Tag Archives: Highway 99

Highway 99 butterfly sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Neon butterfly

Speaking of the Chinese new year, I’m reminded of this beauty along old Highway 99. The restaurant is still very much alive, and its current owners are doing a great job of stewardship when it comes to their vintage neon. So this week I’m wishing them a happy and prosperous new year, too.

Covered bridge sketch by Chandler O'Leary

New England transplant

You wouldn’t normally think of the Pacific Northwest as covered bridge country, but we do have a few here. Southern Oregon is home to a real beauty, and the last covered bridge still standing along old Highway 99. Of course, the rainy Northwest weather and towering conifers gave it away, but otherwise, the place made me feel like I was standing in a Vermont mountain glen.

Central Valley, CA sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Birdland

I’ve written about California’s Central Valley before, and I have a feeling it’ll come up again. But there are just so many things to love about the place. Perhaps the best part of all is the birdwatching.

Central Valley, CA sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The Central Valley is a main thoroughfare along the Pacific Flyway, and hosts thousands upon thousands of both migratory and native birds every year. The best time to birdwatch is in the late winter, when the valley is otherwise at its most drab. While most of the human tourists are in more “interesting” places like the coast, the avian tourists are literally flocking to the Inland Empire.

So while most folks might consider the valley to be a flyover region that’s beneath their notice, birders might just find it to be heaven on earth.

Seattle Viaduct sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The road overhead

We got stuck in some serious traffic on our way to the game yesterday, which had me wishing we had taken the Viaduct into town instead. That made me remember this sketch I did a couple of summers ago—one of several I’ve done over the years, knowing full well that the Viaduct’s days are numbered.

The Viaduct is an elevated section of Highway 99 that flows into downtown Seattle along the waterfront. It’s been the focus of controversy for years (crumbling infrastructure, real estate and tax feuds, voter indecision, construction fiascos, indefinite timelines, etc.), but whatever your opinion of it might be, it’s unquestionably a city icon. Personally, I’ll miss the experience of coming into the city by the Viaduct, with its spectacular views of the skyline and the Sound. And I already miss my trusty network of shortcuts, now blocked by the construction zone and the already partially-demolished highway. But whatever is coming, and whenever it does, I plan to have plenty of sketches under my belt by which to remember it.

California Theatre sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

California or bust

As it turned out, I didn’t get to do a whole lot of traveling last year—which was a bit of an adjustment, especially compared with previous years. It’s looking like 2015, though, is going to be another big travel year—which to me feels more like normal life.

Tomorrow morning I’m hitting the road again … and I think you can guess the destination. I have some very specific goals for the trip, which I hope will play out here in a few weeks. For the next few posts, though, I’m going to run a few of my favorite sketches from my last roadtrip to the Golden State.

Enjoy, and see you on the other side!

Giant Orange sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Orange you glad

Apparently these giant orange stands (which are actually ducks) used to be so common along the old Pacific Highway that by the time you got thirsty on your journey, you’d have arrived at the next one. There are just a handful remaining today, and I was extra lucky to discover that this one was actually still a functioning juice stand (though inside the attached building, no longer the orange itself).

Because let me tell you, this is one advertising ploy that must have worked well: by the time we reached the door, we were ready to shell out any amount for fresh orange juice.

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Did you remember to vote for the best Twine Ball? Hurry and cast your vote, and we’ll declare the winner on Thursday!

Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Kings of the road

Well, if I’m going to spend all this time talking about roadside attractions, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the legendary Muffler Men—guardians of gas stations, presidents of photo ops. If you’ve ever taken a road trip, you’ve probably seen at least one of these guys along the way.

These behemoths started appearing in the early 1960s (the very first one was on Route 66), to promote the brand new International Fiberglass Company in California. For whatever reason, they usually ended up in front of gas stations, holding giant mufflers—hence the nickname.

Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

By 1970 there were thousands of them around the country, but the 1973 oil crisis forced the decline and eventual demise of International Fiberglass. These days the muffler men are an endangered species, down to just a few hundred stalwart lads (and a handful of lasses, too!).

Saloon Cowboy (Muffler Man) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For me, finding them has turned into something of a quest—and not just because I’m a completist (though, of course I am). You see, the most fun thing about these guys is that they’re not identical—there are many, many variations on the original design (and a few knock-offs, to boot).

Paul Bunyan Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Probably the most common variation is the Paul Bunyan—they’re certainly the most recognizable, even when their axes get stolen.

Paul Bunyan Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And when they’re spiffed up to their original glory, they’re unmistakeable. (This one is a mobile muffler man! When he surprised me at the local Daffodil Parade a few years ago, it felt like Christmas had come early.)

Carpet Viking sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Though I’ll never pass up any iteration of Paul Bunyan, I’m most excited about the rare, extreme variants, the roadside sideshow—the Uniroyal Gals, the Happy Halfwits, the Carpet Vikings.

Harvey the Rabbit (Muffler Man) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And best of all are the mutant modifications that have happened to some of these guys (you should have heard me squeal when I found this one!). Some have been altered so much as to be rendered almost unrecognizable. But you can’t fool me—once a muffler man, always a muffler man.

So tell me: have you found any muffler men in your travels? Do you have one in your neighborhood? I’m always on the look-out for a good one, so if you have any recommendations, I’m all (rabbit) ears.

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Bob's Java Jive sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Short and stout

I am pleased to tell you that Washington is the proud owner of not one, but two teapot-shaped buildings. (Well, one is a teapot and the other is a coffee pot, but since the designs—and even the colors—are nearly identical, I think that’s close enough.)

The first might just be, as advertised, world-famous. Tacoma’s very own coffee pot was once a well-known landmark along old Highway 99, until the Interstate was built and businesses along the old thoroughfare faded into obscurity (a story as old as the Interstate itself). The place is no longer a restaurant, but is still in operation—now a dive bar with a different name and a cult following. Now that the coffee pot shape is a non-sequitur, it seems like everyone in my town loves the place all the more.

Teapot Dome Gas Station sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Lesser known, slightly older, and much farther off the beaten path is the Teapot Dome Service Station. This beauty sits on the eastern side of the Cascades, though it has been relocated a few times around the area. It now sits, newly restored (though now with cheesy fake gas pumps), in the tiny orchard town of Zillah, WA. It’s much smaller than the Java Jive, and has more of a ho-made flair to it, but what really interests me is that it was a political statement.

In 1922 Zillah resident Jack Ainsworth constructed the building in response to the Teapot Dome oil scandal (bribes, conflicts of interest, no-competition bids for military contracts, corrupt land leasing, the works!), which was in the news at that time. I love that Ainsworth made such a witty statement about the oil industry by building a gas station.

And his patrons? Well, they would have stopped at the teapot for a tankful, probably asked in jest for a cupful—and in return received an earful.