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DVD review: “The Spirit of 66″ November 30, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Movies, Television.
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Here’s an interesting addition to a Route 66 fan’s library — a documentary shot so long ago and out of circulation for so long, it’s become a relic in its own right.

That would be the DVD version of “The Spirit of 66″ ($20, plus shipping), the 50-minute pilot for a proposed 10-part television series meant to air during the 66th anniversary of Route 66 in 1992.

The series, directed by Dave Bartholomew and shot by Gary Parker, never was greenlighted, although the pilot showed up on a few PBS stations. A VHS videotape of the pilot was released to the market.

But the video eventually dropped out of the marketplace for so long, I’d never heard of it until a few weeks ago (I’ve been a Route 66 fan since 1999). Recent searches for copies of the videotape on Amazon and eBay turned up empty.

Bartholomew announced a few weeks ago he would re-release “The Spirit of 66″ on DVD through his Hyphenate Productions in Kansas. In an email, Bartholomew acknowledged the source material was decaying, so digitizing it for posterity was crucial. It stands to reason that if Bartholomew’s tapes were going bad, roadies’ copies of the VHS tape would as well.

The episode’s first segment opens with an interview with Bobby Troup, composer of the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” It’s a kick (no pun intended) to see Troup drive around Southern California in a 1941 Buick — the same type of car in which he composed the song — and singing his most famous tune. He talks about his early career and tells a few memories of his real Route 66 trip, including the “terrifying curves” outside of Oatman, Ariz.

It’s a terrific interview, and I’m glad Bartholomew landed it before Troup’s death in 1999.

Next is an interview with photographer Carlos Elmer inside the now-closed Beale Hotel in Kingman, Ariz., which his grandmother once owned. Elmer, who gained regional fame for submitting photographs to Arizona Highways magazine for 50 years and published several Arizona-related books, talked about delivering a telegram from Beale guest Charles Lindbergh and receiving advice from internationally famous nature photographer Ansel Adams.

At the time of the interview, Elmer still was active with a camera. “My favorite photo is the next one to shoot,” he says. Elmer died in 1993 at age 72.

By now, you start to see a pattern. Except for the seemingly ageless Angel Delgadillo in Seligman, Ariz., most of the people in “The Spirit of 66″ have died. It makes me grateful Bartholomew and Parker captured these people’s memories of Route 66 (including one woman who recalled using a broom to sweep gravel off a Route 66 bridge so she and her fellow teens could dance on it Saturday night) before they died. Remember, the footage was shot about when Route 66’s renaissance began and before the Internet became widespread. If nothing else, “The Spirit of 66″ fills a few historical gaps.

The film also contains an interview with Robert Allison, a quasi-caretaker for the ghost town of Two Guns, Ariz., also known as Canyon Diablo. The cowboy hat-wearing Allison guides you through the so-called “Cave of Death” and how the property reputedly was cursed. Allison noted the owner of a wild-animal zoo there was seriously mauled by a mountain lion, then by a lynx, before giving up the business. Allison didn’t seem to buy into the curse legend, but he didn’t seem to totally disbelieve it, either.

One of the most poignant parts of “The Spirit of 66″ was the people who remember their towns being bypassed by the interstate. Delgadillo has become the go-to guy in recent years of someone who keenly remembers the exact hour when I-40 opened. But the film crew found other business owners who recalled that day Route 66 became deserted.

“I still get chills thinking about it,” one said.

I also got chills when Delgadillo said the only other time he recalled U.S. 66 becoming deserted occurred in the hours after President Kennedy was shot. I happened to be watching the DVD on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.

One of the last segments of “The Spirit of 66″ is 200 residents of Winslow, Ariz., singing along to The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” on what later became Standin’ on a Corner Park. I thought: “I wonder whether La Posada will be included in this,” then realized Alan Affeldt and Tina Mion didn’t buy that Harvey House until a few years later. And the building behind Standin’ on a Corner Park hadn’t yet been destroyed by a destructive fire. Time rolls on …

The age of the videotape shows with occasional image distortions or warbling, but the footage mostly looks good. A few may quibble about the episode taking place only in Arizona and California, but one should remember the creators were going to explore other parts of the route in other episodes, but didn’t get the chance.

I asked Bartholomew what prompted him to re-release “The Spirit of 66.” He replied via email:

Some heartfelt response in the form of handwritten letters and emails from old fans — owners of the vhs who were clamoring for it to be released on dvd — put me over the hump. In designing the new box artwork, etc., I wanted to “freshen it up” slightly, but to simultaneously keep it close to the original, so those who own the vhs would know that this is the same program — in case they didn’t want to be purchasing it again.

Bartholomew said about 25 hours of footage were shot all those years ago. As for what will happen to it:

As all of the money to produce it came out of my pocket, I figured we would finish the pilot, sell it, come back to use some of the additional footage, and go out and shoot more — finishing the journey all the way to Chicago. That didn’t happen … but we had already edited a few more stand-alone sections for a future episode. I considered adding a couple of these as a bonus feature for the dvd release, but only could find these edited on vhs.

But I do have all of the original tapes, and as their shelf-life does have more and more of an impending expiration date … I am now strongly considering digitizing all of it, and going back in and maybe at least releasing a second installment from the footage currently in my possession.

AND — I had gone out on my own and shot a reunion of the last surviving Harvey Girls, within a year of that first summer; and I really feel I will edit that together and release a stand-alone program on them, as I feel there would be interest.

I and many other Route 66 aficionados will look forward to that previously unseen footage if it’s released. But for now, “The Spirit of 66″ deserves a prominent place in a roadie’s video collection.

Highly recommended.

Another time-lapse road trip November 28, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Road trips.
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This video of time-lapse footage by Jody Cusack of the UK-based ZeroCut Media essentially is a plug for the Go Pro Hero3 camera, but there are a lot of cool images from Route 66 here.

GoPro Time-Lapse USA from Jody Cusack on Vimeo.

Frontier Motel in Truxton soon will have a new owner November 26, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Motels, Preservation, Restaurants.
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The historic Frontier Motel in Truxton, Ariz., with its adjoining cafe and nearby bar and gas station, are under contract to soon be owned by a tour operator from New Zealand.

Sam Murray, owner of Gilligan’s Wild West Tours, said during a telephone interview the transfer of licenses through Mohave County is the only holdup to him closing on the properties. He anticipates the sale to be final by January, and the motel to reopen by mid-2014.

“I’ve always had an affinity for Route 66,” Murray said. He declined to disclose the sale price.

He said the exterior of the Frontier Motel will remain the same, but the rooms will be redecorated with early 1950s furnishings. The bar across the road will be appointed in gas station decor, although the closed gas station still won’t offer fuel.

Ray and Mildred Barker bought the Frontier Motel and Cafe along U.S. 66 in Truxton in 1957. Ray died in 1990, but Mildred continued to run the cafe until shortly before her death at age 87 in August 2012.

Murray and a friend traveled in a motor home from Pennsylvania to Laughlin, Nev., a few years ago. Talking to people along the road, he realized there was a market for Route 66 travel with New Zealander and Australian clients. He started his tour company shortly afterwards, and has three major tours booked in 2014 and four more in 2015.

Murray said he wanted to buy a vintage automobile for a future road trip. While talking to a party who was selling a 1966 Oldsmobile Delta 88 in Arizona, he realized he was talking to the relatives of Mildred Barker and discovered the motel was for sale.

“I was wanting to buy an old car, and ended up buying an old motel, too,” he said.

Murray acknowledges Truxton is a sleepy village with an appeal not readily apparent. But it has its advantages.

“Between the Grand Canyon, Kingman and Seligman, it’ll be a nice little addition to the road,” he said. “It’s not going to be a money-making thing. It’s a long-term investment. As long as it can pay its way …”

Because he plans to continue living in New Zealand, Murray says he’ll soon be looking for someone to lease the property from him to act as caretakers. “It would be ideal if I can find a couple who is into Route 66,” he said.

Parties who might be interested in running the complex can contact the Frontier Motel through its Facebook page.

(Hat tip to Jim Hinckley; image of the Frontier Motel and restaurant by Pete Zarria via Flickr)

Team wants Joplin to improve historic baseball stadium November 25, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History, Sports.
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The El Paso Diablos baseball team wants to move to Joplin, Mo., but wants the city to improve Joe Becker Stadium in return.

The Diablos, affiliated with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball and owned by WLD Suarez Baseball, were so successful in El Paso, Texas, that a professional team moved a Class AAA affiliate there.

Missouri Southern State University’s baseball team plays at Joe Becker Stadium, but intends to build its own ballpark and move out. The Joplin Outlaws, a summer collegiate team, also plays there.

Because of the university’s eventual move, the city is looking for another tenant. The Diablos made this pitch, according to the Joplin Globe:

The team managers ask that the city invest about $5.9 million in the field.

Suarez representative Michael Wray told the council the field needs to be modernized, with new lights that would accommodate night play, new restrooms and added seats to bring the total of seats available to 4,200. [...]

The Suarez group is offering to build a $4 million plaza in front of the stadium at its own expense.

That would serve as the entry point to the stadium and house the team’s management offices, ticket window, some restaurants and a team retail store. There would be second-floor loft apartments to serve as team and management living quarters with a few of them as rentals. [...]

It projects the financial impact of the team by 2018 — in three years after opening — at $30 million. That includes hotel and restaurant spending, game spending by patrons, wages from 310 new jobs created and taxes.

One thing the story doesn’t mention is Joe Becker Stadium’s history. It was built in 1913, making it one of the oldest baseball parks in America. The grandstand burned down in 1936 and again in 1971. But the field itself is essentially the same as it was a century ago.

Joe Becker Stadium’s biggest claim to fame is Mickey Mantle played there as a member of the Joplin Miners in 1950. Mantle, in 137 games with the New York Yankees Class C affiliate, hit .383 with 26 homers and robust .638 slugging average. Joe Becker Stadium, less than a half-mile north of Route 66 in Joplin, remains a tangible link to the Hall-of-Famer for Route 66 tourists. Mantle grew up in the Route 66 town of Commerce, Okla., and played baseball as a 15-year-old with a semipro team in nearby Baxter Springs, Kan., before going to the majors.

Future Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog (also a Hall-of-Famer) also played with the Miners.

If I were Joplin, I’d approve the proposal from the Diablos in a heartbeat. The Globe’s story tells about other cities’ downtown districts being rejuvenated with a new or improved stadium. I would add Tulsa to the list after the Drillers, associated with the Colorado Rockies, moved from a fairgrounds facility to a new downtown ballpark. It brought thousands of new visitors to downtown during the spring and summer and accelerated the district’s revitalization, which still occurs to this day.

The fact the Diablos will pony up $4 million of its money for the deal shows the owners are serious about wanting Joplin as a new home. I would make sure the team plays up the Mantle and Herzog connections — especially the latter with all the Cardinals and Royals fans in Missouri. And such a project would give a nice shot in the arm for Joplin’s economy, which is still recovering from the 2011 tornado.

(Image of Joe Becker Stadium by Julio Borcher via Google Plus)

Webb City candy shop revives classic candy-canes November 25, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Food, Restaurants.
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The Minerva Candy Co. in downtown Webb City, Mo., revived a long-dormant candy-cane recipe over the weekend with the help of the former owner.

According to the Joplin Globe:

It’s been years since Minerva manufactured the Christmas treat. The shop had been closed since the mid-2000s until Tom Hamsher and his wife, Mary, purchased it and brought it back to life last year.

Built in 1913 and sold to the Mallos family in 1921, the store had a long line of Mallos owners — first Jim, a Greek immigrant, then son Gene, then son Duke.

It was Duke who held court over the candy kitchen on Saturday, assisted by a former employee, Karen Steele. They directed Tom Hamsher and the new Minerva staff.

The Globe produced this fascinating video about the candy-cane-making process:

Minerva Candy Co.’s Facebook page is here. It’s open each morning Tuesday through Saturday. The candy store is about a block south of where Route 66 goes through downtown.

Chilly day for the Route 66 Marathon November 24, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Sports.
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Folks at today’s Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa dealt with 20-degree temperatures at race time, with wind chills in the teens.

Participants probably were OK once they ran a few miles. But it had to be uncomfortable for fans and volunteers.

At least it didn’t snow; a winter weather advisory of snow and sleet is forecast for later that day. And western Oklahoma already was seeing significant snow accumulations.

The winner in the 26.2-mile race was Kenneth Keilbarth of Tulsa, finishing in a time of 2 hours, 35 minutes, and 34 seconds, according to unofficial results. The top female finisher was 34-year-old Katie Kramer of Oklahoma City in 3:02:19.

About 13,000 runners signed up for the two-day event, which included a half-marathon, marathon relay, a 5-kilometer run, a fun run, and a mascot dash.

The marathon crosses or traverses short stretches of Route 66 in Tulsa — Southwest Boulevard, Second Street, and 11th Street. The course was designed to show runners large swaths of the city’s interesting neighborhoods and parks.

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