THE PERILS OF TRAVELLING ALONE

Sometimes I still wake up in the night terrified of this old-timer. It’s not natural to have glowing eyes, even in Oklahoma.

There are Good Things and Bad Things about travelling on your own. The Good Things include eating rubbish for days on end and being able to drive 50 miles off route because you spotted a sign saying ‘World’s Biggest Ball of String’ without having to have a lengthy discussion with your co-pilot as to whether you have time, whether you need to see the World’s Biggest Ball of String (for me that goes without saying, although I am constantly surprised when I find myself to be in a minority of one on this matter) and if it will actually be the World’s Biggest (unlikely, but do you want to take the chance on that?).

Although knitted hair may never make a comeback, this chap will be delighted to know that his big painted on eyebrows are all the vogue with young ladies.

The Bad Things include eating rubbish for days on end and going a little bit strange. Talking to yourself is acceptable; having full-blown conversations in two different voices perhaps not so. I know I’ve been out there on my own too long when I get fits of giggles about things. And so it was at the National Route 66 & Transportation Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma.

Now, before I go any further, I cannot recommend the museum highly enough; not only does it have an excellent museum devoted to Route 66, complete with copious paraphernalia and classic vehicles (including a recreation of the Joads’ truck), but the extremely reasonable price of your entry ticket also allows you to roam around the Farm & Ranch Museum, the Blacksmith’s Shop Museum and the Old Town Museum.

It was in the latter that things started to go a little awry. Like the rest of the place, the Old Town Museum is an excellent and loving recreation of times past, with shops, houses and a school. To add verisimilitude, the creators had installed mannequins.

Why a trilby rather than a Stetson? My theory is the creators used all their hair up on his luxurious moustaches and sideburns and had nothing left for his head.

Just like the people they were intended to represent, these were a mixed crew; there were a few who had clearly started their careers in the windows of department stores, the passing of the years marked by the changing of their wigs, while others were more ambitious and may even have been salvaged from an out of business waxworks museum. They were all, well, slightly odd and while if I had had someone to point this out to, the matter might have dropped there. But I didn’t. All I had was a rising hysteria that increased with each new tableau. Fortunately it was early and the museum wasn’t yet busy, but people did begin to look. That didn’t make matters any better. There were other photos, but by now I was giggling so much everything was destined to be out of focus, including myself.

Half surfer dude, half baker.

Please do visit the National Route 66 & Transportation Museum and don’t just stop and take a photo of the big 66 shield and Myrtle, the Giant Kahina, and pass on, because the whole place is really quite wonderful. Even the mannequins which, in their oddness and homemade quality, somehow capture the essence of roadside Route 66. Just behave with a bit more decorum than I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if it wasn’t enough to make him wear a hat several sizes too small, what indignities have been committed on this poor man’s ears?

THE VALENTINE DINER OF SANDERS

IMG_1767Perhaps the biggest surprise to me about the Route 66 Valentine diner in Sanders, Arizona, is that it does actually look like a Valentine diner. Shabby and sliding rapidly into decay like so many of its peers, but still clearly of its type.

IMG_1796Why a surprise? Well, because, as far as I knew, the Route 66 Diner in Apache County’s Sanders had taken a Valentine diner and gradually eaten it, subsuming the original building into three containers and increasing the space so the original eight stools were replaced by seating for 60 customers. But, by the time I visited a few months ago, all those extra extensions had disappeared and the diner stood by itself, fading under the Arizona sun and having closed its doors on its final customer a few years before.

IMG_1813This particular Valentine prefabricated diner (it was clearly not purchased outright by its first owner as it still has the safe in which the owner would deposit a portion of his weekly takings to be collected by a Valentine agent) was first situated in Holbrook. It was then bought and moved to St John’s although, due to problems with zoning, it was never opened.

IMG_1794However, it was while the little diner was in St John’s that it was spotted by one Ena Middleton. Ena has true Route 66 heritage: she not only grew up on the Mother Road but is the grand-daughter of the infamous Henry Miller of Two Guns. She says that, peering through the windows, she fell in love with the napkin holders. She bought the diner with her husband, Frank, and then moved it to Sanders. It was then moved once more, still within Sanders, where it was so busy that it had to be extended – the aforementioned containers – although 99% of its trade was local and not Route 66 travellers.

IMG_1776While still open, the Route 66 Diner had been up for sale, Ena and Frank wanting to retire to their land, partly due to ill-health. It seems that there have been no takers, other than for the container extensions to the little Valentine diner.

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THE INTERNATIONAL CAR FOREST

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In a town noted for its otherworldness, the International Car Forest of the Last Church stands out in Goldfield. Once the biggest town in Nevada, Goldfield is now a place people pass through, although not too quickly. The local police force is noted for its enthusiasm in enforcing the speed limit.

IMG_7006But on the southern edge of town is a place that’s part art installation, part modern graveyard. The International Car Forest was the work of Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie. Rippie owned the 80 acres of land next to Highway 95 and enlisted Sorg (who fell in love with Goldfield and would move there in 2004) in an ambitious project to set the world record for the most upturned cars in an art work, primarily to beat Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. Rippie also owned over 40 cars, trucks and buses. Trust me, this is not particularly unusual in Goldfield.

File0475Work began in 2002 and continued over the next decade, using a back hoe and a lot of hard work to ‘plant’ the vehicles. Some were posed nose into the ground, some balanced on the top of others, some poised over mounds of earth. The idea was that the site would be a blank canvas for artists and would inspire graffiti, rather as the better-known Cadillac Ranch ending up doing.

IMG_6982But, unlike that Texas landmark, the International Car Forest seems, for the most part, to have attracted people with some artistic flair. Most of the cars and buses have been painted with designs rather than having names scrawled badly in spray paint. It’s probably the fact that the International Car Forest is in the middle of nowhere – and once you get to nowhere you have to traverse some pretty potholed roads – that has protected it from becoming a eyesore like Cadillac Ranch.

File0469Unsurprisingly, considering that they were two diametrically opposed personalities, Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie’s partnership did not end well. Sorg is an artist who had a vision for the International Car Forest; Rippie just wanted his name on a Guinness World Record. They fell out irrevocably not long before Rippie went to prison for two years for improperly possessing and attempting to purchase firearms. He had been found not guilty of a 1970 armed robbery in Colorado by reason of insanity, something he neglected to tell a dealer in 2010 when purchasing a gun. In 2013 he was arrested at his home in Goldfield where police found with 15 firearms, including two loaded semi-automatic assault-type rifles with extended 30-round clips and a loaded semi-automatic .40 caliber pistol and over 22,000 rounds of ammunition. The court was told Rippie was well-known to law enforcement and others in the Goldfield and Tonopah areas.

File0459Chad Sorg is still an artist and blogger. He has never been found insane. Mark Rippie is out of jail and living in Goldfield where he describes himself as ‘a fat old man with a shit load of guns and ammos’. And quite a few cars that don’t work…

 

 

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BIG RIG JIG

CANON_Canon PowerShot ELPH 180_1255256-1294138_000Last year I was covering the Las Vegas Bike Fest for my magazine when I decided I needed a break from the bling. It was also that I wanted to find essential supplies (water, cigarettes, chocolate – the basic food groups) at a reasonable price and I had spotted a small convenience store outside the show. The trouble was there was a security guard and a large fence between me and said shop.

Apparently, no-one was being allowed out this way. I suspect this may have something to do with the event organisers not wanting their visitors to know that, this far south on Fremont Street, life gets real pretty quickly. On one side of the fencing, countless shiny big bucks motorcycles; on the other side, people pushing shopping carts – and not doing their weekly grocery run – or just hanging out in an unnerving way. But the guard hadn’t reckoned without a cheeky smile, a British accent and a determination not to give in. He opened the gate for me while pretending he wasn’t doing it and that he hadn’t seen me.

Sign, complete with naked climbing man near the top.

I don’t know what I’d expected from this end of Fremont Street – probably because I hadn’t even considered the question – but it certainly wasn’t Big Rig Jig. I spotted the sign for the defunct Ferguson’s Motel first, mainly because it had a sculpture of a naked man climbing up it and that’s not something you see every day, even in Vegas. Well, there’s another nekkid man on the sign of the Travelers Motel just down the street, so that’s not strictly accurate. Anyway, as I got closer to photograph the sign I was distracted by the sight of two massive entwined trucks in the motel’s courtyard. Doesn’t take much to distract me, and this definitely did the trick.

Big Rig Jig was originally constructed in 2007 for the Burning Man festival by Brooklyn-based artist Mike Ross. It was finished in time but not without running over budget. It’s made of two discarded tanker trucks, seemingly dancing, and rises over forty feet in the air. (Apparently there’s a viewing platform at the top.) After Burning Man, it was put into storage in California and then resurrected for street artist Banksy Dismaland exhibition-cum-Dystopian theme park in the UK in 2015. Now it appears to have found a permanent home in Fremont Street (it had only just been erected when I stumbled across it), part of entrepreneur Tony Hseih’s ongoing project to revitalise Fremont Street.

Another naked climbing man.

According to the now offline website for the sculpture, Big Rig Jig used the old trucks in ‘referencing a global oil industry at the nexus of our world’s political, social and environmental systems. By repurposing these symbolically rich objects, the artist conveys his admiration for and anxiety over humanity’s power.”

Ross himself says; “It’s just cool to see trucks in the air.” I prefer that explanation myself.

 

 

 

Big Rig Jig in the courtyard of the Fergusons Motel which is currently scheduled for redevelopment into apartments.

CATCHING THAT DREAM

September 2012

September 2012

For the last seven or eight years, every time I’ve visited the defunct Meteor City Trading Post on old Route 66 in Arizona I’ve taken the same photo; a big rig on I-40 ‘passing through’ the dream catcher outside the trading post. As you can see, the dream catcher has not fared well over the years.

September 2015

It has long been claimed as the world’s largest dream catcher, although the Guinness Book of Records accords that honour to one in Kalevala, Russia. This one is, at least, the largest dream catcher on Route 66!

 

April 2017

 

Now that Michael and Joann Brown of Jefferson, Indiana, have purchased Meteor City and plan to refurbish the site, I am hopefully that my next version of this photo may see the dream catcher back in its original glory.

THE BIGGEST SKULL IN ARIZONA

I’ll admit that I will drive a long way for a Big Something, and who wouldn’t drive down to the very south of Arizona to see a 30-foot-tall cow skull? Sadly, it’s not real although maybe that’s a good thing; Arizona can be lively enough without cattle the size of four story buildings roaring about.

 This particular skull stands just off Highway 90 on South Nogales Highway, around 25 miles south of Tucson. For years it welcomed diners to the Longhorn Grill although the skull was originally constructed for a bait shop which stood between two lakes, now long gone. Made of concrete, it was the work of Michael Kautza who was also responsible for other huge sculptures in Tucson.

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Over its life time, the building it dominated housed various different businesses including a clothing store and a roofing company, but for much of its life it was the Longhorn Grill (as well as featuring in several movies such as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore). In 1993, Ed Madril started the restaurant but, by 2012, business had dropped off so much that the building was in foreclosure. It went on the market with a price tag of $319.000, and then $299,000, but was sold at auction to a buyer from Patagonia, Jeff Ladage, for $155,000. However, that sale fell through.

20170415163817090464000000-oBack on the market, the Longhorn Grill was purchased by John Gourley for a knockdown $130,000 who turned the place into part events centre, part gallery. Gourley, a metal sculptor and retired real estate broker, intended to add large murals and palm trees and spent thousands of dollars on cleaning the place up. The idea was that it would host weddings, parties and community events. However, Amado is a tiny town with a population of less than 300 people. The Longhorn Grill could accommodate most of them at once (and cook for a third of them at time thanks to its barbecue pit on which could be grilled a hundred burgers at a time) and it seems that the area just didn’t have that much call for an events venue.

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Today the Longhorn Grill and its famous skull are silent and up for sale again for a substantial $325,000. People stop for a photo of the massive head and then themselves head across the road to the Cow Palace for a burger.

 

 

ONLY ON A SATURDAY NIGHT

On a lonely stretch of Arizona’s Route 66, between Seligman and Kingman, where the loudest sound is the wind or a lonesome train horn or the skitter-skatter of tumbleweed across the tarmac, stands a tiny bar where once Saturday nights echoed to the sound of fiddle and guitar and boots tapping on a wooden floor.

Now the music has fallen quiet, but the sign in Valentine still remains, attracting and perplexing passers-by as to what exactly was Bert’s Country Dancing. Bert’s Country Dancing was a legend, but a small and modest legend in the way that people do things out here in a big country. Back when Bert Denton opened his little bar once a week on the side of Route 66, Valentine still had a population in three figures. In fact, in the 1970s, around 200 people lived in this tiny community. And then, of course, the interstate took the traffic away – and out here that meant it took the traffic miles away, not just a few yards away on the other side of a frontage road – but, for a while the people stayed and, on a Saturday night, they danced.

Bert Denton was born Elbert Riggs Denton on 28th February 1915 in Grants, New Mexico, the middle son of Elbert Sr and Ora Denton. The family would move to southern Arizona when all three boys, Edward, Elbert – or Bert – and Robert, were still small. Bert was 19 when his father, a cowpuncher, was bucked from a wild horse and died of a fractured skull the following day. But it didn’t deter the young man from becoming a cowboy and rancher himself and, for most of his life, he was involved in cattle ranching. While living in Gila County, Bert met Marjorie Myrtle Lan (always known as ‘Margie’). Margie had been previously married in 1930 when, at the age of 16, she wed Benjamin J Hinds who worked for the Inspiration Copper Co and lodged with her family. They had three children, Benjamin, Felix and Ruth, but the marriage didn’t work out and, by the time Benjamin was married in 1956, Bert was named in the announcement of the wedding as his father.

Mr Elbert Denton in 1987

A tough man at work, and one who served in the US Navy for over three years, Bert had a softer side, demonstrated in 1956 when the Arizona Republic published a photo of a litter of ten puppies housed at the city pound. The next day, the Denton household had one dog extra…

Both Bert and Margie were keen horsespeople and both qualified as Arizona 4-H horse show judges in the 1960s. Sadly, it wasn’t to be a long retirement, for Margie died at their home in Valentine in October 1976 at the age of just 63 years. It seems that Bert’s Country Dancing came into being shortly after this and it’s tempting to think that it was a way for the retired rancher to fill his time, as well as playing fiddle, guitar and harmonica in the band. He only ever wanted it to be a small country bar and the dancing was, dare I say it, more important than the dollar beer.

Closed, but the building is still hanging in there

But Valentine struggled in the modern day and tragedy beset the tiny settlement when post mistress Jacqueline Griggs was murdered in 1990. Two years later, the Arizona Republic newspaper carried a small piece on Valentine which, unsurprisingly, featured Bert, by then one of just 14 residents. He joked then that they were ‘dropping like flies’. Less than two years later, on New Year’s Day 1994, Bert himself died at the age of 78.

For a short time, Bert’s Country Dancing occasionally opened – for special events such as the 2002 Fun Run – but the little bar has been closed for many years now. But perhaps, sometimes, if you listen very hard you might just hear a few bars of fiddle music disappearing on the wind.

Visiting Bert’s Country Dancing at Bert’s Country Dancing Place