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.