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“The Grapes of Wrath” was published 75 years ago today April 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, Movies, Weather.
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John Steinbeck’s famous novel about the Great Depression and a family’s Moses-like journey on Route 66, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was published 75 years ago today.

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., is marking the anniversary all year, and I’ll post a review of a new book about the writing of the novel when I’m done reading it.

In the meantime, NPR today posted a six-minute segment about the book and its impact on American culture and America in general.

A print article of the NPR segment is here.

The Telegraph newspaper in England also posted “10 Surprising Facts” about Steinbeck’s novel. One of the excerpts:

In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck became the first writer to refer to Route 66 – the two-lane, 2,448-mile-road that connects Chicago to Los Angeles – as the “Mother Road”. In doing so, he helped capture the road’s image of redemption and turn it into a cultural icon. The fictional Joad family of the novel was an example of the thousands of people migrating to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl states, and many used Route 66. “66 is the mother road,” Steinbeck wrote, “the road of flight.”

Steinbeck also reportedly adored Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad in the film version of his book, as he should.

The definitive nonfiction book about the Dust Bowl is Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time,” which I recommend for its eye-popping accounts as well as its graceful writing. Strangely enough, it took more than 70 years after the disaster for someone to write a truly great account of the event.

Lest you think an environmental disaster such as the Dust Bowl won’t happen again, I’ve read reports on Facebook almost weekly of dust storms in eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. And, in an ironic twist, California — where the Joads journeyed to escape the dust — is suffering from a historic drought of its own.

(An image of the cover of a 1945 edition of “The Grapes of Wrath” by Make It Old via Flickr)

Route 66 added to Oklahoma’s endangered places list April 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation.
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Preservation Oklahoma unveiled its annual Endangered Places in Oklahoma list on Tuesday night, and Route 66 was included among them.

David Pettyjohn, executive director for the group, explained why in an Enid News and Eagle report:

“When we look at Route 66, it’s not just the road. It’s the structures along the road. It’s the restaurants, neon signs, and, obviously, the original road as well. It’s more the Route 66 experience,” he said.

According to Preservation Oklahoma, endangered places are “properties and sites which have special historic or architectural significance to our state, but which are in danger of being lost, due to neglect, poor maintenance, obsolescence or other causes.”

Others that made the list:

As an article in the Tulsa World pointed out, making the list isn’t the end of the world. A number of properties that once were on Preservation Oklahoma’s watch list have been fully restored, including the Meadow Gold neon sign on 11th Street (aka Route 66) and the Mayo Hotel, both in Tulsa.

(Image of original Portland cement Route 66 in western Oklahoma by Jim Grey via Flickr)

Route 66′s lifeguard March 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History, People.
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The Bloomington Pantagraph recently published a profile about longtime Illinois state trooper Chester Henry, who patrolled Route 66 and Interstate 55 in the Pontiac area for more than 25 years and wrote an estimated 50,000 speeding tickets.

Henry, now 84, has been retired for about 30 years. He still drives his old beat from time to time.

Some tidbits from the Pantagraph’s story:


  • He once wrote 238 tickets in one month.
  • His record for issuing speeding tickets in one day was 45, just before Thanksgiving.
  • Over the years, he walked a total of 150 miles walking the distance from his squad car to the front window of the vehicles he stopped.
  • Some days were so busy, Henry and his partner would prefill parts the tickets to save time.


Henry didn’t write all those tickets just to be a stickler, either:

Patrolling a stretch of asphalt that was so accident-marred in the post-war dawn of the super highway that it became known in this area as “Bloody 66,” a key part of Chester’s job was simply this: cut down on death by trying to curb the speed-demons who were taking kindly to the new, wider, smoother, more open roads.

“We didn’t waste much time on motorists who were only going 10 (mph) over,” says Chester. “There was enough traffic out there that we could wait for the better ones.”

Until the ’70s, highways like Route 66 cut through hundreds of small towns, wedged amid a patchwork of family-owned gas stations, diners and Howard Johnsons. [...]

Highways, Chester says, were a much more personal, friendly place. He knew all the great places to dine, sleep, take a break and he told anyone who asked.

In a way, he was like a Route 66 lifeguard — friendly, helpful but also stern and mindful.

“Everything went up and down the road,” says Chester, “but it was always the people that made the work enjoyable.”

Henry is the member of two halls of fame, including the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. He was inducted there in 1993.

Autry museum launches fundraiser for Route 66 exhibit March 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, History, Museums.

The Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles has launched an online fundraising campaign to help pay for its upcoming and long-awaited “Route 66: The Road and the Romance,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The Autry wants to raise $66,000 within 30 days through IndieGoGo. The campaign launched Tuesday; through late Wednesday morning, it had raised more than $3,000.

The show begins June 6. Donations as low as $10 come with perks from the museum. The top tier of $10,000 gives you lunch with the museum’s president and curator, plus a slew of souvenirs and perks.

The Times also has some details about the exhibits and artifacts:

The show, which will run until Jan. 4, will include Jack Kerouac’s famed manuscript of “On the Road,” typed feverishly on a single continuous scroll; pages from John Steinbeck’s manuscript of “The Grapes of Wrath”; a Martin guitar that belonged to Woody Guthrie; Dorothea Lange’s famous photography documenting Depression-era desperation; and a new print of a photograph that L.A. artist Ed Ruscha first published in “Twentysix Gasoline Stations,” his early 1960s book documenting a trip along Route 66.

Here’s a video about the fundraiser by the museum:

(An image of the original manuscript scroll of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which will be displayed at The Autry’s Route 66 show, by Steve Rhodes via Flickr)

Antique truck show will feature Campbell 66 Express March 25, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Events, History, Vehicles.
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The American Truck Historical Society’s National Convention in Springfield, Mo., not only will feature cruises and speech on Route 66, but a speaker about the town’s long-closed Campbell 66 Express trucking firm, according to news release from the society and its website.

The convention, scheduled for May 29-31 at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, will include speaker J. Bruce Crim talking about “Campbell 66 Express — 60 Years on Route 66 with ‘Humpin’ to Please’” from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Crim was an employee at Campbell about 30 years until it closed in 1986, and he owns a large collection of its memorabilia.

Dave Faust, an employee there in the late 1970s, also owns an excellent collection he posted online, as does Jim Steele. And Rich Henry at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Ill., keeps a few Campbell 66 trailers on his property.

Because Campbell 66 Express’ headquarters was in Springfield, I suspect Crim’s presentation will attract a lot of interest. It’s good a few folks are keeping memories — including its trademark camel — of this unique trucking firm alive.

Tommy Pike, president of the Route 66 Association of Missouri, will talk about “Missouri 66″ from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. on those days.

The convention also will conduct a cruise of Route 66 from Springfield to Joplin, Mo., that includes tours of the Peterbilt truck facility, sellers and parts suppliers. It also will host an all-day “Mother Load to Mother Road Truck Cruise” on June 1 that goes on Route 66 from Springfield through Kansas and into Oklahoma.

Jerome Comcowich also will speak about “C.W. McCall’s “Convoy’, ‘Old Home Bread’ Commercials & Their Creator Bill Fries” from 9 to 10 a.m. those days. A history of Peterbilt trucks will be from 1 to 2 p.m.

You may register for the event online here.

(A 1960s image of a Campbell 66 Express truck by Allen via Flickr)

Tri-County Truck Stop will host ‘ghost hunt’ March 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Ghosts and Mysteries, History, Restaurants.
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The long-closed Tri-County Truck Stop along Route 66 in Villa Ridge, Mo., will host a “ghost hunt” by the Paranormal Task Force on Saturday night.

According to a report in the Washington Missourian, the interactive event begins at 6 p.m. and lasts until 4 a.m. The cost is $50. Tickets may be bought here.

Tri-County Truck Stop has been featured on SyFy’s “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files” segment “Truck Stop Terror,” in The Missourian, and on television news programs and in several books. [...]

The current building, built in 1950 after the previous building burnt to the ground in the late 1940s, became the Tri-County Restaurant and Truck Stop in 1970 after The Diamonds relocated to be nearer to the newly opened Interstate 44.

When the Tri-County still ran, we posted a story or two about its alleged paranormal past. A mysterious presence, nicknamed George by its staff, apparently got a little too fresh with the female help. The restaurant also was known for serving country ham.

The Tri-County Truck Stop closed in 2006, and the boarded-up structure looks a bit worse each time we go by. However, according to its Facebook page, the Paranormal Task Force spent time in recent weeks cleaning up the restaurant’s interior — good to see.

The task force also appears to be maintaining a Facebook page for the Tri-County Truck Stop as well. So it’s nice to see the restaurant get a little care. Hope springs eternal someone can buy and revive it.

(Image of the Tri-County Truck Stop in 2005 by Alan Berning via Flickr)

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.)

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