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London combines charity road trip with TV production September 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Road trips, Television, Vehicles.
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Here’s something you don’t see every day — a British television company aims to raise more than $400,000 for a cancer support group and gain a television series at the same time by using a journey on Route 66 in an electric car as the backdrop.

It’s called “Route 66 — The Ultimate Challenge,” and it’s scheduled to begin from the Santa Monica Pier on Sunday.

From the news release:

Jamie Branson, Chairman of View TV Group, is joining forces with his colleagues at Only Motors – a production company within the Group – to drive from LA to New York via the famous Route 66. The idea is to make 12 TV programmes in just 12 days.

The event, which was dreamt up by Branson, kicks off with a flight from London on 21st September 2014. Once in the States, the crew will steer across the star spangled continent, stopping off to make various TV features every day. [...]

“We’ll be covering 4,000 miles of tarmac in not just any car – it’ll be an electrically powered motor. But the real test is completing more than 100 scenes of film shoots while we’re out on the road and at our pit-stops.”

The itinerary — with stops at landmarks — is here.

Electric vehicle museum opens in Kingman September 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Museums, Preservation, Vehicles.
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The exhibit of electric vehicles at the Powerhouse Visitors Center on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona, during the International Route 66 Festival last month has become a permanent museum to EVs, with more vehicles coming soon.

According to a story on EV News Report, the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation‘s exhibit was visited by people from 28 states and 20 countries. It was decided to make the exhibit a permanent museum, called the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum.

Route 66 enthusiast Jim Hinckley said by email that more EVs will arrive in the coming months, and the foundation within the next few years will check whether a larger site for the museum is needed.

The foundation’s executive director, Roderick Wilde, credited Hinckley and Kingman city manager John Dougherty for the exhibit’s success and their enthusiasm for a museum. According to the EV News Report:

Jim Dougherty said the EV display was an exciting addition to the Powerhouse complex and that the city looks forward to further cooperation with the HEVF. Josh Nobel, Executive Director of Tourism, for Kingman stated: “The Route 66 Festival provided a suitable platform for the historic electric vehicle symposium, but it became evident the display was solid on it’s own.”

There was a very wide range of vehicles displayed from 1909 to the present, the oldest being a 1909 Ellwell-Parker baggage tug owned by Bob Oldfather, HEVFs Archivist. This is only one of two known to exist in the world. The newest EV was a sleek Tesla Model S graciously displayed during the opening day by its owner, Tudor Melville. John Wayland, another HEVF board member, brought his famous street legal electric drag car, “The White Zombie” all the way from Portland, Oregon. Also on display was the world’s first electric street rod, built by Wilde Evolutions in Jerome, Arizona back in 1995. Roderick Wilde brought his 1930 Detroit Electric and several US made electric micro cars which were built in California in the 1940s to 1960s. [...]

The HEVF plans to add several new vehicles to the Kingman display in the coming months, including a 1912 CT electric commercial truck from Bob Oldfather’s extensive collection. You have may have heard of duallys, but this serious electric truck has triple-wide solid rubber tires front and rear mounted on wooden spoke wheels. The driver sits ten feet in the air in the cab … it’s a real monster! Also coming in October will be our newest acquisition, a ‘Bombardier’ preproduction neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) which the Canadian company used in lobbying activities to get the US federal government to enact NEV legislation that we now enjoy today. This vehicle is being donated to the foundation by Skip Dunn, the President of the Northern New Mexico Electric Vehicle Association.

Incidentally, the Powerhouse facility also has a very nice Route 66 museum on the second floor.

(Image of John Wayland in “White Zombie” electric vehicle dragster at the entrance to the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum; photo by J.Bills via Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation)

Annual Cruise-In at The Mill slated for Saturday September 11, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Museums, Preservation, Restaurants, Signs, Vehicles.
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The annual Mill Car Cruise-In classic-car show will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the landmark but long-closed Route 66 restaurant in Lincoln, Illinois. The event also serves as a fundraiser in ongoing efforts to preserve The Mill.

Geoff Ladd, former leader of Logan County Tourism, a Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County board member and a key figure in The Mill’s preservation, sent along a news release about the event that contains intriguing news, including that the landmark is being considered for use as a recording studio, as well as a local museum.

Two bands — The Runner Ups and The Howell — will perform at The Mill from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Ladd explained the bands’ performances won’t be just for entertainment:

“We’re trying out some ideas to multi-purpose the facility here at The Mill, while the restoration process continues. We’ll run a Vendor Market with a variety of flea market items, crafts, specialty products and antiques on a monthly basis from May-October, headed up by our new member, Andrea Dykman. We’re also having these bands play to test the waters on whether the building would be good acoustically as a possible sound studio.”

An old wooden structure such as The Mill may very well be ideal for recording purposes, so the idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds on first blush.

The vendor market will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Other nuggets of information:

  • The group is planning a crowdsourcing campaign soon to help raise the remaining estimated $50,000 to finish restoring The Mill.
  • “Thanks to a very special anonymous donation, we will also have on sale made-in-the-USA T-shirts with our brand-new Mill on 66 logo on them,” Ladd said. Other collectibles also will be on sale Saturday to raise funds.
  • The City of Lincoln plans to bring The Tropics restaurant neon sign to The Mill for a photo ops. The city took down the historic sign a few months ago and plans to eventually restore it.
  • The event will be dedicated to the late Mike Fak, who died recently. Fak was the preservation group’s treasurer and helped restore the wood floors on the restaurant’s first floor.
  • Tours of The Mill will be available that day.
  • The event includes a special lunch by Hallie’s Restaurant of Lincoln, which is owned by a descendant of the family that owned The Mill during its heyday.

The Mill, which featured a Dutch-inspired design and a turning windmill, opened on U.S. 66 in 1929. The restaurant fell into decline during the 1980s and closed in 1996. It appeared in 2006 the ramshackle restaurant would be razed, but Ladd and other area preservationists intervened and formed a resurrection plan for the landmark. The Mill is on the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame, and members of the Illinois Route 66 Association has done several big renovation projects for it.

More information about The Mill and Saturday’s event can be found at SaveTheMillOnRoute66.com. The webpage also has a PayPal donation button; the group is a tax-exempt nonprofit.

(Image of The Mill courtesy of Geoff Ladd)

Route 66 expert worries about traffic congestion in Chicago suburbs August 7, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, Vehicles.
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A prominent Route 66 expert wrote a letter to a village, expressing his concern that truck traffic will negatively impact tourism on the Mother Road in Will County, Illinois, reported Suburban Life Publications.

John Weiss, who won the prestigious Steinbeck Award for historic preservation with his late wife Lenore in 2002 and has written several books about Route 66 and other historic roads in the Chicagoland area, wrote the letter to the village of Elwood, Illinois, in support of efforts to transform Illinois Highway 53 (aka Route 66) to a more Route 66-friendly corridor.

But he warned efforts will be for naught if truck-traffic congestion from Elwood and Joliet aren’t addressed.

Here are quotes from Weiss from the letter and to the newspaper:

“Route 53, from Joliet to Wilmington, … deserves better treatment. This stretch of road serves as the gateway to Historic Route 66, where the metropolitan landscape gives way to idyllic and quaint communities. Unfortunately for visitors and tourists – many of whom are traveling from overseas and visiting the U.S. for the first time – their first impression of small-town America is appalling and disappointing. [...]

“Words spread quickly with social media. Of course, tourists are going to hit Chicago. World-class city. But from there, they have a choice: Either get on I-55 and bypass all this or come down into Joliet and through all this congestion. I, myself, I’d bypass it.”

Weiss lives in the area, and has a lot of credibility about Route 66. So I’m sure his letter got the attention of the village — and the media.

The problem was exacerbated by Elwood starting an overweight-truck permit program a few years ago. The village gained revenue from it, but truck traffic increased on Illinois 53 because of it. The CenterPoint Properties trucking intermodal development also added truck numbers on the route.

A CenterPoint spokesman said the best solution to remove trucks from Illinois 53 would be a new bridge from Interstate 80 and Houbolt Road.

Also, jurisdictions could simply ban big trucks from that road and create a dedicated truck route away from it instead.

In addition to the mentioned towns before, Will County includes Braidwood, Wilmington, Crest Hill and Romeoville on Route 66. But it seems most of the truck trouble is in Joliet and Elwood.

(Image of Illinois 53, aka Route 66, in Crest Hill, Illinois, by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr)

The coming Chinese invasion (continued) July 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Road trips, Television, Vehicles.
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Noting demographic and economic trends, I predicted in 2011 that Route 66 would see a growing influx of Chinese tourists.

Here’s the latest sign. This week, the Shanghai General Motors Tour of Route 66 began in Amarillo and will continue to Santa Monica. The tour, organized by Open Road Productions of Brighton, Michigan, features Chinese Cadillac owners and dealers driving Cadillac SRXs or Escalades. Simultaneously, another group of Chinese tourists is traveling east from Santa Monica to Amarillo.

From the news release by Rick Thomas at Open Road:

“We provide participants a chance to see how Americans traveled during the heyday of Route 66, the 1950s, but from the perspective of today,” Thomas added.

The Chinese economy has been booming for many years, and there is a growing number of young, wealthy citizens with large amounts of discretionary income. “More than 30,000 Cadillacs were sold in China in 2013, and many of these new owners crave the chance to explore like we do in the US,” Thomas said. [...]

General Motors recently invested US$1.3 billion in a new manufacturing plant in China, and has committed considerable resources toward promoting the brand. Its current ad campaign centers on Route 66 and is called Operation Freedom. “This tour complements Cadillac’s campaign wonderfully. Being able to experience Route 66 in a Cadillac is the pinnacle of their car owning experience,” Thomas reported.

Thomas isn’t exaggerating about the Route 66 influence on Chinese Cadillac owners. A number of videos hawking Cadillacs to the Chinese market are floating around on YouTube, including this one.

Also, I’ve been told by several sources on the road that Chinese television channel ICN now is shooting a documentary or reality show on Route 66. The show was announced in February. Here’s a teaser video from the network, requesting “partners” for the production:

It’s predicted the number of Chinese tourists in the U.S. will reach 100 million a year by 2020. These campaigns probably make Route 66 a big beneficiary of those numbers.

UPDATE: The Amarillo Globe-News this week had a few more details about the ICN television project, including the fact a live episode will be filmed Thursday at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo.

(Hat tip: Nick Gerlich; image of Chinese tourists at Roy’s in Amboy, California, in 2011 by jstdadd via Flickr)

An idea for Route 66 events that needs to spread July 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Vehicles.
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A few days ago, the committee for the Route 66 Classic Car Cruise that will take place Aug. 9 in Crestwood, Missouri, announced the newest charity that will receive proceeds from the annual event.

According to a news release, the committee will give the event’s proceeds to Project Backpack – St. Louis, which serves the St. Louis metro region.

Project Backpack provides area police departments, social service agencies, domestic violence shelters and Department of Family Services workers with backpacks filled with necessities and comfort items. The backpacks make a huge difference for children who are removed from their homes, usually with nothing but the clothes on their backs. These filled backpacks are delivered to children on the scene and at the moment they are needed.

In earlier years, the car cruise committee has given proceeds to SAJE Senior Ministry, CHADS Coalition, USO Toys for Tots and the Lindbergh School District Foundation Teacher’s Grant program. The committee chooses a new charity each year.

This is a smart way to run an event. Because it’s done for charity, more people will be inclined to support it. People who have benefited from the chosen charity will be motivated to attend the cruise. Local businesses still will gain from the Route 66 event’s influx of visitors. And for goodwill, it’s hard to beat.

Those who run or who are considering a Route 66-themed festival ought to consider the format of the Route 66 Classic Car Cruise.

‘Top Gear’ begins Route 66 trip this week July 11, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Publications, Road trips, Television, Vehicles.
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“Top Gear,” the popular British television series about driving cars, began a 2,400-mile road trip this week on Route 66 in a Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse — a convertible version of what is considered the fastest sports car in history.

From the first day of the show’s Route 66 diary:

You want numbers? 1200bhp of quad-turbo, W16 engine, over 1100 torques, four-wheel drive and a top speed of 260mph. Enough, it’s safe to say, to keep up with American traffic. Oh, and an asking price somewhere north of two million quid, which makes dicing with traffic in Chicago’s rush hour something of a puckering experience.

No one has ever done anything like this with a Veyron before. And they won’t again. With Veyron production ending next year before Bugatti opens a new chapter in its Going Faster history, this is it: the last, the ultimate Veyron road trip.

Which is why it had to be Route 66, the Illinois-to-California highway John Steinbeck christened ‘The Mother Road’.

The crew apparently went from Chicago to St. Louis on the first day, although details about that leg are scant, save for a few photos.

During Day Two, the crew took the Bugatti from St. Louis to Oklahoma City.

I don’t care how fast the car is — 500 miles on an old road makes for a long day.

In the coming days, “Top Gear” says it will reveal the publication date of the sale of its “Adventures” issue of its magazine that will feature Route 66. In the meantime, it will post new roadtrip photos daily on its website.

UPDATE 7/16/2014: Top Gear magazine, featuring an article about the Route 66 trip, is on sale worldwide today. The promotional story about the issue notes the Bugatti required 840 gallons of fuel. That’s less than three miles per gallon. Oy.

(Screen shot of “Top Gear’s” Bugatti at the 66 Drive-In in Carthage, Missouri)

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