jump to navigation

Fran Houser puts her Sunflower Station up for sale July 30, 2014

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

Fran Houser, former owner of the Route 66 landmark Midpoint Cafe and Gift Shop in Adrian, Texas, has put her western-themed antiques and crafts store, Sunflower Station, up for sale so she can spend more time with family members out west.

Houser started Sunflower Station two years ago after she sold the Midpoint to Dennis Purschwitz, who continues to run the restaurant and shop today. Because the store was next door in a long-closed 1930s gas station, it enabled her to visit with longtime customers of the restaurant.

She initially planned to run the store just two to three days a week. But it proved more popular than anticipated, and she was forced to extend her hours.

“Had I known it would have done that well, I would have started it years ago and hired someone else to be behind the grill of the Midpoint,” she laughed.

“I’ve had a wonderful two years there,” she said. “But my family wants me to be available when they do things. I want someone there who appreciates travelers on Route 66. It’s been a work of love.”

When she ran the Midpoint, Houser attracted worldwide notice for the the restaurant’s hospitality and its delicious “ugly crust pies.” Houser gained more fame when she became as an inspiration to the Flo character in the original Disney-Pixar “Cars” movie in 2006.

The building contains three rooms, and with a negotiable asking price of $195,000. Those interested in the property should call Houser at 806-538-6380.

(Images courtesy of Fran Houser)

Strike up the Band-Box July 30, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Music, Preservation, Restaurants.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Jo Ellis, a columnist for the Joplin Globe newspaper, reported about a sometimes-overlooked but cherished part of the history of Carthage, Missouri — the rare Chicago Coin’s Band-Box, also known as “Strike Up the Band,” in the Pancake Hut restaurant along Route 66.

The Band-Box is a coin-operated miniature, robotic big band that’s been in Carthage for about 60 years. It first was installed at Red’s Diner, Ray’s Cafe, and finally Wanda Baugh’s Pancake Hut. Even though it moved around a bit, it always has been on Route 66.

The Chicago Coin’s Band-Box was manufactured only from 1950 to 1952. It is in reality a remote wall-mounted speaker for a jukebox, and it was activated when a coin was inserted into the jukebox and a selection was made. The original miniature figures were made of sponge rubber. Dressed in stylish green jackets and suave bow ties, they sported the slicked-down hair style of the big-band era.

When the sponge rubber deteriorated, Baugh replaced the original musicians with similar sized figures. She found GI Joe dolls, discarded their camo and dressed them in Ken’s spiffy (Barbie doll) clothes. She also was able to replace the background drop, an ocean scene with waving palm trees, through Brad Frank Restorations in Chatsworth, California.

Here’s a video of the Band-Box in action, with the audio swapped out because of a television show blaring nearby:

Here’s another one in British Columbia:

Gene Autry and Clark Gable both saw the Carthage Band-Box when they dined at the restaurant after a night in the nearby Boots Motel, also a Route 66 icon.

A full restoration would cost about $5,500. Frank has offered to donate labor for the restoration if Baugh can raise the money for parts. Frank is supposed to return to Carthage in November to do more work on the machine; hope springs eternal that someone can come up with the cash for the full makeover.

Did Springfield, Missouri, miss the boat in promoting Route 66? July 29, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Restaurants, Towns.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

A few days ago, the Springfield News-Leader published a long, soul-searching piece titled “Selling 66″ that asks the question: Has Springfield, Missouri, done a good job promoting Route 66?

If you have to ask, you know the answer.

Springfield has realized its error and is trying new things to bring tourists, including the future Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park. And the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival seems to be growing fast.

The article is worth reading in full, including its cool photos. But here are a few newsworthy highlights and observations:

  • The Route 66 Economic Impact Study of 2011, as I predicted, opened a lot of eyes about how financially viable the Mother Road is. The conservative number of $132 million in annual tourism spending on Route 66 surprises a lot of people. Naturally, folks want a piece of that.
  • City Manager Greg Burris said not only tourists, but locals said Springfield wasn’t tapping its Route 66 potential.
  • Jackie and Larry Horton, tourists from Newcastle, England, said Missouri doesn’t promote the route as well as Oklahoma and other western states.
  • In a few weeks, an 18-foot-tall neon sign will be installed at the Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Route 66 center on St. Louis Street.
  • History Museum on the Square’s Route 66 show last year drew an “unprecedented” 10,000 visitors in six months. The museum is planning a permanent Route 66 exhibit after it finishes a $20 million renovation.
  • The number of visitors to the Route 66 Visitors Center doubled from 2012 to 2013 because officials added Route 66 signage.
  • Best Western Rail Haven owner Gordon Elliot plans to build a replica of the long-gone Red’s Giant Hamburg restaurant.

I suspect when the Route 66 roadside park and other such projects are finished, Springfield — and a lot of businesses there — will be very happy it took the trouble to do so.

(Image from the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield, Mo., by the Missouri Department of Tourism via Flickr)

Will the Route 66 festival transform Kingman? July 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Motels, Museums, Restaurants, Towns.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

The Kingman Daily Miner newspaper posted an interesting article this week about Route 66′s growing economic influence and whether the upcoming International Route 66 Festival will transform the host town of Kingman, Arizona.

The article borrows heavily from the influential Route 66 Economic Impact Study and anecdotal evidence on how Route 66 affects other towns, including examples in Kingman itself.

The whole story is worth reading in full. But one angle that’s been overlooked is Kingman lacks a key Route 66 hub to attract significant crowds of tourists.

Here are several towns that thrive with Route 66 tourism because of a must-stop Route 66 hub, and a nearby town that often gets passed by because it doesn’t:

  • Stroud, Oklahoma, which has the Rock Cafe, vs. Bristow, Oklahoma.
  • Seligman, Arizona, which has Angel Delgadillo’s barbershop and the Snow Cap Drive-In, vs. Ash Fork, Arizona.
  • Pontiac, Illinois, which has the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, vs. Chenoa, Illinois.
  • Arcadia, Oklahoma, which has Pops and the Round Barn, vs. Luther, Oklahoma.
  • Tucumcari, New Mexico, which has the Blue Swallow Motel, vs. Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

That’s not to say that Kingman isn’t trying to set up a Route 66 hub. The Powerhouse Museum and Mr. D’z diner are worthwhile stops, but neither yet has the cachet of becoming indisputable destinations for Route 66 travelers.

This doesn’t mean Kingman should quit trying, either. Tulsa, for example, lacks a big destination for Route 66 travelers, but that doesn’t mean still-new Woody Guthrie Center or the long-planned Route 66 museum won’t eventually become one. In the case of Kingman, perhaps something else — such in its historic downtown — will eventually develop into a big attraction.

The point of this post is folks in Kingman shouldn’t get too excited over the effect of one little festival. If Kingman becomes transformed, it will be because of its entrepreneurs or historic preservationists over a period of years, not because of a four-day event.

(Image of the Kingman Club sign in Kingman, Arizona, by Tom Roche via Flickr)

Cowboy sign returns to Big Texan after one-month hiatus July 20, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Restaurants, Signs.
Tags: ,
2 comments

The 90-foot-tall landmark cowboy sign at the Big Texan Steak Ranch returned Friday after being removed for about a month when a wind storm damaged it, reported the Amarillo Globe-News.

The newspaper reported about the saga of Bull, the name of the cowboy figure on the sign:

Strong winds in late June damaged the sign to the point where it would have been dangerous to leave it up. That surprised Bobby Lee, co-owner of the Big Texan.

“He’s survived two tornados, a plane, blizzards … wind, you name it, but that one got him,” he said. [...]

AAA Signs of Amarillo spent weeks refurbishing and repairing the old herdsman. The high wind took its toll on the old steel, so plans were made for strengthening the design, AAA manager Dale Bural said. Some cosmetic touch-ups were made, but workers did their best to keep Bull authentic, Bural said.

The restaurant initially thought the sign would be down only a week or two. But the repairs apparently were more complex than anticipated. Either way, Bull probably will be fine for a few more decades.

Bull dates to 1960, among the earliest days of the Big Texan when the restaurant was on Amarillo Boulevard, aka Route 66. At one point, Bull had neon lighting. The sign’s surface was extensively renovated about 10 years ago.

Bull and the restaurant moved during the early 1970s after Interstate 40 opened.

(Image of Bull the cowboy in 2011 at the Big Texan Steak Ranch by bernachoc via Flickr)

Joe Rogers Chili Parlor reopening under a new name July 15, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Food, Restaurants.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Joe Rogers’ The Chili Den Parlor, a landmark in Springfield, Illinois, since 1945 that unexpectedly closed in April, will reopen next month under the same family ownership, but a different name, reported the State Journal-Register.

Marianne Rogers, daughter of founder Joe Rogers, told the newspaper contractual issues with previous owners forbids her from using the terms “Joe Rogers” or “The Den” in its name. So it will simply be named The Chili Parlor.

Rogers shrugged off the name change, saying it happened before during the 1990s.

Most importantly, the recipes will remain unchanged from nearly seven decades ago.

The restaurant started in 1945 on 1120 S. Grand Ave. East, not on Route 66 but is barely a block away. But the current restaurant has since 1997 been on 820 S. Ninth St., a prominent alignment of the Mother Road through town.

Like Cincinnati, Springfield has long enjoyed a reputation as being a hotbed for chili. Springfield calls itself the “Chilli Capital of the World” (“chilli” is the locally accepted spelling). Springfield residents reputedly eat more chili per capita than anywhere else.

The beans and meat are cooked separately, which allows customers personalized orders. It can be prepared without beans, with extra beans, with extra meat or without meat. Customers also can specify how much oil they want in their serving.

(A serving of chili from Joe Rogers’ restaurant in 2009 by IronStef via Flickr)

Albuquerque’s most popular filming locations July 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Movies, Railroad, Restaurants, Television, Towns.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque produced this fascinating story about the city’s most popular filming locations for movies, television series and commercials.

Not surprisingly, several exist on Central Avenue, aka Route 66 — Lindy’s Coffee Shop and Loyola’s Family Restaurant.

The station reported:

So why are Lindy’s and Loyola’s attractive for filmmakers?

“They’re still period, they still look like they did maybe in the 50′s or 60′s,” said Ann Lerner, the city’s film liaison. “So they don’t have to build a set… they can go to a practical location.”

Score another one for historic preservation.

(Image of Lindy’s by Glen’s Pics via Flickr)

%d bloggers like this: