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.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting stop off is the former town of Picher. It's just a couple miles north of Commerce and the huge mine tailings can be seen for miles. Depressing and fascinating all at once.