Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tucumcari Tonight

Tuesday June 5, 2012

We got going today and took some time out for shopping. My old trusty roll aboard suitcase blew a zipper and the retractable handle had gone to heck so it got replaced. I needed more external memory to back up the pictures; we’re past 20 Gig by now and needed to stay ahead on batteries. With that done we were out of Amarillo before 11:00 AM. We snagged a few more vintage motel shots on the way out of town and soon we were rolling on route 66.

Before we knew it we spotted a crowd on the east bound service road and recognized the site as Cadillac ranch. After crossing over at the next exit we were east bound back to the ranch. Set back from the road in a farm field is a row of 10 old Cadillac’s, planted grill down up to the windshield. There was a good crowd including a motorcycle caravan. What we didn’t realize is that the custom is to bring spray paint so you can leave your mark on a car. This has been going on for a while and the cars look like they have been covered with spray foam the paint is so thick. The appearance of the cars is a cross between tie died and graffiti. We posed with the cars for a picture and after taking a few dozen more were on our way. The perfect attraction, free and no gift shop!

Most communities on the route are 6-12 miles apart. It is very rare to find a reason to stop between towns and some are just plain gone. This is getting to be more pronounced as we go west and we’re starting to log some good sprints. We are also getting into territory where some sections of 66 have been lost and the leg is done on the interstate at 70 MPH.

Were still in grain country with massive grain elevators every 10 miles or so. Many are co-op operations. We’ve seen combines working the fields followed by clouds of dust as the chafe is blown away.  The combines discharge the wheat into big wagons that are towed alongside in the fields. Those wagons have blowers that are used to fill open top dump trailers alongside the road. Seeing the fields that go forever and the scale of this harvesting equipment helps put Americas ability to produce food into perspective.

In Wildorado there was an abandoned filling station campground with about 10 hookups visible. Hookups were $4.50 per night. The hookups are still there along with a lone picnic table and a forgotten Winnebago. Imagine camping on a narrow strip between Route 66 and the wheat fields. Showers and Ice were available, what more can you ask for?

 Down the road a bit was a motel and Café with towering signs calling travelers to pull over. The Royal motel is still operating, $29.99 and up for one person with a free continental breakfast. The Café name is blown out the big sign, all that remains is ‘S, maybe it was Rick’s? It’s not uncommon to see these massive signs with empty frames towering in the sky. Some are partially wrecked making an aerial game of scrabble.

As is often the case the grain elevator greeted us in Vega Texas. The longhorn car wash has a big mural of a long horn steer. The Hamburger House is gone but the sign stands along the side of the street. Dimas TradenPost had a wild mix of stock piled high inside and out. A pair of green Roswell aliens chainsaw carved from a 2 foot diameter log about 8 feet tall and bright green stand by the side of the road. They have one of those snazzy ball top water towers, painted bright yellow with Vega and the Longhorns school mascot painted in black. There is a 1924 restored Magnolia brand gasoline station that is a gem. Tack sharp with some all the trimmings. There were nice history posters in the window that I need to read latter. It’s a handsome 2 story building that looks to be built from pebble faced concrete panels.

A native building material seems to be a golden brown smooth pebbles. You can see it road pavement and is often used as a loose driveway material. It’s interesting to find myself fascinated by the color of someone elses dirt. We grow accustomed to our local materials and don’t expect things like that to vary.

I must digress…. While shopping today Lorna discovered the newly released Beach Boys album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio” and got a copy. Driving along we forgot to play it today but I have it on the ear buds while I type and I’m smiling. After a long dry spell the chance of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys ever producing again wasn’t even in the cards. As things played out Brian has had a string of solo projects that keep the spirit alive. To be able to drink once more from the fountain of summertime joy is a gift.

Getting back to Vega, a giant rooster greets you at Roosters. The Vega Motel seems to be on hard times but Bill’s Barber Shop at the  end of the horseshoe opposite the office is still clipping. The Roadrunner Drive-in is closed and the bus station building is quiet. Some real nice murals can be found around town. The Bonanza Motel had a few cars in the yard and may be active. The Boot Hill Saloon & Grill had business. The bar seems to always be one of the last survivors.

The Roark hardware store has been operating since 1925. It is the longest operating hardware store on route 66. It was closed when we drove by but seems alive judging by products in the side yard.

Lastly Vega is the seat of Oldham county. The 1915 courthouse is a handsome  golden brown stone building.

In Landergin we spotted the usual grain elevator and derelict filling station with blown out monster sign. The RESTAURANT panel on the sign was drooping but intact calling us to the abandoned Landergin café.

Adrian Texas is the last town in the state. It has the usual abandoned filling stations and the Fabulous 40 Motel claims vacancy but don’t count on staying there. Did I mention that they have a grain elevator too?

Adrian’s claim to fame is the Halfway Café. It is at the exact geo-mathematical center of route 66. We have 1139 miles to go. We arrived for a late lunch, this put us at 13-1/2 days into the 22 days we had after leaving Chicago. We have about 9 day’s left allowing a little time to ship souvenirs and get the baggage balanced. We’ll need to watch our time but as I mentioned this is becoming a game of bigger hops. Logging options are limited out here and in many cases our day’s plan will be set by where we can find our next bed. We can’t just count on crashing in the next town like we did in the first half of the trip. Needless to say they sold us lunch and a mess of souvenirs including a T shirt for my 66 wardrobe. We also took the commemorative photo in front of the sign.  After a brief stop in Glenrio home to a deserted filling station and café it was on to New Mexico.

The last 18 miles of Texas had to be on I-40. As we crested the hill to Exit 0 it was like we crossed a bridge and a whole new world opened up. In Texas I said that the sky was big and Lorna expressed it as feeling like she was in a snow globe. Suddenly mesas and high plains framed the horizon in ways that neither of us had ever seen in person, very cool!

Before stopping at the state visitor’s center for information we took a run up into the hills on old route 66 to see what the remains of Bard were looking like. The place was a ghost town with a few inhabited homes on a back street. Another guy from Illinois was exploring the town as well in a period correct Ford Galaxy. He pointed out the last post office building. Over the top of the hill I found an even earlier post office.  The rambling Motel and Café were  getting overgrown and several filling stations were weathered but standing. One was of a design I have started to recognize and I need to research what brand they were built for. Lorna is having a good time taking pictures of the flowers, there’s some nice stuff growing wild.

While driving a stretch of old 66 Lorna noticed sneakers nailed to the tops of a string of fence posts, someone is having fun, maybe it’s the next route 66 attraction in the making!

We next visited San Jon starting with ice and gasoline. The only real activity is a newer filling station / convenience store. The rest is down for the count. They have a municipal park with free camping, right on the main drag. A mural remembers a local man that died in 2011 at 19. No name or cause is revealed, another story to research. The truck stop offers a “taste of India Buffet”.  It looks like the San Jon Motel is still renting rooms. Many offer daily, weekly and monthly rates. Smith’s Café is open to the elements s and the big red letters on the sign have just about faded to nothing along with the lettering on the façade.  Abandoned gasoline stations from most 20th century decades can be found.

As I have mentioned in the past some of these dormant properties have become private homes. Usually you can spot a car, kids toys or something that suggest fresh activity. When we notice these we just make note and move on respecting their privacy. They didn’t ask to be an exhibit in a study of the rise and fall of Route 66. Seeing the places I suspect they have their share of pain.

This brings us to Tucamcari, our home for tonight. We’re staying at the historic Blue Swallow Motel, a 1942 motel with a  garage bay between each unit. The side doors have been sealed but I the day you could go from your car to your room without being seen. Handy on rainy days or for a tryst. Listed in the national Register of Historic Places the rooms have been maintained in a period correct fashion, within reason, I do have WIFI. The TV is an older model perched atop a gorgeous old shortwave radio. Other than the TV and ceiling fan the room is pretty much as it has been for generations. Even the phone here at the desk is a heavy gaumy rotary dial phone of a style that predates me. The modern air conditioner is appropriate since in the day all units had what was then called refrigerated air. The place has a magnificent blue neon sign with piping around all of the rooms Over the door each unit has a stylized blue neon swallow.

We got into town just after 4:00 and were able to tour the dinosaur museum as Lorna planned. It was a good presentation. We then registered at the motel and got dinner suggestions. A local favorite just down the street is Del’s known for their Chicken Fried Steak. I found the breading unique and enjoyed my meal. Lorna was equally happy with her steak. Old route 66 runs right up the main drag here and I went to take some pictures while Lorna nested in the room.  The town used to claim 2000 rooms but I read they have cut it back to 1200. I have no problem believing that this place has at least 800 abandoned rooms. Some businesses such as where we are staying make a go of it but many have fallen by the wayside or must be just getting by. The number of significant 1  and 2 story motels that have been closed and left, complete with signs is mind boggling. The same is true for filling stations. Most are closed, some have been repurposed and many of those failed in their second lives.  Open restaurants are equally scarce. The town does have a Main street that we won’t get to visit. From what I read it has it’s share of hard luck with burned and abandoned buildings. The best analogy I can suggest is to drive through Old Orchard Beach in December, lots of capacity but limited demand.

The town is kicking butt to survive. They are another mural city with a map that will take you all over town spotting murals. I got to see some of them. They have spawned the slogan “Tucumcari Tonight” with highway billboards to entice travelers to the lodging establishments. This weekend they are hosting an antique car rally. The lodging here is very affordable so all they need is traffic.

Today we kicked the mileage up a notch and it we’ll cover even more ground tomorrow to meet our goal. Weather continues to be good with dry days albeit with some passing clouds. Overnight rain has been common and continues in the forecast. Crossing into New Mexico has put us into Mountain Time lagging home by 2 hours. That gave me some extra time to write tonight and now that the day’s story is told I’ll call it a wrap. Oh... and while writing this I fell in love with the new CD.


  1. Sounds like you are going through the desert on a horse with no name

  2. Tucumcari, 1995, On a Sunday night after 9 PM I limped into an old service station on spare tire not to be trusted at highway speeds. This relic station on rt66 had no sign, no fuel pumps, but a light was on. In the office were a couple of kids playing, who subsequently, rode off on their bikes to the house out back to fetch their Pa. A man of few words, and old tools,who sold me a used tire mounted and balanced, for 12 bucks... no receipt.
    a good deal cheaper than getting a room and wating for the tire stores to open on Monday.