The Mother Road

By Jerry Nichols

The Mother Road, historic Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, also known as the Main Street of America and The Will Rogers Highway, spans 2,448 miles through Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. Route 66, which rolls past my home in Helendale, California has always struck my interest. I enjoy the old-time American nostalgia this road has created. The road was the idea of Cyrus Avery (1871-1963), a Tulsa businessman who championed the establishment of the highway and helped promote it. He served as chairman on the state Highway Commission and fought hard to pave the roads through his state. Route 66 was finished in late 1930. Earning himself the nickname “Father of Route 66,” Avery dubbed the roadway “Main Street of America” and pushed to have the entire road paved; which was completed in the late 1930’s.

In 1946 Nat King Cole had the hit Single “Get your Kicks on Route 66” written by former Marine, Bobby Troup who was inspired by the trip he took after the war when he traveled to Hollywood. Troup’s song was later recorded by Bing Crosby and the Rolling Stones. I just asked Alexa to play it for me, “Take the highway that’s the best.” Gotta love the Rolling Stones. In 1956 President Eisenhower signed The Federal Aid Highway act, which interlinked America’s highway system for easier travel; as he had witnessed during World War II the strategic advances of Germany’s Autobahn highway system. In 1985 this gave way to Interstate 40 which pushed Route 66 aside. My journey travelled through Route 66 by way of Interstate 40. If you ever attempt this venture you will do some ziggin and zaggin, and you will find it was well worth the trip. So yeah, I got my kicks.

Travelling home from my Run For The Wall trip, this was on my list of things to see, so I went for it. Back roads of rural America brought me to Chicago at 11 PM. That city has some serious pot holes. At least they spray paint them for identification; Betty and I survived. At the beginning of the route on East Adams Street, in a very busy Chicago, there was no place to park and get a photo. So, I just pulled Betty up to a motel for a couple of minutes for a shot. There was a construction crew who got a kick out of Betty parked on the sidewalk, and they gave me a thumbs up for parking there. Never ran into “Leroy Brown,” but I witnessed a great view of the south side of the Chicago skyline all lit up as I rolled out of town toward my next destination of Pontiac, IL. 

In Pontiac, there is a great museum that features Route 66. And in the alley behind the building is a great place for photos, lots of art murals too. So, Betty and I posed for a photo. Just down the street is another great landmark of The Victor Talking Machine Company, AKA Victrola. Bricks in the midwest were very popular and so photogenic. Before departing, I had the privilege of eating a fine meal at Edinger’s Filling Station at 423 West Madison St. Never ate in a filling station before. Very nice food and atmosphere for a filling station. 

My destination from there was Carthage, Missouri. I rode through some interesting weather and St. Louis rush hour traffic, not recommended in the spring as many roads are flooded out and there are many detours. Part of Route 66 follows the Trail of Tears where the Cherokee Indians traveled during their forced 1838 relocation from their traditional homelands in the southern Appalachians. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which granted the President the authority to negotiate treaties with Native American tribes to give up their lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for unsettled lands west of the Mississippi. While some Indians ceded their land and left peacefully, the Cherokee, among other tribes, resisted and were forced out by federal troops.

On a good note I found Jesse James’ hideout just off the freeway about ten miles into the Ozarks in Stanton, Missouri, on the Meramec River. His hideout was in a cavern, I stopped in to cool off and man was it cool in there. Looked like a casino with gift shops, and a restaurant. They have a zip line and a resort with camping and canoe trips. Good thing it was a weekday, I bet it’s packed on the weekends. 

Leaving the hideout, I went past a cavern entry sealed with only bars. It was very dark and probably a forty degree difference in temperature on that part of the road. Serious thermal, wow! I arrived in Carthage late and my friends whom I served with in Germany were there to greet me on their farm with a steer, some chickens, and their Corgi dogs. Now that’s an odd lot. Military family will always be there for you,  good people. 

Leaving Carthage, my friends joined me for a fine Missouri BBQ lunch at Big Ben’s BBQ Station, 2817 North Loop, Carthage, MO. And off I went. Destination: Weatherford, Oklahoma. Springtime Oklahoma is all about bugs, tolls, and more weather. Yes I said tolls. Lots of them. This was strange to me. There is a portion of Route 66 that I bypassed. It ventures into Kansas, but the weather above told me I should do that part next time. 

After a good night’s rest, I rolled west to Shamrock, Texas. A cute little town with iconic artstyle buildings, and one of the towns that served as inspiration  for the movie “Cars.” Next town up was Groom, where there is a huge cross, AKA The Groom Cross. It is one hundred and ninety feet tall, and can be seen for twenty miles. Another icon in this town is the leaning water tower. Believe me, it gets you to pull over. As I did, and then went south to visit with my daughter and my granddaughters who wanted to see me. Short visit with them, and then Betty got washed and back on the road. Destination: Slug Bug Ranch and Cadillac Ranch. 

Riding through Texas is an adventure, a beautiful one in spring time. Many sights to see. Longhorns, barns, and water towers. Slug Bug Ranch was east of Amarillo and really cool, next to an abandoned hotel and gas station. Still you have to stop. But watch out, its mosquito alley and I was on the menu. The Cadillac Ranch was bigger with a short hike out to the cars in a field. Walking out there you can smell the fresh paint, as lots of people want to record their story. Graffiti painted on the pathway and entire field. It’s a shame some people don’t want to bring the caps and cans home with them when they leave. 

On the way into town there was Big Texas Steak Ranch and Brewery, home of the seventy-two ounce steak, and of course a contest: if you can eat it fast you won’t have to pay. Not sure of the time frame, but I saw a guy headed in to eat and it looked as if he meant business. He made Betty and I look like croutons. Time was tight and the parking lot was packed so we rolled out. Just down the road was midway of Route 66 in  Adrian, Texas, where I found an old Phillips 66 Station. They even had a wringer to squeeze the water from their rags when they clean your windows, those were full service stations back in the day.

The Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico was full so I went down the road to Santa Rosa. Breakfast at Joseph’s Bar and Grill was a step back to the fifties. Great gift shop too, I picked up the perfect Route 66 sign. It even fit in Betty’s saddle bag. Before I left Santa Rosa I had to see their  museum, and glad I stopped in. What a treat to see all these old cars in pristine condition, so much memorabilia inside as well. Said Hello to James Dean, and off I went.

Lupton, Arizona was my next stop, where I pulled over to find an interesting place called Yellow Horse Trading Post. Located near the side of a beautiful red rock mountain, it’s adorned with staged animals to catch your eye. Found a teepee, but my destination for the night was Winslow, so had to pass. I also came across some old car parts near the trading post. I love old cars in nature. 

I arrived in Winslow around nine at night, just in time to get a Rusty Chicken Sandwich and a Pilsner at Relic Road Brewing Company, 107 West Second Street, Winslow, AZ. There I received a military discount and hearty ‘thanks for your service’ from the proprietor. Relic Brewing Company is adjacent to “The Corner.” You might know the phrase from the Eagles song “Take It Easy.”

After I ate, I walked over and at ten o’clock I was the only one out there. The Eagles’ music was being played at the intersection, and I was in awe. This moment was one of the great highlights of my trip, as I’ve always wanted to see this place myself. I found a nostalgic motel called Earl’s Motor Court at 512 East 3rd Street, where I pulled in and was met by the owner’s dog named Buffalo. A dusty, friendly pup, when the owner is there. The owner came out and I asked her, “How much for a room?” She told me “sixty-six bucks” and I said, “Well, okay,” with a snicker. She showed me the spot and I parked Betty right in front of my room with Buffalo on guard. I knew she was safe. 

Just before Flagstaff about 37 miles headed west is Meteor Crater, to the south of Route 66 and I-40. I had to see it. I am glad I did. Formerly called Canyon Diablo Crater, named after the fragments of the meteorite that caused the crater. The crater is over fifty thousand years old, a mile wide, and was caused by a 150-foot diameter meteorite hurtling at 26,000  miles per hour. This was estimated to happen within ten seconds and with a force greater than twenty million tons of TNT, wow! 

There is a museum with a guided tour and film to watch for a fee. I proudly accepted the chance to use my military discount, and went in and climbed the stairs outside to see the big hole. There’s  a very erie quiet, reminiscent  of Mt. Rushmore. And in the gift shop there you can find unique rocks and trinkets from the area.

My next stop on Route 66 is a good one. A little town west of Williams, Arizona called Seligman. This quiet place reminded me of Virginia City in Nevada, and gift shops lined the streets. I mingled with Santa Claus at famous Delgadillo’s Snow Cap. Ran into Elvis and Marilyn Monroe too. I found the first speed trap of my trip; seeing Betty next to that old black and white really set the scene as we reverted back in time. It was getting hot, and I needed some food and hydration. At the end of town is a place called Roadkill Cafe at 22830 AZ 66. Walking past the sign I looked up and there was a raven on the roof sizing me up. Not today Mr. Raven. I’m bigger on the food chain than you are. Leaving Seligman it was 110 degrees. Best roll the power on. I chose the I-40 route. By the time I reached Needles it was 119. Luckily, Rite Aid had the AC going, and I had a Gatorade and two large waters while I cooled off. Fueling up there, I was stung by a bee! Happens sometimes, just pisses me off, but I thought ahead and had some Benadryl in my bag. 

California here I come, made it to Dempsey’s Pub in Helendale, CA where my friends were happy to see me after my long trip. Helendale, California is my hometown, so I rested there before the last leg of Route 66 to Santa Monica, asking two of my friends to join me for the ride. My passenger, Olene Mendoza and rider friend, Jenn Conway were more than happy to help me finish my journey.

Just past Helendale in Oro Grande is Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Elmer passed away this year, but he left his legacy to his sons. A unique sight on the famous route, where he welded trees together from metal scraps and adorned them with bottles, a very popular roadside attraction. Oro Grande has a lot of nostalgia. There is an antique mall where you can find things like old furniture and tin lunch boxes. Even a Roy Rogers pocket knife can be picked up there. There is an old Mohawk gas station which I believe is for sale. There is also a great pizza place called Cross Eyed Cow, styled with lots of props to enjoy. You won’t miss it, there is a cow on the roof! Giddy Up Boutique has western clothing and effects. There are many treasures to be found in Oro Grande, CA. 

Traveling Route 66 toward Victorville, you will see a historical landmark, Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Café. Which has been seen in the movie Kill Bill 2. It’s an old truck stop at 17143 North D Street. You can’t miss it, its pistachio green. The Holland family started this place in 1947. It’s a neat forties diner. I recommend the chicken fried steak, it’s unique. There are always interesting sights on this stretch of the Mother Road. You can find old cars, motorcycles, even cowboys on horseback as Roy Rogers’ Double Bar Ranch is in Oro Grande too. 

Just down the mountain in San Bernardino at 1398 N E Street, you will find the Original McDonald’s Museum. It’s no longer serving food; but in 1940 brothers Dick and Mac had a BBQ place there where they sold ribs, beef, and pork sandwiches and had twenty carhops. In 1948 they changed their menu to cheeseburgers, shakes, and fountain drinks and terminated the carhops. Their simple menu and speed of service revolutionized the restaurant industry. 

Moving south we arrived at 9670 Foothill Boulevard. Landmark Rancho Cucamonga service station, the last station reminiscent of the twenties, thirties and forties roadside architecture. In 1915, in place of the Ford repair building that was moved to the back of the property, Henry Klusman built the station. William Harvey was the first owner and Ancil Morris, a Richfield Oil distributor took over in 1925. Many owners and trusts have owned the building but now it belongs to IECA, a non-profit organization who have restored it to its original look of 1915. It was a community effort and it’s amazing to see. We made some donations in their gift shop and were on to Santa Monica where we had lunch at the famous Mel’s Drive-in at 1670 Lincoln Boulevard. 

After a great meal and leg stretch, we took a short ride to the Santa Monica Pier, “The End of the Trail.” Not being able to ride onto the pier do to a SnapChat, we had to find parking elsewhere. Luckily, we found a city lot a few blocks away that doesn’t charge thirty dollars a spot. We made it to the pier. The end of my ride; and as a request of my good friend Paul Nighthawk, who hosted me in Maryland for Run For The Wall, I had an A&W Root Beer to celebrate. The Santa Monica Pier has many attractions. With a reconditioned ferris wheel as its backdrop, there are restaurants, gift shops, fishing, vendors, entertainers and tourists. It’s never a dull moment on that pier. 

Hopefully you enjoyed my adventure! I would do this again, there is still so much more to see. Just Ride.