A Loop of America in 14 Days

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My Idea Of The Perfect Trip – is to go with no pre-planned set destinations in mind. Just get in the car/plane/mule and start. If I had a plane, the J3 Cub would be my choice. No, as long as I am dreaming, a Stearman.

At about 500’.

Can’t speak to the ideal mule.

A few years ago my niece in Minnesota was getting married and while my family in California was making plane reservations, I was  thinking road trip.

My car that I had for 21 years was a 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E. I sold it last January for the grand sum of $400 but being a gear head, maintained it (until near the end) to such a state that I knew the status of each major component.

I drove it, despite warnings from my family that I was a ***** fool for taking “such an old car” (which ended up, at over 300,000 miles, ferrying them all around Minneapolis for various events). As to whether I am still a fool – that is still discussed.

It turned 300,000 miles going 80 MPH 60 miles east of Rawlins, WY.

To make this trip even more exciting, 3 days before I was to leave I heard from my doctor that I might have a spot of skin cancer on my back and they wanted to do a biopsy…now.

Couldn’t wait.

So they cut a chunk out of my back and with a compress bandage and stitches I set out for most parts unknown. That had a few amusing side stories with bloody motel sheets and embarrassed conversations at motel front desks (I assured one manager I wasn’t a bank robber on the run)  but I best be starting the travel story.

I drove 7,492 miles in exactly 14 days doing a mini-lap around the country, and attending a wedding in Minnesota. And that is including staying in Minnesota, Virginia ,Tennessee and Texas with family and friends.

One of the things I did want to see was Deadwood, SD and old Rt 66 (the best section, in my opinion, is through New Mexico and Arizona. The rest were decided…along the way.

So hop in and take a vicarious ride with me! Along the way we’ll see New Orleans a year after Katrina, a hotel where every movie western production company stayed for 50 years, and a genuine 20th century ghost town.

With a few things in between.

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First Stop – travelling I80 – Wells Nevada. This is along Front street, the old section from the frontier days. It is as if they just boarded things up yesterday. I80 – at least the western part – pretty much follows the route of the first transcontinental railroad.

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Off to the right, further down the road, you can see the salt flats in Utah. I just watched The World’s Fastest Indian again, about Burt Monro’s efforts in breaking the motorcycle speed record. The movie showed  the close camaraderie of those competing on the flats – all started I believe, post war by the Southern California Timing Association. Incidentally, some of the first post war speedsters were made from the drop tank of a P-38 

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With another 500 miles up the road, a momentous occasion – a birthday of sorts. Happened 60 miles east of Rawlins, WY.

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…On the way to Deadwood South Dakota from Cheyenne, Wyoming  – a route “Wild Bill” Hickok took many times. This is a typical landscape of Wyoming in the fall. BTW note the snow fences towards the right – used to trap the snow in the fierce winds.

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Deadwood, South Dakota. The larger buildings are casinos, built in the last few decades. I was a bit ambivalent about these – would have liked to see the town preserved as it was – but the locals told me without them and the revenue they bring in, the town couldn’t survive. So it is a mixed bag.

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Main Street, Deadwood. In the upper floors with the tall windows were the brothels – and now with mannikins dressed “provocatively” and looking out. Actually this is the second Deadwood – the first, made of wood, burned in 1879. This is what they rebuilt.

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Next stop, Sturgis, South Dakota. Sturgis is about 40-60 miles away from Deadwood and a nice ride if you are a biker. I was there a few weeks after the big Harley get-togetner. And I have to show you the motorcycle museum and just a bit of their collection of a couple hundred bikes.

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..In Minneapolis at the rehearsal.

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…OK, now we are in Huntington, West Virginia. I had wanted to take the ferry boat that crosses Lake Michigan but in checking the schedule they left only once per day and while I wanted to see the Dearborn Auto Museum, I had to keep going.

The picture above is at the Blenko glassworks outside Huntington, and keeping with an aviation theme.

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I think Blenko started after WW2 and they are known around the world.

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My aunt was the reason for my Huntington stop. From the time I was 12 until 18, I would go back to WV for the summers. My uncle was a  contractor. They were like a second set of parents for me, and my times there has profoundly affected my life. My aunt had a stroke about a year before my visit and despite being warned that “she wasn’t the same person” I could sense that she knew me and understood me.

We were so close for so many years.

I got to tell her how much she and my uncle meant to me in my life and with the bond that we had I could sense that she understood.

It was a depressing time when I left because I knew that would be the last time I would see her here.

Two months later she had another stroke and died.

I do believe God allowed me this time to see her.

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…and this is where my aunt, uncle and cousin lived. These were 2 cabins, from the early 1800’s, that were joined together and in the 1930s my uncle, a contractor, modernized it. My times there, growing up, were idyllic. I could shoot, ride a horse, even drive a jeep all that I wanted. Learned how to drive the jeep when I was 12.

When my uncle died my aunt asked her daughter and me if she should sell it or keep it.

It had been in the family for 200 years but to us it wasn’t the site but the memories. Had either of us chosen to live there we would just have memories –

So, it was sold.

I am sure that my uncle would have had a fit but the cost of keeping it with so many memories of the past….

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After a tearful farewell, I was off to Middleburg, VA for another bittersweet event.

BTW when I started reading Lex I feel a kinship with him. Both of our families are from Virginia – when he talked of his growing up in Alexandria I knew the feeling.

Anyway, I was stopping at Middleburg because my cousin I just described was the executor of an estate of a distant cousin. She had an office in Maryland and one evening, tired of the traffic, passed unwisely and collided with a tractor-trailer rig.

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This was her home in Middleburg – from the 1700s – (Hogday, I know by British standards this would qualify as a “recent addition”) 😉

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Here is one of the rooms – note the low ceilings

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Since my cousin allowed for my lodgings (I had a sleeping bag in her apt living room 😉 ) I took her to dinner at America’s oldest and longest (continually opened) restaurant, the Red Fox Inn & Tavern

BTW her job as executor was not much fun. So she needed a little respite.

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Middleburg is just 20-30 miles south of Washington. And ever since the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum opened their annex at Dulles Airport, I wanted to see it. A bit of history:

The main museum, on the square had/has a restoration facility in Maryland. If you were savy, you knew that if asked they would give guided tours every Wednesday. That is where you could see the overflow, such as the B29 Enola Gay. (I mean, where do you put a B29 in your downtown museum?)

For one thing for gear heads they have the best aviation engine collection I have ever seen. Since we are on a tight schedule I’ll show just a few, but they have even the Japanese-licensed engine of the Daimler-Benz DB600 series – the inverted fuel injected V12.

For another thing they have some B I G exhibits – such as the 707 prototype. Yes, the plane that Tex Johnston rolled over Lake Washington.

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This is a prototype Lycoming engine – 36 cylinders, 5,000 hp. Came out just as jets were coming along.

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Several rare WW2 German aircraft here

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From Middleburg, I went to some friends in Oakridge TN and planned the route for the rest of the trip. I had a curiosity to see new Orleans a year of so after Katrina and it was only another 800 miles out of the way so….

The above shot is on the way down – Vance, AL – the Mercedes factory. All the MLs in the world (a light Mercedes SUV) are made here. That night it was raining so hard the wipers could hardly keep the water off. But I pressed on to New Orleans.

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First thing I saw next morning in New Orleans – ate breakfast at a little diner that had just been built.

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Downtown – note the boarded up first stories – all under water.

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To tell you the truth I was a bit disappointed in the French Quarter. Of course it could be said that the French were the only ones with any sense, building their city above sea level. And the French Quarter was not damaged by Katrina.

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…but if you looked you could see it as it was…

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…one of my favorite shots – a couple having breakfast

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That morning I booked a Gray Line Tour. The tour guide was so happy to see us – saying before Katrina they ran 69 buses per day – after – 5 buses.

Most of the spray paint you see was code for the rescuers – floating by in boats. Telling others that the house had been checked for survivors.

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Entire neighborhoods were ruined. I remember going by a gated community and seeing very expensive homes. We were told you could have almost any you wanted for about $50,000 but they weren’t insurable and you couldn’t get a mortgage because of the mold.

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I am trying to remember the name of this lock – that burst and hit the 9th Ward – but you can see the force of the storm and what it did to the steel girders.

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Despite all this we stopped at a park where they had a festival of some kind. Life goes on!

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This huge shopping center was closed. One major factor was the brackish sea water hitting everything electrical – and the ground – golf courses had dead grass – for some time, I would suspect.

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This six-flags amusement park – also closed.

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I left next morning and stopped at another friend’s house in Waco, TX – a Professor at Baylor University.

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Next day on the road again – saw this in a supermarket parking lot in Vernon, TX. I doubt you would see anything like it in a typical large city.

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OK, we are in Amerillo, TX now in the Texas Panhandle. This place is touristy, schlocky, but you should see it! The Big Texan.

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…no I didn’t try to eat this. You have to eat the entire meal in an hour, I think. to get it “free”. The steak is big enough it looks like a roast.

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On the road again! As I mentioned, the best part of Rt 66 in my opinion is through New Mexico and Arizona, but I have to admit I haven’t seen the northern part.

A few years ago my car club hosted a Chicago-to-Santa Monica trip on Rt 66 – I regret not making it. People came from as far as British Columbia (one in a classic 1950s 300Sc) to do this drive.

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Interstate 40 took over most of Rt 66 – killing some towns. In some of the way you can drive on the Interstate and see Rt 66 right next to you – I had to take the old road.

Today we romanticize the road but then I am trying to envision a family on the road all day, hot, no a/c with screaming kids. And old motels with no air conditioning and a 100 degree day in the desert.

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Now if any of you are in Gallup, NM you have to stop here. From the 1920s through the 1960s most movie production companies filming westerns stayed here. I didn’t stay, but had lunch and wandered a bit.

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Upstairs at this rustic lobby are dozens of B & W photos of stars from Douglas Fairbanks to John Wayne – to Lee Remick – all signed.

They all stayed here at some time.

And the rooms are named after the stars who stayed in that room…

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Heading west…

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One thing that had my curiosity was a genuine 20th century ghost town – Amboy.

I think it was the inspiration for Pixar’s Cars and their town of Radiator Springs.

I40, visible a few miles away, killed it.

You have to drive a good 10-20 miles on old 66 to get to this ghost town.

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Here’s the school. The town died in the early 1960s, I think.

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This is the famous sight at Amboy. Roy’s Motel.

There is a caretaker here – someone bought the town and with the Rt 66 craze, trying to reopen it.

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If that motel room could talk…

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…14 days, 7,492 miles

I’d do it again tomorrow if I could…

12 Comments

Filed under Travel

12 responses to “A Loop of America in 14 Days

  1. Hogday

    Wow! I shall be re-reading this several times Bill.
    (Loved that Merc – one of the `real` ones with those rubber inserts on the bumpers. Der Panzer! Made to last).
    The most expensive can of cola I ever bought was when I rolled into Amboy on a motorcycle tour in 2003 – but in the land of the parched, the convenience store owner is King!)

    • Bill Brandt

      Hogday –

      When you are the only one for 40 miles selling cola 😉

      On the Merc – I joke with our club members – the Germans can make some of the best cars in the world – but their plastic….After about 10-15 years it gets brittle. You can’t pull apart an electrical connection without breaking it. Still, I liked that car – bank-vault solid, a nice inline 6 that combined performance and decent economy….

      For what it’s worth to get the “Rt 66 Experience” I checked into a 50s era motel (complete with flashing lights on the curtain at night) – in Flagstaff, AZ. It has one of those old wall air conditioners that rattled and made all kinds of noise at night, one electrical socket that I had to hunt to find…and the classic swayback mattress where your backside feels like its touching the floor.

      The Rt 66 experience 😉

      Stll, the El Rancho is one place with character and history

  2. Buck

    LOTS to comment on here, but this is first and foremost:

    Today we romanticize the road but then I am trying to envision a family on the road all day, hot, no a/c with screaming kids.

    That was MY family when The Ol’ Man retired from the AF in 1960 and we relocated from DeeSee to California. No AC, middle of summer, in an old ’59 Plymouth station wagon with all the windows rolled down and The Ol’ Man driving like the proverbial bat outta hell. But we kids… my sister and I… didn’t DARE scream, on pain o’ death. Or worse. I still remember that trip, albeit not too fondly.

    I made part of that trip again in ’68, from Keesler AFB to SoCal in my ’67 SS396 Chevelle… WITH AC. The gub’mint was still building the interstates then, so part of my trip was on the old road and a great deal of it was still two-lane blacktop, even at that time.

    Thanks for those mo’sickle pics. The one grouping of Brit-bikes brought back some memories, too… as I owned a 500cc Speed Twin in the early ’60s. “Lucas, Prince o’ Darkness.” 😉

    • Bill Brandt

      Thanks Buck – i think in a future post I will show most/all of that motorcycle collection. And to your trip – can you imagine what that SS396 would be worth today?

      Like my ’67 Camaro that took me 6 months to sell in 1972 …for $1,000 ;-0

  3. The German WWII jet you have a photo of–I took my teenage son to the Smithsonian restoration facility years ago (ok, he’s a 40 something father of 2 now and still very much into airplanes, he’s with Aviation Week) and we got to see the German bomber before it ever went on display. It is an Arado Blitz (Lightning) and the staff at the restoration facility was still abuzz about a group of tourists who came through and one of the tourists went totally excited when he saw the airplane. Turns out it was “his” airplane and he had the logbooks to prove it. Helped the staff with questions they didn’t have the answer to. The elderly German was so thrilled to see the jet and had no idea one even existed. Good picture.

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