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A chat with Jerry McClanahan November 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Books, History, People.
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Route 66 Author & Artist Jerry McClanahan

KC Keefer adds to his “Genuine Route 66 Life” video series with a talk with Route 66 artist, author and researcher Jerry McClanahan at his studio in Chandler, Oklahoma.

McClanahan has been traveling regularly on Route 66 for more than 30 years, and his memories of the Mother Road date back even further.

Novice motorists — and even experienced ones — are urged to buy his guidebook, “Route 66: EZ Guide for Travelers.” And he keeps up with changes on the road through his website as well.

(Image of Jerry McClanahan by RoadTripMemories via Flickr)

“The Tattoo Man of Route 66″ November 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People.
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We meant to post this on Veterans Day, the same day The Road Crew debuted a music video about Route 66 enthusiast and Vietnam combat veteran Ron “Tattoo Man” Jones of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. But that was when Route 66 News’ old hosting service quit working.

We have a new hosting service, but this is a few days late. That doesn’t prevent this video from being any less entertaining.

The number of Route 66 tattoos Jones sports is well past the century mark. And every few weeks, he gets a new one.

(Image of Ron Jones by Miss Anthropology via Flickr)

Ownership change indicated at Boot Hill in Vega November 10, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Restaurants.
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A series of Facebook posts in recent days and a direct message show an ownership change at Boot Hill Saloon & Grill Restaurant on Route 66 in Vega, Texas, has been made or is imminent.

Owner, chef and reality-television contestant Rory Schepisi said in an email Sunday “nothing is official at the moment” about the restaurant she’s owned since 2007.

However, Boot Hill’s official Facebook page indicates a change is coming. On Friday, a message from the restaurant urged patrons to “welcome the new owners,” Jeremy and Marissa Grant. Here’s a screen capture of the message:

Also on the Boot Hill page the same day, Elizabeth Lillian Jeffery, who’s listed as a bartender at the restaurant, posted the “new sole owner, Jeremy is in the kitchen this evening cooking some finger licking good food …”

On Saturday, Jeffery said Boot Hill was “under new management and ownership.” Answering a question on the post, she said: “The kitchen manager and his wife bought Boot Hill from Rory Schepisi.”

A direct message from Boot Hill said this Saturday:

We just recently bought it were transitioning from rory to us within the next few months.

It asked that questions about the changeover be emailed to Jeremy Grant. Questions were emailed Saturday; no reply had been given Sunday night.

Schepisi urged in an email that Route 66 News not publish a story. Although she wrote “nothing is official” about an ownership change, she didn’t deny it.

Schepisi put Boot Hill up for sale nearly three years ago. She said at the time travel commitments kept her from keeping an eye on the business as much as she should. She also said it was difficult to find good management personnel in Vega (population: 900).

Schepisi finished second on the CMT reality series “Popularity Contest,” which took place in Vega. A New Jersey native and restaurateur, she befriended several Vega residents and built a restaurant and bar on the corner of Route 66 and U.S. 385. Schepisi later finished second on “The Next Food Network Star” reality series and continued to make celebrity-chef appearances all over the country.

A shave from Angel Delgadillo November 7, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, People.
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HairCut Harry is on a mission to have a hair-cutting experience in every country in the world.

Recemtly, he stopped by Angel Delgadillo’s shop on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona, to get a wet shave with a straight razor. This is probably the only video on the Internet that really shows Delgadillo’s old-school style.

Delgadillo doesn’t do a lot of haircuts or shaves anymore; he’s too busy greeting tourists on Route 66. He’s not nicknamed the “Guardian Angel of Route 66″ for nothing. But he’ll occasionally practice his old profession.

On Harry’s website, you’ll see photos from other barber shops during a recent Route 66 trip, including Miami, Oklahoma; Amarillo, Texas; St. Louis and Chicago.

(Image of Angel Delgadillo in his barber shop by Leo Marshall via Flickr)

A chat with Rock Cafe’s Dawn Welch November 4, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People, Restaurants.
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KC Keefer, continuing with his Genuine Route 66 Life video series, talks to Dawn Welch, longtime owner of the historic Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma.

Welch talks about the Route 66 restaurant’s up-and-down history, including her role in the Disney-Pixar “Cars” movie and the restaurant nearly being destroyed by fire in 2008.

More can be read here. And one of my favorites is a video by the Chickasaw Nation.

(Image of Dawn Welch at the Rock Cafe in 2007 by Stephanie via Flickr)

Book review: “Father of Route 66: The Story of Cy Avery” October 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Highways, History, People.
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Some may assume Cyrus Avery became known as “The Father of Route 66″ simply because he was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when the highway became designated and federally certified in 1926.

But as Susan Croce Kelly’s well-researched new biography shows, Avery’s involvement in Route 66’s birth and its rise to worldwide fame was anything but an accident. The book — the first solely devoted to him — lays out convincingly how Avery’s talent, his background, his drive and his confidence all were crucial to the Mother Road eventually becoming a legend.

One section of “Father of Route 66″ (288 pages, hardback, University of Oklahoma Press, e-book available) signals Avery’s crucial role to the road. Shortly after the founding of the U.S. 66 Highway Association — for which Avery became vice president and, later, president — Avery started calling the highway the “Main Street of America.” Advocates for U.S. 40 and the Roosevelt-Midland Trail also used the nickname, and the Lincoln Highway probably had it, too. But because of Avery’s persistence, the “Main Street of America” tag stuck to 66.

Outside of Tulsa, Cyrus Avery probably would have been little more than a footnote in history books if Route 66 hadn’t started its revival during the early 1990s. By that time, Avery had died almost 30 years before, and he said his proudest accomplishment was not Route 66, but shepherding the building of a 50-mile pipeline from the Spavinaw Creek to give Tulsa a much more reliable water supply. And despite Avery’s growing posthumous stature — including an elaborate statue on Route 66 in his honor — even the biggest Route 66 experts were unsure where Avery was buried until I tracked it down a few years ago.

Croce Kelly was an ideal author to tackle a book on Avery’s life, as she and photographer Quinta Scott published the essential “Route 66: The Highway and Its People” in 1990. Still, she had a challenge: By the time she announced the project, Avery had been dead for a half-century. Save for grandchildren and a few other folks, barely any people remembered Avery when he was alive.

Fortunately, the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa owned a substantial archive of Avery’s papers, and the man himself was so much in the public eye that plenty of material was found in the Tulsa World and other newspaper databases. Croce Kelly unearthed a lot of verified material about Avery and weaved it into the smooth and easy-reading narrative in “Father of Route 66.” In the occasions Croce Kelly speculates about what happened during a point Avery’s history, at least it’s well-informed speculation.

Avery was born in Stevensville, Pennsylvania, but in his early teens moved 1,200 miles to northeast Oklahoma in a covered wagon when his father sought new opportunities after a deep recession in 1873. (Croce Kelly argues convincingly that Avery’s arduous journey helped convince him early about the importance of good roads.) The family settled in a dilapidated former homestead of Confederate Army general and Cherokee Indian Stand Watie.

Avery earned a bachelor’s degree at a teachers college but soon found himself adept in buying and selling real estate in Oklahoma — especially in the Tulsa area. His real-estate business put him in touch with many influential people in the state and gave him a sense of what the region needed to thrive.

One of Avery’s gifts was his ability to relate to anyone. It was said he could converse just as amiably with an oil tycoon as with a blue-collar worker or a small child.

He also proved to be an engaging public speaker. The Commercial Club — a forerunner to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce — quickly grasped his speechmaking skills and made Avery its primary public face. Avery also owned a farm on the edge of town where he often invited out-of-town guests for a meal and a few whiskeys to sell an idea or talk over how to improve Tulsa.

One of those passions on how to improve the city was to shore up its chronically muddy highways and streets. He proved to be an ideal advocate in the better-roads movement that was burgeoning nationwide. He brought the first split-log drags to Oklahoma in 1907 and paid several Tulsa County farmers $1 a mile to grade the roads after each rain. He directed the planting of sweet clover near the roads to better hold together the soil and reduce erosion; that clover still can be seen growing near Tulsa County’s rural roads.

During the early teens, he became a booster of the Ozark Trail — a predecessor of U.S. 66. Avery successfully lobbied in 1916 for a bond issue to build the 11th Street Bridge over the Arkansas River. The bridge later carried Route 66 and stands today. He advocated for the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. Through it all, it seemed he attended dozens — perhaps hundreds — of meetings over the decades on how to improve roads in the nation and his adopted home base of Tulsa County.

During the 1920s, Avery overhauled the Oklahoma State Highway Department by eschewing cronyism and hiring qualified employees to improve roads. (He later was fired, but Avery had the last laugh when that governor was impeached and removed from office for incompetence.)

The irony about his “Father of Route 66″ tag was that infighting between states in early 1926 nearly sunk the landmark agreement that produced numbered federal highways. Kentucky officials quarreled over the placement of U.S. 60, which Avery wanted for his Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway. Aware a landmark roads agreement was in peril, Avery compromised and accepted U.S. 66 for his road instead. Avery might have made that decision pragmatically for the greater good, but one also suspects he saw the marketing potential for “66” was well.

Avery’s involvement in improving Tulsa wasn’t limited to roads. In addition to that water line, he shepherded the development of Tulsa International Airport and the enormous Mohawk Park. He served as president of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce for a time. Although he nearly was financially ruined by the Great Depression, he remained active in local boosterism well into his late 80s.

And Avery seemed like a genuinely good guy. He ran Red Cross relief efforts for thousands of homeless Greenwood residents after the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Avery also repeatedly was on the right side of history in clashes with the Ku Klux Klan, which ran much of the state at the time. Despite being offered a proposal from the Oklahoma Legislature that would have improved roads, he turned it down because the same bill would have prohibited black people from voting. Avery occasionally was accused of corruption, but those allegations never were credible. The only obvious direct benefit from his better-roads efforts was his building a gas station, motel and the Old English Inn cafe on a busy Admiral Place street in Tulsa, which later became Route 66.

Thanks to popular culture — Bobby Troup’s perennially covered “Route 66,” the “Route 66″ television drama and now Disney-Pixar’s “Cars” movie — and Route 66’s own colorful history, the Main Street of America has arguably become the world’s most famous highway. And, as “Father of Route 66″ shows, that highway was very fortunate to have Cyrus Avery as its early champion to lay the foundation of its rise.

Highly recommended.

Former owner of Club Cafe dies October 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, People, Restaurants.
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Ron Chavez, 78, a former owner of the long-closed Club Cafe in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, who later became noted as a writer and poet, died Oct. 15 in Albuquerque, reported the Taos News.

His daughter, Sonia Valdez, told the newspaper he died of complications from diabetes and a stroke. The family declined to give details about his services or burial.

The newspaper provided some background on Chavez’s early days:

Chávez was born June 18, 1936 in the valley of Puerto de Luna on the banks of the Pecos River near Santa Rosa in southern New Mexico.

“When I was 6 years old I traveled Route 66 to California straight out of my village of Puerto de Luna in 1942 when my father went to work in the shipyards building warships. There, I befriended the owner of the corner grocery store who charmed me with his stories of how he had fought with (Emiliano) Zapata in Mexico. I am captivated with Zapata to this day,” Chávez said in an article published in Tempo (September 2013).

In Santa Rosa he was the owner of the famous Route 66 Club Café. During that time, Chávez and his café enjoyed fame in major media, which included books, television, magazines and newspapers, according to an online bio. He was known as the “Route 66 Storyteller.”

Chavez owned the Club Cafe for nearly 20 years after he saved it from closing during the 1970s, according to an archived article in the Chicago Tribune. Club Cafe was known since 1935 for its sourdough biscuits, New Mexican cuisine and its trademark “smiling Fat Man” logo on signs and billboards.

The restaurant closed in 1992, with Chavez mostly blaming it on the opening of a McDonald’s up the road. After fitful and unsuccessful attempts to reopen the eatery, the remnants of Club Cafe and its signs were slated to be demolished this year.

Chavez eventually found himself reciting and writing poetry in Taos in both English and Spanish. Many of his stories and poems were collected in two books — “Winds of Wildfire” and “Time of Triumph” (my review of the latter here) — and were published in numerous magazines.

Here’s a video from 2011 of his poem-recital style:

Chavez said he often was inspired by delving into New Mexico’s centuries-old cultures of its Native American and Hispanic residents.

(Image of Ron Chavez in 2007 by santiagosintaos via Flickr)

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