Category Archives: Route 66

Jim’s Burgers

Jim’s Burger, 765 East Foothill Boulevard, Rialto, California

7:04 am — The day starts at Jim’s Burgers, an underrated Route 66 eatery in Rialto, California, with the Orkin Man tapping on the west-side door.

He is dressed nicely: long-sleeve shirt, pressed pants, Oxford shoes. Aside from the blue latex gloves and the company cap, no one would know he kills bugs for a living.

Today, his job is to spray the perimeter of Jim’s Burgers, a one-time Burger Chef Restaurant on the south side of Foothill Boulevard, former Route 66.

Inside, Jim’s is authentic greasy spoon: vinyl booths, some with their seats slit and healed with duct tape; old-school video games tucked away in a dusty corner; and the ever-present sheen of burger grease.

Trailing the Orkin Man is the first customer of the day; a regular who shouts his order from his booth, newspaper spread across the table.

Being this early in the morning, only a quarter of the lights are on. But the mood is bright as the Beach Boys burst into “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” on KOLA, the area’s “classic hits” radio station.

Ray, the regular, now with eggs and bacon on a plastic plate comments, “What happened to the Lakers last night?”

The cook, owner and front man, Jim, doesn’t reply; he’s busy at the grill. With a metal-against-metal sound, he takes an oversized spatula and shuffles three eggs across the sizzling field of grease.

The waitress, a woman in her fifties answers the customer with another question, “Did you see that woman get punched by a cop?” “Yeah,” Ray answers.

And so the day’s banter starts as a new customer edges to the counter to order a breakfast burrito.

With so much not working in San Bernardino County these days, Jim’s is a bright spot on this stretch of Route 66.

You just have to turn a blind eye to the roach dashing across the condiments basket to enjoy this real road-food stop.

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CS

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A Modern Motel Ghost Town

Report From a Motel ‘Ghost Town’
May 6, 2010
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer

Hawkins' Court, Lordsburg, New Mexico

LORDSBURG — Spring weeds have shot up through cracks in the pavement and a swimming pool sits filled in with concrete, a surrealist’s vision of summer fun.

The wind persuades some hanging metal to break into a tuneless song while faded paint advertises a menu lost to the passage of time, as well as the grammarian’s pen: “Truckers Special $5 Super Breakfast Anytime.”

Life along Motel Drive in Lordsburg can be pretty lifeless.

Oh, there are things happening along the three or four miles of the drive, which stretches from the easternmost offramp of Interstate 10 to its westernmost on-ramp.

Chile is being ladled out to a lunchtime crowd at Ramona’s Cafe. Downtown,they’re just putting this week’s issue of the Hidalgo County Herald to bed. And the TVs are on in a few of the rooms of the handful of motels still open for business.

Motel Drive has not been entirely forgotten, but it sure can feel that way.

In the 1930s, when cross-country car travel was young, Lordsburg — jammed into the bottom-left corner of our map — was sitting pretty on U.S. 80. The “Broadway of America” linked the East Coast and San Diego and was more traveled than Route 66.

By 1964, Lordsburg had 31 service stations, 21 motels and 20 cafes, mostly clustered along U.S. 80, and it was the biggest travel stop between Texas and Arizona.

What happened?

Two things: An interstate highway replaced Highway 80, spelling a familiar doom.

And, maybe because it’s harder to find rhymes for U.S. 80 than it is for Route 66, nobody wrote a famous song about the road that passed through Lordsburg, depriving its ghostly remnants of nostalgic cachet.

This is not ancient history. The interstate was completed in the 1970s, so thedecay of Motel Drive is only about 30 years old.

Still, it qualified recently for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s list ofthe 10 most endangered roadside places in the U.S.

John Murphey, a board member with the Society for Commercial Archeology and architectural historian with the National Park Service in Santa Fe, nominated the drive for the designation after taking a lonesome trip down the road.

“I was struck — for lack of better words — by this modern ghost town of motels,”Murphey tells me. “And I’ve watched them dissipate over the last 10 years.”

That dissipation has included some examples of important architectural styles, especially “cabin courts,” falling down or being torn down.

A few motels are open for business, catering mostly to long-term rentals, and a few still stand vacant. But most live on only in photos.

Lordsburg has been tied to transportation since its beginning. It was founded in 1880 on the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad and named for a train engineer, Delbert Lord.

When U.S. 80 was being replaced by Interstate 10, Lordsburg did not just roll over. Its townspeople knew that traffic flying by at high speeds did not mean good things for the town. One property owner built herself a shack on one of the proposed ramps, moved in and held up the project for three months. Her sit-in ended when she was arrested and thrown in jail.

The town won some concessions: The highway was elevated slightly so travelers could look down over Lordsburg, see its amenities and be encouraged to stop there. And three exits — one at each edge of town and one in the center — were
supposed to draw people through town.

They didn’t. They stopped them at the edges, where chain motels and truck stops now sit. People who study transportation patterns call these “interstate villages” — places where travelers jump out of their cars for a bathroom break,a fuel-up and some fast food.

Debbie Greene bought the old Vendome Hotel building in downtown Lordsburg on Motel Drive and is running her bookkeeping business out of it. She would like to renovate and open to interstate travelers, but she suspects that would be futile unless something changes in tourist patterns.

“You get off (I-10) and go to the bathroom and get your stuff and go. And you don’t see Lordsburg,” she says.

What you miss when you stay in that interstate bubble, according to Murphey, is a good collection of vernacular architecture of the 1920s and ’30s and 1950s and ’60s. The one remaining little cabin court with its Mission Revival parapet is a gem, and the big “spreaders” with their pools and neon come-ons conjure up images of family trips taken at a more leisurely pace.

“It’s a fairly good representation of the full spectrum of roadside accommodation in New Mexico.” Murphey says. “If these were along Route 66, they would have been nominated to the National (Historic) Register years ago. But that hasn’t happened here.”

When you roll along Motel Drive, it’s not that hard to envision the properties rehabbed to their historical glory and tourists making a destination of the old road in their classic cars. Route 66 through Tucumcari easily comes to mind.

Will it happen here? Is it too late?

The Society for Commercial Archeology distinction comes with nothing but attention. It’s going to take local action to make anything happen.

Edmund Saucedo, a Lordsburg native who returned home after a 35-year hiatus in San Francisco and was saddened to see the downfall of downtown and the rest of Motel Drive, has tried to ignite interest in preservation and revitalization. He
has, frankly, been frustrated by the response.

In City Hall, there’s a new mayor — Frank Rodriguez — who says he loves nostalgia, but knows there is little money available for rehabbing an entire street.

He hopes some moneybag is out there with an eye for neon and cabin courts, someone who can see all those potential customers zipping by on I-10.

“If somebody came in with the right ideas and some financial backing, that would be great. That would be great for our city,” Rodriguez says.

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UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Reach Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com.

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Filed under Broadway of America, Road Trip, Route 66, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Route 66: the Garbage Highway

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Fifteen easy chairs, four couches, nine mattresses, two television sets, a pink cowboy boot, a fuzzy slipper; these are the roadside flowers of old Route 66, the garbage highway.

Take your truck on Oklahoma Highway 48/66 north of Bristow. About 3,000 feet beyond Magnolia Cemetery and the sign announcing “Future Home of Schumacher Funeral Home,” turn right down a dirt path; it will dump into a concrete road—old 66.

Head back toward town, and where the road makes a curve, slow down; look in the rearview mirror. Coast clear, stop.

I you’ve got a lot of un-bagged garbage, back up until your tailgate is perpendicular to Sand Creek. Open the gate and push out the crud with your flat shovel.

Don’t worry; it will join a regular Juarez-style landslide of filth, all slithering together.

If you got bigger stuff—a washing machine or a couch—drive farther until you see an abandoned trailer. Here you can dump your big stuff to mix with the refrigerators and 50 gallon barrels of who knows what.

Do your business quickly. But if you are curious, stick around, and poke through your neighbor’s garbage.

Flip over a couch and down flutters a Polaroid of a recent Halloween party. Open that bulging bag and there is a Masonic yearbook (2007), with photographs of tassel-hatted men doing various civic acts of goodness.

Mark Levin, broadcasting from the Ronald Reagan Foundation, harasses me to organize against the “radical ideologues,” as I use a stick to rip open another bag.

Someone I met in town said he once caught his neighbor dumping along the road. He “hasn’t talked to him since.”

While I’m poking around, a white Ford F-150 approaches silently. It stops; the two figures behind the windshield watch me. A hand on the passenger side taps a slow beat on the roof.

What the hell can I tell them?

Hopefully they can see my car is too small, too new, to be dumping.

CS

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The Big Deal

Bar with fireplace. Texan in Ralph Lauren button-down. One-way conversation with potential investor:

“…Maybe it’s prosthetics; maybe it’s transplants; maybe that’s where it’s all at…

I want this off the ground by the first of the year. I’ll get it hot and heavy by fall…

But maybe we’ll go in a different direction…

We’ll find a pharmacist that is very career driven…

Someone who believes in good old fashioned work…

Find a good ol’ boy…

We’re going to put some capital in this; some meat on the bones…

We’ll wait until they shut down their deal…

Bob’s gettin’ up in years; turned everything over to the kids. But the kids aren’t that smart…

Mary would set up the financial deal: the office, the overheard and bring in the medicine…

I put an ad in the paper for an accountant. I ended hiring an old, worn-out guy…

We need a salesperson, a couple of comptrollers…

It’s that kind of deal…”

CS

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Black Backpacks on Sitgreaves Pass

SITGREAVES PASS, ARIZONA

You are in a van heading out of Kingman for the Oatman Highway. You are a passenger; someone else is driving.

The driver and guide point out things along the way: the Cool Springs gas station; an interpretive kiosk; a dangerous curve. You take it all in.

The van reaches the top of a pass. A sign announces: “SITGREAVES PASS ELEV. 3550.”

The van stops at a flat place. You look down, across iron-colored hills to a long valley. The guide says on a clear day you can see a smokestack–a coal plant or something–on the other side of the valley. You don’t see it, but say you do.

Below, a pack of bikers are leaning into a curve, moving in your direction.

You walk out farther on the point. You see a small, wooden white cross; it’s a grave marker for Jimmy Hoffa. You walk around more; you find a patch of rebar and concrete sticking out of the ground. An old foundation, the guide says.

You get back in the van; it starts to descend down some switchbacks. The driver stops again. He wants to show us something. A spring: a humble little hole in the limestone bubbling brownish water. It’s disappointing.

At this stop, you break off from the group and cross the highway to a stone retaining wall. It’s a steep drop down the embankment. Something catches your eye below: a large area of black, bulky things strewn across the rocks. People are always dumping garbage down road embankments, but this is different. You climb over the barrier for a closer inspection. You start to slide down the hillside, but you are determined to get there without falling.

The heap is made entirely of winter jackets and backpacks; hundreds of dark backpacks and heavy winter coats.

You haul two backpacks up to the retaining wall. You unzip one. It contains two black trash bags and two small plastic containers, nothing else. The containers interest you; they seem festive–colors burst from the label. Deciphering the label, Electrolit, Suero Rehidratante, you deduce it’s an electrolyte substance.

You open the other backpack; the exact same contents. You want to call to other passengers, but they are inside the van, avoiding the heat.

The driver walks over. You pick up a backpack to show him. He jumps back, as if you are holding a snake by its tail. He settles down and gets closer, but never touches it. For lack of a better term you call it a coyote bag. “I found all these coyote bags down the hill–look.” He peers down the embankment and then turns around and reassures you he will call the county Hazmat coordinator to get it cleaned up.

You want to take one of the Electrolit bottles as artifact. It seems important. The driver gives you a look that it would be inappropriate.

You photograph the contents and toss the backpacks over the retaining wall. The driver advises you to wash your hands with a sanitizer in the van.

Back in the vehicle, a passenger asks, “What were you doing?” You say found some empty backpacks, and leave it at that.

The tour goes on. You pass old mines and slow down in Oatman–a hokey Old West town with burros roaming the streets. The driver doesn’t stop. “Nowhere to park…too many bikers in town,” he says.

The trip ends in Bullhead City.

You get back to your home, several states away participate in normal routines: You go to work; meet friends for lunch; read about local politics; buy groceries.

During the weekend, you download the images from the trip and the image of the Electrolit, with its bursting, happy colors intrigues you. You search the word on Google; nothing comes up. You know what it’s for: to re-hydrate illegal aliens.

At work you Google “Border Patrol, Arizona Sector.” The first webpage that comes up is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Tucson Sector. At the bottom left corner is a link: “Report Suspicious Activity to: 1-800-BE-ALERT.” You think the dump could be suspicious activity.

You call; a voicemail answers. You leave a deferential message, saying you are not trying to waste their time, but you discovered a huge dumpsite, possibly an illegal alien transfer point at Sitgreaves Pass on the Oatman Highway. You would like to know more about it, whenever it’s convenient to call back.

At night, when you can’t sleep, you try to imagine what happened at the pass. It must have happened at night, of course, in the winter; that’s why all the winter coats. Did it happen once or dozens of times?

You find something on the Internet describing how illegals are snuck across the border, and then packed into trucks to head north to a point where the vehicles stop at a remote location. There they are met by vans and smaller vehicles. The aliens toss off the winter gear and slip into street clothes. The vehicles go in different directions; to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas.

It could be this, or a lay-up point (doubtful, too far north), or just a dump site.

You find a video on YouTube capturing in “night vision” a coyote sneaking illegals into Arizona. You are mesmerized by the video, and watch it over and over again. You analyze it by sequence and camera angle. You forward it to friends and post it on Facebook.

Months pass, however, and you forget about the backpacks and the Oatman Highway.

Searching the web one weekend, you come across an article written by an early Route 66 free-lancer, Thomas W. Pew Jr. It’s a 1977 piece he did for American Heritage magazine; it’s about the great Okie exodus on Route 66.

Among others, he interviews Merle Haggard’s mother, Mrs. Flossie Scott. But what makes your eyes refocus is a conversation with Ed Edgerton, who ran a filling station at Sitgreaves Pass…the rebar and concrete you kicked months ago.

Edgerton tells Pew he frequently gave gas to the Okies, so that they could coast down to Needles. Then he summed up what it was like in the Depression for the Okies:

“Frightened they were, those people were frightened and they come through thinking they were headed for the promised land where they’d say ‘everything’s going to be all right.’ I warned them about those ideas. But they went on and, well, they didn’t find the promise land.”

All those backpacks make sense now.

CS

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Filed under illegal aliens, Road Trip, Route 66, Sitgreaves Pass, smuggling, Uncategorized

Looking for the Ocean, cont. 2

RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA

Enter Col. Dell Potter; the new national organizer for the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway.

Potter, a fast-talking, big-thinking man came from Clifton, Arizona, a backwater mining town in the southeast part of the state, far removed from the glitz of Los Angeles.

Unlike the rest of the gentlemen in the room, he was self-made. He had built his own railroad, opened his own mines, and perhaps single-handedly hatched the Ocean-to-Ocean idea six years prior.

Called once “a speed king in speakers,” he was probably something like today’s Jim Conkle, the fervent Route 66 promoter: a man always on the road, shaking hands, talking big plans.

To a crowd in Marshall, Missouri, Potter once rallied:

“The time has come when the government must take a hand in the building of highways. . . . We need not cringe or ask favor. We must demand the right to appropriate our own money. This movement for a national highway is larger than any political party. One great party has been whipped into line. Senators and Congressmen dare not refuse to vote in favor of a national highway unless they desire to retire from public life.”

Route 66 needs someone like this today; someone to keep it from slithering into terminal sedation.

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Filed under 1912, California, highways, Ocean to Ocean Highway, Route 66, Travel

The Day Highway US 80 Died

Much ink and some tears have been spilled over the de-designation of Route 66.

But what about the other major US highways: those thick red lines on a map connecting the coasts. When did they get lopped off the system? Where are their eulogies?

Curious about their death sentences, I contacted the Administrative Coordinator for Engineering of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the organization that controls the designation of US numbered highways.

I wrote, “I am inquiring whether there is a table showing when US facilities were de-designated from the system. I am specifically interested in US Highway 80.”

I did not get a reply.

The Yuma Daily Sun said goodbye to US 80 in a front-page, boxed text piece on December 27, 1977.

The lead read ominously: “U.S. Highway 80 will disappear by January 1, leaving behind a history which will remain only in the minds of thousands of travelers who crossed over the old road for the past 50 years.”

The article then recounted in rote fashion the Spanish origins of the highway, concluding its replacement, Interstate 8, was now “The Journey of Death.”
Ah, yes, death.

CS
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Filed under AASHTO, highways, history, Myth, Named trails, Route 66, Uncategorized, US Highay 80