Route 66 #1

Route 66 #1
Route 66 Museum

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. 

Great Route 66 Books - The Complete Guidebook and Atlas to Route 66

The Complete Guidebook to Route 66, and The Complete Atlas of Route 66 are a two book set published by Bob Moore and Rick Cunningham editors of Route 66 Magazine. The two books come together and openly reference each other, the guidebook will refer to the atlas by map numbers.

This book set has some major advantages and disadvantages, but is definitely worth adding to your collection. It is not only a great book to carry with you while you travel the route but is a awesome planning tool. 

Let me explain about this set. The guidebook is broken down state by state, and then by sub regions, and then almost mile by mile. The book is extremely detailed, and continually points out landmark after landmark with well researched but short descriptions. The guidebook is fantastic and is almost like having a tour guide with for every mile. But the guidebook also provides you with detailed directions. The directions and sites will usually reference a number that correlates with one of the maps in the atlas book. The book can also be read two ways one side will go through the Chicago to Santa Monica route, and the other Santa Monica to Chicago route.

The atlas by itself could have some use but really possesses no details without the guidebook. Each page is broken down in two to four maps with an assigned number that as previously mentioned relates to the directions and details in the guidebook. The maps are pretty detailed National Geographic Topo maps. Inside each map are usually a few dots notating turns or mile points. The atlas book is not two sided like the guidebook. 

What I like about these books is the detail. You can see Moore and Cunninghams love and commitment to Route 66 in these books. As I said these books are like having personal guides with you along the way. On the home front these books are also fantastic for planning. You can't get this kind of detail on the Internet, either in maps or guidebook materials. Plus the guidebooks ability to cover the route with the stating point at either end is unique. 

What I don't like about the book is that they are traditionally bound. Leaving Chicago the book had let loose of its cover by Oklahoma. Another issue I had with the book was sometimes a few of the directions can be off, for instance it will tell you that you go over tracks, when instead you go under, or make a right turn when you go left. For the most part the flubs are minor, but the latter issue did cause us some frustration in Victorville, CA. That and I do wish they combined the two books. 

If your planning a trip these books are a must have. Be sure to look them up on Route 66 Magazines website, or check Amazon for a used set. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The National Old Trail

Before Route 66, there was the Santa Fe Railway, and before the Santa Fe Railway was the National Old Trails Road. 

You see as you study the history of our nation, you will find that over and over again their are very few routes cut direct from the wilderness, and most tend to be built and rebuilt on, or near each other over and over. The National Old Trails Road itself essentially followed pre-existing trails from the pioneer era such as the Santa Fe Trail, and the National Road. 

The Santa Fe Railway does not follow the National Old Trail directly, since its main routes like those of the California Limited and later the Super Chief started their westward trek in Chicago. These trains would finally catch up with the National Old Trail near Kansas City, MO and follow it closely to Los Angeles. 

Route 66 travels the National Old Trail in a both direct and indirect way. Route 66 like the Santa Fe's premier passenger liners started its westward trip in Chicago. For the most part Route 66 and  the Santa Fe crisscross each other between Cicero and Joliet, IL, when the finally go their separate directions meeting up again in Las Vegas, NM or Albuquerque, NM depending on the alignment of Route 66 at the time. 

Route 66 catches up with the National
Old Trail in St. Louis, MO. However, a Route 66 breaks southwest after St. Louis, as to where the National Old Trail continues west. Route 66 meets up again with the National Old Trail in either   Las Vegas, NM or Albuquerque, NM, the the latter indicating one of the later alignments of Route 66 in which Las Vegas, and Santa Fe, NM where bypassed. 

The National Old Trail and Santa Fe Trail basically served as templates for both the Santa Fe Railway, and Route 66. Part of the reason is because this southern route allows travel from the Easts last big city to the west coast through terrain that is devoid of the mountainous terrain found further north, terrain that was taxing on locomotives, cars, and particularly travelers. 

If you study old trails you will find this type of planning common. Look at the way the Mormon Trail, Oregon Trail,Transcontinental  Railway route, Lincoln Highway, US 30, and now modern I-80 all follow along the same basic path and terrain. This is a perfect example of how terrain and primitive trails can dictate travel, and interstate commerce, as is what we see with the routes predating Route 66, and Santa Fe.   

Here Comes Fall on Route 66

So now we are past Labor Day, and about 18 days from today on the 22nd Fall officially begins. But my guess is by now you are considering your travel season over, especially since school probably has begun everywhere around the country by now. 

So this means you have a few options:

1) Hold all plans till late Spring of next year.
2) Research, research, research
3) To a small shot at traveling

I would have to tell you to avoid option 1, there are  a lot of cool places to be explored on Route 66, thanks to the Internet, and the lull between summers gives you a chance to learn as much as you can to hit the road like an expert.

So option 2 as intimated in my coverage of option 1 should be one of the ones you go for. Well the tourist season cools on Route 66, you start to get prime choice of the best destination for next year. You know how they say you have to reserve some places almost a year in advance, like the Grand Canyon Mule trip, well now is that year in advance to make your grab for it. Now is also that opportunity to make up your dream itinerary, so get that bad boy up going as well. 

As for option 3 Fall is a good time to drive little sections of 66, and visit one or two sites. It's also a good time to see some sections at harvest time and enjoy locally picked fruits and vegetables and go to Fall festivals. There is a Fall Festival in Carterville, MO on September 14th fit instance, and many other towns along the route.