Monday June 4, 2012
We started the day in Shamrock Texas by getting a few pictures of the Conoco station / Do Drop in Café in daylight. It was a little overcast but warm. Where I was working freehand, without a tripod last night I was real happy with the pictures I got with the neon glowing. At the station we also found a memorial to Bill Mack a hometown hero who went on to be a popular radio personality.
We could see from the maps and guide books that today would be a game changer. The towns are more spaced out and the attractions more Spartan. The upside is some awesome stretches of old roadbed and terrain like we have never traveled across.
On our way into McClean we took a wrong turn. Texas without a doubt has the worst route 66 signage of the states we have seen. For our detour we were rewarded with a plaque commemorating a WWII prisoner of war camp that had been there. Over 3000 prisoners were held there at a single time.
McClean has seen a lot of hard times since the interstate took them off the map. Despite the devastation we did see a number of business that are making a go of it. On this Monday a number of apparent survivors were not open, some seem to have limited their hours to match the demand. The population is about half of it’s peak. Those making a go of it are testament to the human spirit. The business district has it’s share of empty store fronts and derelict buildings. However wherever you turn you see colorful murals on blank walls and boarded up storefronts. The former barber shop looked ready for business with paintings on the boarded up front windows. The mural has been a big theme though this trip. Perhaps it’s a throwback to the days when a farmer could get the barn painted by letting the traveling sign painter decorate the barn wall with an advertisement.
It's important to keep in mind that these had been successful vibrant communities. When you wander down the back streets you usually find handsome schools, town halls, library, museum buildings and parks that may or not still be in service.You stop and say, "what the heck is this doing here?" but they come from another time. The region also was the beneficiary of many WPA / New Deal projects. It's the intestate that pulled the plug on the cash flow and sent them all into tailspins over the years.
As you enter town you first see the towering MOTEL and RESTAURANT signs of the Route 66 motel The multi building facility and pool are now silent as the grass grows from the pavement. Just behind the motel complex is a weathering storefront building that may have been a store serving the traveling guests.
Next we came to the Devils Rope Museum (worlds largest) & Route 66 Museum. Like most of these places admission is free in hopes of a gift shop sale and maybe something in the donation bin. They had a real nice exhibition of agricultural and rural living needs including barbed wire, fencing and so forth. The Route 66 Museum had a nice collection of artifacts and icons. It was nothing amazing but we did glean a few new details. This was one of the few Route 66 museums that happened to be open when we passed through. They also had a room with a detailed picture story of the Dust Bowl era. They had a giant model snake form the now defunct Reptile Ranch as well as a giant steer.
We notice that even in this out of the way place had the utilities are running down alleys between the backs of building. Even the rubbish truck was operating in this space. The main streets are largely clear of utility lines.
Further up town we found the 1920’s Phillips 66 station all restored in vintage colors. This was the first Phillips 66 station in the state of Texas. It was leased as such in 1929. The beige brick cottage style station with a red/ orange roof was immaculate. In addition to the fuel pumps they had the bulk oil pump on the island ready to top your oil off. On one side was a grease rack. In the early days most stations did not have service bays and it was common to find a drive up grease rack on the side. On the other side was an orange Phillips 66 delivery tank truck. Up north it would be considered a heating oil truck. Here in Texas it may have been for delivering fuel in bulk to farms.
At the far end of town is the Cactus Inn/Motel. With its green and yellow color scheme it is by far the most colorful place in town. It looked real nice and it’s regrettable to find places like this at noon when staying there is out of the question. Speaking of cactus, not only did they have cactus as part of the landscaping we have started to see small flowering cactus along the side of the road.
In Alanreed we enjoyed rolling along the old pavement for 8 or so miles. The sky got bigger as we could often see as far as the eye can reach in all directions. It has been common to drive for 5 or more minutes without seeing anyone, the feeling was really different. 66 is woven into coexistence with I-40 with ramps and access roads entering and leaving usually with no more than a yield sign. Some grain elevators added a third dimension to the wide open spaces. We also rumbled past Jericho, a ghost town.
We started to see mirages, where the horizon disappears leaving a void between the land and whatever rises from it. Upcoming overpasses were floating in the air with traffic driving up from the void. Trees looked like they were on their sides. Lacking bottoms a progressive treeline looks like one on it's side when your brain tries to make sense of it. It was really strange and I'm sure more is to come.
Groom is home to some bigger than life items. The Britten water tower is leaning as designed. One leg isn't even on the ground. In addition to the tower there is a monster sign next door for a service station and restaurant. At the top of the sign, towering over the roadway is a scale model of the tilting tower. A small truck garage remains, forget about eating there.
On the other side of the town we found the giant cross. Standing 190 feet or 19 stories tall it is visible for 20 miles on the flat lands. I got some pictures of it including the tilting tower from a good distance. In addition to the eye catching cross life size figures illustrate the Stations of the Cross and other key bible stories. Lorna captured it all in pictures. They had the unique distinction of having a gift shop with nothing that appealed to Lorna.
There wasn’t any apparent source of food here and we were on the far side of midday. Driving west there was a bounty of signs for Loves (a regional gas station / convenience store) with a Subway counter. We split a foot long and called it good on this summer like afternoon It was time for fuel and I was surprised to see 86, 88 and 90 octane, that’s lower than normal for us. After eating we went down to the lightly traveled ramp area that connects to I40.
The executive Inn was operating and looked tidy. It does have a massive HOTEL & CAFÉ sign. The restaurant looks like it is fully closed. Nearby is a Route 66 Budget Fuel station with another high in the sky sign. The adjacent gift shop door was open so we took a peek. It was set-up as a gift store / market. There were still shelves stocked with thousands of bumper stickers. Then as we took in the scene we realized that the place had been in use as a dwelling with mattresses and other items arranged with a sense of order. Next door again in this mecca of yesteryear is Bug Ranch. It’s a play on the famed Cadillac Ranch with Volkswagon Beetles planted nose first into the ground like they just sprouted. Around the bend as we headed away was an impressive vacant golden stone building. The plaque said it was the Conway School built in 1930.
At the corner as we leave town is a hodge podge of stone buildings that once added up to to a motor court. Standing proud on the corner is a white building with a front canopy held up by 2 nice large posts. It’s an apparent early filling station. Nothing lasts forever but it’s clear that these places take the years much better without the snow loads and freeze / thaw cycles we have in the north. They do get lots of rain and wind. Leaving Conway we were on the only stretch of 66 with a 70 mile per hour speed limit. That is really flying on a little 2 lane road!
Before long we were working our way into Amarillo, a much larger place than I expected. Just getting around I spotted 2 cool trains. One was a shipping container train with boxes stacked 2 high. The other was the circus train we had seen over a week ago. Here was Barnum & Bailey / Ringling Brothers rolling into or by town.
Route 66 had just one route through Amarillo for the run though today’s one way streets to cause a few gyrations as you make your way. The good news is that all the eye candy is concentrated on a single artery. We were in town around 4:15 with reservations made. This set us up to hit a special destination booked for tomorrow night. We checked into still another Holiday Inn Express Suite and settled in and got our bearings. There is a Route 66 area a mile or so from here and we headed up there to find some dinner. I was getting pictures while Lorna rummaged through a few resale shops looking for more of her pressed glass. She scored a deal on a stack of coasters at the Seven Brothers Mercantile. Like most places he offered to put the items in a "sack" after wrapping them. Sack is the term south of Chicago it seems, not bag. A soft drink (soda, tonic) is apt to be called POP, especially when taken by the bottle.
After roaming around to get pictures of some spots we ended up at Brewski’s Smokey Joe Café. It was suggested by the hotel and has seating in a canopy covered space just off the sidewalk. I had an amazing chopped steak, 2 thin patties pressed together with a bed of caramelized onions in the middle. I need to try that at home! With a salad and Onion Rings it was more than enough food. Lorna had a nice chicken salad. Across the street the Golden Light Café has been serving since 1946.
A surprising number of route 66 structures are surviving. They have found a knack for re-purposing the buildings. You need to watch the building styles to catch them in some cases. They have their share of route 66 business that have been in operation over the years too.
Some highlights would include the Natatorium, known as the NAT. Originally an open air swimming pool building it became enclosed, then converted to a dance floor. Today it’s one of many second hand stores on the stretch. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is a used car lot in a former Sinclair station. On the canopy roof is one of the big green Sinclair Dino dinosaurs. Dino also appears on the sign and some of the building fascia panels.
Up the street 2 service stations across the street from each other are now restaurants with picnic table seating outside, Moe Dogs Grill and Wild Bill’s Fillin Station .The building and respective canopies are being put to good use for shade and shelter from showers. We’re clearly someplace that has a much longer outdoor living season.
A former drive-in with car canopy had been the Route 66 Café and it’s now Menchi’s a Filipino/Asian/American place. Around the bend another drive I with a double wing car canopy is now a used car dealership.
The town is loaded with a lot of neon signs that have that early flavor to them whether they are vintage or not is hard to say. The Shriner s building, Kress City Center and Acapulco restaurant were all in the neighborhood On one corner the Acupuco combined with a modern Marriott Courtyard sign to make the intersection pop.
The city has an expressway that runs around it and old 66 runs adjacent to it. There are slew of old motels many still operating that really fit the era including the Wagon Wheel, Sundown, Cowboy Motel and Silver Spur. For restaurants the Cattleman’s club and Big Texan Steak Ranch really stood out. As night was falling we were still spotting places but pictures would not be worth taking. Let it suffice to say that route 66 bling is alive and well in Amarillo TX.
Now speaking of the Big Texan Steak Ranch, we decided to check this out on our way by. We passed it on our way into town but there were so many sights that it didn’t register. The place was an awesome experience with a huge western dining room, 3 piece roaming country band, eat the 72 ounce steak (and it’s yours free) contest. One guy did it while we were there to much fanfare. In the rambling lobby there were slot machines, candy counter, arcade games, a casual bar and a multitude of distractions including the ever present gift shop. I have a new T shirt coming home with me. They have a theme motel with the facade painted up like a sequence of wild west store fronts. There are photo ops like a giant boot and massive cow in the parking lot. The rambling yellow building façade was colorful with lots going on. We were seated for desert just so we could check the place out in detail. The deserts were outstanding and lived up to the bigger in Texas mantra. The lions share stayed on the plates.
After that it was back to the hotel to capture the day. The photo count is just shy of 3000 at this point and Lorna is getting to be more active in taking pictures, especially on the fly, while we drive shots. We gained some time today and are closing the gap in the time / mileage balance. Tomorrow we will cross the mileage midpoint by lunchtime. We can already tell from today that the attractions are spacing out making for more miles per day. There are also some significant upcoming segments where 66 has been obliterated by the interstate construction and we will be blasting though.
Tonight with the early arrival was to be an early night, that didn’t happen, but we had a real good time. Tomorrow promises to be another early check-in and in a town where I think there is less to do. More to come!