jump to navigation

Annabelle Russell, R.I.P. October 1, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

Annabelle Russell, 68, who with her husband Harley Russell made up the irreverent Mediocre Music Makers at their Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Oklahoma, died Tuesday afternoon after a 3 1/2-year bout with cancer.

The Facebook page for Harley and Annabelle posted sad but typical message Tuesday:

Dear friends, my Precious Annabelle just passed away 1:10p.m. this afternoon Sept.30, 2014. Thank all of you for everything you have done.

You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Annabelle was moved into hospice care in Oklahoma City in early September. She began aggressive treatment for the cancer after a four-hour surgery in March 2011. Although the cancer was incurable, she recovered her strength enough to play a number of Mediocre Music Makers shows with Harley.

The Mediocre Music Makers act began more than a decade ago in the Russells’ old City Meat Market building a block south of Route 66 in downtown Erick. They previously tried to make it go as a health-food store. The Mediocre Music Makers act happened spontaneously: The Russells once were going through guitar practices in the store when a tour group stopped by. Afterward, the group threw money down on the tables for tips, and its guide said he’d bring more tours by in the future. And a long and well-known entertainment career on Route 66 was born.

The act was mostly music with a heaping helping of wacky comedy inside a shop brimming with antiques. Annabelle served as rhythm guitarist, singer and “straight man” in the act (where you could “see rednecks work and play in their own environment”). But close observers noted she often was the instigator to Harley’s madcap antics, and Harley told me she had written 300 songs — a few which made into their set list.

Harley, in a Facebook message on Sept. 25, said:

My Precious Annabelle was the key factor behind our success at our “Sandhills Curiosity Shop” in Erick, Oklahoma, where we performed our “Insanity at it`s Finest” program (off-color comedy and mediocre music). In this space I cannot begin to tell you of the many tasks she performed! As a matter of fact I don`t even know myself! And you, all our friends played a big part in it as well!

(Incidentally, Harley ultimately called their act “mediocre” because he was a professional musician for many years.)

But the duo continued to entertain thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of countries. A significant number said the Harley & Annabelle Experience was the highlight of their Route 66 trip.

As a testament to their popularity, well-wishes came by the dozens from all over the globe on Harley and Annabelle’s Facebook page during her diagnosis and later treatments.

As for the future of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Harley posted this a few days ago:

I have asked my Precious Annabelle what she wanted me to do after this is all over….She says, try to keep doing what we were doing at our shop “The Sandhills Curiosity Shop” so that’s what I will try to do. But it will never be the same! You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This brings up something else. Facebook is cussed and discussed — often for good reasons — for years. But it served as a viable link to Harley and Annabelle and all of their fans and friends from across the globe during the long ordeal. Harley told me himself Annabelle’s health problems were “hell,” but I suspect all the well-wishes from hundreds of people made the last few years a bit more tolerable. The words of sympathy and support that flooded his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon and evening reiterated that.

(Image of Harley and Annabelle Russell performing in February 2014 by Dusty Track via Flickr)

Teen with rare aging disease is touring Route 66 September 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Road trips, Television.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Sammy Basso, an 18-year-old Italian boy afflicted with progeria, a rare genetic disease that ages him prematurely, is traveling Route 66, and a subsidiary with the National Geographic Channel is documenting the journey, according to the Bloomington Pantagraph.

The folks in Pontiac, Illinois, in typical fashion, rolled out the red carpet for him:

Basso, his family, best friend and film crew arrived in Pontiac Monday evening and had dinner with Mayor Bob Russell, said Pontiac Tourism Director Ellie Alexander. The mayor allowed Basso, who understands and speaks English, to gavel that night’s City Council meeting to order.

After the meeting, Basso, his crew and city officials went to Chautauqua Park where Russell presented Basso with a key to the city and proclaimed Monday as Sammy Basso Day. After Basso received other gifts, the Vermilion Players presented their Route 66 musical review.

“Sammy said ‘Pontiac is such a beautiful country,'” Alexander said.

According to the African-American Holy Angels Catholic Church in Chicago that hosted Basso a few days ago, the Standbyme.tv documentary will air on Christmas Day in Italy, then later in English in the United States. Basso also is scheduled to meet Amish people in Illinois, an authentic Native American chief and members of various other American cultures during his journey.

Progeria typically causes death through heart attack or stroke from hardening of the arteries. It’s uncertain how much time Basso has left, but progeria patients often die by their early 20s.

UPDATE 9/18/2014: Basso was in St. Louis to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Cardinals baseball game. According to KTVI-TV’s report, his Route 66 journey will end at Santa Monica on Sept. 30, when he will receive “a special surprise.”

(Image of Sammy Basso and his mother Laura by Tatiana Zaghet via Flickr)

“66 Mainstreet, Americana” September 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People, Road trips.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

This film documents a couple of Brits, film director Andy Harrison and photographer Natalie Pluck, taking in a Route 66 trip.

I like this film very much, mostly because it seems to be simply willing to go its own way.

66 Mainstreet, Americana from Andy Harrison on Vimeo.

A few things to note before you view it:

  1. The film works best in full-screen mode on your computer.
  2. Make sure you watch the whole thing to see a nice little surprise near the end.
  3. The excellent song by Matt McCloskey is available for download here.

Owner of troubled Bel-Aire Motel dies September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People.
Tags: ,
add a comment

bel-aire manor

Gopal Motwani, owner of the historic but troubled Bel-Aire Motel on Sixth Street (aka Route 66) in Springfield, Illinois, died Saturday near his home in Naples, Florida, reported the Springfield State Journal-Register.

After putting the motel up for sale for $750,000 — plus $114,000 in fines for 700 code violations — this summer, Motwani told the newspaper he was doing it because of health problems. The code violations included unsanitary bathrooms, dirty carpet, potholes and lack of smoke detectors.

His wife still co-owns the property.

The newspaper reported:

Bel-Aire employee Dominic Marando said repair work underway at the property in response to a host of fines and citations from the city will continue as planned.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Marando said Sunday evening. “He had a lot of pressure lately on him.” [...]

Motwani was in Springfield last month for a city administrative court hearing on the alleged code violations. At the two-day hearing, he disputed many of the problems city inspectors identified at the property and said that, in some cases, the city hadn’t given him adequate direction for making repairs. The hearing officer later toured the motel to see it firsthand.

According to a story in the newspaper earlier in the year, Motwani bought the motel in 1986. The property went into decline almost immediately after the transaction, according to relatives of the previous longtime owner, Charles Ciesler.

If anything comes of good from Motwani’s death, it’s his family likely will be more amenable to a discounted price for the property. The current asking amount is far too high, especially when it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to rehab the building.

The city of Springfield a few years ago proposed buying the circa-1950 property and converting it into a Route 66 tourism center or museum. The motel’s retro neon sign, including a Sputnik structure, would have made it a beacon for Route 66 travelers.

But the city lacked the money, and the idea was quietly dropped. Mayor Timothy Davlin, who brought up the idea, committed suicide in 2010.

(Image of the Bel Aire Motel by Jackie via Flickr)

Class of 2014 for Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame announced September 13, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Events, Museums, People, Route 66 Associations.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Author Marian Clark of Tulsa and the late J.M. Davis of Claremore will be inducted Oct. 18 into the Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, according to a release from the Oklahoma Route 66 Association.

The ceremony is slated for 2 p.m. and will be free to the public. A plaque for each winner will be placed on the Wall of Honor at the museum. An association panel selects two winners — one living and one dead — from a list of nominations every two years.

Marian Clark

Clark is most famous for writing cookbooks, using recipes from Route 66 restaurants or facsimiles of dishes from long-gone eateries, including “The Route 66 Cookbook” and “Hogs on 66.”

Clark is a native of the Texas Panhandle but has lived in Tulsa for more than 30 years. She resides a few blocks from the Mother Road, which kindled her interest in the highway.

Davis managed the Mason Hotel in Claremore, but became famous internationally for his enormous gun and arms collection and the museum that eventually was built to house it, the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum that opened on Route 66 in Claremore in 1969. Davis died in 1973 and was buried on the museum grounds.

The ceremony next month also will mark the 25th anniversary of the nonprofit Oklahoma Route 66 Association, which aims to “promote, enhance, perpetuate, encourage the development of tourism, economic opportunities, and historic resources and landmarks along Oklahoma’s section of Route 66.”

Book review: “The 66 Kid” September 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, Magazines, People.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

“The 66 Kid” is not your typical memoir. Then again, Bob Boze Bell isn’t a typical fellow.

Nearly all memoirs consist of a few hundred typewritten pages with a few dozen black-and-white photos crammed into the center.

But Boze, best-known as owner of True West magazine and as a western-themed artist, treats his early life story as a series of colorfully illustrated vignettes that don’t last more than a page or two.

As a result, “The 66 Kid” (192 pages, hardback, Voyageur Press) becomes a breezy, vivid and entertaining set of reminisces of growing up during an earlier era, mostly in the desert Southwest town of Kingman, Arizona.

Bell said he became motivated to tell his life story after suffering a near-fatal heart attack during a 2006 reunion of his high school rock ‘n’ roll band, The Exits. After his brush with death, one would expect Bell would get his early memories down on paper as quickly and have the memoir in bookstores within a year or two.

But Bell took his time, mostly because he apparently had a lot of painting to do. “The 66 Kid” is filled with dozens of Bell’s vivid artwork. If the pages don’t contain a painting, he uses old photographs or memorabilia from his collection. Voyageur Press books tend to be heavily illustrated (such as Jim Hinckley’s Route 66 books), so Bell’s more-artistic approach probably wasn’t a big stretch for the publisher. Still, “The 66 Kid” is unique for a memoir.

Bell also sprinkles helpful “History Detours” and “Legends of the Road” side stories throughout the volume, including “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66″ songwriter Bobby Troup, “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac and Life magazine photographer Andreas Feininger and his now-famous image of Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona.

Bell was the only child of an Arizona rancher’s daughter and a farm boy from Iowa. As a result, Bell and his family “ping-ponged” between the Midwest and Southwest to visit relatives or when his dad took on a new venture, mostly in gas stations. But Kingman exerts an inexorable pull at the Bell family — it was where the couple first met when his dad was stationed during World War II at Kingman Air Field, and they settled there for good when his dad became a mechanic and bought his first home.

“The 66 Kid” provides a snapshot of what Kingman was like from 1955 to 1965 — basically during the pre-Interstate 40 era. A detailed map lists the dozens of businesses along Route 66 then, many which now are gone. He also provides many stories from that time, including drag racer Billy Logas, “King of the Kingman Quartermile” and when a Hollywood film, “Edge of Eternity,” was shot there and at nearby Oatman Road, aka Route 66.

And Bell offers memories about the family’s regular road trips on the Mother Road to Iowa and back — including breakfast at the Copper Cart in Seligman, stops at the Longhorn Ranch Saloon and Museum, and an indelible memory of a ranch house in twilight in Del Norte, Colorado. Some of Bell’s recollections are candid, including his mother’s bigotry to blacks or Hispanics.

Bell probably gained his fascination of the Old West through osmosis. In addition to growing up in the middle of cowboy country, he discovered he was related to outlaws Blackjack Ketchum, John Wesley Hardin and Tap Duncan. He found out from his grandmother that Wyatt Earp, as she put it, “was the biggest jerk who ever walked the West.”

A seemingly minor but key moment in Bell’s life was when he bought a purported photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett at the Longhorn Ranch. Not long after that, Bell found out through a True West magazine report that the image was a fake. That became the spark eventually leading to Bell’s ownership of the magazine in 1999.

Very little of “The 66 Kid” delves into Bell’s adult career as an art director, cartoonist, radio broadcaster and True West owner. But it proves how the first 18 or so years of a person’s life can leave an indelible impact on the remaining 50 or 60.

“The 66 Kid” is highly recommended. In particular, baby boomers and natives of the Southwest likely will find it enjoyable.

Historic Seligman Sundries changes owners September 6, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, People, Preservation, Restaurants.
Tags: ,
add a comment

A couple from Flagstaff, Arizona, took over ownership Friday of the Historic Seligman Sundries coffee shop and souvenir store on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona, from longtime proprietors Frank and Lynn Kocevar.

Thomas Muetzel and Ursula “Uschi” Fuchs, who were regular customers for about four years, plan no big changes for the business. The Kocevars plan to hang around for another 30 days or so, assisting the couple in the transition.

The Kocevars posted an announcement on the Facebook page about the handover Friday afternoon:

It all began with 2 years of renovations on the iconic but deteriorating, 110-year old Seligman Sundries building that would be brought back to life after being closed for a number of years. Over the past 10 years, owning, renovating and operating Historic Seligman Sundries has been a truly rewarding experience for us. The friendships we’ve developed are invaluable and will be treasured always.

But there comes a day when it’s time to move on to new adventures, and today is the day. Historic Seligman Sundries welcomes Uschi and Thomas, friends for the past four years, as its new owner/operators. We look forward to assisting our friends in maintaining the atmosphere and history that make Historic Seligman Sundries a landmark in Seligman and working with them to help foster a smooth transition.

As we enthusiastically begin a new journey to explore all that life has to offer, from our home in Seligman to wherever our Route 66 travels take us, we want to convey our heartfelt gratitude and say “thank you” to all of you who have supported and befriended us over the past 10 years. Meeting and greeting you from behind the counter was a wonderful way to begin friendships, but coming out from behind that counter and actually traveling the same roads and attending the same events as you will be an even nicer way to nurture those friendships. Welcome, Uschi and Thomas! And to all our friends and family on Route 66 and around the world … watch out, here we come.

Contacted by phone Saturday, Kocevar said the opportunity presented itself earlier this summer.

“About three months ago, they asked us to contact us if we ever thought about selling,” he said. “We thought the business needed some new energy; it needs some new life.”

Kocevar said he and Lynn have no firm plans to retire and may look for a new venture. But first, they want to explore the Mother Road that brought them so much business and memories over the past decade.

“We want to explore Route 66 from a different viewpoint,” he said. “We want to be able to do a lot of different things, such as drive a car in the (Arizona Route 66) Fun Run. We greatly enjoyed what we did at Seligman Sundries, but we weren’t able to get away because we had to run the business. We have cyberfriends all over the country we’d see once a year; we want to be able to visit them.”

The Historic Seligman Sundries building opened in 1904 and remains one of the oldest in town. Over the years, it has served as a theater, dance hall, trading post and soda fountain. It even hosted high school graduations during the early years of Seligman. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

The above photo of the Kocevars handing over the large key to the couple was a key-making sign hanging near Historic Seligman Sundries’ front door.

“We were going to hand over the keys, and thought of that big key sign to hand over instead for the photo,” Kocevar said, chuckling.

(Image courtesy of Frank Kocevar)

%d bloggers like this: