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County will seek grant for Sidewalk Highway October 1, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, Preservation.
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Ottawa County, Oklahoma, will apply for a $300,000 “Rails to Trails” grant to shore up and ultimately preserve the Route 66 section of the historic Ribbon Road, aka Sidewalk Highway, between Miami and Afton, Oklahoma, reported the Miami News-Record.

The article does a good job explaining the complex issues about preserving the 1922 Sidewalk Highway, which is so called because local highway officials at the time had only enough money to build it 9 feet wide. It served as Route 66 until 1937.

Then, as now, the main problem facing the county is lack of money.

A few points gleaned from the article:

  • County Commissioner Russel Earls said recent heavy rains washed out two portions of the road, requiring quick but temporary repairs. He said road crews grade the washouts and add gravel to halt further deterioration.
  • He estimated the cost of preserving the road includes grinding up the old asphalt inside the curbs and overlaying the pavement. He said with more funding, lanes could be built on either side. He said the original road still is structurally sound.
  • Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director Amanda Davis said talks with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and the state about preservation plans — including closing the road to keep it from decaying further — have yielded nothing. She said the Sidewalk Highway is in the “top three” for tourism in the area.
  • Earls noted although some rural landowners are against the Rails to Trails idea,real-estate agents are all for it because homeowners having a trail nearby is an attractive selling point.

If Ottawa County applies for a rails-to-trails grant, it probably will have to be through federal channels. The state is Oklahoma is notoriously stingy about funding even basic maintenance for roads and bridges, as a highway engineer acknowledged during the historic Bird Creek Bridge debacle a few years ago.

Engineers also said ODOT had become “reactive, not preventative” with highway and bridge maintenance from 1985 to 2005 because state funding for the agency remained “flat.” That neglect from a 20-year lack of funds greatly shortened the life of bridges, including Bird Creek. Currently, about 400 bridges in the district that includes much of northeastern Oklahoma need repair.

Here’s a video I shot a few years ago of the Afton section of the highway:

(Image of the Sidewalk Highway in September 2013 by Jimmy Emerson via Flickr)

Annabelle Russell, R.I.P. October 1, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People.
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Annabelle Russell, 68, who with her husband Harley Russell made up the irreverent Mediocre Music Makers at their Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Oklahoma, died Tuesday afternoon after a 3 1/2-year bout with cancer.

The Facebook page for Harley and Annabelle posted sad but typical message Tuesday:

Dear friends, my Precious Annabelle just passed away 1:10p.m. this afternoon Sept.30, 2014. Thank all of you for everything you have done.

You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Annabelle was moved into hospice care in Oklahoma City in early September. She began aggressive treatment for the cancer after a four-hour surgery in March 2011. Although the cancer was incurable, she recovered her strength enough to play a number of Mediocre Music Makers shows with Harley.

The Mediocre Music Makers act began more than a decade ago in the Russells’ old City Meat Market building a block south of Route 66 in downtown Erick. They previously tried to make it go as a health-food store. The Mediocre Music Makers act happened spontaneously: The Russells once were going through guitar practices in the store when a tour group stopped by. Afterward, the group threw money down on the tables for tips, and its guide said he’d bring more tours by in the future. And a long and well-known entertainment career on Route 66 was born.

The act was mostly music with a heaping helping of wacky comedy inside a shop brimming with antiques. Annabelle served as rhythm guitarist, singer and “straight man” in the act (where you could “see rednecks work and play in their own environment”). But close observers noted she often was the instigator to Harley’s madcap antics, and Harley told me she had written 300 songs — a few which made into their set list.

Harley, in a Facebook message on Sept. 25, said:

My Precious Annabelle was the key factor behind our success at our “Sandhills Curiosity Shop” in Erick, Oklahoma, where we performed our “Insanity at it`s Finest” program (off-color comedy and mediocre music). In this space I cannot begin to tell you of the many tasks she performed! As a matter of fact I don`t even know myself! And you, all our friends played a big part in it as well!

(Incidentally, Harley ultimately called their act “mediocre” because he was a professional musician for many years.)

But the duo continued to entertain thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of countries. A significant number said the Harley & Annabelle Experience was the highlight of their Route 66 trip.

As a testament to their popularity, well-wishes came by the dozens from all over the globe on Harley and Annabelle’s Facebook page during her diagnosis and later treatments.

As for the future of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Harley posted this a few days ago:

I have asked my Precious Annabelle what she wanted me to do after this is all over….She says, try to keep doing what we were doing at our shop “The Sandhills Curiosity Shop” so that’s what I will try to do. But it will never be the same! You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This brings up something else. Facebook is cussed and discussed — often for good reasons — for years. But it served as a viable link to Harley and Annabelle and all of their fans and friends from across the globe during the long ordeal. Harley told me himself Annabelle’s health problems were “hell,” but I suspect all the well-wishes from hundreds of people made the last few years a bit more tolerable. The words of sympathy and support that flooded his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon and evening reiterated that.

(Image of Harley and Annabelle Russell performing in February 2014 by Dusty Track via Flickr)

Route 66 photo exhibit opens in Tulsa on Friday September 30, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Events, Photographs, Road trips.
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An exhibit by photographer Jessica Harvey, “Mother Road,” opens Friday at the Hardesty Arts Center in downtown Tulsa, with noted “Route 66: The Mother Road” author and Route 66 Alliance co-founder Michael Wallis speaking during the exhibition’s opening.

According to a news release from the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, Wallis mentored Harvey for her two-month solo journey on Route 66. “Mother Road” will be on display at the Hardesty Arts Center through Nov. 23. “Mother Road” also includes artifacts and stories.

More photos from the exhibit:

More about the event:

Mother Road is a project derived from the history and myths that come from traveling Route 66, which illustrates journeys – both personal and shared – through road trips, driving and discovery.  Harvey displays artifacts and photographs from her own Route 66 odyssey, and invites the public to explore her studio at AHHA where they may offer their own personal artifacts and record individual stories and memories.  This shared project aims to reveal how a diverse group of people collectively feel about travel, Americana, and the culture of the great American road trip. Harvey’s solo road trip along Route 66 began in early September and will conclude at the end of the month, when she returns to Tulsa.

Wallis’ remarks will be at 7 p.m. Friday. The opening reception runs from 6 to 9 p.m. that day.

Harvey also will host a slide show at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 6.

You also can see many of Harvey’s images at her tumblr account.

On a related note, the Hardesty Arts Center and the Woody Guthrie Center are hosting the Mother Road Film Festival during October. Matinee films will be screened at the Woody Guthrie Center, 102 E. Mathew B. Brady St. Screenings are curated by artist Harvey and include:

  • “No More Road Trips” by Rick Prelinger, 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5. It will be narrarated by Wallis.
  • “Tulsa: Finding 66″ by Ed Taylor, 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25. Panel discussion will follow with Ed Taylor and Tulsa Community College broadcast journalism students.

Screenings are free with admission to the Woody Guthrie Center.

(Images courtesy of the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa)

Historic landmark for sale in Missouri September 29, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Preservation.
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The turn-of-the-century Weeks Hardware Co. building on Route 66 in Carterville, Missouri, is listed for sale.

Ordinarily, I don’t publish stories about properties for sale on the Mother Road. But this one is an exception because of its historic nature and prominence in Carterville’s downtown.

According to Kathy Sidenstricker at Smith Midwest Real Estate, the Weeks building at 326 W. Main St. was built about 1900 to supply hardware for the region’s mines. During the 1920s, it became a “drive-in” hotel in which overnight guests could use a freight elevator to take their cars to the second floor.

A little research reveals that mining magnate Amos A. Cass was a partner and director of Weeks Hardware Co. He died in 1915.

Weeks Hardware later became the Morton Booth Co., a cabinet maker that’s now based in nearby Webb City.

The three-story structure lists for $159,900, with more than 19,000 square feet of space.

One side of the building’s ground floor is covered with unfortunate green siding and its interior is nothing to write home about. But the photos provided by Sidenstricker show amazing-looking wood floors and architectural details on the upper floors, as you’ll see below.

This, in short, is a real gem that awaits rediscovery and renewal. The contact information is here.

Unusual ice cream shop opens in Galena next weekend September 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Food, Restaurants.
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A new ice cream shop soon will open on Route 66 in downtown Galena, Kansas. But it’s not just any ice cream shop.

The proprietors of Eye Scream Labs at 606 S. Main St. use liquid nitrogen — which cools liquids at colder than 300 below zero — to make their sweet treats right on the premises. The shop plans to open Saturday, Oct. 4.

Shop owner David Endicott said he made his own ice cream as a sort of party trick, and the idea for a shop went from there. He said in an email:

I had read about making ice cream with liquid nitrogen online from a chemistry teacher’s blog.  It looked like fun to me, so I began researching how I could do it at home. We started making ice cream for our family and friends at our Halloween parties and just for fun. It turned out to be a big hit, and the product we were turning out was so popular, people kept telling us we should open a store. My sons are the driving force behind this enterprise.  They were the ones that really ran with the idea of opening a shop. I own and operate a computer consulting practice in Joplin, NeoTech Solutions, so I already have a full time job. My wife and I sat down with them and said “We will help you get this going if you are really committed to running it”. So here we are.

The process for making liquid nitrogen ice cream is really pretty simple.  We make our ice cream base with only 3 ingredients.  No eggs, no thickeners or emulsifiers, just milk, cream and sugar.  We use the liquid nitrogen as a cooling agent and it goes directly into the mixture.  Since the nitrogen is -321 degrees (f) below zero, as soon as it hits the ice cream mixture, it boils away, taking heat with it.  In a few seconds the nitrogen in completely gone and the ice cream is frozen.  In our lab we can freeze a batch of ice cream (about 4 liters, a little over a gallon) in about 3 minutes.  We do this on our stage right in front of the customers, so they can see the process.  It is pretty neat to watch the mixer churning away while fog pours out of the bowl and across the floor.  We use a food grade nitrogen to make sure purity is high and as I mentioned, the nitrogen boils away almost instantly. [...]

We have tried to make Eye Scream Labs a really fun place for families to come and enjoy a high quality premium ice cream, see a few interesting demonstrations, and maybe learn a little about cryogenics, the science of really cold things.

Endicott provided a few photos of what the inside of his shop looks like:

And, of course, a proper ice cream shop needs to show what if offers. Here are three flavors: pineapple upside-down cake, red velvet cheesecake and blackberry peach cobbler.

I’ve noticed in recent years liquid nitrogen used by a few chefs during the “molecular gastronomy” craze. And a few liquid-nitrogen ice cream shops have popped up in big cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Albuquerque and Los Angeles. But this one in Galena wouldn’t have such a competitor for hundreds of miles in any direction.

Hours will be from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. The shop will be closed Monday and Tuesday. Endicott said he is considering expanding the shop’s hours in the spring.

You can also find Eye Scream Labs on Facebook.

After kids go see Tow Tater at Cars on the Route down the street, you know most of them will be begging to go to Endicott’s store once they learn of it.

(Hat tip to Renee Charles; images courtesy of David Endicott)

Part of downtown East St. Louis added to National Register September 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Towns.
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The Downtown East St. Louis Historic District in East St. Louis, Illinois, was added to the National Register of Historic Places effective Sept. 17, according to an email a few days ago from the National Park Service.

The district comprises of two blocks of Collinsville Avenue, a block and a half of Missouri Avenue and the south side of one block of St. Louis Avenue. Missouri Avenue served as Route 66 in the city during the 1950s, when the highway was rerouted to the 1951 Veterans Bridge, now known as the Martin Luther King Bridge, that connects St. Louis. And Collinsville Avenue was part of old U.S. 40, aka the National Road.

According to the nomination papers, the district has 35 buildings, and 25 are “contributing resources,” or historic. Two properties — the Spivey Building and Majestic Theatre — already were on the National Register. Many buildings in particular on Collinsville Avenue date from 1900 to the mid-1930s.

St. Louis Public Radio earlier in the month posted a story about the district’s imminent inclusion to the National Register. It talked to Michael Allen, director of the Preservation Research Office, which the city hired to map out the historic district:

City leaders became interested in preserving the buildings when the Illinois legislature created a special historic tax credit for river edge cities of up to 25 percent of redevelopment costs, Allen said. That state tax credit could also be paired with a federal historic tax credit.

Allen said city leaders hoped the tax credits could be used to revitalize East St. Louis. Once the region’s second major downtown area, the city was eclipsed by development in other areas, including Clayton.

“Almost all of downtown has been torn down. … It’s surrounded sadly by nothing,” Allen said. “But this little area is cohesive, coherent and full of a great sense of history… It has all the bones needed for economic revitalization. It’s really remarkably intact.”

Because the tax credits expire in 2016, Allen and the city already are pitching the district to developers.

Allen hopes that effort comes in the form of a “building-by-building, slow and careful redevelopment” in the same vein as done in certain St. Louis neighborhoods, such as the Central West End and Grand Center.

“Neighborhoods started out with vacant buildings and one or two key developers taking on key projects, attracting another developer next door,” he said. “This approach while incremental is really what’s been missing in East St. Louis.”

East St. Louis has seen a flurry of activity in recent months with the National Register. The Melvin Price Federal Building and courthouse was added in August, and the Union Trust Bank Co. building in May.

(Image of downtown East St. Louis by Sean Marshall via Flickr)

Trailer for “Route 66 Revisited” September 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motorcycles, Movies, Road trips, Route 66 Associations.
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In recent days, the Czech Route 66 Association posted this trailer for its upcoming “Route 66 Revisited” documentary.

The film premieres in the Czech Republic on Oct. 22 2014 in Zlin and on Oct. 24 in Prague.

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