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Business owner in Seligman reported missing June 26, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, People.
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Rick Gaffney, owner of the J & R Mini Mart Cafe along Route 66 in Seligman, Ariz., has been reported missing since June 19 when he failed to meet a friend that day in Flagstaff, reported the Arizona Republic and other media outlets.

Gaffney’s business partner in Prescott told authorities that he found Gaffney’s car the next morning off Arizona 89 near Little Hell’s Canyon, north of Paulden, but he couldn’t find Gaffney and couldn’t contact him by phone, D’Evelyn said.

Authorities said Gaffney likes to hike in this area and his friends are unaware of any issues that would keep him from contacting family and friends.

The 51-year-old Gaffney is described as 6 feet tall, 185 pounds, with has blond hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing light green khaki shorts, a grey shirt, and Nike tennis shoes.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office has more about Gaffney here, including a photo of him.

A hike into Amboy Crater June 26, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History.

A few years ago, Emily (aka Redforkhippie) and I hiked up Tucumcari Mountain in Tucumcari, N.M., to get up close and personal with one of Route 66’s most prominent landmarks.

During a recent vacation, we took the same approach to Amboy Crater, an extinct volcano about two miles west of the tiny Route 66 burg of Amboy, Calif.

It was our second time we’d hiked to the cinder cone, which was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973. We wanted to share our experiences with Route 66ers unable to do this themselves.

Besides, how often can you say that you’ve walked into a volcano?

Emily near the base of Amboy Crater.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Amboy Crater is about 10,000 years old. The volcano rises about 250 feet from the Mojave Desert floor and measures about 1,500 feet in diameter. It spewed lava over 24 square miles during four eruptions — the last as recently as 500 years ago.

The Bureau of Land Management maintains a parking lot near Amboy Crater with an informative kiosk, rest rooms, a few picnic tables and a shaded overlook. The actual hike into the crater requires a round trip of about three miles.

Here’s where you get a lecture courtesy the BLM about the ample hazards of the Mojave Desert, if you ever consider doing this hike yourself:

  • Always tell someone your plans, or leave a visible note  on the dash of your vehicle with your expected route, destination, and time of  return. Stick to your itinerary.
  • Carry plenty of water. Drink at least a gallon per day.
  • Take food or snacks. In the heat, you may not feel hungry, but your body needs nourishment.
  • Never go alone.
  • Take a CB radio or cellular phone.
  • Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • Dress in light colored, loose fitting clothes. Long-sleeves, long pants, a hat, and sturdy shoes will help protect you from the sun, coarse volcanic material, and sharp, spiny vegetation.
  • Watch for snakes, spiders and scorpions among the rocks.

That’s not the entire list, but you get the picture.

The warnings may seem like overkill. However, one overexerted hiker died at Amboy Crater about 10 years ago. Fortunately, Roy’s at Amboy is now open seven days a week, and has become an ideal place to stock up on water, snacks, gasoline, and other necessities before beginning the hike. That’s yet another reason to thank Albert Okura for buying the town and trying to revive it.

The weird part in the BLM’s brochure on Amboy Crater is its warning about undetonated military explosives. That’s right; you might actually encounter a live bomb.

Amboy lies on the edge of a bombing range used by the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps. That’s all the more reason to stay on the hiking path to Amboy Crater.

The path is marked by a series of tall metal sticks placed every 300 feet or so. You often can see the well-worn trail, and other hikers have helpfully arranged rocks to outline its edge where it becomes a little vague.

The trail also is periodically marked with small kiosks, telling about the wildlife that thrives in this hostile environment:

We haven’t seen desert tortoises, snakes, or tarantulas during our trips to Amboy Crater. However, we have seen several types of lizards and, in one instance, a horned toad.

The actual hike to the Crater is over mostly flat terrain:

To climb into Amboy Crater, you have to climb over the lip at its lowest point — the west side. This is easily the most strenuous part of the hike, as you have to deal with iffy footing and steep terrain.

Suddenly, the rise flattens, and you’re inside Amboy Crater.

The center is covered mostly with a light gray soil. It feels like you’re on the moon. Here’s a panoramic view:

Emily braved gusty winds and climbed to the higher parts of Amboy Crater’s outer cone. She shot several photos from there, including this view looking down inside:

If you want to take a half-day or so exploring Amboy Crater and the surrounding area, the Route 66 town of Ludlow 30 miles to the west is an ideal spot to retire for the night or, in our case, start the day early before the desert heat becomes dangerous.

Tiny Ludlow includes the Ludlow Motel (a no-frills but clean and comfortable option), the retro atmosphere of the Ludlow Coffee Shop next door, two gas stations, and a Dairy Queen.

Tourism center in Springfield, Mo., sports Route 66 theme June 25, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Web sites.
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The city’s tourism center in downtown Springfield, Mo., will include a new Route 66 theme, reported KY3-TV in Springfield.

The television station reported:

The center at 815 St. Louis St. will sport window graphics reflecting the heyday of Route 66 – the historic byway upon which the center is located – and scenes from Springfield attractions.

The first of the graphics were installed June 19 on the southwest windows.  The second set will be installed on Tuesday on the south windows.  More than 15 window panels are being covered in graphics that are about 5 feet tall.

The Route 66 Tourist Information Center is in the lobby of the Convention & Visitors Bureau office in the ground floor of the Jordan Valley Car Park.  Plans also include remodeling the lobby with Route 66 décor and information.

That location, incidentally, also sits on an alignment of Route 66 in Springfield.

Ironically, KY3 reported just days ago that the city’s tourism center is closing one of its offices on Battlefield Road. It’s not because of dwindling tourism. It’s because the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website and its app for smartphones have lessened the need for that office.

Nonprofit formed to relight Yukon sign June 25, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Preservation, Signs.
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A nonprofit group has formed to raise money to eventually restore the lighting on the huge “Yukon’s Best Flour” sign on top of the Yukon Grain & Mill Co. building near Route 66 in Yukon, Okla., reports KOTV.

Grady Cross, owner of Grady’s Route 66 Pub, helped form a nonprofit that seeks to raise funds to restore the sign. Pam Shelton is chairman of the Re-Light the Mill Committee.

“We’re going to have to redo the wiring and the letters are rusted,” said Shelton. “So, we will be taking the sign completely down.”

Shelton says the cost is not small. The group needs upwards of $250,000 to restore the signs. So, the group held a “Black-Out Block Party” on Sunday, featuring 11 time Grammy Award winning country group “Asleep at the Wheel. ” […]

The flour mill is no longer in operation. The current owners use it to store grain, but Shelton says they are supportive of the effort to re-light the mill.

Having Asleep At the Wheel as part of the benefit show seems appropriate, as the band has been supportive of Route 66 for many years. It also performs Bobby Troup’s “Route 66″ during every show.

I think the lights on the “Yukon’s Best Flour” sign were restored more recently than 1989, but the point is the same — age and weather have taken their toll. The sign dates to the 1940s.

More about the restoration effort can be found at its Facebook page here.

Book review: “Life on Route 66″ June 25, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, People, Road trips.

The wife-and-husband team of Claudia and Alan Heller bring enthusiasm and knowledge to their new book “Life on Route 66: Personal Accounts along the Mother Road to California” (History Press, 158 pages, paperback, e-book available).

But it’s the people who experienced Route 66 during its heyday — and their stories — who make “Life on Route 66″ shine.

“Life on Route 66″ essentially exists as a collection of columns about Route 66 that Claudia Heller wrote for the Pasadena Star-News and other publications in her native Southern California. The first column described the Route 66 border town of Needles, Calif. That inspired readers to tell their Route 66 stories, which sparked more Route 66-related columns — and later more stories from people who’d experienced the Mother Road.

The book starts at Needles and works its way gradually west. The Hellers’ writing conveys both expertise and a tour-guide tone, as if directing you along the way. The columns contain a mix of Route 66 history and current-day reports. Because these originally were newspaper columns with space constraints, the prose often is lean and brisk. Here’s an example from the Cajon Pass portion:

Step back into time and relive the heyday of Route 66, when you visit the Summit Inn, located at the crest of the pass at the Oak Street exit. Next door to this iconic eatery is a vintage building, once a Texaco station. The inn is typical of Mother Road eateries and features lumpy seats, coin-operated fortunetelling machines, a gift shop and menu items such as ostrich omelets and buffalo steaks.

Hilda Fish was the anchor waitress for thirty-eight years. Her beehive hairstyle and friendly personality welcomed such patrons as Elvis Presley, Pierce Brosnan and Pearl Bailey. Fish retired in 2002 and is now deceased.

Leaving the pass, slow down and reflect a moment on the fate of one of Hollywood’s favorite entertainers, Sammy Davis Jr. In 1952, returning to Los Angeles from a gig in Las Vegas, he was involved in a car accident at a fork on Route 66 at Cajon Boulevard and Kendall Drive. The crash, which nearly left him dead, resulted in the loss of his left eye. He wore a patch for a while and then a glass eye. He continued entertaining until his death in 1990.

But it’s the stories from readers that make “Life on Route 66″ even more fascinating:

  • Noah Jameson, a 6-year-old who traveled Route 66 in 1940 from Joplin, Mo., to Ontario, Calif., on a Greyhound bus, feared losing his hair when the bus rolled into “Indian territory.”
  • Alan J. Staller, a Midwesterner who was forced to hitchhike twice to California on Route 66 in the late 1930s. He was turned away the first time by a border deputy.
  • Manny Avila, who was so inspired by a performance of “Route 66″ at a Nat King Cole show in New York City in 1946, he and a buddy bought a convertible and took that California trip.
  • Lonell and Marguerite Spencer, who spent their 1951 honeymoon at the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, Calif. The cost was $5 a night, and she still owns the receipt.
  • Dan Hyke, who cycled from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic in 1982, with much of his path on Route 66. He suffered only one flat tire during his entire 3,500-mile journey.
  • Excerpts from a cross-country journal written by Carrie McMahon Humphrey’s grandmother. The trek went from Pennsylvania to the California coast in 1922 — four years before Route 66 existed.

The final part of the book is essentially a travelogue, with the now-retired Hellers taking a weeks-long trip to Chicago in a recreational vehicle. Compared to the rest of the book, the descriptions of what was seen in Route 66’s other seven states seem all too brief.

The final chapter could have used more editing, too. Cadillac Ranch is incorrectly placed in Adrian, Texas, instead of 40 miles further east in Amarillo. The 100th Meridian Museum and Roger Miller Museum are in Erick, Okla., not the nearby ghost town of Hext, as the Hellers describe. And the Route 66 towns of Sapulpa, Okla., and Allenton, Mo., are listed incorrectly as “Salupa” and “Allentown.”

Still, the book has value as a pseudo-guidebook to Route 66 attractions in Southern California. And novice travelers would do well to follow the Hellers’ advice in the introduction:

I hope to encourage anyone with an interest to travel the Old Route on sections close to home or all the way to Chicago. It is my aim to set an example to retirees and others who may have dreamed about but suppressed a desire to seek adventure on the road. This mystical road beckons to the young and old alike, to those who may want to travel in an RV or car and to those who have months to spend or merely a short vacation.

66 Motel sign in Needles relit June 24, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation, Signs.

The historic neon sign of the 66 Motel in Needles, Calif., was relit Saturday night by Ed Klein of Route 66 World.

The City of Needles also will fix a problem with a transformer and bulbs in the “66” part of the sign.

In an email, Klein said:

We are still suffering from grounding issues, making one of the transformers wanting to shut off. Therefore, the 66’s are a bit temperamental, but the town of Needles guys are coming out to solve that as they connected the city power to the sign to light it up — at no cost to the owner of the motel.

The yellow bulbs inside of the ’66’s’ also will be lit this week, as I just ran out of time trying to figure out the rat’s nest of electrical wiring and connections that come with a 50-plus-year-old sign.

The sign looks great lit up, and we had a great turnout for it. We had a reporter from the Needles Desert Star out to write up a story. We have four classic cars parked behind the sign with about 40-50 folks come out for the lighting ceremony and a mother and daughter who drove all the way from San Diego to see the lighting, as the motel was in their family in the ’50s and 60s.

Klein raised over $2,000 in donations from an indiegogo campaign to help restore the sign. The sign is at Desnok and Broadway in Needles (map here).


It’s hoped that the new sign will persuade the owners of the motel to reopen it to overnight travelers. The seven-unit 66 Motel is used as apartments.

Klein plans more restoration projects in Needles later this year.

(Photos courtesy of Ed Klein)

Elkhart strives to keep its “quaint” look June 24, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Towns.
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The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., published a story today about how a volunteer project in the small town of Elkhart, Ill., keeps the town looking more attractive to Route 66 tourists — many of which are from foreign countries.

Elkhart started its 2012 Clean & Green initiative in January to keep the town clean, safe and green.

Villagers are asked to be on the lookout for abandoned vehicles, dead animals, blocked/flooded drains and gutters, grass that needs to be cut, damaged/faulty street lights, overflowing garbage cans, damaged/obstructed sidewalks and vandalism. […]

On the other hand, people also can nominate a local home, business or person with outstanding properties for Clean & Green’s “Elkhart in Bloom” competition. A horticultural contest conducted through August, Elkhart in Bloom has several categories: front garden, doorstep/front porch, environmental garden, commercial/retail premises and outstanding contribution by a citizen.

The program may seem a tad nosy, but why the village is doing it becomes clear:

Visitors have come from at least 29 foreign countries and 42 states since Niehaus began her first business, Horsefeathers antiques & gift shop, in 2004.

“Because of Route 66, the village being right on the old road, so many people travel through. We continue year in and year out having people from all over the world,” Niehaus said.

“They have a great fondness for Elkhart. They absolutely love Elkhart. It’s so quaint and so unspoiled.” […]

“Central Illinois and this little village sort of personify in people’s minds what the heart of America is really like — that quaintness and steadfastness … and open spaces and old buildings,” Niehaus said. “It just has a particular charm, and I think it’s different from the countries that these people are traveling from.”

Perhaps other small towns on Route 66 ought to consider adopting a similar policy.

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