Story and photos by Elrond Lawrence
Jim Ross, the accomplished Route 66 writer, cartographer, speaker and photographer, was honored with the 2012 Will Rogers Award at the International Route 66 Festival awards dinner Saturday at the Green Tree Inn in Victorville, Calif.
Ross, who has been exploring, mapping, photographing and writing about the Mother Road since 1990, most recently co-wrote the book “Route 66 Sightings” as well as a second, updated edition of the guidebook “Oklahoma Route 66.” He accepted the prestigious award from famed Route 66 author and actor Michael Wallis and Dan Rice, president of the California Historic Route 66 Association and owner of 66-to-Cali, on behalf of the Route 66 Alliance.
Rice explained that Ross embodies the values displayed on the Will Rogers monument near the highway’s western terminus in Santa Monica, Calif.: humorist, world traveler, and good neighbor.
“It’s easy to have two of these three qualities, but Jim personifies all three. Above all, he is a great neighbor to everyone on the road … he marches to the beat of his own drum, and he’s an ambassador who has spread the goodness of Route 66 across the globe.”
Jim Ross also received the prestigious John Steinbeck Award during the 2001 Route 66 awards banquet.
Wallis praised the individual and collective achievements of McClanahan, Graham and Ross, and said when their names were suggested for consideration, the choice was immediately clear.
Graham is a widely recognized Route 66 photographers — she has published two books about Route 66, and her work appears in national and international exhibits. Graham and Ross also launched the Route 66 Photographs website in 2006. Graham also won a Steinbeck Award in 2005.
David Knudsen, executive director and founder of the National Historic Route 66 Federation, announced the winner of the federation’s Award of Excellence: Zdenek Jurasek, president and founder of the Czech Republic Route 66 Association and a driving force behind the wave of Route 66 enthusiasm sweeping his homeland.
Zdenek was a featured speaker at the “California 50’s Dreamin’ Celebration” dinner held the previous night.
The Bobby Troup Award was presented to Kevin and Nancy Mueller, owners of the historic Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M., who took over operations in July 2011. While the Muellers were unable to attend, the award recognizes their collaborative success in the spirit of Bobby and Cynthia Troup, who together wrote the lyrics to the famed song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” Rice cited the Muellers’ success in continuing the Blue Swallow’s restoration, started by previous owners Bill Kinder and Terri Anderson, describing it as a “team effort in making Route 66 the best that it can be.”
The Andy Payne Award was given to John Delgadillo, who continues to run the landmark Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, Ariz. Delgadillo was unable to attend, but presenter Rice praised his work in preserving the playful spirit of the restaurant, despite the death of his father Juan in 2004 and the sudden death of his brother Robert in 2007.
“A lot of people take the Snow Cap for granted,” Rice said. “John makes it look easy, but it’s not: Just like Andy Payne kept running and went the extra mile, John has gone the extra mile in keeping alive the SnowCap’s tradition of fun.”
“I love running my dad’s shop,” said Delgadillo, when called by Rice to announce the news. “I take it very seriously” — a statement that will undoubtedly trigger an ironic smile from anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a mustard bottle that squirts yellow string and offers of used straws and napkins.
Wallis’ “State of the Road” address also proved to be an equally memorable highlight of the evening. Speaking on the 48th anniversary of the day he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp., he spoke about the highway’s bright future and the emerging contributions of younger Route 66 roadies while urging the Mother Road community to look beyond “their corner of the road” and reach across state lines to do what’s best for the entire highway. “What’s good for Illinois is good for Texas is good for California,” said Wallis, aiming his message at the “citizens of a linear village.”
Wallis’ address fueled an inspiring wave of optimism, spurred by a Route 66 Alliance summit that he described as “the best I’ve ever attended,” and preservation success stories taking place from Chicago to L.A.
“Tonight I feel better about Route 66 than I ever have,” the author announced in his rich baritone voice. Thinking back on the spirit of community and family that filled the Green Tree banquet room Saturday evening, it’s easy to be a believer.
A site and date for the next International Route 66 Festival remain uncertain; an announcement will be made later.