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Book review: “C.C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race” July 31, 2007

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Sports.
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C.C. Pyle’s First Annual International Transcontinental Foot Race, better known as the Bunion Derby, was a plodding, disorganized event that taxed the health and sanity of the runners and was largely greeted with indifference by the American public.

Fortunately, a new book about the race fares much better.

Geoff Williams’ “C.C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race” (Rodale, $25.95, 322 pages) turns out to be a briskly paced, entertaining account of that 3,400-mile event. Subtitled “The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America,” the book brims with fascinating detail, interesting characters and drama — even though most Route 66ers already know who won. This is the first in-depth book about the race of which I’m aware.

The book should be of interest to Route 66 aficionados because much of the Bunion Derby took place on the fledgling U.S. 66 and provided early publicity for the highway. The U.S. Highway 66 Association even underwrote some of its costs.

Route 66ers also know about one of the runners — Andy Payne of the Route 66 town of Foyil, Okla. He figured the $25,000 top prize would pay off the family’s farm and help him woo a new girlfriend, Vivian. Despite going against the world’s best long-distance runners, Payne became an unlikely contender.

Overseeing it was the infamous C.C. “Cash and Carry” Pyle. Part promoter and part conman, Pyle saw the race as a potential cash bonanza. But the foot race became drenched in so much red ink, it was questionable whether the top runners would receive prize money at all. Because of absurdly Spartan accommodations and broken promises, Pyle was so despised by the runners that they cheered when his luxury travel vehicle was seized by creditors. Pyle even stiffed an Oklahoma City repair shop for a $288 bill.

The race started in Los Angeles with 199 runners. Almost three-quarters would drop out before the New York City finish. Almost 50 runners dropped out from the hellish uphill slog of Cajon Pass alone. Runners said the second-worst time was when they were caught in a blizzard west of Amarillo.

The hardships they dealt with were staggering — primitive roads, desert heat, numbing cold, sunburn, lack of food and chronic injuries from running 30-60 miles a day, seven days a week. Black runners were threatened by white supremacists. A few runners got hit by cars. A few suffered nervous breakdowns. By the time the remainder made it to New York, they looked more like POWs than athletes. Somehow, nobody died.

The winner finished the 3,421.5 miles in 588 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds. That’s 5.8 miles per hour. That’s equivalent to a 4 1/2-hour marathon, all the way across the country, every day. Over bad roads. And in all weather conditions.

The 1920s were an era in which endurance events such as marathon dancing, nonstop flights and flagpole-sitting were all the rage. But the Bunion Derby has to be considered the endurance event of them all.

Bunion Derby runner Phillip Granville said: “Lindbergh only sat down and drove an engine for 36 hours. I ran for 84 days, on my feet.”

Highly recommended.

Pointed questions mark Missouri 266 relocation hearing July 31, 2007

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Highways.
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The Missouri Department of Transportation wants to relocate Missouri Highway 266 a few hundred feet north so it can better accommodate Springfield-Branson National Airport.

However, a lot of residents at a public hearing on Monday questioned whether relocating the highway was cost-effective compared to widening the existing one, reported the Springfield News-Leader. Those skeptics included a number of business owners, who located on Missouri 266 in part because it’s an old alignment of Route 66.

There were plenty of accusations of conflict of interest, and those beefs appear to be valid. There were plenty of other beefs, too:

Property owner Jim Rogers said he and others on the south side of 266 have based their businesses on proximity to the road, part of historic Route 66.

“This design comes in and puts their property on a second tier,” Rogers said. [...]

MoDOT engineers estimated preserving the current route would cost more because some utilities would need to be relocated and MoDOT would have to acquire property for widening 266 and building an access road to the south. When pressed, however, Juranas said no cost comparison was done between the two routes.

“What made you think it would cost more? You haven’t asked,” said Rogers, who along with several other property owners expressed willingness to donate land for the needed expansion if the current roadway is maintained. [...]

In response to a question about anticipated traffic volume on the new road, Juranas said the 2004 traffic study indicated as many as 50,000 vehicles a day could use the road by 2018.

When asked for a comparative traffic count for Glenstone Avenue, Juranas consulted Price, who said about 30,000 cars a day currently drive the busy thoroughfare.

That answer generated groans and expressions of disbelief from the audience, which did not appear to accept that traffic on the new expressway would rival busy Glenstone.

“You’re way off on your numbers,” said Russ who owns property on the current road.

I heard from others familiar with this situation that Route 66 would be still accessible with the Missouri 266 relocation plan. But it probably would look like a ghost town because businesses would quickly abandon that alignment.

Then again, if Missouri 266 stays where it is because of the obvious public outcry, Route 66 probably would change somewhat because of the likely widening of the road.

I’m not sure what can be done about the latter situation. Springfield, Mo., is a fast-growing city, and improvements to its basic infrastructure — including roads — are inevitable. About the only thing that preservationists can do is to ensure that the future changes be as unobtrusive as possible and stay within the character of the historic road.

Route 66 restaurant to be featured on Food Network July 30, 2007

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants, Television.
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The Cafe on the Route, based on Route 66 in Baxter Springs, Kan., will be paid a visit tomorrow by a film crew from the Food Network for an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” reports the News-Record of nearby Miami, Okla.

The segment shot at Café on the Route should be shown in a Route 66 series that will air in approximately six months, according to Cat Figgins, a researcher and coordinator with Page Productions, the producer of the travelogue show. A production crew with the show is scheduled to arrive Tuesday. [...]

Could it be the producers of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives were attracted to Café on the Route by the story of how, in 1876, members of the James Gang robbed the Crowell Bank? Or that Baxter Springs is one of those charming little out of the way towns where a fine food dining establishment stands out like a Gucci suit under a Stetson?

After all the Café on the Route menu includes sure local favorites like strip and ribeye steak, grilled chicken, catfish, and fried onion, but all with a twist. The Baxter Springs Strip can be had with an avocado and pepper glaze and the flap jack ribeye stuffed with onions, mushrooms and Provolone and topped with a chopped tomato sauce. , Grilled chicken is adorned with a raspberry garlic sauce and the catfish is crusted in cornmeal, almonds and walnuts. The Tobacco Onions are fine slivers, flour crusted, fried and crisp.

With that kind of food, I don’t think Cafe on the Route fits into the “dive” category. ;)

I’ve been told that the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Okla., also will be featured on the show.

I’ll try to find out what other restaurants will be checked out by the network. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 8/2/07: The Joplin Globe has a story about the Food Network taping. It sounds like host Guy Fieri was at Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, Okla., earlier.

Route 66 has a second newspaper July 30, 2007

Posted by Ron Warnick in Publications.
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During the National Route 66 Festival in Clinton, Okla., I briefly met Jim Michalec and his business partner, Kristine Ramey, of the Route 66 Advertiser.

I wasn’t as sociable as I could have been because I was half-gassed from working at the Ray’s Motel preservation project. But I had enough lucidity to ask for complementary issues and other information about the publication.

In recent weeks, I finally found time to look at the Route 66 Advertiser. What struck me is that before June 2006, there were no newspapers about Route 66. Barely six months later, there are two — first, the Route 66 Pulse and now, the Advertiser.

The Advertiser’s first issue was in January, the second was in June, and I’ve been told the third is scheduled to come out early next month. It aims to be bi-monthly. The Advertiser’s name is descriptive enough — it writes short stories about Route 66 businesses that buy ads.

Like the Pulse, it’s a free publication, and it’s distributed to its customers along the road. The Pulse’s content is positioned as more as a traditional newspaper, with photographers and correspondents, and more coverage of events along the road. But, like the Advertiser, it takes an advocacy stance in support of Route 66.

The June-July issue of the Advertiser contains feature articles about the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Okla.; Friends of the Mother Road; the Dick Jones Garage; and an interesting Route 66 saga of when Michalec’s car broke down in Arizona. The mini-stories about advertisers contain nuggets of history and good cheer. The only misstep was an ill-advised editorial that supports recertifying U.S. 66.

In my brief meeting with Michalec, there was little doubt he is a Route 66 enthusiast. He likes to meet people, and he has driven the route in each the past four years. The URL of the newspaper’s Web site (still under construction) is telling — Rt66Forever.com. The stories also reflect someone who’s loving every minute of being on the Mother Road.

I’ve held reluctant doubts about the viability of a Route 66 newspaper. With many of the Mother Road’s business owners ekeing out a living, it would be hard for a newspaper to build a sizable advertising base. The second and more daunting hurdle is distribution. The cost of shipping newspapers down the 2,200 miles of Route 66 is immense.

(Disclosure: I turned down a prominent position at the Pulse because of these very concerns.)

However, the Advertiser may have a couple of advantages over the Pulse:

  • Its June issue had a greater percentage of ads than the Pulse’s June issue. Remember, that was just the second issue of the Advertiser, while it was the Pulse’s eighth.
  • The Advertiser is based in the Route 66 town of Joplin, Mo. It’s doesn’t have to travel as far to meet with businesses and distribute issues. The Pulse is based in New York.

So I’m intrigued to see what Michalec and Ramey have up their sleeves for the August-September issue — and the future. It’s not wise to discount those who are enthusiastic about what they do.

(Route 66 Advertiser can be reached at 417-682-2111 or e-mail advertiser (at) rt66forever.com)

Riding on the freeway of love July 29, 2007

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Vehicles.
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Aretha Franklin‘s big hit from 1985 uses the freeway, aka interstates, as a metaphor. But the actual freeways shown in the music video don’t look nearly as inviting as the footage of old Detroit cars.

Also of note: That’s Clarence Clemons, of Bruce Springsteen‘s E Street Band, playing saxophone.

The song contains yet another reference to pink Cadillacs. More on that later.

Meeting will discuss Route 66′s future in Illinois July 28, 2007

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Preservation.
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The Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project and Pontiac tourism are hosting a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Pontiac’s City Council chambers to get opinions on how to guide the historic highway’s future in Illinois, reports the Bloomington Pantagraph.

The meeting … will help develop the “interpretive master plan” with Schmeeckle Reserve Interpreters, a Wisconsin company hired by the Heritage Project.

The meeting is designed to give the firm a better understand of what people want to see in the future along the local stretch of Route 66.

“The plan will basically say how to interpret the highway in the future and how to build or capitalize on it,” said Patty Ambrose, executive director for the Heritage Project.

Illinois has taken the lead in several aspects of Route 66 tourism, including a good preservation program and excellent signage along the various alignments. It’ll be interesting to see what the locals and the Heritage Project come up with during the meeting.

The granddaddy of Route 66 sites July 28, 2007

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Web sites.
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Yahoo! interviews Belgium resident Swa Frantzen, whose Historic Route 66 site was established in 1994. It the first World Wide Web site about the Mother Road.

He started the site to test his university’s servers, but also had a desire to inform computer users about Route 66 and help the Mother Road’s struggling businesses.

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