Tag Archives: midwest

Yukon's Best Flour sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Flour flurry

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.

It’s not entirely clear to me why the founders of Yukon, OK named their town after the Yukon Gold Rush, nor why its county is called Canadian County. But on the day of our visit to the Yukon of Route 66, the only blizzard we might possibly have witnessed was one of enriched white flour.

World's largest pecan sketch by Chandler O'Leary

World’s largest pie filling

Just in case you were worried about making enough pecan pie for the holiday this year, I think I know where there’s a good supply. To all my readers in the United States, wishing you a happy Thanksgiving! Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a slice of pie with my name on it…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Halfway there

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.

When I started my 66 Fridays series back at the turn of the new year, I knew I was in for a long road ahead. But here we are, 33 Fridays later, already at the halfway point of the series! I figured it was only fitting to pair this post with a sketch of the symbolic halfway point of the Mother Road. Since Route 66 has seen so many changes to its path over the years, it’s unlikely this sign marks the exact midpoint—but it hardly matters. I’m glad there’s a marker at all, wherever they ended up putting it.

Some of you may just be tuning in to this series now, so I figured a recap of where we’ve been so far was in order. Like everything else on this blog, my subjects jump around in space and time. So below is a list of all the Route 66 posts I’ve done so far, loosely grouped by category.

Posts about Route 66 itself:
Intro: Mother Road, Mother Lode
Chicago’s Eastern Terminus
Sundown Towns
Burma Shave
Filling Stations of 66
Suicide Bridge
Where 66 Intersects Itself
The history under your wheels

Route 66 Attractions:
Meramec Caverns Billboards
The Round Barn
The Leaning Tower
Wild Burros
Paul Bunyans
Mufflermen of the Mother Road
The Harvey House Empire
The Armory Museum
Dino Drive-Bys
Petrified Forest
The Continental Divide
Cadillac Ranch

The Mother Road in Lights:
Albuquerque’s Googie Marathon
The Dog House from Breaking Bad
The Aztec Hotel
The Munger Moss and its Antecedents
Air-Cooled Comfort
Tucumcari Tonite

Route 66 Roadside Eats:
Lou Mitchell’s
Ted Drewes
Dairy King
Chicago Dogs
Rod’s Steakhouse
New Mexico Cafes

Other Route 66 posts I’ve done (outside the 66 Fridays series):
Tulsa Googie
The Golden Driller
Old Town Ristras
The Blue Whale of Catoosa

Thank you for traveling along the Mother Road with me for so much of this year. And we still have many miles to cover—see you next Friday with the latest installment!

Corn Palace sketch by Chandler O'Leary

New kid on the cob

Last year I had the chance to revisit South Dakota’s world-famous Corn Palace for the first time in nearly a decade, and I had quite a surprise waiting for me. It’s common knowledge that the maize museum gets all new corn mosaics every year—but today’s Corn Palace has had more than a simple facelift. If you click that link above, you’ll see what I mean—they didn’t just replace the corn, but put in new turrets and onion domes, as well.

Personally, I think this change is a huge improvement. No longer a simple brick building with plastic domes stuck on it, these new additions are far better-crafted, hearkening back to the palace’s glory days of elaborate Victorian turrets and exotic canopies. Plus, the corn murals were real beauties last year—the icing on the, er, cornbread. All I can do is raise a cob in salute—bravo, Mitchell!

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fill ‘er up

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.

Polly want a pit stop?

If you’re going to take a road trip, at some point you’re going to need to refuel. And nobody knows how to fill your tank like the folks on Route 66. Of course, since the route crosses a big swath of American oil country, you’ll know that the milk of the Mother Road is petroleum.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

The thing is, though, the designers and architects and advertisers and engineers responsible for putting gas stations all along the route got into the spirit of 66 in their own unique ways. Forget what you know about ugly garages lining Interstate exits—many of Route 66’s filling stations are downright works of art.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

And many of them look absolutely nothing like gas stations.

Interestingly, the Mother Road was built at a time when more and more Americans owned automobiles—all over the country there was an increasingly large demand for petrol. Filling stations moved into town centers and residential neighborhoods, and some oil companies wanted their fuel stops to blend in with the neighborhood architecture.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Since American architecture is highly regional in nature, many of these “camoflaged” filling stations took on the look of their local culture—Spanish-Mission-style canopies in California, limestone façades in the Ozarks, clapboard farmhouse lookalikes in the Plains, etc. And then, of course, architectural tastes changed over the years, so you’ll find examples from the Victorian era to midcentury pop-Googie, and everything in between. (Not to mention the tradition of kitschy filling stations shaped like random objects or weird ho-made roadside giants.) Finally, each oil company wanted to attract customers away from the others, so they relied on creating distinctive architectural styles as a form of branding. The result is a veritable encyclopedia of diverse and spectacular specimens—and Route 66 might just have the best collection of all.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Albuquerque, New Mexico

After a few hundred miles, we started getting really good at spotting the buildings that used to be filling stations (this is an obvious one, but many had been deeply camoflaged, or totally remade in some other image, or else fallen into ruin). And we also developed a knack for pegging which style belonged to which company (above is a classic 1930s Texaco design).

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Then again, sometimes a building would throw us completely—the sealed-up garage bays hint at the Blue Dome’s history, but if I didn’t know better, I would have guessed this was once a Greek Orthodox church or something.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Spencer, Missouri

The filling stations of Route 66 also serve as markers of time’s passage, and the rise and fall of communities along the way. This one is all that remains of a ghost town in Missouri that fell into disuse when the highway changed its route. (I’m not talking about the advent of the Interstate, either, although that’s a common story—this place lost its prime spot decades before that, when the 66 alignment was simply moved to a spot further south.)

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Ranco Cucamonga, California

While many petroleum relics have faded into oblivion, others are being brought back, at least in some form or other. Above is one of the oldest specimens we found (it actually predates the birth of Route 66 by nearly a decade). While part of the structure has been torn down, at least the main part of the station is getting a lovely facelift.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Needles, California

It’s not just the oldest samples being preserved, either. This guy is only a little over fifty years old, but it, too, has been returned to its former glory.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Normal, Illinois

For many old stations, however, the opposite is true. Countless specimens either sit empty, their original purpose unknown to the average passerby—or else they get cannibalized and transformed into some other creature, usually without any fanfare.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hydro, Oklahoma

These stories of disrepair and restoration interest me greatly, of course, but what really gets me is the story of each place: the whys and wherefores of each station, and the tastes and quirks of the people who either built or ran them.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cool Springs, Arizona

After all, Route 66 crosses through some seriously unpopulated territory. Many of these old filling stations were the only game in town—or in the most remote corners, something closer to the last chance for salvation.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Commerce, Oklahoma

While others, meanwhile, live on in notoriety, attracting tourists to the spots where blood was shed or infamous characters once stood.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Odell, Illinois

Still, most tell the story of perfectly ordinary people running perfectly ordinary businesses along one of the backbones of American travel and commerce. They might be extraordinary today, but usually that’s boils down to having somehow lasted long enough to stand out amongst more modern surroundings.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Shamrock, Texas

I’m glad, at least, that I’m obviously not the only one who has noticed these things—that there is an army of conservators and historians and artists and boosters out there, preserving as many of these old filling stations as possible, and documenting the ones that can’t be saved.

I know that these days, oil companies have fallen out of public favor (heaven knows I have my own beef with the oil industry)—regardless of their nostalgia, these places are also reminders of American excess and the damaging effects of fossil fuels. Yet however we may be careening toward Peak Oil, these relics still have a place on the Mother Road—the path that might just traverse this country’s Peak History.

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Chicago Theatre sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Magnificent Marquee

When I was in Chicago last summer, I finally got to cross a big thing off my sketching wish list: the iconic lights of the Chicago Theatre. By the time I was done, I couldn’t help but wish that every city had its name inscribed on a giant, gorgeous neon marquee. I mean, I-Heart-NY shirts are nice and all, but if I were New York, I’d rather see my name in lights.

Route 66 Burma Shave sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Roadside rhymes

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.

Some years back I lamented missing the era of the Burma Shave ad, but on Route 66, I finally got my chance to see what it must have been like. These signs are replicas rather than originals, and some of them are more than a little ho-made

Route 66 Burma Shave sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…but it doesn’t matter. The effect, I imagine, is the same. Like the Meramec Caverns signs, the Burma Shave ads permeated American road trip culture from the mid-1920s through the mid-60s, providing lots of inexpensive exposure for the company and roadside fun for travelers as they “sang along” with the five- or six-sign rhyming slogans. Even the Tailor and I found ourselves reciting the limerick-like slogans aloud as we drove by.

Route 66 Burma Shave sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It just seems fitting that we’d find the quintessential billboards on the quintessential road trip. If you’re going to have any Burma Shave remnants out there along the roadside, they just belong on the Mother Road.

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Roadside fortress

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.

Route 66 has ruined souvenir shops for me forever. I mean, I thought I had high standards after growing up on Wall Drug, but the Mother Road is home to all manner of souvenir shops housed in buildings ranging from interesting to downright nuts. Whether you’re buying snow globes in a Tipi or braving wild burros to get to your t-shirts, you’ll never have to worry about trying to find a postcard in a big box store on this road.

In keeping with tradition, Chandler, Oklahoma, sells its souvenirs in an honest-to-goodness fortress. Of course, the souvenirs weren’t what we came for—we came for the gorgeous Works Progress Administration (WPA) architecture and the top-notch museum and interpretive center inside. But you know, since we were already there and all, we figured it would just be wasteful not to stock up on shield-shaped fridge magnets and keychains at the same time…

 

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Neon echoes

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.

Compared to some of the other outrageous neon specimens along Route 66, this one seems downright pedestrian. Still, there’s a kind of midcentury perfection to this one, from the gorgeous script lettering to the jaunty lightning bolt through “TV.” And there’s something familiar about the shape of the sign, as well, as if one had seen it before…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Ah, right. One has. This brighter, showier version is just fifty miles away in Lebanon, MO—it was built (by the same neon company, no less) in tribute to the Rest Haven sign, which the owner of the Munger Moss had admired when it was erected just a year or so before, in 1953. And both signs are a clear homage to one of the most famous neon sign designs in America: the one known simply as the “Great Sign,” which began marking Holiday Inns around the U.S. in ’52.

I’m guessing there wasn’t a whole lot of respect for intellectual property among sign scribes of the time, because this sort of design pilfering was pretty common—but I find I just can’t get too riled up about this case. For one thing, that basic Great Sign look appeared in knock-offs all over the country—clearly people thought if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For another, I confess I felt a little thrill when I got to see that little TV lightning bolt again: it was like a moment of Deja Googie.