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A visit to Enchanted Trails RV Park July 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People, Preservation.
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KC Keefer with his ongoing “Genuine Route 66 Life” video series interviews Vickie Ashcraft at the Enchanted Trails RV Park west of Albuquerque.

The interview also serves as a brief tour of a couple of the vintage travel trailers that Ashcraft rents out to overnight guests. If you’d like to stay in one, go here.

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

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Motels, People, Preservation.
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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)

Martin Milner selling items from his personal collection July 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Television.
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Martin Milner, the former co-star of the acclaimed 1960s drama “Route 66,” has been gradually selling off items from his personal collection on eBay for the past few years. But a whole bunch more will be offered on the online auction site in the coming days.

A post on the promotional Facebook page for the “Martin Milner Private Collection” on eBay from sale administrator Rick Barnes on July 14 said:

As many of you have noticed, we haven’t had our auctions running recently. This is due to a number of reasons, but principally – eBay imposes very strict (and low) limits for inflexible periods of time. This has proven to be a challenge, but the good news is that we are now clear to list new items.

This upcoming week is shaping up to be a very exciting one. We will be listing a large amount of rare and very special Adam-12 items. This truly will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. These are the most authentic Martin Milner/Adam-12 items that will ever be available to the public. They ALL come directly from his collection and once they’re gone, it’s likely they’ll never be seen again.

So be sure to set your calendars for July 20th and find something interesting to bid on. We’ll do our best to have items in all price ranges. [...]

So far, the sale has been amazing. The Milner family, and myself as the Sale Administrator, are very grateful for the support and kind words you continue to express. I assure you, they mean a lot to all of us.

Milner has sold more than 100 items of “memorabilia collected by Martin and his family, over the length of his television, theater, and film career. Badges, photos, mementos, personal items” on eBay.

I would have questioned whether Milner or his family is actually behind the account, except for this — one of the items being sold this month is a ceremonial key to the city of Rock Island, Illinois, probably dating to the 1970s. They don’t give those out to just anybody. And the rest of the items — including from “Route 66,” such as the screenshot above the dogtag  that will be offered for sale — seem too rare to be just from a run-of-the-mill collector.

The eBay account dates to 2000, but Milner or his relatives started to sell stuff in earnest about 2009.

Milner co-starred on “Route 66″ with George Maharis from 1960 to 1964 (my 2007 interview with Maharis is here). Milner spoke and greeted fans at the International Route 66 Festival in 2002 and 2003. But he no longer makes public appearances and, according to several sources, has been in poor health for the past decade.

(Hat tip: WQAD-TV)

One-man band in Seligman July 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People.
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Mark Di Giuseppe, aka The Straniero, performs Bobby Troup’s “Route 66″ outside, then inside Historic Seligman Sundries in Seligman, Arizona.

Di Giuseppe was born in the United States, but now calls Italy home.

The performance in Seligman was stripped down to what he usually does. Check out all the instruments he can play at once.

A chat with Melba Rigg July 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Gas stations, Movies, People.
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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)

Bob Waldmire art featured at Harley-Davidson Museum exhibit July 10, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Events, Motorcycles, People, Photographs, Vehicles.
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The artwork of Bob Waldmire, the famed and beloved Route 66 artist who died of cancer in 2009, is featured in a current show at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

“The American Road,” which began June 14, “takes visitors on a journey highlighting the evolution of the quintessential American road trip from its early beginnings in 1930 to what it has come to represent in pop culture today,” according to a news release. It features photographs, film footage, slide shows and travel memorabilia.

Waldmire’s artwork is prominently featured Gallery 3 of the show, which displays a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu that was custom-painted by him. I’m pretty sure that’s vehicle is owned by Dave Jostes of Rochester, Illinois, who has showed up with the car to several Waldmire-related events.

Waldmire’s spiral notebooks and sketches — including some of the earliest of his career — also will be displayed.

Waldmire’s legendary 1972 Volkswagen minibus still can be seen at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, along with a schoolbus he converted into living quarters for a time. And his intricate artwork can be bought here and at souvenir shops on the Mother Road. Waldmire also served as the indirect inspiration to the Fillmore VW minibus character in the Disney-Pixar “Cars” films.

The photography of Jeff Kunkle, co-founder of Vintage Roadside, also is featured in the gallery.

“The American Road” will run at the museum until Sept. 1.

(Images courtesy of Harley-Davidson Museum; hat tip to Ace Jackalope)

Bob Kraft, former co-owner of the Riviera, dies July 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Restaurants.
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Bob Kraft, a co-owner of the regrettably gone Riviera Roadhouse bar and restaurant along Route 66 in Gardner, Illinois, died last week at age 90 in a nursing home, according to an obituary in The Daily Journal of Kankakee, Illinois.

Kraft and his wife, Peggy, who died in May 2013, owned and operated the Riviera for 37 years. Their business was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1994. They retired in 2008.

The restaurant and tavern were known as a hangout for gangster Al Capone during the late 1920s. Actors Gene Kelly and Tom Mix reputedly stopped there as well.

The bar for many years served as a local hangout, but gained a second wind the last 10 years or so of its existence when the Krafts’ friendly reputation and the bar’s old-school vibe start to gain Route 66 travelers from far and wide.

Daily Journal writer Robert Themer, a few days after Robert Kraft’s death, recounted a memorable hour with him at the bar in 2002.

Bob had the look of absent-minded retired English professor — glasses slightly askew, as if he had just awoke from a nap, solid blue bow tie, striped shirt with plaid trousers and a shaggy gray and white cardigan of horizontal stripes.

It wasn’t his outfit, though, or even the whiskey that made the flooding problems of the Mazon take a seat at the far silent end of the bar.

It was Bob’s gift of genial conversation that he carries on with as he tends to the bar customers, pushing closing time — relatively early weeknight 11 p.m. But then, Bob was 77 and on that mid-February night was two months from his 55th anniversary of polishing his act as a barman.

The Ace Jackalope blog in 2010 also posted a lot of photos and memories of the Riviera.

A suspicious fire destroyed the Riviera in 2010. Officials from the state investigated, but no cause was found, and no arrests were made.

Surviving are one son and a daughter-in-law; three nieces and one nephew; five grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

Kraft was cremated, and there was no funeral service. Memorials may be made to the National Historic Route 66 Federation. An online guestbook also has been set up here by the funeral home.

(Image of Bob Kraft courtesy of Ace Jackalope)

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