Burro boroughOatman, AZ

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

I think this is the closest I’ve yet come to experiencing the phenomenon of the sacred cow. In Oatman, Arizona, they have sacred donkeys.

Well, if not exactly sacred…then, I’d imagine, lucrative.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Oatman is something of a living ghost town: what’s left is a relic of the gold rush, a dessicated hamlet tucked away in the craggy, bare mountains of western Arizona. The place is so unbelievably remote, it’s a wonder that any highway reached it at all, let alone the Mother Road.

At the time of the gold rush, prospectors brought burros with them to do the heavy lifting for them. Far more hardy than your average horse, the donkeys could tough it out in such an inhospitable place. The ore veins dried up during the Great Depression, and at the start of World War II, the mines were formally closed as nonessential to the war effort. The last few miners turned their beasts of burden loose onto the surrounding hills, and left town for good.

The burros, being burros, thrived on their hardscrabble existence, and before long had produced an entire population of feral donkeys. Their sleek, well-fed descendants roam the streets of Oatman today, stalling traffic (such as there is) and biting the fingers of unwary tourists.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

You have to hand it to Oatman: someone there saw the potential for a feral donkey to become a serious—and sacred—cash cow.

I’m a little ashamed to say I didn’t part with any tourist cash in Oatman. I didn’t even get out of the car. It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and while I’ll do almost anything for a good tourist trap, frying like an egg isn’t on the list. But then again, stubborn as I may be, I’m no burro—just a pale Irish gal from a cold, rainy climate.

Maybe I’ll visit in the winter next time, and buy an extra t-shirt as penance.

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Running the Googie gauntletAlbuquerque, NM

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

If you want to see a good concentration of neon signage you can visit the Miracle Mile in California, or you might try 11th Street in Tulsa. Or you just can head straight for the Googie Mecca. I gave you just a taste of it in last week’s installment, but I figured it was worth elaborating a bit.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There are actually two Route Sixty-Sixes in Albuquerque, as the Mother Road’s path changed from a north-south route to an east-west one. (That’s a story in and of itself, which I’ll tell in a future post.) And both alignments of the old highway are absolutely crammed with vintage neon.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Central Avenue is the more recent incarnation of 66, cutting roughly a fifteen-mile neon swath through the heart of the city.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Googie beacons point the way from the eastern boundary…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…to the far western edge of town. At the peak of Route 66’s heyday in the mid-1950s, there were apparently 98 motels along Central Avenue—yet even in 2015 I lost count of how many old signs we passed.Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The Mother Road signage isn’t limited to lodging, either.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Many of the signs were in fine fettle, either newly restored or lovingly maintained. Still, we passed business after business that had very recently been shuttered for good—a reminder that the Route 66 Mom-n-Pop is an endangered species.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

About fifteen or twenty years ago, stretches of Central Avenue and its motel relics were plagued with the hallmarks of hard times: drugs, violent crime, human trafficking. Yet in recent years the remaining business owners have made an effort to clean up the thoroughfare and their properties, particularly from Nob Hill inward.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The contemporary result is example after gleaming example of gorgeous storefronts and restored midcentury typography.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I just couldn’t believe our luck—we’d hit the Googie jackpot.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There wasn’t time to finish even a single sketch that day—it was all I could do to keep up by jotting down messy, temporary pencil scrawls. The “To Finish in the Studio Later” debt I incurred that day was enormous, and I’m still paying it off. I haven’t even showed you everything here—just my favorites (oh, that canary Cleaners storefront! A sketch will never do that beautiful, pristine façade the justice it deserves).

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So, yeah. I loved Albuquerque already, for other reasons, but Route 66’s mark on the city pushed it into the stratosphere for me. The only downside is that now the bar has been raised a goodly height—and at least where old neon is concerned, it’ll be hard to find anywhere else that can hold a candle to the Q.

 

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Take the leapEureka, CA

Fish sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I was really hoping I might have had a sketch of a neon leaping frog (or something similar) for today’s post, but no such luck. Still, a leaping trout ain’t too shabby.

Hope your extra day shines like a neon beacon…happy leap year!

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The tail wagging the dogAlbuquerque, NM

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Those of you who are fans of the show Breaking Bad will recognize Fido here, but you might not know that this beauty has graced Route 66 for over half a century. But while the place is notable both for its television fame and the fact that you can get red or green New Mexico chili sauce on your dog, I was there purely for the neon.

For almost all of our Route 66 trip, I had to content myself with seeing most of the Mother Road’s neon during daylight hours only. But luckily for me, we stayed with friends in Albuquerque that night. I told them I was dying to see the Dog House at night, so after dinner we all made the trek back down to Central Avenue together.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I couldn’t decide which stage of the neon motion to sketch, so I drew them all. And that led me to an idea I’d never tried before…

Animated Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…just a wee bit of sketchbook animation. I think I might have stumbled upon something I’ll keep doing again and again. After all, there’s an awful lot of animated neon out there!

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Lobsta letteringKittery, ME and Shediac, NB, Canada

Lobster sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

As you already know, I’m a big fan of francophone lobsters. Well, just down the street from the world’s largest homard is this lobsta joint, complete with excellent French lettering.

Lobster sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Not to be outdone by its Canadian cousin, New England’s got some great lobster neon, as well. In Kittery, Maine, just across the Piscataqua from Portsmouth, NH (home of that other bit of vintage nautical neon), is one of my favorite sea-creature signs. But I have to admit, I took a bit of artistic license with this one: I happen to have an old menu from Warren’s and the design of that thing puts even its own sign to shame. So I replaced certain bits of the sketch with some of my favorite elements from the menu.

(I should get my Artistic License laminated and keep it in my wallet—because I’m not afraid to use it!)

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Somewhere to lean onGroom, TX

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

I crossed Texas twice last year: once at its widest point (where we logged over 900 Texas miles), and once across the Panhandle, which is where Route 66 cuts a literal straight and narrow path. One of the main Mother Road attractions to visit there is the “Leaning Tower of Texas,” a ho-made gravitational wonder in the middle of the neverending plain.

At least, it used to be in the middle of nowhere. Now it’s surrounded on three sides by other nearby giants: a bunch of those enormous modern windmills, and an awful 19-story cross that isn’t so much delightfully hokey as disgustingly hideous.

So I flashed my laminated Artistic License, faced east as to miss most of the horizon clutter, and edited out the rest. I regret nothing.

Llano Estacado sketch by Chandler O'Leary

After all, I was trying to capture the feeling of what it’s like to cross the Llano Estacado. Even today, when travelers have better navigational aids than makeshift stakes, it’s not hard to imagine how those first visitors must have felt.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Or maybe modern technology has a different meaning here. Maybe the fenceposts and telephone poles and windmills that dot the landscape now are this era’s stakes, marching in steady progress across an otherwise unknowable vastness.

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Arch-itectureBerkeley, CA

University of California sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I didn’t have a ton of time this day, as I was actually playing hooky on a lecture to do this sketch. So I didn’t have time to explore much of the Cal campus, but at least I stole a few moments to stand on the threshold and get something down on paper.

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Oklahoma PantheonArcadia, OK

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Last Friday’s post was a bit of a downer, I know. So today, as we move into the Sooner State, it seems like a good idea to visit a real beauty of the Mother Road: the Arcadia Round Barn. Built out of green wood carefully bent into precise curves, the barn is the only truly round (and not polygonal) barn in America. Its unique status and beautiful proportions made it the most photographed landmark on Route 66.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It was hotter than blazes in the loft, but well worth suffering the heat. Because up there, surrounded by all that curved wood and perfect geometry, it felt more like the work of a Renaissance master than a humble farmer.

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