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Enhancements coming to U-Drop Inn April 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Preservation.
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The historic U-Drop Inn gas station in Shamrock, Texas, will undergo some improvements before tourism season begins, according to a post Monday on its Facebook page.

First, the gift shop has moved to the main area next to the café. This unites the two areas and gives us more room to expand, especially in the “Made in America” & “Made in Texas” items.

Next, we plan to have more displays and kiosks to allow our visitors to interact using touch screens and short videos to see what Shamrock has to offer them, such as our great museum, our downtown area shops, the “Water Tower Plaza”, etc.

We also have a special area set up for the kiddos where we have the movie “Cars” running so they can enjoy that while the adults look around at their leisure.

We also have plans to enhance the café area so folks can sit and enjoy the ambiance of “yesteryear”.

The writer of the post also promises more changes “soon.”

The City of Shamrock a few weeks ago swapped out the station’s hail-destroyed architectural neon tubing for LED lighting.

The U-Drop Inn, aka Tower Station, was built on Route 66 in 1936 by J. M. Tindall and R. C. Lewis at the cost of $23,000. About a decade ago, the city used a Federal Transportation Enhancements grant and local fundraising to restore the building. The U-Drop Inn served as a direct inspiration to Ramone’s body shop in the 2006 animated movie “Cars.”

(Image of the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas, by Drriss & Marrionn via Flickr)

The amazing story of Joe Bauman April 2, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, People, Sports.
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Famed sportswriter Joe Posnanski a few days ago wrote about Joe Bauman, who set a professional baseball record of 72 home runs in a season in 1954.

That record stood until Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001.

The hot, dry air of the region and smallish ballparks of the Longhorn League undoubtedly helped Bauman set the record.

But Bauman, at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, didn’t hit many cheap home runs, either. He reportedly blasted a 500-footer during his big season that landed in the middle of an adjacent rodeo — sparking a lot of jubilant hollering from the cowboys. And he had other seasons in which he hit 48, 50 and 53 home runs.

In addition to those 72 homers, Bauman’s 1954 season featured 35 doubles, three triples, 224 RBI, 188 runs scored, a .400 batting average and an eye-popping .916 slugging average (which is higher than any major-league mark) in just 138 games. Bauman never made it to the major leagues, but his record season brought him national fame anyway.

The whole story by Posnanski is worth reading. A few tidbits to let you know why this is relevant to Route 66:

  • Bauman co-owned a Texaco gas station and tire shop on Route 66 for many years, and worked there during the off-season.
  • Bauman was born in Welch, Okla., close to Mickey Mantle’s Route 66 hometown of Commerce, Okla. He grew up in Oklahoma City.
  • His baseball career included stints in Amarillo and Elk City, Okla. And Albuquerque was part of the league in which Bauman played.

He finished his career — all in the minor leagues — with a .337 average, 337 home runs and an amazing .702 slugging average. Bauman died in Roswell, N.M., in 2005 at age 83.

Bauman’s Baseball Reference page is here. A more detailed biography can be found at the Society for American Baseball Research can be found here.

Southwest Missouri station puts Route 66 segments online March 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Gas stations, History, Motels, People, Television, Vehicles.
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Years ago, KY3-TV reporter Ed Fillmer, a native of the Route 66 town of Marshfield, Mo., shot segments about Route 66 in Missouri.

Yesterday, the Springfield, Mo., station put those segments online. The video cannot be embedded, but I’ve provided direct links and descriptions of them.

Some of these videos date to the 1970s. I recommend you watch them; they’re not only well-done, but you’ll probably see a slice of history you haven’t seen before.

An interview with Glenn “Wrink” Wrinkle, longtime owner of Wrink’s Market in Lebanon, Mo. The market was celebrating its 50th anniversary during the segment in 2000. Wrinkle died a few years later, and the market is closed despite fitful attempts to keep it operating.

An interview with Thelma White, longtime co-operator of Whitehall Mercantile in Halltown, Mo. She co-founded the Route 66 Association of Missouri. White died in 2010.

A history of Route 66 State Park and the evacuated town of Times Beach, Mo. The Steiny’s Inn converted into a visitors center for the park is still there, but the bridge closed some years later, making it more difficult to use the rest of the park. The segment was shot in 1999.

A look at McDowell’s Garage in Strafford, Mo., which opened in 1924 and was still operating when the segment was shot. This looks like one of the 1970s segments.

A look at closed gas stations in the Missouri Ozarks, including one owner in Phillipsburg who had s a still-operating gravity-fed pump.

A look at old travel courts in the Ozarks, including the Abbylee Court and the still-operating Rest Haven Court.

A look at the “Route 66″ television show and Corvettes.

UPDATE 3/18/2014: The station added another segment — a 1990 interview with Harold and Pauline Armstrong, longtime owners of the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Mo. The Armstrongs died a few years ago, but Connie Echols bought the property and restored and improved it.

(A screen capture of Glenn Wrinkle from the Wrink’s Market segment.)

Where are the surviving Green Book businesses? March 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Gas stations, History, Motels, Publications, Restaurants.
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A historian with the National Park Service is searching for surviving buildings once listed in the “Negro Motorist Green Book” travel directory from 1936 to 1964, and he’s asking for roadies’ help in finding them along Route 66.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was an annual guidebook for black drivers during the Jim Crow era. Publisher Victor Green said the book would “give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable.” A 1949 edition of the travel guide may be perused online here.

Frank Norris, historian for the NPS, says he’s tracked down businesses or buildings that housed them in the largest cities of Los Angeles, St. Louis and Chicago. He’s compiled a list — with addresses — of Negro-affiliated businesses in the smaller towns in seven of Route 66′s eight states (apparently there were no such businesses in 13 miles of the Mother Road in Kansas). The list in a Word document may be downloaded here.

Norris wrote:

I would greatly appreciate your help in driving to the street addresses where these businesses were located. (Some of the addresses, as you’ll see, are more exact than others.) Please find out IF there is still a business – or at least a fairly old standing building – at that address. If there is still a historical reminder (in any form) for this building, please take a photograph of it. Then send this information back to me. I am REALLY looking forward to hearing from you about this!

Norris may be emailed at [email protected] or calling 505-988-6005.

Giving the list a once-over, surviving buildings seem to be slim pickings. I suspect many are long gone because of redevelopment. Many in Tulsa, for example, were in the Greenwood District that was mostly razed during the “urban renewal” days of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Many of these Negro-sympathetic businesses also suffered, ironically, in the wake of desegregation. When black people on Route 66 finally could patronize whatever gas station, restaurant or motel they pleased after the Civil Rights Act, revenue for the Negro-sympathetic businesses plunged. And because those businesses served black people, a significant number of white people wouldn’t want to go there.

On a related note, “Route 66: The Mother Road” author Michael Wallis recently wrote a story for Oklahoma-based This Land Press about the Green Book, “The Other Mother Road,” that was posted online just a few days ago. Some choice excerpts:

As a boy, I saw the “No Colored” signs at gas stations on my Route 66 just as I did on the roads of the Deep South. I also saw signs in cafe windows declaring, “No dogs, No Bums, No Indians,” and only yards away a Native American craftsman sold his hand-fashioned art from the sidewalk. Black families traveling America’s byways packed their own food and often slept in their vehicles. They didn’t get their kicks on Route 66—or at least the kind of kicks I was getting as a youngster or a few years later as a hitchhiking Marine. At highway stops such as the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma, during the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and into the ‘60s, black travelers went to the backdoor to get their food to go. None of them walked inside. [...]

To many white, middle- and upper-class travelers, Route 66 symbolized the most positive aspects of American society—freedom, progress, and economic possibility. But to the minorities who encountered racism, prejudice, and exploitation along the road, Route 66 embodied a much darker version of American history. [...]

For many years, with Howard Johnson being the sole nationwide chain where blacks could eat and sleep, and Esso (later Exxon) being the only major fuel outlet actually offering franchises to blacks, the pickings were very slim. In 1955, for example, 3,500 white motels would allow dogs to stay in guest rooms, but less than 50 stated they would even consider housing any black travelers. During this same period, an Oklahoma motel operator reluctantly allowed a black family to stay at his motel for two days if they agreed to “pass” as Mexicans. There are several reports that in 1961 so many black tourists along Route 66 in Illinois were refused restaurant service that they took to bringing their own food and eating in their cars rather than chance being embarrassed. Undoubtedly, that accounts for why most editions of the Green Book listed nothing between Chicago and Springfield as well as nothing between Springfield and East St. Louis. There were also large gaps for Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico.

In the current age, Wallis decries the “American Owned” signs along the Mother Road, “signs erected by the small-minded and the mean-spirited, by those who wear their religion and their patriotism on their sleeve and on their bumper. Signs that serve no good purpose except to divide us and slap us in the face” because they primarily target Asian-American motel owners.

Wallis’ screed bears strong echos to the anti-discrimination speech he gave during Route 66 Magazine’s Roadie Gathering in Tucumcari, N.M., in 2002. The speech may be read here.

(Images of the Cactus Motel of Albuquerque and Will Rogers Motel of Santa Rosa, N.M., courtesy of 66Postcards.com. Both were listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book.)

U-Drop Inn neon lights are back on — in LED February 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Preservation, Signs.
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The Facebook account of the historic U-Drop Inn gas station in Shamrock, Texas, recently announced the long-awaited installation of LED neon has been completed and the lights are on.

According to the page, the neon will be on from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. nightly, although I’m certain the “lights on” time will be adjusted later in the year for when days lengthen and sunset arrives much later.

Also, the page said the “Conoco” sign and other signs on the building will undergo touch-up painting in the coming weeks.

We reported in August the city would swap out the Route 66 landmark’s storm-vulnerable neon tubing for more durable and energy-efficient LEDs. A hailstorm in May destroyed much of the neon.

City manager David Rushing became convinced to make the switch because “you can’t tell the difference” between traditional neon lighting and the new LED neon, plus all of its long-range cost benefits.

Frank Gifford of rt66pix.com said in an email:

“… Most people will be fooled. It’s awfully close in intensity and quality of light output, and how it plays off the scalloping.  I’m impressed!”

(Image of the U-Drop Inn on Jan. 30, 2014, via its Facebook account)

Sapulpa tourism advocate named Citizen of the Year February 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Gas stations, History, Museums, Preservation, Railroad.
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Russell Crosby of Sapulpa, Okla., on Thursday was named the city’s 2013 Citizen of the Year for his work on the famed trolley car on Route 66 and other tourism attractions over the years, according to the Sapulpa Daily Herald.

His list of accomplishments is impressive:

His contributions in Sapulpa include the transformation of an old trolley car into a tourist stop on Historic Route 66, murals inside the Post office and the Creek County Courthouse, the Big Build playground, the restoration of the Waite Phillips Gas Station, the formation of the Sapulpa Fire Museum, the Guardian of the Plains buffalo and the documentation of the Liberty Glass legacy. He received the Governor’s Arts Award last autumn for his service to his community. [...]

He now serves Sapulpa as a member of the Sapulpa Trolley and Rail Museum, the Rotary Club of Sapulpa, the Sapulpa Historical Society Board and the Memorial Foundation. He is the vice president and general manager of the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway Company, where he has worked for 39 years.

His influence extends beyond Sapulpa. The railway was instrumental in moving a historic steam engine to a Route 66 roadside park in southwest Tulsa a couple of years ago. You can see the move in this video:

(Image of the historic trolley at Sapulpa, Okla., by Kevin via Flickr)

Old gas stations being converted into trendy restaurants January 2, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Preservation, Restaurants.
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Many old and abandoned gas stations in America are being converted into neighborhood restaurants, according to a story on CNN.com. And Route 66 is not immune to this trend.

The report said:

“Gas stations are almost always on corner sites, they have good visibility and great accessibility, so they make great locations for restaurants,” said Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor of architecture and urban design at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs.”

Although the population and the number of cars have increased, there’s been an 8.2% decline in the number of gas stations throughout the country from 2002 to 2012, according to National Petroleum News’ MarketFacts 2012.

Dunham-Jones, who studies adaptive reuse of many types of buildings, said gas stations repurposed into eateries tend to be near residential neighborhoods — and many of those households do not have kids at home, she said. That makes aging gas stations, strip malls and office parks prime sites for the eateries and coffee shops where they now spend their time.

The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program has long advocated for the adaptive reuse of historic properties such as gas stations and motels. In other words, if you can keep the basic historic look, preservationists are fine with it if you turn a gas station into a cafe.

Examples I think of on Route 66 are the Standard Diner in Albuquerque, the Early Bird Cafe in Davenport, Okla., Wild Bill’s Fill’n Station in Amarillo and the recently opened 918 Coffee in Tulsa.

I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. If you know of other converted gas stations on the Mother Road, chime in with a comment.

(Hat tip to Rich Dinkela; image of the Standard Diner of Albuquerque by Patricia Drury via Flickr)

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