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

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Motels, Museums, Restaurants, Towns.
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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)

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.

World’s Largest Catsup Bottle up for sale July 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Businesses, Preservation.
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The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, a landmark for decades in Collinsville, Illinois, has been put up for sale and faces a cloudy future, according to several St. Louis-area media outlets.

KPLR-TV posted this story today (the video isn’t embeddable). The Metro Independent, based in Collinsville, also had this report today:

Bethel-Eckert Enterprises Inc., owners of the warehouse below the 170-foot water tower, and the tower itself, are attempting to sale the icon voted as one of Time Magazine’s top 50 American roadside attractions in 2010.

Some lucky investor can buy the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle for $200,000, Larry Eckert, co-owner of Bethel-Eckert, said. He will throw in the warehouse and land for an additional $300,000, although he would prefer to sale it all together.

The newspaper said the owners quietly had the site for sale for some time and thought it had a buyer. However, that potential sale fell through.

The city of Collinsville was offered the site as a gift in 1995, and it turned it down. Bethel-Eckert isn’t willing to give it away again.

For obvious tourism reasons, the city wants to keep the landmark where it is. However, it doesn’t have much flexibility in making such a purchase. Instead, the city may look to helping sell it to a buyer who wants to preserve it.

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle sits near the site of a former Brooks Catsup factory. The 100,000-gallon water tower, painted to resemble a Brooks ketchup bottle, was built in 1949.

Brooks eventually moved its operations to Indiana, but the big bottle remained. A local preservation group restored it in 1995, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle sits about two miles south of the nearest alignment of Route 66 at Beltline Road in Collinsville. But it remains a favorite side trip for Route 66 travelers.

(Hat tip: David Backlin; image of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle by Chuck Coker via Flickr)

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)

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