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Kingman association gets grant to restore sign June 30, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Preservation, Route 66 Associations, Signs.
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The Kingman Route 66 Association announced Monday that it has received a $10,000 matching grant from the city to restore a Packard neon sign (seen in a vintage photo above) at the Old Trails Garage in downtown.

The money also will be used to restore an original glass-top gas pump near the garage.

The group eventually also will have a mural painted on the business.

A pivot point June 30, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Road trips.
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Chuck Twardy of the Las Vegas Weekly wrote a thoughtful and thought-provoking article about a recent trip down the Mother Road.

Using Park Central Square in Springfield, Mo., where Route 66 was essentially born and where a small plaque tells of the lynching of three black men there in 1906, Twardy writes this:

Springfield, Missouri, is a pivot point for Route 66 and the nation. It casts the route westward, after its southwesterly drift from Chicago. Before long, rolling farmland and forests yield to rock and scrub. And its history echoes the tensions between North and South, black and white. The Route 66 story is, in some ways, as deficient as the history book on Springfield’s square. For one thing, it is largely white, about a time when few minorities enjoyed the middle-class perk of a long road trip. And its laudable linkage of Main Streets eventually led to their desertion. Two builders of those chrome-lined cars have filed for bankruptcy.

It is a stretch to tie the “financial meltdown” to the building of interstates, but the mind-set that pushed us into bigger cars on wider roads to more distant neighborhoods also littered the suburbs of Las Vegas with vacant McMansions. Our postwar enthusiasms collided with unintended consequences, both internal and external. Still forging compromises about our past — sorry we treated many of you so miserably… how about a plaque? — we face furloughs and cutbacks and bankruptcies. We take staycations and layoff-cations. Americans may be forgiven, a little at least, if they feel let down by leaders who sold them a story as untenable as any historical lie.

No doubt some stretches of Route 66 today reprise the Mother Road role of carrying job seekers to new prospects — eastward this time. But the route also beckons the newly disenchanted, not with illusions of bygone America, but with its rejection of homogenous interstate culture.

I have nothing to add, except that this article, in a way, crystallizes why I started Route 66 News — I’m interested in what’s going on with the Mother Road now.

And although I seek to preserve the road’s unique history, I have no desire to relive those eras from where those landmarks originated.

(Hat tip: Ron Roberson)

A last of the breed June 30, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, People, Signs.
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In my first Route 66 trips, I noticed on dozens of businesses and billboards in eastern New Mexico the signs of  a distinctive lettering by a sign painter.

The signs were notable because of their lettering — often a thick, squat, easily read style that I’d seen nowhere else. Some of the letters were shadowed — a sign of good craftsmanship.

Some of the signs belonged to long-defunct businesses, especially in the Tucumcari, N.M., region. Even though a gas station or restaurant had perished, the sign painter’s work had endured — even decades after the business had gone bust. I wasn’t even sure if the sign painter was still alive.

Thanks to a bit of asking around, I tracked him down. He not only is very much alive, but still in business. He is Rudolph Gonzales, whose one-man sign-painting business, Signs by Rudy, is based in Tucumcari. And signs are still done by hand, as they have been for over 50 years.

In a phone interview, Gonzales, now 75, said he began his career in the sign-painting trade in 1954, a few days before his 20th birthday. A native of tiny Roy, N.M., Gonzales says he’d always had a knack for drawing and painting, even putting letters on farm trucks for their owners.

He started on his lifetime trade when Jim Hall, owner of Ace Sign Co. of Tucumcari, hired him.

Gonzales says Hall painted the original “Fat Man” logo for the Club Cafe, a much-missed Route 66 restaurant in

One of the famed Fat Man logos of the Club Cafe. (Photo courtesy of Guy Randall.)

One of the famed "Fat Man" logos of the Club Cafe. (Photo courtesy of Guy Randall.)

Santa Rosa, N.M., that closed in the 1991. Gonzales painted later “Fat Man” signs for the Club Cafe in the 1970s, including one that’s displayed at the Rotue 66 Auto Museum in Santa Rosa. Gonzales also has one of his “Fat Man” logos gracing Joseph’s restaurant in Santa Rosa, the unofficial successor to Club Cafe.

Gonzales eventually started his own business in 1980.

Gonzales’ work can be seen as far west as Gallup, N.M., and as far east as Dallas (that one was a Stuckey’s billboard). His signs can be frequently seen in the western Texas Panhandle and the eastern half of New Mexico on the Route 66 corridor.

“I think I’m the lone survivor in hand-painting,” Gonzales said. “Now it’s all computers. Computers, under the right supervision, can do the job well. But you still have to be a good sign-painter to begin with.”

Gonzales is quick to cite Hall and Russell Kinter, whom he described as the “Michaelangelo of sign painters,” as influences.

But Gonzales said he developed his own style over time. He described his basic fonts seen on his signs as  a “left-handed quick style.”

Being a southpaw is one of key reasons his lettering is easily identified — it’s hard for others to emulate.

“I’ve had a lot of people try to imitate that, but they weren’t successful,” he said. “I tried, but I didn’t find anyone with the ability. I had one employee who worked for me for 17 years, and he couldn’t do it.”

Gonzales, who has two daughters and three grandchildren, says he plans to keep sign-painting “as long as my health holds out.” He’s putting together a book of his work to preserve some of his work for posterity.

“Once it’s gone, I’m afraid it’s going to be lost forever,” he said.

Santa Monica Pier swing June 29, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, History, Music.
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The Santa Monica Pier, the symbolic western end of Route 66, will hold concerts July 23 to pay tribute to its former La Monica Ballroom and celebrate the pier’s centennial, according to a news release.

La Monica Ballroom hosted ballroom dances from 1924 to 1961, when it closed. Entertainers at the July 23 show will include Johnny Vana and the Big Band Alumni and Squirrel Nut Zippers.

From the release:

The Santa Monica Pier will be alive with historic throwbacks to the La Monica Ballroom in its heyday. Visual elements reminiscent of what it would have been like in 1924 will include a version of the original dance floor and entryway where Western Swing blossomed in the 1940s and 1950s. [...]

Following the La Monica Ballroom Redux on July 23rd, the Santa Monica Pier Centennial Celebration will take place on its birthday, September 9, 2009, and will be marked by a grand rededication ceremony with civic and government officials, local and national celebrities, as well as the largest fireworks spectacular over Santa Monica Bay in twenty years.

The event aims to re-create a 1920s vibe. However, since the ballroom was a major player in the popularity of Western swing on the West Coast after World War II, it would be good if the Pier held a Western swing concert as well. Are Asleep at the Wheel or Hot Club of Cowntown available?

Abandoned but not forgotten June 29, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, History, Web sites.
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The folks who run the Abandoned Oklahoma site take a closer look at the long-defunct Conoco gas station on Route 66 near Arcadia.

The station is particularly notable because of its notorious history:

Back then, times were very hard and it was difficult to make a living. One day, about the time Al Capone was terrorizing the City of Chicago, a so-called salesman came by the station, offering to sell the owners a way to make a lot of money, literally, for he had a set of plates for a counterfeit ten-dollar bill. The story goes that the people yielded to temptation, with the thought of being able to get rich quick. [...]

The way the counterfeiting was done was that they would press one of the plates on a piece of paper with the green ink on it, then let that side dry 24 hours, and print the black side of the bill the next day. Things went along just fine for a time, but while passing one of the fake ten-dollar bills, one of the persons was arrested, and with the identification on him where he lived, he was traced to the old station. While searching the building, the counterfeit plates were found. So ended this crime spree, like so many others. The person being taken to jail was overheard to say, “It wasn’t worth it!”

The old station was closed, never to open again. Many years later, which had nothing to do with the counterfeiting, a murder victim was found in the old abandoned building. Police were unable to determine whether he was killed there or the body just dumped, for he had no identification on him and on one seemed to know him.

Nowadays, the remnants of the station have a more sedate existence. The current owners keep it neat, with flowers growing in the window sill, and it’s a nice scene for travelers on the Mother Road.

Two kings June 29, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Religion.
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Here’s another chapter of “Route 66: A Road Trip on the Bible.” This entry covers the first book of Kings. The driver, I suspect, really regrets picking up hitchhikers at this point.

His own Radiator Springs June 29, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Movies, Railroad, Toys.
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Inspired by the “Cars” movie, Roy Martinez Jr. of La Habra, Calif., is building a train-model set of the fictional Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. Here are some photos he e-mailed:

Martinez says he’s spent about 400 hours building the set, and he isn’t done. He needs to add detail work, finish Fillmore’s building, and install the toy rail lines. He’s going to use both N and HO scale railroads in the set.

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