Noted author and retired professor T. Lindsay Baker is traveling Route 66 in a 1930 Ford Model A as part of research into a book he’ll be writing about restaurants and dining along the Mother Road.
Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham caught up with Baker last week in Tulsa. The article is far-ranging and ought to be read in full. Here’s a video with the story:
Here are a few highlights from the article:
— Baker’s book, which will be published by University of Oklahoma Press, will look at people bringing their own food during Route 66 trips (a la tin-can tourists) to eating at historic sit-down restaurants.
Baker in particular mentions El Rancho Grande in Tulsa, which he says was the first place many westbound travelers encountered Mexican cuisine from the early 1950s on. In fact, El Rancho Grande earned a prominent mention in the terrific book “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.”
He also will look at the Southwest’s Harvey Houses, which predate the automobile age. That will no doubt include a stop at the Turquoise Room at La Posada in Winslow, Arizona.
— Baker apparently isn’t entirely skipping chains along Route 66. He says Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, Steak ‘n Shake, McDonald’s and Oklahoma City-based Chicken in the Rough all developed along the Mother Road and are part of its history.
He also probably will include a stop at Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger in Miami, Oklahoma, which is the last survivor of a chain that once boasted 200 restaurants.
— He said traveling in 1930s car will give him a better comprehension about the hardships travelers encountered decades ago. He is, after all, driving in summer without air conditioning, and he expects mechanical problems along the way — especially in the searing Mojave Desert.
He’s not slavishly devoted to a 1930s mind-set, however. He still will carry a cellphone so he can call for help during breakdowns. Nearly all the Route 66 he’ll drive is paved; much of the Mother Road remained dirt or gravel until the late 1930s.
Baker is pretty gonzo, but it doesn’t beat one particular traveler (whose name I don’t recall) about 10 to 15 years ago who drove Route 66 on all 1920s alignments in a car made with wooden wheels. The wood dried out and shrunk so badly in the desert air, he had to soak them overnight — one night, in the Colorado River — to keep the rubber tires from wobbling off while driving.
— Baker, who taught history at Tarleton State University in Texas, wrote the excellent “Portraits of Route 66,” which examined Route 66 postcards and photographs from the massive Curt Teich archive. So he’s not a johnny-come-lately to the Mother Road and its history. It should be quite a book.