Tag Archives: Route 66

Headed for the light

Ron and I found a welcome light illuminating the darkness this evening on Route 66 here in Tucumcari.

For several weeks, we’d been seeing signs of life at the long-shuttered Apache Motel. Ron talked to the new owner today, and this evening, she sent him a photo showing the lightbulbs around the perimeter of the motel’s iconic neon sign burning brightly.

We immediately grabbed our cameras and headed out.

Apache Motel sign with lights on around edge
The Apache’s new owner got some of the sign to light again.

The Apache was open when we took our first Route 66 trip in 2001. Some of the paint was peeling from the sign, but the neon was still burning, and chasing lights raced dramatically around the edge, calling attention to the motel for at least half a mile in either direction. At the time, I hadn’t yet learned to leave the shutter open long enough to catch all the lights as they flashed on and off, but you can see how vibrant the neon was:

Apache Motel sign in 2001 with neon lit
The Apache sign on Aug. 4, 2001.

Not long after that, the sign went dark, and the motel sat empty until 2006, when new owners bought it and restored it to its mid-century glory. I stayed there during a November 2006 road trip, which I blogged about at the time.

The motel closed almost as quickly as it reopened, and it’s been quietly decaying ever since — a heartbreaking sight, given the work that went into restoring it.

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic — arriving in the United States just on the cusp of tourist season — couldn’t be worse for my beloved Route 66. But looking up at the Apache sign this evening, I was reminded of one of the things I love most about this old road: Its seemingly endless capacity for renewal.

Just ask the Over the Hill Gang in Arcadia, Oklahoma; the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Historic Preservation Committee; the owners of the “Murder Bordello” in Galena, Kansas; Dawn Welch, whose Rock Cafe literally rose from the ashes after a 2008 fire that gutted its interior and collapsed its roof; or Ned Leuchtner, who reconstructed Cool Springs Camp from a pair of stone pillars.

The Mother Road and her children may see some casualties in the coming years. But as Ma Joad said: “We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever … ’cause we’re the people.”

Emily

More breezeblocks

Ron and I went hunting breezeblocks again this afternoon. My list now stands at 86 properties with either breezeblocks, shadow blocks, or a combination of the two. I have found 51 examples of hidden circles; seven examples of Empress; six of square-in-square; five of double-Y; two of double-X; one each of arch/cathedral and snowflake; assorted squares and rectangles; and a handful of mystery styles, including a couple of Empress variants I haven’t been able to identify. I also spotted at least nine examples of shadow blocks in varying patterns — and we still haven’t inventoried the mid-century subdivisions in the southwest quadrant.

The featured photo at the top of this post is one I shot in December of the front of my church — a gorgeous A-frame with a snowflake-pattern breezeblock wall out front. Here are a couple more views, showing that stunning backlit cross:

A-frame church with backlit neon cross and breezeblock wall
I love this architecture.
Backlit neon cross against a breezeblock wall
This is the most mid-century church I’ve seen since Benjamin interrupted Elaine’s wedding in “The Graduate.”

First Presbyterian doesn’t have the market cornered on ecclesiastical breezeblocks, though. Immanuel Baptist Church makes nice use of hidden circles here:

Church with hidden-circle breezeblock screen on one end
This screen really dresses up the building.

We also found quite a few commercial installations:

Square-in-square breezeblocks on a Plains Commercial building
I can’t decide whether retrofitting an early-20th-century Plains Commercial building with mid-century breezeblocks is awesome or awful, but either way, it’s eye-catching.
Closeup of star-patterned breezeblocks
At first glance, I thought this was the large diamond/Bali/Rotary pattern, but it’s much too angular for that.
Large square-in-square breezeblocks with vertical rectangles in between
Square-in-square blocks at the Elks Lodge. Note the darker vertical rectangles in between.

Motel designers were especially fond of breezeblocks:

Square breezeblock wall
I like the alternating large and small squares in this wall at the old Town House Motel.
Closeup of square breezeblocks in two sizes
Closeup.
Shadow blocks on wall
Shadow blocks at Motel Safari.
Small square breezeblocks in wall with Elvis and a classic car painted on it
Carport wall at Motel Safari.
Decorative breezeblock wall with googie boomerangs painted on one end
Patio at Motel Safari. Dig those boomerangs.
Decorative hidden-circle breezeblock wall
A hidden-circle wall at Roadrunner Lodge.

And last but not least, here’s a pretty residential application:

Square-in-square breezeblock wall
I need a wall like this in my backyard to keep Ramona out of the garden.

It was at this point in the trip that I turned to Ron and said, “If he’d build it out of breezeblocks, I might have to rethink my position on Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall.'” And then I had an idea for the greatest political compromise in the history of ever … but that’s another post for another day.

Emily

Shooting the Breeze

One of the delightful surprises about moving out here in 2017 was the discovery that Tucumcari has a plethora of breezeblock walls.

A few weeks ago, I decided it would be cool to spend part of my summer taking an inventory of Tucumcari’s breezeblocks and creating a Bob Waldmire-style map detailing the style and location of each. I figured it might help promote Tucumcari to mid-century modern junkies like me, and it seemed like the sort of thing Route 66 travelers would appreciate, given our fondness for all things retro.

With most of New Mexico shut down until further notice, Ron and I decided to take advantage of a free afternoon to start the inventory. After lunch, I got online, researched breezeblock styles, and made myself a little chart identifying all the patterns I could find. Then Ron spent about three hours systematically driving down every street on the north side of town while I rode shotgun with my iPhone and a notebook in hand. By the time we called it a day, we had a list of 40 properties, featuring 15 different styles of breezeblocks.

Here are a few highlights:

"Hidden circle"-style breezeblock wall
This example of “hidden circle”-style breezeblocks is about the only structurally sound remnant of our vet’s old building, which burned several years ago.

Hidden circles were extremely popular. I counted 25 examples today.

Concrete wall with empress and arch-style breezeblock details
Empress-style blocks dominate the foreground, but if you look closely at the wall on the left, you can see arch — a.k.a. cathedral — blocks as well.

The Empress pattern looks similar to hidden circles, but you can tell them apart by looking at the diamonds between the circles: Hidden circles have a horizontal line bisecting the diamonds.

Concrete-block wall with double-X breezeblock accents
This mostly solid wall features occasional double-X — a.k.a. “Dos Equis” — accents.

I found a couple of examples of the double-X style, which some sources identify by its Spanish name, Dos Equis.

Square-in-square, or "Vista Vue," breezeblock in a concrete wall
I found three examples of the square-in-square style.

The square-in-square style was identified by a couple of sources as “Vista Vue.”

Breezeblock wall using what appears to be a variant of the Empress pattern
These blocks appear to be a variation on Empress.

I haven’t been able to track down the name or manufacturer of the breezeblocks screening the stairwells at Roadrunner Lodge (above). I’m also at a loss to identify the rectangular pattern on the blocks at the Pow Wow Inn (top image).

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the south side of town, including a mid-century subdivision that’s positively teeming with breezeblocks.

Emily

Folk Thursday: The Fallow Way

It’s been a bit since I posted anything for Folk Thursday. With a little more time on my hands than usual, this seems as good a time as any to do it.

In “The Fallow Way,” Judy Collins’ lyrics speak to the value of stillness and solitude — two commodities many of us have in abundance at the moment.

I found myself thinking of this song Tuesday as I was standing in the lobby of the Roadrunner Lodge, minding the desk while the owner was busy with a teleconference. Here in Tucumcari, the winter is quiet, but this time of year, we start to see the snowbirds stopping in on their way east from Arizona, and the first few tourists begin wandering up and down Tucumcari Boulevard, cameras in hand. Every spring, I look forward to watching Route 66 come back to life, a bright blossom with petals made of neon and chrome. Continue reading Folk Thursday: The Fallow Way

Action alert: Save the Cactus Motel!

I got word this weekend that O’Reilly Auto Parts — which Route 66 enthusiasts will remember as the company that destroyed the historic Lewis Motel in Vinita, Oklahoma, in 2006 — is about to launch another attack on the Mother Road.

O’Reilly’s latest assault on Route 66 history comes with a side dish of disregard for Black history, as the company is poised to purchase and, presumably, demolish the historic Cactus Motel here in Tucumcari, New Mexico, so it can replace it with another of its nondescript stores.

The Cactus Motel is significant not just as part of Tucumcari’s rich Route 66 history, but also as one of the rare properties listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book, Victor Green’s famous guide to help Black families travel safely across the United States during the era of segregation. Tucumcari has long been known for its plethora of motels along Route 66, but during the Jim Crow era, only three of them accepted Black guests — and of the three, the Cactus is one of the only two still standing. (La Plaza Court is the other.)

If you care about historic preservation, here are a few ways you can help encourage O’Reilly to put the brakes on this destructive project before it’s too late:

1. Call O’Reilly’s store-construction department at (417) 862-2674, ext. 1277, or its customer-service department at (800) 755-6759 and politely explain that you will be deeply disappointed if the company tears down the Cactus Motel.

2. Write a short, polite letter to O’Reilly’s corporate headquarters. The address is:

O’Reilly Auto Parts
223 S. Patterson Ave.
Springfield, MO 65802-2298

3. Email a copy of your letter to thartley3@oreillyauto.com.

In your letter, consider including some or all of the following talking points:

  • The Cactus Motel is an irreplaceable part of Route 66 history.
  • The Cactus Motel was listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book.
  • The Cactus Motel is an attractive structure with several architectural flourishes of the sort that have helped other long-shuttered motels find new life as boutique hotels, event centers, and business incubators.
  • Many of O’Reilly’s customers are classic-car enthusiasts who love Route 66 and would be unhappy to learn the company had destroyed another historic property on their favorite road.
  • Several other commercial properties are for sale on Tucumcari Boulevard that appear equally or better suited to O’Reilly’s purposes, so destroying the Cactus Motel seems unnecessary.

4. Click here to send a copy of your letter to Tucumcari’s local paper, the Quay County Sun.

5. Share your feelings — and this action alert — on social media. If you’re on Twitter, please tweet to @oreillyauto, asking them to #savethecactusmotel on #Route66 and letting them know you won’t be doing any more business with them if they tear down another historic motel.

Please take a few minutes to help save a piece of American history.

Emily

Dress like a woman

I’m sure by now we’re all familiar with the Axios story making the rounds in which an unnamed person who worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was quoted as saying the erstwhile politician expects women working in the White House to “dress like women.”

As a journalist, I have some questions about the story itself (starting with the fact it’s poorly sourced and largely speculative, as Snopes was quick to point out), but I like the conversations it has inspired online about what it means to “dress like a woman.” I jumped in on the Twitter hashtag #DressLikeAWoman the other day, and several of my tweets were well-received, particularly by younger friends who undoubtedly benefit from seeing women in traditionally male-dominated professions or participating in traditionally male-dominated activities.

With that in mind, and thinking about how important it is for my nieces and other little girls in my life to grow up with such images in front of them, I decided I’d expand that collection of tweets into a blog post sharing what it means to “dress like a woman” in my world:

How a beekeeper dresses like a woman while rescuing a swarm.
Dressed like a woman while rescuing a swarm.
Here is how a distance runner dresses like a woman at the start of a marathon on a cold day.
Dressed like a woman at the start of my first marathon.
Dressing like a woman after an ice storm downed several limbs in my backyard in Tulsa.
Dressed like a woman the weekend after an ice storm.
How a martial artist dresses like a woman.
Dressed like a woman after a belt test. (Photo courtesy of Professor Carter Hargrave.)
Dressed like a woman while painting a mural in Tucumcari.
Dressed like a woman while painting a mural on Route 66 in Tucumcari.
Dressed like a woman while repainting the sign at the Vega Motel on Route 66 in Texas.
Dressed like a woman while priming the sign at the Vega Motel on Route 66 in Texas.
Dressed like a woman after a day spent doing preservation work on Route 66 in Amarillo.
Dressed like a woman after a day spent doing preservation work on Route 66 in Amarillo.
Dressed like a woman while restoring a sign on Route 66 in Chandler, Oklahoma.
Dressed like a woman while helping restore a sign on Route 66 in Chandler, Oklahoma.
Dressed like a woman who might spend a little too much time watching British sci-fi.
Dressed like a woman who spends too much time watching British sci-fi.
Dressed like a woman who came home from her newspaper-editing gig to turn the compost on her lunch hour.
Dressed like a woman who has compost to turn when she gets off work.
Dressed like a woman in the middle of a drywall project.
Dressed like a woman repairing drywall.
Dressed like a woman fangirling at the ballpark.
Dressed like a woman fangirling at the ballpark.

You get the idea. I could do this all day, but that’s probably enough to give you the upshot. Do what makes you happy. Help somebody if you can. And dress as you see fit for the occasion, whether that involves a ballcap, a bee suit, a pair of running shoes, a velvet skirt, or a pair of paint-spattered jeans with the knees blown out.

Do what you love. Be who you are. And never let somebody else’s limited notions about how women should look interfere with that.

Emily

 

Tiny Tuesday: Digitize your photos

Last year, as part of my ongoing effort to minimize the amount of stuff I have to store, I started sorting through my collection of 35mm prints and scanning as many as possible.

Digitizing your collection is a worthwhile undertaking for several reasons.

First, it saves space. You can fit thousands of high-res images on a thumb drive; 4×6 prints of those same images could take up an entire closet. Second, it allows you to keep an off-site backup of your memories so you won’t lose your cherished family photos in the event of a flood, fire, or other disaster. Third, and maybe most importantly, it gives you an excuse to sift through your personal history.

Here are a few of the memories I found while I was going through my collection of prints from trips I’ve taken on Route 66:

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My rules of thumb for sorting old photos:

1. Keep all your negatives. They don’t take up that much space, and you never know who might want to see them in the future. Even the shots you aren’t especially proud of could prove useful to a historian two or three decades from now.

2. Scan as much as you can. Even the mediocre stuff. Digital files are much easier to search than boxes of negatives if, for instance, somebody needs to know the color of the neon at Jobe’s Drive-In or the type of shingles on the roof of the Bagdad Cafe in 2001.

3. Keep one print of the shots you’re really proud of. Sometimes it’s nice to look at actual prints.

4. Share pictures that might be meaningful to somebody else. While I was sorting photos last spring, I put together several little packets of prints to send to friends. One packet featured images of a friend and his late wife working on a couple of projects they’d spearheaded years ago. Our friend later told me he’d really appreciated seeing those photos and remembering happy times we’d all spent together.

5. Organize as you go. This means using memorable filenames and saving things in folders that make sense instead of just letting your scanner call them “scan001” and save them to some random default folder you may or may not be able to find later.

Emily

P.S.: The top image is of El Rancho on Route 66 in Gallup, New Mexico. I think I shot that in 2002.

Sunday Self-Care: A virtual ride down Route 66

I have kind of a long-term goal — nothing really pressing, but just something I’ve thought might be cool to do — of pedaling the equivalent of the length of Route 66 on our stationary bike. About a year ago, I got on Google Maps and planned rides in increments of anywhere from 7 to 35 miles, following the road from landmark to landmark. I entered that information into Excel, printed out a chart, and hung it in the basement, where it’s been sitting, mostly ignored, for months. I noticed it a couple of weeks ago when I was testing out the new bike Ron bought after the old one broke down, and I decided to give it another go, just for fun.

I’ve logged over 100 miles in the past couple of weeks. It was easier than I expected, even with the tension turned up on the bike, and it’s a comfortable way to burn a few calories and generate a few much-needed endorphins while I wait for spring.

I don’t have the time, money, or endurance to go out and take a real ride down Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles right now, but this virtual trip is kind of a nice way to revisit favorite attractions in my head and daydream about where I’d like to explore on our next road trip.

By the way, 100 miles puts me somewhere south of the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac. If I were really on Route 66, I’d have started at the “Begin 66” sign in Chicago and passed the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, the site of the late, great Wishing Well Motel, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, White Fence Farm, Haunted Trails, Route 66 Raceway, the Gemini Giant (pictured above), the site of the fabulous Riviera Roadhouse, Ambler’s Texaco, Odell Station, and the Pontiac Route 66 Museum.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: On procrastination

I will never understand why I procrastinate. Putting off a difficult task makes sense. Dreading a challenge makes sense. But altogether too often, I put off projects I really want to do, jobs that will make a big impact when they’re completed, or simple tasks that are likely to take half an hour or less.

Sometimes it’s inadvertent: I make a to-do list for my day off, prioritize it, and then get tired or run out of time and carry the lower-priority jobs over to the next week. If they don’t have deadlines, they end up at the bottom of the next week’s list, too, and the cycle starts all over.

After a few weeks of seeing the same unfinished job on my to-do list, I start to feel overwhelmed. The longer it’s on the list, the more Herculean it starts to look.

If there is an up side to this phenomenon, it’s the exquisite sense of relief I feel when I finally finish the project I’ve been delaying.

I had that feeling this weekend.

About 15 years ago, Ron commissioned a replica of one of the neon swallows that hang above the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel. When we moved here, I had to keep it in storage, because I didn’t have a good way to keep Walter from knocking it down.

Several months ago, I found a vinyl channel that would mount to the wall and keep the cord from dangling and turning my beautiful swallow into a cat toy. All I needed to do was paint it, install it, and hang up the sign.

As usual, one thing led to another, and the neon installation drifted to the bottom of the to-do list until Friday, when I finally got a hand free and forced myself to do the job.

Hello, old friend. I've missed you terribly.
Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you terribly.

It took longer to unpack the swallow than it did to install it.

This piece was the literal light of my life in Belleville, where I’d turn it on and look at its soft argon glow whenever I was depressed and needed a break but couldn’t quite manage a 14-hour road trip to Tucumcari. I denied myself access to that soothing blue light for three months longer than necessary, and I have no idea why.

Lighting the darkness.
Lighting the darkness.

If you’re feeling out of sorts, try turning your to-do list upside-down just long enough to complete that task you’ve been deferring for weeks. I suspect you’ll find the sense of relief and accomplishment that follows will lighten your mood as surely as a neon sign lights up a dark wall.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Bob Waldmire mural

I was so busy battling headaches when I got home from vacation this summer, I completely forgot to post my pictures from the trip — including the ones I took of the mural I traveled to Tucumcari to paint in one of the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel.

I’ll remedy that with some photos of the mural in progress on this Make-It Monday.

I think this was a couple of hours in. I'm not sure why I did the headlights first, but they kind of set the bar for the rest of the project.
I think this was a couple of hours in. I’m not sure why I did the headlights first, but they kind of set the bar for the rest of the project.
The license-plate frame made me want to cry, for reasons I can't explain.
The license-plate frame made me want to cry, for reasons I can’t explain.
It's hard to keep everything in proportion and lined up properly while working in close proximity to a large image. I don't always succeed.
It’s hard to keep everything in proportion and lined up properly while working in close proximity to a large image. I don’t always succeed.
After realizing the area around the headlights was completely wonky, I painted over it and tried again.
After realizing the area around the headlights was completely wonky, I painted over it and tried again.
It took several tries to get his face right, but I think I finally got it.
It took several tries to get his face right, but I think I finally got it.

This was the most challenging mural I’ve painted up to this point. Portraits are always tricky, but in this case, I was painting a portrait of two old friends, one of whom was an artist whose work influenced my style.

The first old friend is the late Bob Waldmire, the artist behind the wheel of the VW Westfalia. The second old friend is the Westfalia herself. She had almost as much personality as Bob did, and I adored her for it.

My fondness for Bob and my respect for him and his work made it imperative that I get a good likeness, and it took either four or five tries (I eventually lost count) before I was finally satisfied with it.

Getting the Westfalia right was a matter of proportion and symmetry, which are difficult to render at that scale. Compounding the challenge was the fact I’d tried to set things up relative to the ground, which — as you can see — is gravel and not really level itself.

I wound up repainting several parts of the Westfalia, and they still didn’t end up perfectly symmetrical, although both Ron and Kevin, the Blue Swallow’s owner, were quick to note that old Volkswagens are rarely 100 percent symmetrical, either.

It has its flaws, but I think it looks like Bob, and I really like the way the headlights and reflectors on the Westfalia turned out.

Emily