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The miracle of the Coleman Theatre’s restoration July 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Preservation, Theaters.
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The history and eventual revitalization of the historic Coleman Theatre in Miami, Oklahoma, is one of the most inspiring and interesting stories you’ll hear on Route 66.

It continues to amaze how a town of just 13,000 people with nominal funding could return an opulent theater back to its old glory.

And who better to tell about it than the theater’s executive director, Barbara Smith?

As Smith noted, the theater continues to host tours almost every day. And it continues to bring in music acts, dramatic productions and the occasional film. Go here for its schedule of upcoming events.

The documentary was produced by students at Macon State College in Macon, Georgia.

(Image of the Coleman Theater from 1929 by CharmaineZoe’s Marvelous Melange via Flickr)

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

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Restaurants, Signs.
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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)

Road to Our Lady of the Highways Shrine will close for repairs this fall July 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History, Religion.
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A badly deteriorated section of Interstate 55 west frontage road between Farmersville and Raymond in Illinois — best known as a section of Route 66 that passes in front of the historic Our Lady of the Highways Shrine — will be closed for repairs for several weeks starting in late September, according a story in The Journal-News in Hillsboro.

The newspaper said residents collected more than 1,000 signatures in petitions that urged the Illinois Department of Transportation to fix the road. I have little doubt the Route 66 tourism angle proved crucial in persuading the agency.

The Facebook page for the shrine this spring posted a photo of a tire damaged by the road. It also posted this message on April 7:

Due to poor maintenance by IDOT, it is not recommended that tourists take Historic 66 from Farmersville through Litchfield which includes the location of the Shrine. Many tires have been destroyed as well as rims. The deterioration is a hardship for those of us who live in the area but we’d hate to see your trip ruined.

We ask that you complain to IDOT as well as sign a petition which is available at the bars and gas stations in Farmersville. We hope that a thorough and complete resurfacing will be done but until then the West Frontage Road/US 66 is dangerous.

The Journal-News reported that resurfacing of the road will begin in late September, closing it for about three weeks. 

A few purists might mourn the covering up of old pavement in the area, but a road so decayed that Route 66 travelers can’t reliably use isn’t any good, either.

The Litchfield Deanery’s Catholic Youth Council raised money for the shrine in 1958, and the statue was dedicated Oct. 25, 1959, at the edge of Francis Marten’s farm. The marble statue of the Virgin Mary was imported from Italy; area youths built the wooden alcove, a brick base, a cobblestone walkway and lights around the statue. Total cost at the time was $900.

Francis Marten died in 2002, but family members continue to keep up the site.

(Hat tip to Peter Stork; image of Our Lady of the Highways Shrine by alan berning 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)

Fire destroys Tucumcari hotel July 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Weather.
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A Hampton Inn hotel in the Route 66 town of Tucumcari, New Mexico, was destroyed after fire swept through its roof and top floors Wednesday, reported the Quay County Sun and other news outlets.

Nearly 30 overnight guests were evacuated with no injuries, reported the newspaper, and were moved to nearby hotels. It’s believed a lightning strike on the roof of the hotel’s southwest corner caused the blaze.

Meanwhile, volunteers helped the hotel’s guests find clothes, shoes and phones to contact family members.

Owner Nitin Bhakta, who said the hotel was a total loss, said the hotel’s fire-alarm system failed, even though it had been tested recently. It’s likely, however, the lightning strike fried the system’s electronics.

We’ve long advocated for Route 66 tourists to stay in mom-and-pop motels. However, Hampton Inns about a decade ago helped with a few restoration projects on Route 66 and sponsored a Route 66 Caravan in 2002. So, if you want a chain hotel on the Mother Road, that’s one that merits a look.

As for Tucumcari, I suspect what’s Hampton Inn’s loss is several independent motel owners’ gain. The Blue Swallow Motel, Motel Safari and Historic Route 66 Motel all get high marks from travelers and will do nicely for Hampton Inn guests who had booked reservations. And the Roadrunner Lodge will open any day now.

Proposed landfill irks residents north of Riverton July 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions.
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Some people north of Riverton, Kansas, are opposing the Galena’s acquisition of 40 acres that may be turned into a landfill, according to an article in the Joplin Globe.

At least one foe tried to play the tourism card:

As a member of the Sierra Club and a former member of the Pittsburg tourism board, Jackson said she’s concerned the proposed landfill would pollute Spring River, as well as deter tourists from visiting the area.

The distance from Highway 69A, also known as the Frontier Military Historic Byway, to the proposed site is 16 feet, she said.

“I also measured how far it is from Route 66,” Jackson said, adding it was less than two miles.

According to Google Street View, the area is here:


View Larger Map

Galena Mayor Dale Oglesby pointed out the proposed site needs an engineering study, plus approval by the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment, before it can proceed. That’s 18 to 24 months away. He also said such a site would reduce landfill costs for county residents; trash currently has to be hauled to Lamar, Missouri — a distance of about 50 miles.

Concerns about possible river pollution, an alleged lack of public input on the project, and it possibly affecting the quality of life of nearby residents seem legitimate and should be considered.

But implying the landfill would hurt tourism on Route 66 is ludicrous. The distance of the site from the Mother Road is far enough that travelers never would be aware of it unless a resident mentions it. It simply wouldn’t be visible to Route 66 travelers. In this case, two miles is as good as a hundred.

Using Route 66 tourism as a cudgel to oppose every little development, without considering whether such tourists could care or even see it, seems misguided and ignorant.

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.

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