Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kansas and So Much More

Wednesday May 30, 2012

This morning’s hotel breakfast was probably the best so far. When 2 eat well with the price of the room it ends up being a pretty nice value. Assuming one wants a decent morning meal the least expensive places become marginal deals. Add in the amenities and condition of the better places and they win, hands down. Lodging has been running $65 - $90 per night and with one exception sent us on our way fed.
We started out by visiting Precious Moments.

They are setup to be a shopper’s destination with tours and plenty to see. Our stop was a quick one and we were on our way.

The photo count has passed 1500 and I’m now putting more effort into indexing them as I go. Meanwhile I’m also backtracking with state and town folders. I am usually able to get an establishing shot but many times there is no signage to capture, of course the dates and times are in the properties. I have to say that doing this stuff every night is almost fun as being out on the road all day.

On the way across town on 66 we drove though the Carthage Municipal Park. The expansive park on rolling land with ample shade trees was largely built in the 1930’s as part of “The New Deal”. The entry gate stone work shows July 5, 1937 as the dedication day. There were many stone building scattered on the grounds including a roller skating rink. Stone post picnic pavilions and an outdoor pool with a palatial stone cabana building.

Still in Carthage our next route 66 stop is the Route 66 Drive-in Theater.

 This place was brought back from being a dump and is tack sharp. The marquis / sign, screen, glass block art deco ticket booth and the crushed stone parking area were immaculate. We ran into the owner and complemented him mentioning Drive-ins are all but gone back home. He confirmed they are a dying breed. Bring the family, Adults, $7, age 12 and under $3, free in a car seat. We propped the camera and got a few self-pictures to commemorate our visit.

We left Carthage on a nice run of route 66 rolling though the Missouri countryside. Very rarely do we drive more than 20 minutes between destinations or points of interest so the driving never really gets to be tedious. The endpoint this time is was Carterville. Route 66 runs right down the main street and very little of the area is active. Most buildings are boarded up or derelict.

On the stretch we stopped at was the “RT 66 Ice Cream Parlor and Superman Museum”. It’s the tidiest building in sight but is only open late afternoon / evenings , closed Mondays. Other than a tap room that’s it.

 Speaking with folks there is a gasoline station and a few other scattered businesses. They do have a semi restored trolley car under a nice shed fronting the main street.

Around the bend in Webb City we stopped into the Chamber of Commerce, a gleaming former gas station just in time to learn that the lady in charge would be closing to go to a ribbon cutting at the park. We chatted long enough to learn where to go and what to do.  There is a nice old RT 66 theater getting a facelift and the main street looked much more vibrant than in the neighboring town. 

The town water tower is lettered “Proudly We Hail” flanked by American flags.

 We got a good shot of the tower as well as the giant Hands in Prayer, World in Peace “statue”.  

 From there we went to the park in time to witness and photograph the ribbon cutting of the station building to go with their car #60 of the Empire County Line Trolley. They have some track running from the stataion but I don’t know how much. I think she mentioned running the car but there is no overhead wire so they must have repowered the car.

 Also in the park is “The Kneeling Miner” monument, created in bronze it immortalizes the hard work of the miner.

This town and Carterville were largely built on mining lead and zinc. This went into decline after WWII. Web City has managed to build an industrial base but the effects of the reduced RT 66 traffic can still be seen. Probably to their benefit I-44 does not run directly along the mother road here so local traffic does remain on local streets.

The next stop was Joplin, MO. This is the most significant city we have seen in a while. We spotted one big lot where hundreds of relief housing units had been set-up after the 2011 tornado strike. It seemed to be a ghost village hopefully meaning folks made it back to traditional housing.

The Ozark Memorial Park Cemetery did catch our eye. In this region headstones are rare. Generally graves are marked with the flush to the ground foot stones. As John back in Graystone Heights mentioned yesterday the tradition in these parts is to mark graves with silk flowers lasting well beyond Memorial Day. It was quite a sign to see the rolling fields of colorful, often silk flowers.

   We found Babe’s Drive-in, a hamburger joint home of the Chubby Cheese (a double cheeseburger) we settled for singles and sampled the onion rings and fries, all pretty good.

 The patties were nice fresh meat and the buns were uncommonly large in diameter without being tall and thick. There was plenty of neon, inside and out and a crew that worked like a well-oiled machine.

Around town we found a number of attractions gone or repurposed and some other interesting sites that don’t warrant mention. After lunch it was time to drive on to Kansas.

Kansas can only claim 13 miles of route 66 but the good news is that the interstate is nowhere near it. After crossing a very small creek bridge we left Missouri behind, the road became smaller and more rustic. The RT 66 shields are painted in both lanes frequently in most areas. The route 66 signing was very consistent through the state.

Galena is the first place you roll into. After crossing a 215 foot 1923 viaduct that spans railroad track and lowlands you head to the village.

The land here is been worked hard with mining and what looked like a rubbish landfill, frankly the first views of the route here are not too attractive. As you round the corner to North Main Street you come to 4 Women on the Route a restored Kan-O-Tex gas station.

There’s the usual gas pumps, oil cans and fuel station accouterments but the story gets better. We walked in and Melba Rigg the self-proclaimed spokeswoman, A.KA. “the Mouth” and person on duty launched into the story of what has been going on. Starting with the restoration we soon learned that the rusty old tow truck out front was the inspiration for Tow Matter in the movie Cars. Not only that but the building inspired one in Radiator Springs. Some local fading painted wall signs led to similar features in the” Cars” movies. She tells all of this as she flips through a scrap book documenting the whole saga and was real peach to spend time with. After getting some souvenirs and gifts and posing for pictures in “the truck”, they call him Tow Tater to avoid copyright conflicts we were off to explore the town. 

A building across the street led to some murals in the movie Cars.

It so happened that the town is setting up for Galena days this weekend. A carnival is setting up and people are hard at work finishing the new rest room building in the recently add Howard “Pappy” Litch Park on a main street block. The place had a nice small town feel and we got pictures of some nice vintage brick wall painted signs. We located a commemorative monument of the Will Rogers Highway that detailed the local mining history. It was nice to get out and walk the sunny main street for a while.

Around the bend we found the Galena Museum where Wilma, John and Father Gary spent almost an hour sharing local history with us. Most of it related to mining but from ores, to rocks, to equipment, to an amazing set of mine paintings it was time well spent. They had a lot of other exhibits about life as it once was and even a big cigarette lighter collection. It has been so noticed by travelers that folks are sending lighters hoping they are exhibit worthy. It was late in the day and I think they even stayed past the planned closing but they were incredibly gracious and wonderful to spend time with.

 They too reiterated that the international visitors are a major part of the traffic. Some groups even have cars or motorcycles flown over so they can experience the route with their own wheels. Many places have guest books to sign and I have been noticing the foreign traffic first hand.
Riverton had the 1923 Marsh Arch (named after the designer) bridge waiting for us.

 It’s on a little side loop from 66 and operates as a 1 way passage for light vehicles. Of 3 built on Kansas 66 this is the lone survivor. It is now recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
Baxter Springs was the last town in our trek through Kansas. I got a collection of GPS coordinates that are indexed and show up as route 66 shields on the map. As we entered town a cluster of 3 appeared and took us down a small residential street. They seemed to line up with 3 small homes that were of identical design. We can’t figure out if they were Sears Roebuck Kit homes or perhaps old rental cabins though they seem large for that use. They and the neighborhood were a little rundown and neighbors were out watching so we didn’t stop to explore. I did ask one local who was out walking and he knew nothing about them. They at 37.033955,-94.738254 facing east. Other merchants had nothing to add.
We visited the local RT 66 information center in a restored cottage style Phillips 66 gasoline station and got some pamphlets to have as Kansas souvenirs and material about upcoming Oklahoma.

We walked the main street up and back checking things out. Unfortunately many of the RT 66 places like the Soda Fountain, a grand creation close around 3 PM.

 As we crossed over to begin the return walk we did find we stopped in at “ SACS 66” antique and collectible resale shop that Steve and Cathy run in their retirement. I was able to get a Kansas RT 66 T shirt after (tie died) all and Lorna snagged a few souvenir items too. They got a picture of us for their visitors webpage and snapped a few with our camera too. I need to go LIKE them on Facebook.  They were really nice to be with and took time to warn us about the Quapaw Indian speed traps when we cross over into Oklahoma.
Walking back we passed the Café on the Route. This is in a former bank that had been robbed by Jesse James. And with that we drove off having spent the afternoon on the 13 Kansas miles.

We passed through Quapaw without incident and got to Commerce, the home of Mickey Mantle. Here we found a commemorative monument of the Will Rogers Highway that detailed the local lead and zinc mining history. Yes this sounds familiar but it was a very different monument with the history of a different town.

Up the road we came to an interesting intersection. On one corner was a restored Conoco gas station that was embedded into the side of a large commercial building. It was like half of the station was in the big building. It was Green with red trim. While we were there the fire department, consisting of about 5 trucks rolled out as volunteers arrived. I don’t think I saw one truck I’d call a modern engine in the fleet.

Then as I walked down the Main Street to get some pictures of buildings and the local water tower Charlie Dubois the owner of the Dairy King, burger and soft serve stand came out to chat with Lorna as he was leaving for the day. He talked about the travelers he meets and the times that Bonnie and Clyde spent in town including the shooting of 2 lawmen, one fatally. He pointed out where we could find Mucky Mantle’s boyhood home where he learned to play the game of baseball. Out behind the ice cream shop, up on blocks is the home Mickey wed his first bride in! Can you believe this stuff?

 He then went back in and got an old picture showing what his stand looked like back when the building was a Marathon gas station. It was built in 1927. It’s looking better than ever with a giant ice cream cone, red and white paint and lots of neon lighting.
One problem with making this trip now, with the longest day’s of the year is that we pretty much need to be settled down for the night by the time the neon lighting will have impact so we miss most of it. It also continues to be true that we need to make choices and stay focused on route 66. There’s so much to see and do that we could stay out here for a very long time.
Afterwards we navigated down some back streets to see Mickey Mantle’s boyhood home. A nice plaque on the porch of the white bungalow commemorates the location and tells the story of how he learned the game there in Commerce.

 Across town while driving 66 we stopped to see the stature near the high school field honoring Mickey.
All day long we had been seeing these Braums places. Unsure what they were we stopped and checked it out. We found a “burger joint, ice cream counter and fresh food (lots of produce) market all in one shot. We got a quick dinner and headed off to snag a room for the night. 

Tonight we are in the town of Miami, Oklahoma staying at the Hampton Inn. The deal is typical and the room is above average. Even the corridors smell refreshingly clean, not musty, smoky stale like too many places seem to be.
Well that’s our story for today, tomorrow we will get out and see what there is to see in Miami and see what the road holds for us. We were nearly 4 days getting across Missouri and as we get the hang of this we find ourselves spending more time talking with the locals. We need to watch our calendar but the side trips are pretty much aborted at this point. That’s OK, they are in a close enough region to make for a nice trip in the future. This adventure is about exploring the Mother Road.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Locals Shine Bright

Tuesday May 29, 2012

We started our day in Marshfield and slept well despite the big overnight thunderstorm. It was almost 8:00 AM when we said, "what time is it?" Quick showers and it was off to the breakfast room. Speaking of showers, one thing I am noticing is the differences in water hardness. Today the water was pretty decent. At other locations the water is so hard you can’t tell if the soap has rinsed away. We hit the road under clear blue skies with the temperature climbing to the 90’s. As hot as it’s been it’s been comfortable enough. We stopped at a Walgreens to pick up some odds and ends. I ended this day missing the chance to say, ”last night I slept at a Holiday Inn”.
Next to the hotel there is a closed “American Drive-In” restaurant. It was neat with dining room murals I was able to shoot though the windows. I’m getting a knack for shielding the ambient light to limit window reflections. An interesting thing is that the place has no service counter. You either had carhop service out under the carport or you phoned you order in from your booth and were served and cashed out at your table. 

As we continued our tour we recognized this as a retired Sonic Drive-in restaurant. In these states Sonic is very prevalent. Frequently we would see them in very small towns where the golden arches were nowhere to be seen. We also came across several other retired last generation properties with a bright new Sonic just down the street.
Before long we were winding along a rural section of route 66. One thing I have started to notice as we move south is cement silos. Where most in the north have been steel they tend to be cement cylinders standing near bars down here. Hay is a big crop in these parts with lots and lots of round bales in the fields.
In Strafford I pulled off to get a shot of an American Motel billboard. Rooms were $29.95 and up. It was also a good place to try capturing what Lorna calls the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Communities in these parts are often 10 miles or so apart. In most cases there is only one best where to get from point A to point B. Route 66 and the railway often run in parallel and in many cases the modern interstate is just a grassy strip away.  If 66 is in between the tracks and interstate we have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

A little latter Lorna noticed a big bird on a barn roof. We turned around and the big black red headed hawk of a bird was perched on the peak drying his wings, still as a statue. I was able to snap some pictures of him and a friend getting wide and close-up shots. About the time we were thinking he was an ornament he pulled his wings in.

Sprinfields's  Holiday Drive-in theater was demolished in 2005 but the sign and marquee remain at the roadside. The parcel appears to remain undeveloped.

Springfield had a lot of cool stuff. We found the abandoned Lurvey's Motor Court, a collection of stone cabins next door to the Holiday Drive-in.  A cabbie taking a nap perked up to explain that it had been a resort at one time with cabins extending to the land where the drive-in had been built. Down across the field you can spot the building that had been the office. 

Cement construction was common (resists termites?) but it’s not much to look at. These and many many buildings are covered with local flat beige, brown, reddish stones with mortar joints. One term for the treatment is Ozark Giraffe. The result is a durable, attractive building. We see many that have burned or all of the wood has rotted away with rarely a crack in the masonry.  

Another example across town is the still operating Rancho Court, still in operation. 

Around town we spotted quite a few vintage motels and cabins. One thing many have gone to is weekly and monthly rentals, no short stays. It’s probably a market these lower tier facilities can compete in and get a decent cash flow. 

Right in the middle of a built- up shopping district a segment of 66 has been left alone as it rounds a bend in a parking lot! 

The road from Springfield heading to Carthage is mainly ghost towns. When I-40 opened up these communities dried up and in some cases no longer even exist as governed localities.

Driving down 66 (266) on the outskirts of Springfield in Bois D'Arc just east of state road T is an old Texaco sign and 2 pumps. Nothing else remains of the station. They are 3 digit pumps that probably never say fuel get past 99.9 cents. They are from a day when Keotane and Skeltane were Texaco trade names for fuels.

In Heartonville, a ghost town we spotted the stone structure of the 1936 D.L. Morris Garage. Somehow the picture escaped me, Ill need to dig into the back-ups. It’s only marking is a route 66 shield on the front wall.
Plano another ghost town had signs of life at 1 intersection. A stone TYDOL gasoline station has been converted to a home. It looks to be inhabited.
Diagonally across the intersection is  large castle like stone building (roof gone) that was formerly  a casket factory and at times a mortuary. Ivy covers a lot of the building and a large tree has grown inside. An 80 something year old man we spoke with latter said he played in the old structure as a kid.

In Graystone Heights we came upon the remains of Modern Cabins.

 They were built in 1935 of stone construction. A silk flower company now operates from the property. the cabins deteriorating with the years. The owner took us into the office building that they still use. He pointed out the thick 8-12 inch walls built to make it a tornado refuge. A nice sign gives a lot of the history. It closed down in the early 1960’s when I-44 drew the traffic from the road. John the owner took time to pull out some books and show us what it looked like in its heyday. He also made sure we watched for his friend's Sinclair station down the road.
Before we could get to the Sinclair station we got to Halltown where we stopped in at the Whitehall Mercantile. An imposing 1900 building on the main drag (if you can call it that) specializing in used collectibles and merchandise of interest. Lorna got Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy marbles and some pressed glass pieces for her collection. A hand written receipt on an old fashioned sales pad was prepared. Sooner or later we need to start shipping stuff home. We got to chat with Jerry White and his grandson. Jerry had founded the business with his wife Thelma.

 He gave us a round slab of red cedar to bring home and sand when we wanted to smell  something fresh, really nice guy! He said that traffic has really dropped off after 911. He told us there are more tourists on the road from overseas, Europe, Australia that the US. We got the same story down the road. The folks along this stretch of road are a delight to chat with and they seem happy to have people taking an interest.

Paris Springs or Gay Parita was our next stop. Here we visited Gary Turner at his recreated Sinclair station.

I bet we were there for well over an hour.  A flatbed wrecker had arrived with a black 1951 Nash Statesman Super that may be converted to look like a police car in with his other vintage vehicles. We went back and forth on where to put it he was fun to hang with. His wife was a real nice woman too. His garage is a nice old stone building from the 1920’s but the filling station had burnt when he arrived so he built a replica and went from there.

 When we went to the garage he handed me 2 ice cold ROUTE 66 sodas. He said to save one to pour over ice cream tonight with my sweetie and to share the other for now with his complements. He has all sorts of vehicles, gas station paraphernalia, pumps signs and eye catching stuff. While we were there he sat down in in gas station office and sketched a map of some "must see" destinations down the road. Form the shelf behind him he passed a steady stream of business cards and brochures that were ours to take. Before we left he pulled out a route 66 flag and offered to take pictures of Lorna and me holding it as souvenirs, what a guy! 

In Spencer (another ghost town) big things are happening. Francis Ryan and his wife of Kansas bought the remains of this rambling stone walled 1920’s enterprise. Things varied over the years but it held a store, filling station / garage, cafe, barber shop, feed store.

 They have been at it for a few years and it’s starting to really look like something. The building is secure and period furniture and equipment is filling in. It is their weekend project!

Just as we entered Carthage we got to a real oddity recommended by Gary Turner. He said that we have to visit Red Oak II. He said we’d see a sign for Red Oak on the highway but not to go there because it’s gone! Further down the highway we’d see another sign and to follow that. As it turns out a local artist, Lowell Davis hated to see his hometown of Red Oak change with time and he wanted his family together on his 10 acre Carthage corn field. Back in the 1980’s he set about moving the town, one building at a time into a lovely rustic community. He called the place Red Oak II Missoura.

The property is peppered with his folk art making it an interesting hour’s stroll. Along the way he rescued other rout 66 buildings that became available. We got a book detailing the community, visits are on an honor system donation basis. There are some people residing in the homes. Most buildings are common commercial buildings that are open to the public. We saw no other guests during our visit. Pretty cool place, lots of photos!

Before going into Carthage for dinner we located the Crapduster.

This is a manure spreader equipped with wings and all of the other features needed to make a plane including a pilot. It’s perched up on a post by the highway. Lowell Davis created this masterpiece in 1997. Go Missoura Kid!

This sent us to Carthage for “lunch” at about 6:00 PM. To be honest we snuck frozen custard in Springfield back near noon planning a “late lunch”. We stopped at the Pancake Hut and had a nice enough meal. Unfortunately the Chicago Coin Band Box is permanently on the blink.

 After dinner we toured the downtown where many stores are clustered around a massive stone county courthouse. Where route 66 enters town it’s a little rundown and the downtown was uncommonly quiet for such a place at 7:00 PM on a Tuesday. As we drove on we found the city to have some amazing old homes and vibrant modern business district on the far side of town.

We settled into the Precious Moments Best Western, it’s the creators home town here in Carthage. Lorna did some Laundry and I got an early start on the blog. We’ve been just over 3 days in Missouri now but the state line is “in sight” and Kansas has a very short segment in the journey. I expect to next write from Oklahoma. The people have been engaging and very willing to share their stories. Writing this blog forces me to make sense of it all and that adds a whole other dimension to the trip. This is fun!