Sunday 10 November 2013

More fun on Route 66 - No 29

Discovering small-town America is always a delight, but never more so than along Route 66, where ghost towns and hamlets from yesteryear vainly hope for a revival in the wake of a Route 66 renaissance.           
The Mother Road
     We little suspected when we bought a campervan and named it Betsy that it would be the start of a long love affair with small-town America and Canada, and indeed with Betsy herself. She became our home for five three-month journeys.

 Music for the Asking
     Erick - Population: 1,012 on a good day - is the kind of place that the world is happy to bypass. We were there with no purpose other than to look for a reason to visit. We learned that Main St, was bisected by the 100th meridian and had been renamed Roger Miller Boulevard after the musician,
Let's make music
     We also discovered the happy sound of live music drifting from behind the wooden storefront of ‘The Meat Market’. We ventured in, and found a delightful and talented couple of singing bohemian rednecks: Harley, and Annabelle Russell. Their cluttered store of musical bric-a-brac was devoid of customers, but that did not stop them from giving us friendship, music, tall tales, music, free beer and yet more music.
       They entertained us for two hours and then as we were leaving, a roving CBS TV crew from New York dropped in to film the couple as part of a Route 66 feature.
   We often find that it‘s the nowhere places that are worthy of a sometime visit.

Cowboys Galore 
Trail of Tears - Cowboy Museum, Oklahoma city
     Our westward journey on Route 66 from Chicago to L.A took us through the heart of cowboy country: - Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The magnificent Cowboy Museum at Oklahoma City was both enlightening, and a confirmation that the myths and legends instilled in us through films by Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood, continue to hold a fascination, even today. 
We camped in the barnyard of the Buckmaster family on one occasion. ‘It is Mr Buckmaster’s bar-night when he likes to get hicky’, said his lovely wife Colleen.
 She also told us of an English girl who had arrived in search of local Red Indian actor called Marvin Thunderball. She had seen him in the films ‘Horse Whisperer and ‘Dancing with wolves’. She had been so enamoured by him that she had come to the USA, tracked him down, wooed him and married him.  How! Brave! - Life never fails to amaze us.
These boots are made for walking
James Owen and his famous Cowboy Boots
Iyou need a pair of handsome handmade cowboy boots, then the place to go is just 60 miles south of the ghost town of Jericho, to the township of Clarendon, Texas. There, tucked away behind the old wooden storefront at the bottom of Main St, you’ll find master craftsman James Owens, and his assistant Tracy McClensky.
        For a starting price of $600, Jimmy will take an impression of your feet, and then in 2-3 months produce the ‘finest pair of boots to be found west of the Mississippi’.
       They will mould, stitch, glue and tool almost anything in leather that a rancher is likely to need, saddles, chaps, waistcoats, whips, boots, lariats etc. 
     ‘Yes sir! It sure is a long time since ah last made an etcetera, but should the call come, you can betcha Ah’ll be ready.'
Home, Home on the Range
Making Music at Patricia's home 
There is nothing like a bit of ‘good ole Texan Hospitality’, especially if it is Patricia Gardner that is doing the giving. We stumbled across Patricia halfway to nowhere along a back road of the Texas panhandle. She was directing a pheasant shoot, and explained that the bunch of 15 gung-ho rednecks shooting at anything that moved were in fact a nice group of Dallas city dudes who were college friends of her extended family of boys, and ‘Oh! By the way we are having a BBQ and making music back at the ranch tonight. Would you care to tag along and join us?’
     Her husband’s grandfather originally settled the area of Vigo Park and built the ranch house in which we helped eat a mountain of BBQ rabbit, pheasant, beef, home-baked bread, beans, and fruit pie.
    It was an evening of unabashed western songs, poetry and music from seven guitars and a host of harmonicas - a standing testimony to ‘good ol’ Texan hospitality’.
Keep them Doggies Rolling
Time for a bit of 'Neighbouring'
     A cloud of dust, far off on the deserted grasslands of northern Texas, indicated to us that some cattle were being worked. So, we broke free from Route 66, and diverted south along a cattle trail, which eventually led us to three cowboys on horseback.
       They told us they were ranchers living 18 miles from each other and were doing a spot of ‘neighbouring’. They had brought their horses along in trailers, and were helping to round up calves into a stock-pen ready for trucking to an auction.

Moon Ranch
     The treeless New Mexico plain looked ominous, snow was predicted, the last of the December sun dipped below the horizon. We needed to find somewhere safe to shelter for the night.
     The only sign of habitation was the faint twinkle of a lonesome barnyard light, two miles to the east. Betsy instinctively turned onto a dusty track leading to Moon Ranch. The rancher gave us permission to camp amongst a few cypress trees a mile behind the homestead.
'Go West' young man
Sure enough, during the night it snowed. We froze, and next morning, Betsy refused to start. But, the cavalry arrived at noon in the form of cowboy ranch-boss, Robert, and his wife Marcella, whose help and good humour gave us a welcome start to the day.


We frequently pick up pieces of never-to-be-used information. For example, did you know that ranchers often protect their sheep from coyotes by mixing a few Llamas with their flock? Or, that the old Sears Roebuck Brassiere factory at Mclean, Texas, is now the Devils Rope Museum of Barbed Wire? Not a lot of people know that.

Ain’t it the Truth
Adobe buildings in Santa Fe
     The origins of Santé Fe, New Mexico, lay with the Pueblo Indians in AD 1050, but blossomed when the Spanish came in 1598. 
     We found it blanketed with snow the day we arrived. Its reputation as a centre of artistic excellence was well deserved, and its sophisticated elegance captivated us entirely – a worthwhile 300-mile detour from Route 66.
     We were bewildered and in wonderment with the deserts and canyons of Arizona: bewildered when we came upon a huge paper mill in a treeless desert, where pre-chipped wood was shipped in by railcars from 100s of miles away. In another desert, we saw a ‘snowman’ built from tumble weed complete with a warm scarf, and in yet another, we came across hundreds of large petrified tree trunks in the sand. At a nearby diner, without a tree in sight, we met a travelling salesman selling hickory axe handles…
     We were in wonderment at a huge meteorite crater, where from its rim we could see 110 miles to the snow capped San Francisco Peaks: but most mind blowing of all, was the Grand Canyon, where sixteen feet of snow can fall on the rim, yet just a quarter of a mile away and at the bottom of the mile deep canyon, it hasn’t rained in years.

Sunset in Santa Monica
     Our journey of nostalgia was almost at an end. we had managed to stretch a two-week tour into a leisurely two-month journey of discovery.
     We finally dropped down from the San Bernardino Mountains into California and made our way to Santa Monica Beach, just in time to watch the sun as it set in a kaleidoscope of colours over the Pacific Ocean.
But the beginning of a new life for many who followed Rte 66
Take the time - make the journey – ‘Get your kicks on Route 66’.

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