plan now? Which is why I have a documentary that you need to check out.

This is Route 66: The Marathon Tour. It's a boxed set of 5 DVD's that cover the route from Chicago to LA, in a lighthearted way. The series includes segments about famous sites on the way, interviews with owners of landmarks and historians, and is just generally fun to watch.  

The reason I think this set is a good planning tool, especially for the first time Route 66 traveler, is because you get to see the route in motion. Not only that but the series helps capture the spirit of Route 66 as the interviews give you insight into life along the route, and what it's like to explore it. It may not be a bad idea to watch the series with a notebook in hand, or a tablet computer so you can look deeper into some of the sights mentioned. 

The only problem I have with this set is that it is a bit cheesy at times. That and most of the funding to put the series together came from Hampton Inn's and Cheverolet so at times it does feel like a bit of a commercial. 

Overall though, this is a great "Winter Watch". It's a excellent tool for planning, and just getting you tuned into and ready to travel the Route.

If you interested you can find this set on Amazon, in the green collectors tin for $10 or less. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Model Railroading Reveals History

Welcome to Fall a time for slowing down and relaxing. The Summer travel rush is behind us, and we are starting to close in on the holiday travel season, but we have time yet. As we get deeper into Fall those of us who love trains begin to move from watching trains and getting out to the sights they once haunted, to keeping inside in a train related world of our own. That’s right it’s the time of year for serious railfan’s to turn to model railroading.


The world of model railroading has a lot of interesting stories that connect it to the real world of railroading. It’s not uncommon to hear stories about model railroaders researching detail for their lines and uncovering some forgotten piece of history about the railways and areas they base their layouts on.  I don’t have a layout myself but I do have a nice O-gauge collection, as you can guess my collection has a lot of Santa Fe pieces in it. My dream layout would be an abbreviated version of Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and focus on Santa Fe and the other railways that paralleled much of the route. Of course every time I put it down on paper I realize even abbreviated by landmarks the layout would still be huge, especially in O-gauge. But my dream layout has already had me doing a lot of research on the trains, terrain, sidings, and consists I want to have on it, and that research has taught me a lot about both the Santa Fe and Route 66.


Of course my obsession with the Super Chief and some of Santa Fe’s other passenger trains has aimed me towards a lot of unique data. For instance one thing I was always curious about are the locomotives Santa Fe used to pull its famous passenger trains. In the world of O-gauge we see Santa Fe’s trains being pulled by E-Units, F-Units, Alco FA’s, PA’s, DL’s, Shark Noses, Centipedes, and other locomotives. So I had to get down to brass tacks and find out what Santa Fe really used to pull its legendary trains. Then I found a piece of information I thought I never would find or expect.


You see in the world of model railroading there are legends as well, and Super Chief is one of them here too. But the most iconic of all of them is Lionel’s pulled by F3’s. The F3 was first modeled and sold by Lionel in 1948 in the Warbonnet livery, and within a few short years after that it began to sell aluminum streamlined cars to complete the Super Chief's look. In 1959 Lionel would release one of its best complete versions of the Super Chief, but it would fall short in comparison to the complete Super Chief A-B-B-A Lionel Centennial Super Chief set it would release in 2000, a set still highly sought after and that you would be lucky to get your hands on for $1500.

 But here is the thing about Lionel and the Super Chief, Santa Fe didn’t use F3’s for pulling its passenger trains. I mean don’t get me wrong Santa Fe did use the F3, but usually for its freight operations. The F3 wouldn’t have been uncommon to see in the blue and yellow livery colors, or in the “Yellow” bonnet colors, but it never appeared in the regular Warbonnet colors, or at the head of Santa Fe’s passenger trains.




No, I am openly willing to admit I could be wrong, since Santa Fe used a variety of locomotives to pull its trains like, E1’s, FT’s, PA’s, DL-109’s, and F7’s, but from what I’ve read and researched it doesn’t look as if the Electric Train King and icon actually pulled the train it is associated with the most in real life. Somewhat ironic! But if you can prove me wrong send those pictures my way I would love to see them.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Worry I'm Still Here

Ok, I know I disappeared for a week, but sometimes life has other plans for you then writing blogs. My past week has been like this, emotionally draining and just needing a break from everything even blogging. 

The thing is though that day by day fall grows closer, not just on the calendar but in the true sense of the season. Earlier this week we got some very chilly mornings here in Chicago. I froze my butt off Monday morning when I walked out into a morning that felt more like late October the mid-September. Tuesday was cold all day, and yesterday started off cold and ended hot and humid. But what does all this mean to you? Well it means when you feel Fall coming, you start to get into a Fall frame of mind. You slow down, and you begin to notice the world slowing down too. It's a good time to get in that frame of mind. 

Up and down Route 66 the world is slowing down too. The foreign tourists are starting to trickle down, we families are in school mode, and the nostalgia folks are accumulating in the warmer climates. But in places like Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma the leaves are starting to turn. Soon on the weekends the smell of burning leaves, and the gentle smog of its smoke fill little valleys here and there. Roadside stands will sell squash, apples and apple cider, and little farms will open up for pumpkin picking. 

It's a good and unique time of year to travel the route. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Making a Movie on Route 66

The day is September 12, 2013 and since the wee small hours on the morning movie company trucks have been parked tightly front to back all the way up Clinton between Adams, and Jackson. 

The workers are very tight lipped about what is being filmed here. For those of us keenly aware of Chicago happenings we can only suspect that Transfomers 4 is going to be claiming Adams and Jackson tonight and possibly Union Station. 

These portions of Route 66 are no strangers to film production. One of 2013's summer blockbusters Man of Steel would be filmed here with the movies final brawl taking place inside Union Station. We can only assume the one of 2014's summer blockbusters will is being filmed here today and perhaps over the weekend. 

To say the least it's interesting to watch prop trucks, special effects trucks, and roving band of reporters roaming the area. Of course one of the more unique sights was watching breakfast being cooked for this army of workers in the middle of Clinton by a film crew catering company. 

Sadly though I haven't spotted any movie stars. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Keeping Route 66 Family Friendly Works Both Ways - Part 2

I don't mean to slam business owners on Route 66, and hopefully those of you who read the first part didn't take it that way either. For every bad encounter I have had, I have had 20 memorable good ones, and people I loved to meet. But, just like any other group it only takes one soar head to ruin it for everyone else. Also people of Holbrook, AZ my first posting is no reflection on you either, and I have had nice experiences in your town too. After our bad experience at the restaurant, some teenagers working at the Safeway nearby really helped cheer us up through some joking around. 

But, this part two is also about me turning the table on myself and families. As the title goes for this posting "Keeping Route 66 Family Friendly 
Works Both Ways". That means we as
families have a part to play too.

If Route 66 businesses are to become more family friendly, then families are going to have to be more Route 66 friendly. Or to put it another way we as families must not only travel the route but understand the culture of mom and pop business patronage and old school manners and politeness that it embodies. 

Obviously my entire blog is about getting families to travel Route 66, and the reason your here reading this is because you want to travel the route. So with that said its obvious I'm encouraging you to travel the route and your willing. 

But it's the latter parts we all need to concentrate on. Now if anyone is guilty of not always patronizing mom and pop establishments along the way it me. Yes I have stayed, eaten, and shopped in a lot of mom and pop places, but at the same time I have always hit a lot of big chains too. Hey, I like my Best Westerns, Comfort Inns, McDonalds, and Wendy's its nice to know what I'm getting into. But, every stay and meal at one of these places is less income to a business struggling to survive and maintain a legacy on Route 66.

It's a pretty simple concept, but we all know acting upon it isn't as simple. I mean you got hungry kids, and everybody is getting a bit crabby, good old McD's will fit the bill and get the edge off. Same way with motels, you need to get rest and don't want to mess around so a Holiday Inn fits the bill there. But, if you can plan a stay or a meal try to see if you can get into a mom and pop. Luckily, there are a lot of great resources to help you find the good places. Try Yelp, and Tripadvisor to help get reviews and make sure they are good places to stay, eat, or visit. To find those Route 66 legends look at some of the apps I listed in my "Appy to see You", article I posted recently. Also even though I guess I kind of knocked it a bit in part 1, try the Route 66 Federation Guidebook. And keep in mind the iconic mom and pops like the Wigwam Motels, and Blue Swallow fill up fast, so make sure you get reservations with enough time. 

We also need to watch our manners and teach our kids to also. When you get into the world of chains, and homogenous services, your manners slide a bit. Your kids say they don't like a burger at McDonalds no one cares. Your kids complain the Comfort Inn doesn't have a pool no one cares. But in a mom and pop restaurant the owners might also be your cook and waitress, and its not exactly polite to let loose on something small here, same way with a motel, or a shop. Your not dealing with a faceless corporation, but with people who pride themselves on thier business and the service they provide. 

Overall, we as families have to give our best too, because most Route 66 business owners already are. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Route 66's Forgotten State

Traveling I-44 now days you move seamlessly from Missouri to Oklahoma. But, in the days of Route 66, you would jaunt briefly into Kansas for 13 miles before moving from Missouri to Oklahoma. 

For whatever the reason  it's really hard to find why, only 13 miles of Kansas has Route 66 going though it. The best explanation I can find is that Route 66 like I-44 only went from Missouri to Oklahoma, but some lobbying by Kansas businessmen managed to get a bit of a Route 66 added through a corner of the state, which makes sense since a lot of Route 66 found its way into different towns because of local lobbying. 

Route 66 as you can guess only goes through three towns in Kansas; Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs. It hits these three towns by making a path that is essentially a 90 degree turn through the state. It comes in from the East to hit Galena and Riverton, and banks to the South after that to hit Baxter Springs and onward to Oklahoma. 

There are very few sites to see in Kansas, but none the less there are some. Galena for instance has a small but kid friendly museum in an old railroad depot complete with a locomotive, caboose, a tank, and a few other interesting artifacts. Between Riverton, and Baxter Springs you will find and old 66 landmark known as the Rainbow Bridge, named this because of its arches.  

Riverton and Baxter Springs both have interesting downtowns complete with historic buildings and cafe's so its a good place to stop and get breakfast or lunch. Also be sure to look for the rusty old tow truck outside of Baxter Springs that was the basis for Mater in the movie Cars. 

Even though Route 66 only traverses 13 miles of Kansas don't sell this this state short. It is a historic part of the route and your trip won't be complete without going through it. Also don't think you will get down all 13 miles in a matter of a few minutes. All three towns are medium-small towns with active downtowns, and as you know Route 66 loves to put you through downtowns. So expect to get caught in traffic here and there, also as a warning look out for the old fashion overhead stop lights hanging from the center of the intersections in those downtowns if your not use to them they are easy to miss. 

Keeping Route 66 Family Friendly Works Both Ways - Part 1

The primary reason I started this blog was to create awareness of Route 66 as a family destination, for both families and those who make their lives on the road. I wanted families to see traveling the route as a satisfying family vacation option, and for those with businesses, restaurants, motels and etc to be ready to welcome families. 

For the most part I have found folks along the route to be more then friendly and welcoming. Always ready to share their love and knowledge of Route 66, with adults and kids. My last posting on McClean for instance mentions the museum staff at the Devils Rope Museum, and how welcoming they where. There not the only place where we have gotten an awesome reception, I could mention many others and I have in some of my past postings. 

Like anything else though you do find some soarheads (sorry for the old timey term). There are some out there who seem to believe that only older folks, and adults from oversea's should be traveling the route. These range from business owners to fellow travelers. 

My family and I had and incident in Holbrook, AZ in which a restaurant staff didn't seem to want families in there. The main reason we choose this restaurant was because they we suggested by the Route 66 Federation which had given is some really good suggestions before, and even after.  The staff seemed annoyed to have a child in their restaurant, and just kind of sat us down and forgot about us well they openly welcomed senior's in the restaurant and served them cordially. 

Keep in mind my son is very well behaved but being a little kid trapped in a car all day he was a little squirmy. Even though he wasn't moving that much, one of this lovely restaurants lovely favored customers felt the need to come up to our table and say "Well since he's going to move around so much, we're going to move to a new table. We have been in our car all day and would like a quiet meal thank you!", I hope this lady doesn't have grandkids to scare. Yeah really great place no wonder why it was nearly empty on a Sunday night at dinner time. 

But this is an example of only a few of the incidents we had, only a few. Here is this steak house that has its name in the Route 66 Federation guidebook, that should be welcoming to everyone especially families instead picking and choosing who gets good service who doesn't. To say the least when I got home I e-mailed the Route 66 Federation on this terrible restaurant (the food was awful too). 

My issue is that if those living and working on Route 66 want the route and its history to survive they are going to have to learn that families are the future. Those looking for a bit of that retro and historic travel, by traveling as a family in the steps of many other families in the routes past are a major part of the routes future. Welcoming only seniors and foreign travelers potentially endangers the route since your talking about an older generation, and overseas travelers mainly coming here since the dollar is down compared to their own currency. Families are not only the routes past but its future, kind of a strange circular way that works. 

Continued in part 2.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dropping Out in McClean Texas - Part 2

The Devils Rope Museum

The museum opened at 10AM and we got there at about 10:15 after exploring McClean.

Having gone to college in Dekalb, IL the birthplace of barb wire, and hearing about the Glidden's and the Elwood's, and the barn behind the Burger King where barb wire was invented we had to make that connection.

Although barb wire was invented in Dekalb, IL it was here on the western plains where the wire really got its use. It's also the only place where there is a museum dedicated to it. I know what your thinking barb wire doesn't sound all that interesting, but trust me you have to see this place. 

Since Glidden invented his barb wire there have been hundreds of variations, and thousands of uses. This museum shows hundreds of examples, everything from the simplist first forms to modern razor wire used for military applications.

You can easily spend and hour or so here, and we very well did. The museum staff was fantastic as well especially the lady running the register and gift shop, and we must have spent a half hour talking to her alone. The museum is a nice place to visit and it and its staff are family friendly. Overall, our few hours lost in McClean have always stuck with us, especially those haunting pictures of what McClean once was. 

The most important thing you have to learn on the road is how to occasionally "drop out" or take "time outs". These breaks can give you a good recharge to help you carry on, while learning something new along the way. For us it was what we needed and got us out of the every day state of mind of rushing around and finally into vacation mode. To say the least we took the rest of the day at a study and slow pace, and put our vacation in a new more restful light. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dropping Out in McClean Texas - Part 1

After traveling very hard for a few days with long hours in the car, and a lot of miles covered you feel the need to slow down. When coupled with the morning malaise you feel after rushing out of the motel, getting breakfast and on the road, you can hit a wall that won't let you travel any further, especially when you make a stop in a quiet town. 

We arrived in McClean, Texas just short of 9 AM with hopes of hitting the Devils Rope Museum. Being a Saturday though the museum didn't open till 10AM. So my wife and I looked at each other, and decided we would just wait. But how do you waste and hour in McClean? 

If your not familiar with McClean, Texas let me tell you there is not much to it, now that is. There's no Wal-mart, or fast food places, or anything like that. But what there is are the remains of a classic example of a western Route 66 town. 

To say the least McClean is still a living town unlike Conway up the road a bit which is a Route 66 ghost town. So you will find life here and the interaction of the population with the town that once was, which also means there are stories and memories if your willing to listen. But on a Saturday morning though it was just us roaming the town that once was. My wife a professional photographer got some fantastic photos here, even the ones I took where good.

McClean, like many other medium sized towns on Route 66 got so much traffic, that it actually split the eastbound and westbound lanes so that they would form a loop around the commercial heart of the town (Winslow, AZ is like this too). This meant that the directional lanes where about a block apart separated by commercial areas, basically at that point McClean's downtown. Separating the  lanes had two benefits, first it would force travelers through commercial areas to access lanes going the opposite way, the second is that the one way streets eliminated lefthand turns making accessing commercial areas safer and easier. For businesses like gas stations prime property would be the triangle of land where the lanes divided before entering town, McClean has an excellent example of this on its west side. 

Walking through downtown McClean I was reminded of the film Last Picture Show, although the town that film takes place in is in southern Texas. But walking through McCleans downtown with its old theater on the west side if the street, you get a similar impression. The rest of the main body of its downtown is filled with mostly empty buildings that where once department stores, drug stores, cafe's, and all the other types of retail that would have bought folks into town from miles around. In the old days when Saturday was "go to town day" this spot would be crowded with people doing shopping and going to the movies even by this hour of the morning. 

The retail spaces spill out of the down town and dot the east and westbound lanes of old 66. So to do the remains of gas stations and motels. On the westbound lanes is an old Phillips 66, probably the first gas station in town and predating a divided Route 66 through town. It's currently being restored by McClean, and is a historical building as well. 

I snapped the picture below at this gas station. There's something iconic and slightly abstract about the shadow of this shield, it seems to sum up both McClean and Route 66 as shadows of something that once was. 

I will cover our visit to the Devils Rope Museum in part 2.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Route 66 - The Song and Introducing Your Kids to 66

Ok, I know it's cliche but apparently at one time or another anyone writing about Route 66 has to mention the song. Now I love the song, but what I'm about to say may be sacrilege, "I can't stand Bobby Troops voice". Route 66 is a great song but I am so glad it's been remade over and over. 

My two favorite versions are by Nat King Cole, and the Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters version both versions made shortly after the song was written. Both versions have that 40's wartime feel but sung in 1946 they also have that great feel of post-war optimism. But there have been some other great versions of the song made and still being made. Visit Wikipedia or Route 66 Magazine for a list of the artist and bands that have remade the song. 

If you don't know the story behind the song here it is. The War (WWII) was over and Bobby Troop and his wife where traveling west. They came from Pennsylvania to Chicago to catch Route 66. To say the least they where enjoying Route 66 so much Bobby decided he wanted to write a song about it to get people to drive the route and have the same great experiences. The only problem was he just couldn't get the song put together in his head. He knew he wanted city names in the song, but the chorus was killing him. Finally as legend has it they where outside of Tucumcari, NM when his wife blurted out the phrase "Get you kicks of Route 66!". To say the least the song came together at that point, and by the time they got to LA the song was written. Inspired by and born on Route 66. 

Driving down Route 66 now its hard to not want to pop the song on. It's also hard to not see the song eluded to just about everywhere you go down the route. 

Traveling with your family you may find the song is great for introducing your kids to the route, and teaching them a little bit of geography too. The song can help them learn cities and even states along the route. Give your kids a map and they may be able to show you the way down Route 66 just by singing along and pointing out the town the song names.