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“The Grapes of Wrath” was published 75 years ago today April 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, Movies, Weather.
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John Steinbeck’s famous novel about the Great Depression and a family’s Moses-like journey on Route 66, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was published 75 years ago today.

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., is marking the anniversary all year, and I’ll post a review of a new book about the writing of the novel when I’m done reading it.

In the meantime, NPR today posted a six-minute segment about the book and its impact on American culture and America in general.

A print article of the NPR segment is here.

The Telegraph newspaper in England also posted “10 Surprising Facts” about Steinbeck’s novel. One of the excerpts:

In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck became the first writer to refer to Route 66 – the two-lane, 2,448-mile-road that connects Chicago to Los Angeles – as the “Mother Road”. In doing so, he helped capture the road’s image of redemption and turn it into a cultural icon. The fictional Joad family of the novel was an example of the thousands of people migrating to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl states, and many used Route 66. “66 is the mother road,” Steinbeck wrote, “the road of flight.”

Steinbeck also reportedly adored Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad in the film version of his book, as he should.

The definitive nonfiction book about the Dust Bowl is Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time,” which I recommend for its eye-popping accounts as well as its graceful writing. Strangely enough, it took more than 70 years after the disaster for someone to write a truly great account of the event.

Lest you think an environmental disaster such as the Dust Bowl won’t happen again, I’ve read reports on Facebook almost weekly of dust storms in eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. And, in an ironic twist, California — where the Joads journeyed to escape the dust — is suffering from a historic drought of its own.

(An image of the cover of a 1945 edition of “The Grapes of Wrath” by Make It Old via Flickr)

“Route 66″ available on Hulu today April 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Road trips, Television.
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The first season of the critically acclaimed 1960s drama “Route 66″ and part of the second season are free to watch today to the Hulu online platform.

Shout! Factory, which acquired the rights to the series in late 2011, pledged to make the television show available for streaming online, in addition to releasing all four seasons in a DVD box set.

Hulu created a landing page for “Route 66.” Those with a Hulu Plus account can watch the first 58 episodes on televisions, smartphones and other devices. However, those without an account can watch those episodes on a PC for free, with commercial interruptions.

If you’re new to the series and aren’t sure where to start, the first very episode, “Black November,” remains among the most-praised among aficionados.

The Emmy-nominated “Route 66” co-starred Martin Milner and George Maharis as chums traveling in a Corvette convertible from town to town, looking for adventure. Although the “Route 66″ program seldom was ever shot on the Mother Road, it remains a major reason the real U.S. Highway 66 became such a major part of pop culture.

I interviewed Maharis in 2007 about the “Route 66″ series. Maharis now is about 85 years old. Co-star Martin Milner has been in poor health for years and was unavailable for an interview.

UPDATE: Tom Chen at Shout! Factory said some, but not all, of the episodes from “Route 66′s” second season have been uploaded to Hulu. The rest of season two will be uploaded later. But for now, Shout! Factory is promoting the availability of “Route 66′s” entire first season. The story has been updated and clarified to reflect that.

(Hat tip: Home Media Magazine)

Fundraiser launched for proposed Route 66 television series April 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Road trips, Television.
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Steve Brown, host of PBS-TV’s “The Real Desert, with Steve Brown” and longtime Route 66 enthusiast Jim Conkle in recent days launched an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign for a 13-part documentary about Route 66 for the network.

Here’s the video for the campaign:

Brown and Conkle hope to raise $66,000 by June 6. The price tag sounds steep, but Brown explained why:

We need to produce it to broadcast standards in HD or better quality, with closed captioning (that alone will run $8,000) in order to meet national PBS requirements. On our recent shoot of an episode of The Real Desert, with Steve Brown, the insurance alone ran $655 – for the weekend, and that’s just for general liability.

It costs a lot to take a small crew out for two weeks or more on the road, and post production and editing, and then there’s distribution and promotion. But the end result is regional distribution with a strong likelihood of national distribution on PBS, as well as international distribution through a host of other channels, with additional content available online and on mobile platforms.

This funding, while it will not cover all of the expenses, covers the bare bones basics on the road, and allows us to recruit sponsors over the next six months to fully cover production costs. Neither Jim nor I will get paid from this support. We do hope to eventually get paid through production and distribution of the show, as well as a little from the tour accompanying it.

If we do not reach our full goal, the funding still provides us with the resources necessary to get the project underway, recruit sponsors both from the eight states along the route, as well as other corporations, foundations, and organizations.

The campaign launched Wednesday. As of noon Friday, it had raised about $430.

I’m skeptical whether Route 66 needs 13 episodes. That’s a lot of time commitment for television viewers. “Billy Connolly’s Route 66″ was fewer than four hours long, for example, and I thought that was about the upper limit for that sort of project.

And in the YouTube age, short and tightly edited videos can reach millions of viewers — even more, if it goes viral — for not a lot of money.

Brown’s original plan was six episodes. If the campaign doesn’t reach its goal, many he can go back to that for a leaner look at the Mother Road.

Then again, I could be proven wrong. It’s happened before.

“4th of July” April 11, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music.
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This music video for Denmark singer-songwriter Esben Kronborg was shot in a variety of places in the United States last month, including Route 66.

If you look closely, you’ll see the historic railroad depot in Kingman, Ariz.

Kronborg may be Dutch, but the song he wrote is an American tale — one you’d probably hear from John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen after writing during a dark night of the soul.

Sometimes the non-Americans know America better than Americans.

Kronborg’s song can be downloaded here from iTunes or here from Amazon.

Rehab of Devil’s Elbow Bridge progresses April 10, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Bridges, Preservation.
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The rehabilitation of the historic Devil’s Elbow Bridge on old Route 66 in Devil’s Elbow is proceeding smoothly and will reopen to traffic by August at the latest, according to a report in the Rolla Daily News.

The newspaper included a photo of the work being done on the bridge. It added:

According to the HAER Bridge Inventory, a list of historic bridges in Missouri, the Devil’s Elbow Bridge may be eligible for a place on the National Register of Historic Places. It is believed to be one of the earliest examples of Missouri State Highway Department long-span truss design still in existence.

Additionally, Newkirk noted it is also one of only two remaining bridges in the state containing a curve. The second is the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, which was recently converted to a pedestrian bridge. Wiles added that it is the only curved bridge on the original Route 66 still open to traffic. [...]

The framing of the new deck is in place and half of the decking concrete has been poured with the remaining half expected to be poured by mid to late April. Once the remaining portion of the deck has been poured, the bridge will be painted and additional structural work will be completed.

Local officials are using a variety of funding for the $1.3 million project, including from the Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri Department of Economic Development Community Development, Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and Pulaski County. And officials ensured the work would keep up the bridge’s historic look.

The truss bridge, built in 1923, is nearly 600 feet long. Local officials knew of the historical and tourism importance of the bridge, and spent years trying to secure funds to repair it. It sits near the popular Elbow Inn restaurant and bar on the Big Piney River.

(A 1931 image of the Devil’s Elbow Bridge by Chuck Coker via Flickr)

Route 66 added to Oklahoma’s endangered places list April 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation.
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Preservation Oklahoma unveiled its annual Endangered Places in Oklahoma list on Tuesday night, and Route 66 was included among them.

David Pettyjohn, executive director for the group, explained why in an Enid News and Eagle report:

“When we look at Route 66, it’s not just the road. It’s the structures along the road. It’s the restaurants, neon signs, and, obviously, the original road as well. It’s more the Route 66 experience,” he said.

According to Preservation Oklahoma, endangered places are “properties and sites which have special historic or architectural significance to our state, but which are in danger of being lost, due to neglect, poor maintenance, obsolescence or other causes.”

Others that made the list:

As an article in the Tulsa World pointed out, making the list isn’t the end of the world. A number of properties that once were on Preservation Oklahoma’s watch list have been fully restored, including the Meadow Gold neon sign on 11th Street (aka Route 66) and the Mayo Hotel, both in Tulsa.

(Image of original Portland cement Route 66 in western Oklahoma by Jim Grey via Flickr)

Holbrook marketing Route 66 more aggressively April 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Events, Towns.
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The Route 66 town of Holbrook, Ariz., is going to tout its Mother Road ties even more in the coming months, including a new festival, according to an article in the Arizona Journal.

The article contained a lot of interesting tidbits about Holbrook and nearby Winslow, Ariz., including these:

  • A number of new businesses have popped up along the Route 66 corridor in Winslow in the past year, including Dar’s Route 66 Diner, Route 66 Fizz’ n Cream, Los Maria’s restaurant, Arizona 66 Trading Co., Akoshilláa Sheila! gallery and Arizona Indian Art. 
  • Hopi Travel Plaza east of Holbrook is transforming its plaza to a Route 66 theme.
  • Along the route, Winslow added new sidewalks, new lighting and a Route 66 shield on the roadway at Second Street and Kinsley Avenue.
  • A new Route 66 festival, with the theme It Ain’t Your Mother’s Road Anymore, will be in Holbrook in August, right before the International Route 66 Festival in Kingman, Ariz.

And the story implies that movers-and-shakers in Holbrook will encourage businesses to open on Sundays. Numbers at the local visitors center show that is a busy day for tourists, but many places in town are closed. Pontiac, Ill., noting a similar problem, started encouraging its downtown businesses to open on Sundays for the same reason.

The impetus apparently came from the November roundtable for Route 66 stakeholders in Anaheim, Calif., in November and especially the Route 66 Economic Impact Report that documented travelers’ spending. Money talks.

I predicted the report would have a wide-ranging impact on many communities in terms of Route 66 promotions, infrastructure and perception. And it seems that is happening in Holbrook. Due to Holbrook’s proximity to the Petrified Forest National Park, it treated Route 66 respectfully but decidedly a second banana. Now it seems the townsfolk are giving the Mother Road considerably more attention.

(Image of the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Ariz., by Brett Kiger via Flickr)

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