Route 66 #1

Route 66 #1
Route 66 Museum

Friday, January 24, 2014

Experiencing the Dining Car as It Use To Be

Train travel in the United States today is a far cry from what it once was. Only the long distance passenger trains have dining cars, and although the food is good and passengers are presented with a menu to choose from breakfast, lunch, and dinner much of the food comes semi-prepared. Dining on Amtrak is still a treat, and well worth experiencing both for its coolness factor and historical connection. Dining by rail though was once something completely different from what it is now. 

Back before the disintegration of the great passenger trains, dining by rail was something that helped distinguish one railway from another. Some railways even became famous for particular items on their dining car menus. Food on the dining car wasn't just sustenance to eat while the train sped along for many miles but instead it had become a gourmet dining experience that was on par with some of the larger cities finest gourmet eating establishments.

It wasn't always this way though dining cars really didn't come into fully functional service until around the time of World War I. Before then various food service  cars had been experimented with, railways tried everything from lunch cars to buffet cars to café cars, all of which came with varying results. Most of these experiments started back around the time of the transcontinental railway and lasted all the way through the late 19th century into the very early 20th century. For the most part though if passengers wanted to eat along the way in this time period it required passengers to deboard trains at towns where the locomotive was forced to stop to take on coal and water. One can only imagine the inconvenience of having to do such a thing especially with having to worry about weather or the possibility of missing ones train and/or meal. 

It was during this same period time that the Santa Fe Railway entered into an agreement with the Fred Harvey Company. The Fred Harvey Company would provide eating establishments at larger whistle stops for the Santa Fe and the Santa Fe would agree to extend the time it took take on coal and water for their trains so that customers could have a leisurely meal at one of Harvey's restaurants. These restaurants became known as Harvey Houses, and I will take a deeper look at some Harvey Houses in postings to come. But Harvey Houses did something else they gave passengers a quality meal that was stress-free since Harvey Houses were located close to the Santa Fe tracks, the food was prepared in conjunction with trains that where stopped over, and managers would often wonder the Harvey House dining rooms notifying passengers of departing trains.

As a decades wore on locomotive's became more technically advanced which required them to stop less for coal and water. Eventually locomotives only had to make longer stops at larger cities meaning many of the whistle stops where they had previously allowed passengers to the leave the train in order get a meal where now totally bypassed as the train passed through them at high speed. For the railways it was time to finally have onboard dining facilities. By the 1910's advancements in onboard cooking, and refrigeration finally gave the railways the chance to produce effective dining cars. By the 1930s dining cars were at their peak, and so to was each railways need to brag that it had the best food. To say the least the battle between the railways for the best dining car would carry-on for 30 more years finally culminating in the 1960s with the Santa Fe Super Chiefs Turquoise Room, a special five-star dining room located in the Super Chiefs dining car and known for attracting the glitz and glamour of movie stars and other famous people of the era. 

By the 1970s the railways, specifically the passenger lines would go into to decline and many of them would disappear from memory. However memories of the wonderful food on their dining cars still remain and some have dedicated themselves to maintaining the memory of this food.

The books above James D Porterfield's Dining By Rail, and George H Foster and Peter C Weiglen's The Harvey House Cookbook are two great books commemorating the railway dining experience.

Dining By Rail functions as both a great history book and cookbook. Porterfield gets in-depth with the evolution of dining cars on various railways and then also manages to get in depth with how the various railways came about designing some other most famous menu options. Porterfield carefully brings together some brief histories and recipes from over 40 different railways. One of my favorite parts of this book is when Porterfield mentions the great French Toast Battle in which the Northern Pacific, Soo Line, Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Pennsylvania railways try to compete for the best French Toast recipe, and you can find the French Toast recipe for each of these railways right here in this book.  There are hundreds of other excellent recipes from the railway dining cars listed in this book as well as a lot of great insight into life in the dining car. It's well worth the read in these recipes are definitely worth trying at home if you want to get a taste of how high-quality the food was I many of these dining cars.

The Harvey House Cookbook is another fantastic book to add to the overall experience of dining by rail. The book is dedicated to Harvey Houses, but is intermixed with recipes from various Santa Fe passenger trains. This is another fantastic book for gaining both historical insight into the operations of Harvey Houses and Santa Fe passenger trains and for just getting overall taste of what it must been like to actually have eaten at these places during their heyday. The book covers some of Fred Harvey's most notable resorts like the La Posada in Winslow, AZ, and the La Fonda in Santa Fe, NM, as well as some of it's other operations like Los Angeles, and Chicago Union Stations, and Chicago's Midway Airport. This book has a fantastic layout in which the historical text is in between the recipe sections which are themselves laid out by meal segments. All though this book isn't as in depth with Harvey House history as some other books it is a fantastic and should I say hands on or taste buds on introduction to Harvey House's which is extremely unique for any book on this subject. The book also allows us to see how dining cars where developed by giving us a peek into the period in which rail travel dining transferred from Harvey Houses to actual dining cars since some recipes in this book come from the California Limited, Santa Fe's precursor to the Chief and Super Chief, and the first of their trains to present onboard dining in a first class manor.

I must own 2 dozen books on the Santa Fe, but of all of them these two are the only ones that give me a real feel for what it must have been like to have been there, and put this piece of history in such human terms through a connection to food.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

King of Route 66: The Crossover

You know I have been able to do a cross over between my Retro Video Gaming blog ( and my Diary on an Amateur Vinyl Record Collector blog ( with a great deal of ease since when you get down to it both hobbies have the same dogma and goal behind them. But, I never thought I would see the day when I could do a cross over between the Retro Video Gaming blog and my Route 66 Family Fun blog (, but now that day has come.

Today I am going to talk about a Playstation 2 game by Sega called King of Route 66

I think we all know that Route 66 has a huge international following, so it was only a matter if time till Japanese Sega would turn their attentions to Route 66 for a racing game. 

Now, if you don't have a Playstation 2, and want to try it this game out you can find emulations out there. and some other sites have it, just be aware that some versions may have viruses so try to go with a reputable emulation site. Also if you want to see what the game looks like and see it played you can find a lot of great videos about it on YouTube.

The King of Route 66, is essentially an arcade racer, in which you race 18-wheelers down Route 66 to beat your rival to the end delivery point. If you know anything about arcade racers then you know that they are pure silliness, with odd characters, power ups, vehicle upgrades, and all the goofyness you'd see in games like Crazy Taxi. So if you are looking for an actual 18-wheeler sim, don't look here.

The game is rated T for Teen, so don't let the cliche naked lady mudflap cover, and "get you chicks on 66!" back cover fool you. All you'll see is a lot of bare midriffs and that's about it, as most of the game concentrates on its premise. The plot line is also very cliche as the cut scenes refer to an evil trucking group known as "Tornado", terrorizing the people of Route 66. Your job is to defeat them by taking business away and out racing their drivers to delivery points in every level. Lets just say it's not exactly Final Fantasy plot lines or anything so don't look to find Steinbeck or Wallis quality in the story

For the Route 66 Traveler

Keep in mind that this game is just for fun and not an accurate depiction of Route 66. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth a look. The game depicts a lot of Route 66 landmarks, in a really fun way. For instance you can race big rigs down Chain of Rocks Bridge, and launch your semi-truck off a ramp through the screen of the Route 66 Drive-In. Plus there are a lot of other fun presentations of Route 66 landmarks in the game. It's also a great way to get you kids interested in Route 66 by pointing out the landmarks as you see them in the game, it will give your kids something to associate the actual places with. 

For the Gamer

PS2 still lives in the limbo realm between modern and retro system. So this games retro status is open to interpretation, and when it comes to the PS2 there is a lot of it. Like all arcade type racers skill and following the route may not be good enough, since your A.I. rival may have a short cut or two up his sleeve. This also means you will be repeating levels a lot until you get the fastest route possible down pat, so be ready for repeatitive play at times. This is also the kind of game where you choose your driver, and I have found that speed is a factor. With that said its a good, but not memorable game where the only thing that separates it from similar games is the 18-wheeler aspect.

I guess if you asked me to make the perfect Route 66 racing game I would have gone more for classic cars then 18-Wheelers. So in a way I think Sega did mess it up a bit. I mean they could have had funny characters as they did, but racing 57' Chevys and 65' Mustangs down the Route instead, with Greasers, and Elvis look alikes. Either that or make it more GTA style in which the routes detail is more developed and you do missions across country. But someday maybe, right? 

So happy travels and/or good gaming.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tasting Route 66 In Your Own Kitchen

Whether your an American or an international traveler you know that Route 66 has an implicit connection to American food. Often these connections are somewhat cliche and bring us to think of apple pie, hamburgers, and all the trappings of diner food, and rightfully so since you can find all these foods easily on the route. As much fun and as kitschy such foods may be, they misguide us at times and don't allow us to see some of the roads true and most unique flavors. 

I think we often forget that part of the American experience, and Route 66 culture is about individual freedom and expression, and there is no better place for that expression than culinary artistry. Along Route 66 restaurant owners and chefs have all expressed their cultures, their regions, their restaurants, themselves, and their love for life on Route 66 via the food creations they have given us exclusive to their restaurants alone. The vibrancy of these food choices in a way is stunning and really tells us something about the true nature of Route 66 and it's personalities. 

Over the years eating establishments of all shapes, sizes, genres, and price points have lined the route. Some have established themselves not just as roadhouses for hungry travelers on Route 66, but as respected restaurants that are key to representing their communities.  Sadly though, many of Route 66's other unique restaurants have fallen victim to time, chain restaurants, or the interstate bypassing them, but thier legacys are not forgotten. Thankfully, due to the efforts of author Marian Clark, she able to collect many recipes and stories from famed restaurants along the route present and past to bring us The Route 66 Cookbook. 

This book is a favorite in my house and is both a great read and source of recipes. Clark did an excellent job bringing us not only the history behind some of the recipes themselves but of the restaurants and regions they where found in. 

The book digs deep into the characteristics of the food, and it's influences. The above picture on Navajo Fry Bread and Tacos is an example of this. Here we see how food in Gallup is influenced by its connection to the nearby Navajo lands, and how the recipes where modified to give travelers a taste that was both authentic and with Route 66 appeal. 

This book has a ton of great recipes, like The Diamonds Cheeseball, from the former Route 66 Diamonds restaurant in Missouri, Pink Adobe's Apple Pie Recipe from Arizona, and The Polka Dots Potato Pancake recipe from Chicago. There are a lot a great ones that are the real deal recipes from how they are or where made by Chefs and cooks from Route 66's many restaurants and cafés. 

Above all that though Clark has given us more then just a cookbook. Her research of the history of Route 66 restaurants, has allowed us to peak into the restaurants themselves as well as their owners. She provides us with insight into how some establishments came to exist, why they choose certain menus, and what lead them to create some of thier most iconic dishes. We also gain insight into why some of these restaurants failed, and the legacys they have left behind. The book is filled with enough interviews, history's and photos to make even more interested in preparing some of the foods from the recipes in order to get a taste what is or was. 

So if you want to learn about the routes culinary history, and move away from the cliche ideas of diner grilled cheese, and hamburgers this is a great way to experience it all in your own kitchen. The book will open your eyes to the creative spirit of food providers along the route, give you a new concept of food on Route 66, and allow you to interact with the route right in your own home. Great for these winter nights as you plan you summer Route 66 trips.