Looking back to Route 66 – Tucumcari, NM

When Route 66 was closed to the majority of traffic and the other highway came in, I felt just like I had lost an old friend. But some of us stuck it out and are still here on Route 66.
—Lillian Redman

From 24/10/2012 to 30/10/2012 – Kingman, AZ to Oklahoma City, Pookaverse travelled a pure 1010 miles down I-40 taking intermittent stops and diversions to travel on Historic Route 66.

The diverting entrance to the Route 66 Auto Museum in Santa Rosa, NM

Once it was only Route 66. From Chicago, IL to St Monica, CA. Established in 1926 and signposted the following year. The Main Street of America. The Mother Road. Used in the mass migrations West by Farmers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas during the dustbowl years of the Great Depression, businesses supplying ‘Ma and Pa’ motels, hotels, gasoline, service courts entertainment and eateries flourished.

A 1968 Corvette Coupe…the car that Buzz Aldrin drove that year…just not this one as it is in the Route 66 Museum in Santa Rosa, NM

From the Painted Desert, AZ to the Grand Canyon, a new generation of post-war tourists in an array of now classic motor cars traversed up and down this main circuit cable sampling likewise art-deco aspirations to kitsch delight. All supernaturally splashed with Neon – a popular highlighter in America between 1920 and 1960 to draw the low-lidded eye of the passing motorist.

A ‘super-pimped’ 1947 Chevy COE gives a lip curl and takes to the floor in the Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa, NM

Sometimes bizarre roadside attractions such as the Indian curios, Wigwam Motels and the Big Texan Steak Ranch advertised a free 72 ounces (2.0 kg) steak dinner to anyone who could consume the entire meal in one hour.

The Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, TX…

The cultural microcosm of Americana.  And then in 1956 with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act by President Dwight Eisenhower himself impressed by the rapid delivery provided by the  German autobahn systems for the delivery of military supplies and troop deployments.

Art or Artifice?…Aliosn decides at the Cadillac Ranch, TX…Home to 10 uber-daubed half-buried Cadillacs and scene of one of the worst cases of parenting witnessed by Pookaverse. Two adults spray painted a car while their terrified nippers squealed in the fumes.

And envisaged the need for a similar system in the cold-war defence of the United States in case of foreign invasion. New and improved building techniques and a stronger remit to provide direct roads to cover the vast distances between America’s major cities signalled the end to the twist and turns of Route 66.

Pookaverse at the Midpoint Cafe at Adrian, TX for coffee and Mom’s apple pie…with the germans, the french and the only American in the room – the waitress. Like signing the Treaty of Versailles…only with a better result

Slowly the interstates spread replacing junction with turnpike – single-carriageway for dual-carriageway. Increasing speed limits met by faster and more fuel-efficient if not less dangerous cars. Until less than 30 years following the passing of this act June 27, 1985, Route 66 was officially decommissioned. But it is yet, as Pookaverse observed on the sections travelled, very much alive.

A view inside the Midpoint Cafe, Adrian, TX

States such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma all brown signpost the original Route 66 making it relatively easy to leave the Interstate at different points to experience the road that was.

One such case is Tucumcari. Once one of the great stops on historic Route 66. Leaving Interstate 40, you enter the outskirts of this ‘city’ and are met by a passing rather than the past. Decay and desolation of metal and hope. That took hold as the nearby Interstate 40 brushed the town to one side.

Derelict tarmac motor courts, gas stations overgrown with brush and scooped-out diners can be witnessed browning by the side of the road.  A town shrivelled on the vine. Perhaps most tellingly – and tragically.

The hood ornament from Kevin or Nancy’s 1957 Chevrolet that remains parked outside the motel front for most of the day…

Neon signs that once lined this old highway for over 5 miles. Now on this new byway stand bereft on cracked,  overgrown concrete lots broken, rusted. Blown out, exhausted and extinguished. They so clearly enlightened a different time.  To the excitement of travel, the adventure and the journey and the stops therein. The post-atomic age of innocence? Consumerist optimism and lurking fear of the 1950’s when rockets and ‘outer space’  dominated the culture and as if in homage or prescience, motor cars sprouted fins to flicker their tail-lights while these early continental travellers bubbled their way through the gathering gloom of vast. empty deserts.

These were some of the sights that greeted Pookaverse as we drove the 3 miles into the ‘city limits’ of the town of Tucumcari to stay at the Blue Swallow Motel that in it’s heyday advertised “TV” and “100% Refrigerated Air”. The new owners Kevin and Nancy Mueller – a couple from Michigan who when faced with redundancy – a potentially life-changing event – sought out what interested them. History.

The exterior of the motel and Pookaverses room 15 at the end of the block…

Having previously stayed at the hotel, the history of Route 66 coupled with the opportunity to own and manage their own business converged. They purchased the property in 2011 from the previous owners who managed the property from 1998. Prior to this the property was owned and managed by Floyd and Lillian Redman since 1958 for over four decades.

Packing up for Amarillo inside Room 15

The Muellers have carefully restored the motel rooms and the front office back to close to its original state. Including the commanding neon display that intermittently signposts the hotel on the long 7-mile strip that forms the main road through Tucumcari. Nancy provided Pookaverse with PG tips tea bags, milk and a kettle.

Blue Swallow Motel Neon powers to life after dusk…one of the last remaining Neon frontages on the 5-mile strip

Which meant that this was the first and last proper cup of tea that Pookaverse has drunk in the United States. The Muellers believe that a new season is emerging for Tucumcari. New businesses opened across the way from this hotel last Summer.

That gradually that the talk of these iconic neon signs will lead to their repair.  Relit by the town council to draw life back to a whirlpooling community. As new generations of Americans and Foreign Tourists discover the lure and come to try and relive this ‘golden age’ of the golden road’ so prevalent in the human psyche. Freedom. Opportunity. Adventure. Pookaverse thinks so too as a matter of faith.

It’s 1957…

Even room 15 at the end of the terrace where  Pookaverse stayed in had a feel of days gone by. From the tiles in the shower room, to the lampshades and fittings. Even extending to the 1968 copy of Time Magazine offering the latest corvette and bucolic-styled dresses to a despairing editorial on the continuing aftershock race riots in the major cities that followed the Watts riots in California in 1965. An editorial that offered a perspective on racial relations between blacks and whites that could not be printed today.

A restored Magnolia Gas Station at Vega, TX… It could easily have been in the constellation Lyra

It was a reminder that even in the heyday of Route 66. From the dustbowls of the depression era to the  Second World War and the Atomic Age. Civil rights, wars staggering under puppet regimes in Indo-China and rockets to the moon. That these were turbulent and dangerous times. More dangerous than the ‘night-terrors’ that we face today?

The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX…Pookaverse stayed at the adjacent Big Texan motel…and only stood by helplessly as an enormous fat Texan in sweatpants took the 72 oz challenge – and won.

Pookaverse slept peacefully in a place for travellers. Going East instead of West. On Route 66. And thought no more of it.


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