jump to navigation

Tours offered of hard-to-access Route 66 sites in Arizona July 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, History.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

The Petrified Forest National Park is allowing free, guided tours of hard-to-reach landmarks on a long-closed section of Route 66 on Aug. 8 and Aug. 10.

The tours coincide with the Route 66 festival taking place that weekend in nearby Holbrook, Arizona. The Arizona Journal had a listing of the sites that will be included during the tours:

  • Painted Desert Point Trading Post operated by Harry Osborne, which reportedly had illegal slot machines.
  • Rocky’s Old Stage Station, owned in the 1950s by Nyal Rockwell, which also had guest cabins.
  • LA-A Airway Beacon No. 51, a 1920s landmark that guided an air mail route from Los Angeles to Amarillo.
  • Painted Desert Tower, built by Charles Jacobs in 1953, and the Painted Desert Inn, nicknamed Stone Tree House because petrified wood was used to build it.
  • Remnants of the Petrified Forest National Monument entrance station, which opened in 1932.
  • Remnants of Painted Desert Park, also known as the Lion Farm zoo, established in the 1920s by Harry “Indian” Miller.
  • Ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post,  established by Dotch and Alberta Windsor in 1942.

These sites were rendered almost completely inaccessible by the opening of Interstate 40 and the decertification of Route 66 in the mid-1980s. A few hardcore roadies with four-wheel drives or good hiking shoes have managed to explore these places, but I’ve never placed them on the Attractions page simply because they’re too difficult to get to.

But park’s tours will offer an easy way to see these Route 66 sites, with historical context to boot.

The tours will last about four hours. They are free, but with limited seating. It’s recommended that you make reservations by calling Kathleen Smith at 928-524-6225.

(Image of the Painted Desert Trading Post by Marcin Wichary via Flickr)

Owner of El Rancho Hotel in Gallup dies July 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Motels, People, Preservation.
Tags: , ,

Armand Ortega Sr., 86, savior of the historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, when it faced the wrecking ball during the 1980s, died Wednesday.

An employee at the hotel said Ortega had been in failing health for about a year. His funeral was today at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup, with burial at Sunset Cemetery.

Ortega Family Enterprises, based in Santa Fe, owns several concessions in national parks, Native American-themed gift shops and restaurants in the Southwest, as well as El Rancho.

But Ortega was especially fond of El Rancho, which was opened in 1937 by R.E. “Griff” Griffith, brother of the famed movie director D.W. Griffith. The Griffiths encouraged filmmakers to shoot movies in the Gallup area, and the hotel benefited by having a bevy of stars — including John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart – stay at the hotel during productions up to the 1960s.

The hotel started to decline, especially when Interstate 40 bypassed Route 66 in 1980. But Ortega, who always dreamed of owning El Rancho, bought it in 1986 after it went into bankruptcy and was threatened with demolition. According to an Associated Press story in 1989, Ortega bought the property for $500,000 and spent another $500,000 restoring it. It was reopened in May 1988 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places that year.

Clair Gurley, a salesman who was the hotel’s first guest when it opened in 1937, was invited back to the hotel after it was renovated and charged the original $5-a-night price.

An obituary in the Gallup Independent newspaper (subscription only) said Ortega could be found almost daily in the hotel’s restaurant, drinking coffee while chatting with tourists or buying crafts from Native Americans who lived in the region.

According to an obituary supplied by Rollie Mortuary in Gallup:

Ortega got his start in business selling newspapers and leading a team of shoeshine boys at the age of 10. In his youth he worked for his father at Indian Trails Trading Post in Lupton, Arizona. He graduated from Holbrook High School in 1946, where he played basketball and the trumpet. In 1952, he opened his first store in Deming. He worked to promote Indian Jewelry throughout the U.S. and he was the first Indian Arts and Crafts dealer to market and distribute throughout the United States.

Ortega was born in Holbrook. He eventually opened a slew of businesses in New Mexico and Arizona, including the Indian Ruins Trading Post in Sanders, Arizona, and the Hopi House near Flagstaff.

(Images of El Rancho Hotel by el-toro and Larry Lamsa via Flickr)

World’s Largest Catsup Bottle up for sale July 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Businesses, Preservation.
Tags: , ,

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, a landmark for decades in Collinsville, Illinois, has been put up for sale and faces a cloudy future, according to several St. Louis-area media outlets.

KPLR-TV posted this story today (the video isn’t embeddable). The Metro Independent, based in Collinsville, also had this report today:

Bethel-Eckert Enterprises Inc., owners of the warehouse below the 170-foot water tower, and the tower itself, are attempting to sale the icon voted as one of Time Magazine’s top 50 American roadside attractions in 2010.

Some lucky investor can buy the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle for $200,000, Larry Eckert, co-owner of Bethel-Eckert, said. He will throw in the warehouse and land for an additional $300,000, although he would prefer to sale it all together.

The newspaper said the owners quietly had the site for sale for some time and thought it had a buyer. However, that potential sale fell through.

The city of Collinsville was offered the site as a gift in 1995, and it turned it down. Bethel-Eckert isn’t willing to give it away again.

For obvious tourism reasons, the city wants to keep the landmark where it is. However, it doesn’t have much flexibility in making such a purchase. Instead, the city may look to helping sell it to a buyer who wants to preserve it.

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle sits near the site of a former Brooks Catsup factory. The 100,000-gallon water tower, painted to resemble a Brooks ketchup bottle, was built in 1949.

Brooks eventually moved its operations to Indiana, but the big bottle remained. A local preservation group restored it in 1995, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle sits about two miles south of the nearest alignment of Route 66 at Beltline Road in Collinsville. But it remains a favorite side trip for Route 66 travelers.

(Hat tip: David Backlin; image of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle by Chuck Coker via Flickr)

A chat with Melba Rigg July 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Gas stations, Movies, People.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

Melba Rigg, one of the original proprietors of 4 Women on the Route, now Cars on the Route, in Galena, Kansas, explains the region’s Route 66 tie-ins to the Disney-Pixar “Cars” movie and makes some other observations.

This video is part of KC Keefer’s Genuine Route 66 Life video series.

Rigg didn’t always talk that fast. But her delivery sped up as she polished her spiel, and it sorta became its own thing — and why she calls herself “Melba the Mouth.”

But, in all honesty, Rigg is one of the nicest and most interesting characters you’ll meet on Route 66. If run into her, she’s one of the many reasons Route 66 travelers go back home with great memories.

(Image of Melba Rigg in 2011 being interviewed by a Disney film crew for a documentary)

A new hill rises north of Galena July 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Towns.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

The bad news is Galena, Kansas, is home to a new hazardous waste dump north of town just off old Route 66.

The good news is the hill of contaminated soil is covered with native grass, and people who have seen the finished product say it’s not as ugly or as obtrusive as feared.

Renee Charles, who works with the city of Galena and is co-owner of Cars on the Route, emailed photos of the dump. It is near the old Eagle Picher plant, and less than a mile north of the historic Front Street Bridge, part of old Route 66.

She and other Galena residents expressed fear two years ago, when the dump was being planned, it would “affect the view of the thousands of foreign and domestic tourists that have been traveling the Route, it would stick out like a sore thumb. … We have just received our Historic Byway designation and it will not help the intrinsic value of that area.”

But, in a recent email, Charles acknowledged the site, which was finished a few weeks ago, “doesn’t look too bad.”

The contaminated soil came from decades of lead and zinc mining waste in the region. The Galena dump site has a concrete slab underneath to prevent leaching, and is overseen by the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment.

In many ways, this almost is a best-case scenario for a lead-mining town such as Galena. The town has been cleaned of much contaminated soil, the dump site is mostly unobtrusive, and downtown seems to be thriving after city officials spruced it up after noticing all the Route 66 tourists. And best of all, Galena isn’t as badly inflicted by piles of chat, or mining waste, as nearby Picher, Oklahoma. Despite millions of dollars in attempted cleanups, Picher never did escape problems caused by mining, and has become a ghost town.

I understand some people want Route 66 to be 2,400 miles of vistas. However, Route 66 is a complex microcosm of America … the beautiful intermingled with the ugly. You will encounter gorgeous areas in the Missouri Ozarks, Oklahoma ranch country, New Mexico mesas, Arizona’s red rocks, and California’s desert and beaches. But Route 66 also has junkyards, abandoned gas stations, stinky oil refineries, dusty feedlots and scenes of grinding poverty.

On Route 66, you’ll enjoy wide swaths of the road. But you also will learn a lot about America as well.

New Goodwill store in Tulsa doubles as a Route 66 souvenir shop July 13, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Signs.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

The new Goodwill Industries of Tulsa store on Southwest Boulevard (aka Route 66) in southwest Tulsa last week. The opening was a few weeks later than anticipated because of weather-related construction delays.

As we previously reported, the Goodwill store’s design takes a page from Route 66 and Tulsa history with a retro-looking sign in the front and Art Deco architecture with the storefront.

But longtime Route 66 News reader Susan Yates took note — and photos — of something else unexpected — the Goodwill store also is selling Route 66 souvenirs, in addition to its usual stock of used clothing, books and furniture.

Yates noted that it is the only store in west Tulsa where travelers can select from a sizable choice of Route 66 souvenirs. She wrote in an email:

It seems that the board that governs the Goodwill program has figured out a way to offer something to the many Route 66 travelers who pass by every day. It would certainly be the handiest place to find excellent Route 66 books and good quality souvenirs when traveling through Tulsa.

(Photos courtesy of Susan Yates and Laurel Kane)

2014 inductees to Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame announced July 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, History, Route 66 Associations, Signs.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Three inductees — including a previously announced historic bar in Edwardsville — were announced to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame during the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Motor Tour last month.

Detail on the inductees may be read here. Here’s a brief overview of each:

Hi-Way Cafe and Tavern, Edwardsville — Sicilian immigrants Frank and Dora Catalano opened the combination liquor store, cafe and tavern along Vandalia Street (aka Route 66) in 1934. Their advertising slogan was “Good Cheer with Good Beer.” The business eventually expanded and engulfed the house next door. It was known for friendly service, spaghetti and biscuits-and-gravy. The Catalanos died many years ago, but the tavern recently reopened as the Hi-Way after being closed for two years.

Postville Courthouse, Lincoln — The building, originally erected in 1840 in the village of Postville, was one of the many places in Illinois where a young Abraham Lincoln practiced law. Eventually the county seat was moved, and the building was used a store, post office and residence. In 1929, Henry Ford bought, dismantled and re-erected the courthouse at his Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. However, a replica of the building was built in 1953 on what turned out to be alignment of Route 66.

Nelch and Son Concrete, Springfield — The longtime business is located at 900 S. Ninth St., on a 1930-1940 alignment of Route 66. Not only did the business play a role in constructing roads in the region, but also with many buildings, sidewalks and parking lots. The company was founded by Henry Nelch, the son of German immigrants, in 1896. The company is considered to be the oldest family-owned company in Illinois. The company also has a historic neon sign, which is hopes to restore in the coming years.

(Image of Hi-Way Tavern courtesy of 66Postcards.com; image of Postville Courthouse by OZinOH; image of Nelch and Son sign by the_mel)

%d bloggers like this: