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Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum holds soft opening June 27, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motorcycles, Museums.
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The Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum on old Route 66 in Warwick, Okla. (west of Chandler) held what amounted to a “soft opening” on Sunday afternoon. The museum opens officially on Monday.

Seaba Station was built by John and Alice Seaba as a DX gas station in 1924, two years before Route 66 was certified. Sonny and Sue Preston renovated much of the property during the 1990s and operated it as an antique shop for several years. They sold it to Jerry Ries and Gerald Tims in 2007, and the duo restored the front of the building to its original look. Tims owns Performance Cycle in Bethany, Okla.

One of the things that you first notice about the motorcycle museum is its well-crafted pine ceilings. These were built and installed by Ries himself.

I counted more than 60 motorcycles of all types on display. Not just bikes can be seen here, but plenty of memorabilia. That includes racing uniforms, magazines, posters, parts, tools, toys, signs and an Evel Kneivel pinball machine from 1975.

Ries said one of the rarest motorcycles in the museum is this 1913 Pope Board Tracker, with a replica section of wooden track it would have raced on during that era. Ries said the tracks were built at a 45-degree angle, sometimes 60, where Pope racers would go up to 100 mph “with no brakes.”

Less than an hour after it opened, Seaba Station was doing a brisk business in T-shirt and cap sales. It also offers Route 66 souvenirs, and will add more items to the gift shop soon.

Ries said he’d put in 12- to 15-hour days in the last few weeks getting museum ready. He and Tims plan to add antique gas pumps to the front of the building. Long-term plans include a restaurant in one of the side rooms.

Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum will be open seven days a week. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, then 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

Interesting data from the Clinton museum June 27, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, Museums, Road trips.
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The Daily Oklahoman today posted an article about a report from the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton. The museum and curator Pat Smith provided fascinating data I’d never seen before:

  • The museum greeted 33,000 visitors last year, a record.
  • 35 percent of those visitors came from other countries, and nearly half of those from Europe.
  • Visitors have come from every continent except Antarctica.
  • Smith says visitors associate the American experience with Route 66 for five reasons: nostalgia, “Grapes of Wrath,” pop-culture icons, ultra-friendly people, and the highway being an open road that symbolizes small towns and freedom.

The report’s data didn’t surprise me much, but it’s good to see my suspicions confirmed.

Two observations: Although attendance is good at the museum, it averages to 100 people a day. It obviously can increase.

Second, Route 66 needs to figure out how to increase the proportion of Americans traveling the road. Strangely enough, the United States’ own citizens appear to have much less of an appreciation of Route 66 than foreigners.

And it’s not an easy sell. Route 66 zigs and zags from four-lane roads to primitive gravel paths. It goes from vibrant cities to ghost towns, from prospering businesses to deserted ruins. Old Route 66 can prove to be a jolting experience, but rewards the patient and open-minded. Take Chris and Beth Fenwick’s blog, who are still traveling the road now:

We can totally see why so many people are drawn to this road and want to return again and again. Its kind of werid and magical but you get on that old concrete and you settle back into yourseat and you just feel comfortable. Really laid back and comfortable.

Once you figure out how to sell that experience to Americans, you’ll elevate Route 66 from being a cottage industry.

The end … and the beginning June 27, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History.
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Today, 25 years ago, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials officially decertified U.S. 66 as a federal highway. In essence, U.S. 66 ceased to exist.

Although few would have thought so at the time, decertification became a good thing for the Mother Road in the long run. It’s a counterintuitive thought, but I’ll explain.

Much of Route 66 already had been supplanted by the interstates well before 1985. Had U.S. 66 continued to exist to the present day, it would have been piggybacked onto I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-5, and the old alignments would have been mostly forgotten. This occurred with many other major U.S. highways as well.

Instead, the decertification of U.S. 66 gave the old highway a huge amount of mystique. Sure, Route 66 garnered plenty of publicity over the years with Bobby Troup’s oft-covered song, the celebrated novel and Oscar-winning film “The Grapes of Wrath,” and the acclaimed 1960s television drama.

But when its decertification was reported by TV stations, radio and newspapers across the globe, it made countless people think: “I wonder what’s left of Route 66?” And so thousands upon thousands of road trips were born.

Many trace the renaissance of Route 66 to the 1992 publication of Michael Wallis’ best-selling book, “Route 66: The Mother Road.” And it’s true that volume sparked a huge amount of new interest in the highway, and continues to this day.

But the seeds of Route 66’s revival had been planted years before. Arizona, Missouri and Illinois formed their own Route 66 associations during the late 1980s, and other states followed. People such as Jerry McClanahan and Jeff Meyer were exploring the old road during the 1980s. Susan Croce Kelly, Tom Teague and Tom Snyder’s books predated Wallis’. So something clearly was percolating.

As it continued to gain in myth and stature, the old road also received a boost from a new medium during the 1990s — the Internet. Swa Frantzen’s site was Route 66’s first to take root in cyberspace, and the members of the Route 66 e-group (now on Yahoo!) played a key role in a number of efforts, including lobbying Congress to pass the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. And the Mother Road continues to thrive on blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

And we haven’t even factored in the impact of Disney/Pixar’s 2006 movie, “Cars.”

With AASHTO’s act a quarter-century ago, many thought the memory of U.S. 66 would fade and be forgotten. In fact, the opposite has occurred. I remember what Route 66 historian Jim Ross said in a documentary:

“I keep waiting for this whole craze to hit a plateau, level off and reach a point where people are sick of hearing the phrase ‘Route 66.’ But it’s not happening. I now believe it’s not going to happen. I believe people today look at Route 66 or regard Route 66 as they would a national park or national monument. It’s become so ingrained in our lexicon. People (say) ‘Someday I want to go to Yellowstone’ or ‘Someday I want to do Disney World.” It’s like that with Route 66 now. I think it’s here to stay.”

While reading Kip Welborn’s new book “Things to Look Out for on Route 66 in St. Louis” (review is forthcoming), I noted that St. Louis also plays host to U.S. 61 (Blues Highway), U.S. 67 (Ozark Highway), U.S. 50 (Loneliest Road) and U.S. 40 (National Road). Yet none of these major and historic highways has the cachet of the decertified Route 66. Indeed, proponents of the Lincoln Highway, National Road and other historic roads look on Route 66 with a bit of envy.

Occasionally, someone suggests that Route 66 be recertified. But that idea invariably is shot down by the Route 66 associations and the program managers with the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. It’s mostly for practical reasons, namely because many historic buildings and structures would be endangered by the road having to meet modern standards. But, unofficially, a loss of that mystique also has to be considered a reason.

To be sure, Route 66 continues to face challenges. Historic buildings and bridges fall under continual threats of redevelopment, natural hazards, neglect and sheer old age. But it’s encouraging to see new Route 66 businesses, such as POPS in Arcadia, Okla., and Gay Parita near Halltown, Mo., provide new traditions and quirkiness to the old road. And it’s young business owners such as Dawn Welch at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Okla., and Dan Rice of 66 to Cali on the Santa Monica Pier that provide me optimism that Route 66 will continue to enthrall travelers for years to come.

It’s an old road … but it’s always finding new kicks.

UPDATE: Chris Epting at AOL News filed a story that echoes a lot of what I said.

Good news, bad news from Vietnam Wall caravan June 26, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Motorcycles, Road trips.
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First, the good news. There appeared to be a good turnout Saturday morning for the Operation Oklahoma motorcycle rally that was slated to go on old Route 66 from Tulsa to Chandler, Okla., then on to Norman, Okla. Hundreds of motorcyclists that gathered at the University of Tulsa to help escort the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall to Norman.

Here is footage I shot at TU before the caravan began:

The bad news is it appears the caravan bypassed Route 66 in Tulsa entirely. I waited for more than 90 minutes just a few miles west of the TU campus, near the Meadow Gold sign on 11th Street (aka Route 66). No caravan. I went back to TU to check, and the gathering was gone. I could only conclude the organizers decided to bypass Route 66 and take the freeway instead, despite numerous media reports to the contrary.

I was disappointed … not so much for myself, but for two Vietnam veterans at the Meadow Gold sign, eager to view the caravan and the replica Vietnam Memorial Wall (albeit loaded up in a semi). They waited for a long time in the hot sun to see it. They deserved better.

New hotel in a historic site will open this fall June 25, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation.
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The Hotel Parq Central will open on the site of the historic Memorial Hospital on Route 66 near downtown Albuquerque, according to a news release at Hotel Interactive.

Memorial Hospital was built on 806 Central Ave. in 1926 — the same year that Route 66 was certified — and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Memorial Hospital closed in 1982.

A team of architects and contractors sought to keep the historic elements of the building as much as possible:

The front entrance’s “grand staircase” has been restored and the interior columns are finished with handmade New Mexico tile.  A rooftop “Apothecary Bar” with skyline and mountain views, and where guests can sip classic 1920s-themed cocktails and snack on tapas, showcases antique apothecary bottles and a wall decoupaged with vintage-era medicinal labels.

Original clay tiles have been used throughout the hotel and in the rooms (18 of which are suites), and the working features of the 1926-era windows were salvaged, including the frames, sashes, and jams as well as the decorative tile below.

An artist’s rendering of the renovated former hospital is above.

Hotel Parq Central, according to the news release, will feature conference rooms, business center, exercise room, massage services, outdoor dining plaza, LCD flat-screen TVs, and high-quality linens and bath products.  Hotel Parq Central also will maintain three gardens.  It will offer 74 rooms for overnight guests.

Rates will begin at $139 a night, and include free parking, gourmet continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary coffee or tea service.

Hotel Parq Central didn’t provide a firm date for its opening, only that it will be operating when the International Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta begins on Oct. 2-10.

Hotel Parq Central has a bare-bones website here.

Motorcyclists to escort Vietnam Memorial on Route 66 June 25, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Events, Motorcycles, Road trips.
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About 500 motorcyclists will be escorting a portable Vietnam War memorial on old Route 66 from Tulsa to Norman, Okla., on Saturday morning, according to the Tulsa World.

The wall, a three-fourths-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Washington, D.C., is to arrive in Tulsa on Friday night aboard several trucks.

However, the wall will not be offloaded, officials said.

Instead, the trucks will pick up their journey to Norman at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the motorcyclists gathering at the Chapman Commons at the University of Tulsa.

The procession, also led by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, will wend its way across much of historic Route 66 through Tulsa, Sapulpa, Kellyville, Bristow, Depew, Stroud, Davenport, Chandler, Shawnee and Pink.

They expect to arrive in Norman about 1:30 p.m. at Reaves Park. The wall will be at the park until July 5.

While the wall is a smaller replica of the real thing in Washington, D.C., it’s still 240 feet long once it’s set up. And all 58,261 of Vietnam’s dead will be listed on it.

More about the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall can be found here. More about the real Vietnam Veterans Memorial can be found here.

Biofuels plant near Kingman appears kaput June 24, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Towns.
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After much brouhaha and controversy last year, it appears a proposed biofuels plant along Route 66 north of Kingman, Ariz., isn’t going to happen, according to the Kingman Daily Miner.

[County] Supervisor Gary Watson said he was not surprised that the plant, which was slated to be built about 2 miles from Valle Vista, failed.

“It had a number of issues,” Watson said, including negotiating with BNSF railroad for access. “I’m not surprised that they’re looking at a different market”

Biofuel plants are also hard to finance, and it can be difficult to find buyers for the product, he said.

Residents of Valle Vista, which has been roiled by the collapse of the real-estate market, made several dubious claims during their opposition to the biofuels plant — including the notion that a non-smokestack industrial plant on a few acres would somehow horrendously “degrade” a 90-plus-mile stretch of old Route 66 in northwest Arizona.

Route 66 always has been a highway of commerce that includes car factories, oil refineries, cattle feed lots, junkyards, quarries, and other gritty exploits of American free enterprise — in addition, of course, to relatively unspoiled wilderness and splendid vistas. So it was very difficult to see how one relatively small manufacturing plant would have made much of an impact on the Mother Road in any way.

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