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?

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THE HIDDEN SIDE OF HACKBERRY

With its Mission-style architecture, the school was the grandest building in town.

Almost every traveller on the section of Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman, Arizona, stops at the famous Hackberry General Store. But few realise that there is more to Hackberry than a cold soda and some picturesque photo opportunities with old cars. Just to the south of the General Store and Route 66 lies the remains of what was, from 1874 until shortly after the Great War, a thriving town.

Originally a mining camp at the foot of the Peacock Mountains, Hackberry supported the twin trades of ranching and mining – indeed, it was the former that brought the railroad to Hackberry in 1882, as much to transport cattle as to carry ore from the Hackberry Silver Mine. By the time the mine closed, some $3 million of gold and silver had been dug out and perhaps one of the obvious indications of the temporary prosperity of the town can be seen in its now disused elementary school.

By the time this photo was taken in 1924, the school had been open for 7 years. Sadly, I don’t know whether the teacher is the ‘pleasant young Miss Jones’. Photo courtesy of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts

At a time when most schools were little more than wooden shacks or barns (for example, the Red School in Valentine to the west), the community of Hackberry commissioned a rather grandiose stone building. In May 1917, the School’s Board of Trustees called for bids for the erection of ‘a one-story public school building, to accommodate at least 80 pupils and cost not to exceed Seven Thousand Dollars; building to include all necessary wardrobe closest, teacher’s room, library room, etc, and to have chimney and fresh air vents for heating and ventilating purposes and to be as nearly fire-proof as the sum to be expended will permit.” You have to love that ‘nearly fire-proof’, but clearly not if it was going to cost more money!

The design that was accepted turned out to be a quite ornate Mission-style building with red roof tiles, two tiny decorative towers and even a Spanish-style bell. Nor did the Trustees hang about once having made a decision. At the end of August 1917, the Mohave County Miner reported that contractor Axel Ericson was completing the cornice work on the school (incidentally, Mr Ericson had just won the contract for his next job, which would be installing radiators and steam heating in the Hotel Brunswick in Kingman).

The bell still seems operational, but I decided not to try…

The school had two classrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living quarters for a teacher, one of the first of whom was a Miss Jones who, a visit to Kingman being enough of an occasion to make the local newspaper, was described as ‘a pleasant young teacher’. To the young children who attended Hackberry Elementary School – they ranged from kindergarten age to the 8th grade – the building must have seemed almost like a castle. Teachers came and went; children grew up but often stayed in the town. Many of them were Griggs and several generations of that family were taught in the school. In fact, virtually everyone in Hackberry now (although that’s only around 20 people) is either a Griggs or related to the family.

An abandoned basketball hoop beside the school.

But, by 1994, the Board of Trustees (all of them, by the way, retired and without children in the school) decided that the little school should be closed. The parents of the 22 remaining pupils fought the decision but without success, even though the reasoning seems in hindsight a little vague. Joseph Averna, one of the three Trustees called the school ‘inefficient and ineffective’ (it quite possibly was, the tendency to follow the curriculum was, by all accounts, less than enthusiastic) and, on the eve of the meeting to decide the future of the Hackberry Elementary school, proclaimed; “We are going to drag [the parents] kicking and screaming in the 20th century. The people who pay the bills want the school closed.” He then went on to admit that no-one had actually looked at a budget, nor did they know how much money would be saved by the closure. Nonetheless, the decision to shut the school was made the following day.

Today children are bussed to schools miles away, leaving Hackberry as more of a ghost town than ever, while the school – which is owned by the Griggs family – stays resolutely shut and fenced off. The family hopes one day to refurbish, but no new generation of Griggs will ever be taught there.

Hackberry Elementary School, still as if the children had just left for the day.

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 KELLEYS OF KINGMAN

Mr and Mrs Kelley on the occasion of their 66th wedding anniversary.

There are stories in every town on Route 66 and, a few years ago, I was lucky enough to have a brief glimpse of one. In 2010, almost exactly seven years ago, Kenneth and Kathleen Kelley of Kingman celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary, appropriately enough on Route 66 where they had lived much of their married life and that was marked with a small gathering of classic cars at the Powerhouse in Kingman to which we were invited.

Kathleen shows off the commemorative plaque given to her by the Route 66 Cruizers Club.

The history of the Kelleys was a quiet but enduring love story. Kenneth grew up in New Mexico and joined the Army at the age of 20. In April 1943, he sailed on the USS Monterey from San Francisco to spend the next 28 months in Europe as a member of the 505 Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne (he chose the Airborne Unit because it paid more money which, as the youngest of eight children, he could send home to his family).

Kenneth and Kathleen on their wedding day on 26th August 1944.

As a paratrooper he saw action, but his biggest battle was to get the girl he met while stationed in England to marry him. The first time he saw Kathleen Denton, Kenneth thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. They dated for several months although Kathleen admits to standing him up several times. Kenneth proposed half a dozen times. Kathleen said no six times before finally relenting. They were married on August 26th 1944 in Leicester, England, and a year later, Kenneth was discharged from the Army and returned home. By now, they had a son, John, and Kathleen and John sailed to New York and then took a long train ride to join him; they settled in Deming, New Mexico, where Kenneth started his career in copper mining.

They moved to Kingman in 1962 where Kenneth eventually became the mine superintendent for Duval Mining Corp at Mineral Park and he always said it was the saddest day of his life when the Mineral Park mine closed in 1981. Since moving to Kingman, the Kelleys had lived in a house on Route 66 and so it was appropriate that a local car club should mark their 66th wedding anniversary at the Powerhouse. We found that, despite having lived in America for most of her life, Kathleen’s British accent soon began to return as she talked to us!

Kenneth passed away on 24th December 2016 after 72 years of marriage with his beautiful girl. Not a showy life, not a remarkable life, but a life well lived. It was a pleasure to have met you, sir.

Just minutes after the celebration, the skies opened and this was where we’d been standing!

NOT QUITE SUCH A SHORE THING

Half close your eyes, ignore the smell of rotting fish and you could see why this was such a popular place in the 1960s. The pilings to the left are the remains of the boat jetty.

The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club began construction in 1958 at a time when that accidental sea, the Salton Sea, was an up-and-coming destination and not the dead fish-ridden wasteland that much of it has become today.

Back when it looked like the resort would last forever.

Back in the 1950s, there was a multi-million dollar plan for what would become California’s largest marina and the jewel in the crown was the yacht club, designed by architect Albert Frey who was responsible for ‘desert modernism’ and whose influence on Palm Springs remains to this day. Frey delighted in the idea of creating a ship in the middle of a desert by a sea that shouldn’t exist, and his design is evocative of a boat with a curved prow, mast, crow’s nest lounge and porthole windows. It soon became popular, promoted as ‘The Glamour Capital of the Salton Sea’, and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, the Beach Boys and the Marx Brothers all visited the club.

Bereft of its nautical flags and Albert Frey’s signature yellow fibre glass panels.

One of the developers who built the yacht club was Ray Ryan, who had been responsible for the restoration of the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs and later opened the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. Ryan was a flamboyant character who, it was whispered, had connections to the Mob. Stepping out of the Olympia health club in Evansville, Indiana on 18th October 1977, he got into his new Lincoln Continental Mark V coupe and turned the key. The car exploded. Ryan was killed immediately, the power was knocked out over the south part of Evansville and it took two days to find all the pieces of the Lincoln.

From a LA Time supplement of April 1963. The yacht club is in the middle left, with the pool clearly visible. The jetty was destroyed in 1981, and the motel at the top of the picture in late 2008.

Without Ryan, it’s unlikely that North Shore would have been the destination spot that it became in the 1960s, but even he could do little about the twin forces of a recession and environmental problems, both of which ensured the resort’s downfall. As the development boom went bust in the 1970s, countless lots were simply abandoned, while water pollution saw the number of visitors fall. Flooding compounded the area’s problems and, in 1981, a flood destroyed the North Shore Marina’s jetty. If people couldn’t dock their boats, they wouldn’t visit. Many took their boats away from the Salton Sea entirely as they found the increased salinity clogging expensive marine engines.

By 1984, the yacht club was forced to shut its doors. Eventually it fell prey to vandals who exacerbated the interior damage caused by its use as a film location in 2005 (the front was also painted with the name ‘Aces & Spades’ for the movie The Island and the inside gutted) and to skateboarders who treasured the yacht club’s now-empty swooping pool.

The North Shore Motel close to the yacht club. The motel was torn down a few months after this photo was taken.

But that’s not quite the end of the story. The North Shore Yacht Club looked like this when I first visited in 2008. There was a large motel nearby, albeit also boarded up. When I returned three years later, the motel had been razed to the ground but, to my surprise, the yacht club had been restored to its former glory. It was, apparently, intended for use as a community centre and home to the Salton Sea History Museum. But here’s the rub; the owners of the property terminated the museum’s lease after a handful of years, forcing the museum into (hopefully temporary) closure, while every time I’ve been there, the place has been firmly shut up with no indication of any future community events to be held there.

If a club designed to look like a ship in the desert was incongruous, the site of a restored and repainted disused building at North Shore is even odder still.

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club in 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The famous pool, now gone.

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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GHOST SCHOOL IN A GHOST TOWN

 

The front entrance still looks as spruce as it must have done in 1928.

Lela in Texas always struggled against the odds. Known to some people who travel Route 66 as the home of E Mike Allred’s Regal Reptile Ranch (see the Never Quite Lost post, Snakes on a Plain), it lost out all around to its more glamorous neighbour, Shamrock.

Lela was established in 1902 as a stop on the Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf Railway, when it was originally called Story. It then gained a newspaper – the Wheeler County Texan – and a small school. Then, the ultimate mark of a settlement came along; a post office. Folklore has it that the young postmaster, a young Texan by the name of Bedford Forrest Bowers, changed the town’s name to Lela in honour of his sister-in-law.. However, there’s a few holes in that story. The town was already called Lela when Bedford was appointed postmaster on 9th June 1903. He was 25 years old at the time and there is no record of him having a wife. He did have two older brothers, but David was married to Maud and Isaac to Anna Pearl, neither of which lead themselves to a contraction of Lela.

Whatever the origin of the name, there was a school in Lela (although the dedicated school wasn’t built until 1907), and the first teacher was the splendidly named Fannie (or Frances) Womble. Miss Womble was barely 20 years old when she assumed that position and was soon married to Lucian Purcell, a relative of John Purcell, one of the school’s trustees. Sadly, the marriage would be cut short. In 1903, Fannie suffered a miscarriage, but two years later she gave birth to a son, Farrel. Complications set in and just ten days after the birth, on 16th February 1905, Fannie died. It was a week after her twenty-third birthday. Little Farrel struggled on, but on 9th May 1905 he too succumbed.

Lela would suffer another loss the following year when Bedford Bowers died, aged just twenty-eight. But already the town was beginning to lose out to nearby Shamrock. Although the discovery of natural gas would bring short-lived renewed prosperity to Lela, gradually both trade and residents began to move to Shamrock. But it was while Lela was undergoing this brief boom that its school burned down. At the time, the town was large and prosperous enough to warrant the building of a fine brick school which would accommodate all grades. However, by the 1930s, it was catering only to the younger children, as the high school students decamped to – yes – Shamrock.

One of the gas stations which sprang up to serve Route 66. It limped on in its last years as JD’s Service Station before falling into disrepair.

Route 66 would bring another infusion of life into Lela, as two gas stations were opened. But it didn’t last. By 1947, there were only 50 people left in Lela; the school and the church staggered on but the remaining businesses gradually closed. Even the newspaper moved down to Shamrock.  In 1976, Shamrock took its final victory over its neighbour as the post office was transferred there from Lela. Fifteen years later, the school was closed and has stood shuttered ever since. There is no chance of it opening again; Lela has no businesses, no shops and little in the way of population. Today it stands empty, echoing to the sound of children’s shouts on a long ago wind.

Incidentally, Fannie’s widower, Lucian Purcell, did eventually marry again and had eight children with his second wife, Annie (he would given his eldest son the middle name of Bowers, presumably in memory of the late young postmaster). They made their home in Shamrock.

Although it has a historical marker, Lela High School is not yet on the National Register of Historic Places.