The Lope: August 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

Roadside Attractions

We're in a book, Ace and I...well, mostly Ace.

With Roadside Attractions: Cool Cafés, Souvenir Stands, Route 66 Relics, & Other Road Trip Fun, experienced travel authors Brian and Sarah Butko have created the book that I hope and believe will mainstream them into book stores from... I started to say "sea to shining sea."

But "from Astroland to Gatorama and the Madonna Inn to the Oregon Vortex" would be more appropriate. I estimate the book contains information on roughly 350 off-beat meccas for those of us to whom the term "tourist trap" carries no negative connotation.

And it is of tourist traps I often dream...and so do you, I bet.

Some books are good mostly for dreaming as the wonders they portray are largely gone. Sven Kirsten's The Book Of Tiki and Alan Hess' Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture fall into that category as they instill wanderlust for meccas that are largely lost to us. It is a special brand of sweetest longing. Increasingly, since it hasn't been updated since 1992, the venerable (and much beloved) New Roadside America inches into this category as more of its attractions disappear. This has been noted in a very insightful review over at Route 66 News.

And this brings me to what I call the "wishbook factor" - the degree to which reading a travel book reminds me of perusing the Sears Christmas Catalog "Wishbooks" when I was a kid. We had quite a few Sears Wishbooks from previous years back then, and my friends and I would pine for that Marx playset or G.I. Joe space capsule no longer manufactured.

Great subculture books, be they about travel, tiki, googie or toys, have a high wishbook factor. You really luck out as a reader when a travel book with such a high factor happens to be about stuff we can still see.

And that's what the Butko's have delivered with Roadside Attractions. With the exception of some places mentioned in "fan favorite" sidebars, the stuff is still there.

Ah yes, the Fan Favorite sidebars...

Scattered through the book are sidebars written by various travel and roadside architecture authors and such. What karmic pay-off placed us in their company, I'll never know. Ace's sidebar is on page 112. The picture is from our visit to the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, California. The friend quoted is Patsy Terrell.

I'm particularly happy that some of the other commentators are folks whose works have informed and entertained me as I plan my own travels. Among them:

Doug Kirby, Ken Smith and Mike Wilkins, authors of New Roadside America and editors of, write about Bayou Bob's Rattlesnake Ranch. The name kind of says it all.

Alan Hess, author of Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture, learned that "architecture was much more than a physical structure" from giant oranges.

Photographer John Margolies and writer Maria Reidelbach are two-thirds of the team that put together one of my favorite wish books, Miniature Golf. It's the only book I have that is bound with AstroTurf.

Margolies admires the "best darned trained bear show" of New Hampshire's Clark's Trading Post. Reidelbach instills hunger for Homestead, Florida's Fruit and Spice Park, where you can "nosh your way through" treats offered by 500 varieties of plants. webmaster Debra Jane Seltzer, with whom I enjoy trading notes on fiberglass and sputniky wonders, laments for the "unforgivably demolished" Trade Winds Restaurant of Oxnard, California - a tiki attraction.

Bill Griffith, cartoonist of Zippy the Pinhead, admires the "art, surrealism and fine dining" of the Top Dog mobile hot dog stand. (I'd really like to discuss my theory with Zippy - that giant sputnik balls are actually transmitters beaming data collected by muffler men to an alien headquarters hidden in the Encounter Lounge - Zippy would believe me; I know he would.)

On a more Earthly plane, three of the commentators are folks I met this summer at the National Route 66 Festival.

Jerry McClanahan, author of Route 66: EZ66 Guide for Travelers, shares his family's quasi-mythological "Lost Snake Pit."

Jim Ross, author of Oklahoma Route 66, walks us through family memories of a dude ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Shellee Graham, author of Tales From the Coral Court: Photos & Stories from a Lost Route 66 Landmark remembers a treasured tourist trap tomahawk from a childhood trip to Ogallala, Nebraska.

The book is well indexed and contains a list of applicable websites and other contact information in back. Speaking of which, we need to get back to reading and planning trips.

Touristic Nirvanas don't photograph themselves, you know.

Ace Jackalope wonders how much butter he'll need for the Corn Palace.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

To See Her Again

(schedule updated Sept 4)

Union Pacific's steam locomotive #844, seen here in Salina, KS, last April, will be on the move again September 3 - 23. The locomotive will be pulling the "Oklahoma Centennial Sooner Rocket" in celebration of Oklahoma's 100th birthday and will make stops at employee sites. It may also be on display to the general public in cities listed in the schedule at the bottom of this post; check your local news agency for specifics.

Here's another shot from Salina last year. The locomotive will follow a different path this time; it won't cross Kansas east to west as it did last year, and her north-south course will be over different track, most of the way.

Rides will not be available to the general public. This run is for invited employees, customers, teachers, students, emergency responders and military personnel. However, the train will be viewable, of course, from many public areas along its route. 844's path will include this track under the highway 77 overpass near Herington, as it did last May. Union Pacific reports on their website that "The territory south of Herington is new to UP Steam and has not seen a steam locomotive since 1949."

Alas, the train will not go from Herington to Hutchinson (above) to Pratt as it did last year.

I published four posts on my little love affair with the 1944 vintage steam engine:

See a lot of steam engine bits in 844.

See the interiors of vintage passenger cars when the train stops in Claremore, Oklahoma in 844 Returns.

See what it's like up in the cab in 844: Riding the Iron Horse.

Ride from Coffeyville to Kansas City in Goodbye, 844; 'Til We Meet Again.

I'm not sure we'll have time this year, but I do urge those of you in 844's path to go out and see it, especially if you've not seen a live steam engine before.

And the thing is alive, I tell ya.

Here's a brief clip of the locomotive at rest; it is dynamic, even then.

Steam locomotives like 844 need a lot of water and stop for it regularly; they also need frequent lubrication. This accounts for some of the brief stops in its schedule.

If you seek 844, please be careful and don't do anything your surviving friends and relatives will regret. Trains can't stop very fast and have a tendency to really mess up cars and drivers who try to beat them over intersections. It's not a good way to die, and it might scratch the locomotive. Find a spot with a good view, and don't get too close to the tracks.

Here's a clip of 844 in Hutchinson, Kansas, last May 3. The movie is way too long, as I started it and then moved to my still-shooting position. I promise, the train eventually does show up. If I obtain some editing software, I'll shorten it.

Also, on stretches where the tracks run alongside the road, you may see strings of cars jockeying for the position parallel to the locomotive. This works marginally well as long as everyone is careful and not selfish, but that is often not the case.

Union Pacific has a GPS tracking page, so you can see where the locomotive is. I've used it before and it's handy, despite its sometimes awkward pan/zoom controls.

I've copied the revised schedule from the Union Pacific website (it changed on Sept 4), but as always, you should go to the link for the schedule before you plan on a trip to see 844 as there could be more changes. I should also note from personal experience that the train may be early or late to any point along its path; plan a wide swath of time to see it. Note that the locomotive will cross Route 66 at El Reno twice, for those of you who like trains and the Mother Road.

Sept 3, 8:00 AM - Depart Cheyenne WY for North Platte, NE

Sept 4, 8:00 AM - Depart North Platte for Fairbury NE

Wednesday Sept 5, Fairbury, NE to Herington, KS
8:00 Depart Fairbury
8:45 Arrive Marysville
9:00 Depart Marysville
10:30 Arrive Menoken
11:00 Depart Menoken
11:15 Arrive Topeka
11:45 Depart Topeka
2:30 Arrive Herington - Hope Industrial Lead

Thursday Sept 6, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM - Herington Layover and display

Friday Sept 7, Herington to Wichita, KS
9:00 Depart Herington
9:45 Arrive Marion
10:25 Depart Marion
10:45 Arrive Peabody
11:15 Depart Peabody
11:45 Arrive Whitewater
12:15 Depart Whitewater
1:30 Arrive Wichita - Railroad Museum

Saturday Sept 8, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM - Wichita Layover and display

Sunday Sept 9, Wichita to Enid, OK
8:00 Depart Wichita
9:15 Arrive Wellington
9:45 Depart Wellington
10:30 Arrive Caldwell
11:00 Depart Caldwell
11:45 Arrive Medford
12:15 Depart Medford
1:30 Arrive Enid - Old Depot
(The Wellington Daily News reports that 844's stop in Caldwell will be at US 81 and Arapahoe Street)

Monday Sept 10, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM - Enid Layover and display

Tuesday Sept 11, Enid to El Reno, OK
8:00 Depart Enid
8:45 Arrive Hennessey
9:15 Depart Hennessey
10:30 Arrive Kingfisher
11:00 Depart Kingfisher
12:00 Arrive El Reno - Track 033

Wednesday Sept 12, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM - El Reno Layover and display
(Metro Family Magazine reports that 844 will be on display at the former Rock Island depot, which is now the Canadian County Historical Museum.)

Thursday Sept 13, El Reno to Waurika, OK
8:00 Depart El Reno
9:30 Arrive Chickasha
10:00 Depart Chickasha
11:30 Arrive Duncan
12:15 Depart Duncan
1:15 Arrive Waurika - at WJWT RR Connection

Friday Sept 14, Waurika to Chico to Lone Star to Chico to Waurika
8:00 Depart Waurika
10:00 Arrive Chico
10:30 Depart Chico
10:40 Arrive Lone Star
11:00 Depart Lone Star
11:15 Arrive Chico
11:30 Depart Chico
1:00 Arrive Waurika - at WJWT RR Connection

Saturday Sept 15, Waurika, OK to Chickasha
8:00 Depart Waurika
9:00 Arrive Duncan
9:30 Depart Duncan
11:00 Arrive Chickasha - Old Depot

Sunday Sept 16, Layover and display in Chickasha - 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Monday Sept 17, Chickasha to Enid
8:00 Depart Chickasha
9:30 Arrive El Reno
10:00 Depart El Reno
10:45 Arrive Kingfisher
11:15 Depart Kingfisher
12:00 Arrive Hennessey
12:30 Depart Hennessey
1:15 Arrive Enid
(The Wellington Daily News reports that 844 will stop this day in Caldwell, KS at US 81 and Arapahoe Street at 7 p.m. This is in conflict with the UP's posted schedule; If I find out which is correct, I'll enter the information here.)

Tuesday Sept 18, Enid to Wichita
8:00 Depart Enid
9:15 Arrive Medford
9:45 Depart Medford
10:30 Arrive Caldwell
11:00 Depart Caldwell
11:45 Arrive Wellington
12:15 Depart Wellington
1:00 Arrive Wichita - Railroad Museum

Wednesday Sept 19, Wichita to Topeka
8:00 Depart Wichita
9:45 Arrive Whitewater
10:15 Depart Whitewater
10:45 Arrive Peabody
11:15 Depart Peabody
11:45 Arrive Marion
12:15 Depart Marion
1:00 Arrive Herington
1:30 Depart Herington
3:30 Arrive Topeka - Old Santa Fe Main at East Topeka

Thursday Sept 20, Layover and display in Topeka - 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Friday Sept 21, Topeka to Hastings
8:00 Depart Topeka
8:30 Arrive Menoken Jct.
9:00 Depart Menoken Jct.
10:30 Arrive Marysville
11:00 Depart Marysville
1:30 Arrive Hastings - Track 008

Saturday Sept 22, Hastings to North Platte
8:00 Depart Hastings
11:30 Arrive North Platte

Sunday Sept 23, North Platte to Cheyenne
9:00(Central) Depart North Platte
11:30 Arrive Sidney
12:01 Depart Sidney
3:00 Arrive Cheyenne
Sept 24, 8:00 AM - Depart North Platte for Cheyenne

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Like the (Crimson) Moon

Last night many of us were treated to a total eclipse of the moon. Read about it in Of course, I had to stay up and shoot it.

3:03 AM - The eclipse has not yet begun.

3:38 AM - The tell-tale darkening at top. Already, contrast and exposure choices influence just how eclipsed the moon looks.

4:06 AM - This is the point at which I always wonder how freaked out various civilizations may have been during eclipses. At the same time, I think we've lost something in living so insulated from the sky.

4:34 AM - It's noticeably darker outside now. Neighborhood dogs were barking like crazy. I'd love to attribute that to the eclipse, but it may have been due to people walking outside to see it.

4:43 AM - Not yet fully eclipsed, exposure for the darkened part burns out the remaining sunlit portion, leaving the moon looking like a red egg in an egg cup.

4:49 AM - Exposure for sunlight shows the last remaining spot of sunlit moon.

4:50 AM - Just a moment away from totality, the light hitting the moon varies greatly in color balance.

5:31 AM - Well into totality, the moon is in Earth's shadow and mainly red light is able to reach the moon. Camera exposures are now a balancing act between the noise of higher ISOs and the blur of lower shutter speeds. I think this one is ISO 200 and 2 seconds. It's a bit underexposed, but a contrast adjustment in Photoshop helped.

6:24 AM - Pre-dawn twilight has arrived and I'm about to lose sight of the moon in my neighborhood of mature trees and tall houses. It strikes me as looking like an alien planet with a polar ice cap.

6:46 AM - The sun would not rise until 6:57, nor the moon set until 7:04, but the moon had already disappeared behind trees in the city. This is a view from a break in the trees during a drive south of Hutchinson. It would be sharper had I stopped and used the tripod, but by this point I had what I wanted, and I was kind of fond of the blurred trees.

Technical Stuff

First off, I'm not an expert at astronomical photography, far from it. I'm just someone who like so many of you, has a camera marginally capable of enabling some fun with astronomical events.

I used my Sony DSC-H2 (my fifth one in less than a year) on a big heavy 1950's era tripod. I'm a fan of such tripods for non-travel use. Even still, you can get a bit of camera motion if the camera strap or a hanging lens cap catches the wind. This is especially true in places like Kansas, so I usually wrap them around the handle of the tripod head.

The camera was set at its maximum zoom (a 35mm equivalent of about 320mm), metering was "spot", white balance was set at sunlight and focus was on manual at infinity. The ISO was 100 at first, as the full moon is a sunlit object and shutter speeds are quite high. Shutter speeds fell as the eclipse neared totality and the aperture stayed at its maximum of 3.7 for those shots. During totality, I also tried various ISOs and bracketed (tried lots of settings) a lot. Shutter speeds ranged from 2-8 seconds, though all speeds yielded some blur. There are devices that prevent blur by turning a camera with the position of objects in the sky, but I've never invested in one.

I stayed in town (Hutchinson, KS) to shoot these as the city light pollution would not be much of a problem and I'd recently hung out all night north of town to see a meteor shower.

I kept thinking of an odd song: all night long...I couldn't get Joel Veitch's We Like the Moon off my mind. We Like the Moon, yes we do. And having a transparent, breathable atmosphere is also pretty cool.

Do lunar eclipses confuse werewolves and werelopes? That's what I want to know.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wheeling Out

It's a thing of beauty, is it not?

The Wheel Inn of Sedalia, Missouri is the car-hopped stuff of road-trippy dreams.

A place where lovers woo over the same local cuisine their parents woofed down while listening to that new rock-n-roll.

After all, the Wheel Inn has been here since 1947. And it looks it by being genuine, without the use of fake retro decor.

The U-shaped counter, the stools, the checkered's almost too good to be true.

Alas, it won't be true much longer. The Wheel Inn is going out of business permanently on September 3.

The state of Missouri is widening the corner of busy highway 50 (W Broadway Blvd) in front of the Wheel Inn, where it intersects highway 65 (S Limit Avenue). Here's a story in the Sedalia Democrat. Apparently, trucks that serve the local big-box stores have trouble negotiating the current corner.

The project will not require demolishing the building, but here's the problem: The road project will take the parking lot almost up to the back ends of these cars. There won't be enough room for cars to drive around other parked cars.

This would leave parking only on the sides and back. This would not seem to me to be an insurmountable problem, but there's more.

Because concrete median will be added at the intersection, the only approach would be from the side, and only with a right turn into the attrited parking lot.

I called the Wheel Inn for clarification on their closing. I knew it was a family place when the young man who answered the phone shouted "Grandma!" when I asked to speak to the owner.

I then spoke briefly with Pat Brandkamp who, with her husband John, owns the Wheel Inn. I asked her about the possibility of staying open under these circumstances. She said "it's just not feasible." John Brandkamp retired in 2006 after working at the Wheel Inn for 46 years. The couple have owned the business for 20 years and Mrs. Brandkamp is also of retirement age.

The Wheel Inn's claim to fame is the "Guber Burger" or "Guberburger", depending on whether you are looking at the sign or the menu.

The Guberburger is a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, mayo...and peanut butter. That's the peanut butter oozing out of the edges. Here's a review at

Everyone I've told about Guberburgers has said something to effect of "what?!" But I must say, it was good. And I could tell they were the local favorite because I overheard practically every other customer ordering them. Here's another review at Serious Eats.

Our server took orders for about two dozen of them during the hour we were there; the chili seemed to be a second favorite.

To help the servers keep it all straight, letters are assigned to the various customer stations, though some are practically worn off. You can see G, H and K here.

She mentioned that the owners had been offered as much as $5,000 for the neon wheel sign. There's an auction poster displayed in the restaurant, but the sign is not listed. The rim of the wheel is constantly lit; the spokes chase clockwise. The fate of the building has not been announced as far as I know. Although the Brandkamps own the business, Jack and Ruth Ann Hawkins own the building.

Our server described offers she'd heard for this wheel as "insane."

Just north of the Wheel Inn is the slightly photogenic Valley View car wash.

And if you like neon, a bit to the south of Wheel Inn is the Missouri State Fairgrounds.

I've been trying to remember to shoot these marginal-quality movies on my digital camera when motion is involved in a subject.

This one must have gotten on a list somewhere, as it garnered about 150 views in the 12 hours after I posted it to You Tube the other night, as opposed to the other one which got only 4 views.

As we drove away and I saw the Wheel Inn recede in the distance, I really felt for the folks that frequent this place. Another one bites the dust for progress. You know, nobody is ever going to say "that's one heck of a beautifully wide intersection."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bela Lugosi's Dead

October 20, 1882 - August 16, 1956

White on white
translucent black capes
Back on the rack
Bela Lugosi's dead
The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi's dead

- lyric excerpt from "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus

Although yesterday was the anniversary of Elvis' death, I found myself in more of a Dracula mood. Maybe the intense heat of this summer has me longing for Fall and, by close connection, Halloween and all of its attendant movie-watching. Or maybe it is because I've been taking morning walks in a cemetery. Whatever the case, I wanted to salute Bela, undead these 51 years and a day.

Undead in the sense that the image of the count which he brought us through Tod Browning's 1931 "Dracula" is hard-wired into our cultural subconscious, whether it be on Count Chocula boxes or Pepsi ads. I should mention that there once was a bit of friction between the Lugosi estate and Universal Studios, which is one reason many Universal-licenced Draculas (can I say "Draculae"?) don't look like Lugosi.

Haunted Trails miniature golf on Route 66 in Joliet, Illinois, features a Dracula that looks like Lugosi filtered through Eddie Munster.

Ghostly pedestrians time exposed past the El Capitan theatre in Hollywood two years ago. I made sure I shot the El Capitan because, decades ago, it was the site of a fund-raiser held for Lugosi, hospitalized to kick a pain-killer habit at the time. He is credited with being the first high-profile case of a celebrity admitting to a prescription pain-killer habit and seeking treatment. Too bad Elvis didn't do that.

The occasion of the fund-raiser was the premier of the Ed Wood film, "Bride of the Monster", according to a very enjoyable column from the LA Times. Yes, Bela had done some pretty bad movies in his post-Dracula days. Only Son of Frankenstein, The Raven and The Black Cat stick out in my memory as watchable.

Despite the deliciously menacing role as Igor in Son of Frankenstein, he just never got away from the type-casting of Dracula, a role he seems to have cemented by being buried, at his request, in his Dracula cape. One little tidbit I've read in multiple sources was an account by Vincent Price of attending Bela's funeral with Peter Lorre. According to Price, Lorre, when viewing the body quipped, "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart just in case?"

My own familiarity with the actor stems from countless Friday nights spent staying up way too late (what were my parents thinking?) all alone, fixed in my chair with cathode ray super glue watching "Dimension 16", the local Friday night double-feature on Joplin's channel 16 (sponsored by Watt's Paint - 35 years later and I remember that..advertising works).

Of course, readings several years of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" didn't hurt, either. And for a few years my favorite book was "A Pictorial History of Horror Movies" by Dennis Gifford, from which the two Bela as Dracula images on this page were scanned.

Although Christopher Lee became Britain's Dracula, he reportedly wore one of Bela's rings in the role. I'd love to see some documentation on that.

We, the children of Dimension 16 and all the late night horror shows salute you in our own ways.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elvis in the Women's Restroom

Though Elvis Presley left the building 30 years ago today, his idealized form lingers - pervasive and sometimes too profuse - in many of our roadside diners and such.

Nowhere will you find more Elvae per square foot (E/ft²) than the Polk-a-Dot drive-in in Braidwood, Illinois.

The Polk-a-Dot is a fine little place to stop for a burger and a pop, and I do recommend it. It advertises that it has been here since 1956, and the outside drive-in part looks it. According to their website the business started in a school bus painted in rainbow polka dots which had a very small kitchen inside.

The grounds are decked out with some nice bits.

The place is right along Route 66.

And, it was popular with the locals when we were there in July of last year.

In fact, it was one of the locals that, noticing we were tourists (ya think the EZ Guide and the cameras gave us away?), insisted we see the women's restroom, behind the "Pink Ladies" door. Pink Ladies is a "Grease" reference, by the way; I had to be told of that.

My lovely significant other performed the mission of checking out the ladies' loo, and took along a camera.

The large picture in this frame looks at the toilet. I really should have called this post "King in the throne room."

I would think this might make some women nervous.

Wanna guess what's in the men's restroom?

Yup, Marilyn Monroe.

She's outside too, along with James Dean and Betty Boop.

Now, The Blues Brothers I can understand. Quite a bit of the movie was filmed in these parts, so they have local significance.

But here's my misgiving. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Elvis, Marilyn or the rest of those ill-fated icons. I just think they're a bit overdone, especially in places that don't need to borrow from the Presley charisma bank in order to be cool, but do so anyway to the dilution of their innate character.

I wish that some of these places, particularly the genuinely older ones, showed off more of their history. In the case of the Polk-a-Dot, what about a few photos of that school bus?

Some places, like the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield Missouri on Route 66, have a probable genuine connection to Presley. According to their website, on May 16 of 1956 Elvis was spotted at the Gillioz Theatre after sneaking away between his matinee and evening performances at the nearby Shrine Mosque. You can see an Elvis-inspired performance by Matt Lewis there this weekend, by the way.

Although it's another place way too decked out in nostalgia stuff, The Summit Inn at Cajon Pass along California Route 66 has earned the king, in that he was reportedly actually there...for a minute or so, anyway.

According to an article by Amy Lifson for The National Endowment for the Humanities, "75 Years of Route 66", Summit waitress Hilda Fish said:

"Elvis only came in here one time. I started to wait on him and we had the juke box right in the center. When he came in he just stopped to look at the juke box first and put his stuff on the table and then he didn’t see any of his records on there. I don’t know why ’cause we always had ’em on there, but I think the Beatles were very popular then. He got mad and left."

Tulsa's recently demolished Metro Diner was not even built before Elvis died, but featured he and his cohorts as part of its decor.

A bust of Elvis hangs out at Bradbury-Bishop Deli in Webb City, Missouri. They actually have quite a bit of Elvis/Marilyn/James stuff.

Mannequin Elvis looks comfortable in Seligman, Arizona.

There are always Elvae on Hollywood Boulevard.

Albuquerque's Route 66 Diner is another post-Elvis-mortum establishment that's fully retroed. Note the Marilyn standee.

And that brings me to a suggestion for anyone starting or reviving a business, especially one along a tourist corridor like Route 66. How about a Marilyn Moratorium - or a temporary evading of Elvis? Be more individualistic and creative; acknowledge the 50's and that period's icons if you're going for nostalgia, but make sure the heritage of your own unique area shines through.

I can understand the use of stock posters if a place has no history, like the canned decor at the suburban Applebees, above.

Examples of this abound. How many diners have you seen that featured the ubiquitous posters of Elvis, Marilyn and James Dean hanging around some cool location? In reality, would they really get along? I doubt it. It' not really them, anyway...more of a cafeteria perception of their personalities.

The most common of these posters is Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Gottfried Helnwein, a take-off of the Edward Hopper painting, Nighthawks.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams places a cheery Elvis serving Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart inside Hopper's moody diner. The problem is, it's derivative and overused; everytime I see it, I think of the shallowing of America. I've found it in half a dozen places around the country that were old and didn't need cloned charisma. (link to Boulevard of Broken Dreams at

Incidentally, if you want to kick off or conclude a Route 66 trip with a great piece of art, Hopper's Nighhawks is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago near the eastern end of the route.

I can't finish without throwing in a sign pertinent to Elvis - Sun Records in Memphis, shot in early September of 2001.

And if you're in the neighborhood, check out the sign for Walker Radiator Works. I didn't see it at night, but you can tell the lights chase down the radiator and the neon "drips".

A couple of personal experiences with the fringes of Elvis subculture:

Elvis of the Truckers

Twenty-five or so years ago at the Virginia Street flea market in Joplin, Missouri, I saw a black velvet wall hanging which portrayed the ghost of Elvis pushing a man out of harm's way at a truck stop. It appeared to be the black velvet sequel to "Jesus of the Truckers", a similar hanging with a much older savior.

I was thinking "who buys this stuff?", when a man beside me turned to a women - his wife I presume - and said in a choked voice: "He was the King, Martha."

Elvis is Alive and Well

About 20 years ago I was travelling with Patsy Terrell when we stopped at an Elvis-themed cafe and gift shop near St. Louis, Missouri. It was affiliated with the Elvis is Alive Museum. The proprietor, Bill Beeny, has long contended that Elvis is alive and will talk your ear off telling you of secret FBI files, a fake funeral and even a fake Lisa Marie (the real one is in Sweeden).

He has friends and followers. While we were there, several came to eat at his snack bar. There was apparently a ritual salutation involved:

Bill Beeny: "How are you today?"
newcomer: "Elvis is alive and well."

This repeated several times with his regulars as Patsy and I tried to avoid eye contact with each other lest we lose our composure.

I bet those guys would love the Polk-a-Dot.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Carousel Park Miniature Golf

Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the site of this year's PGA Championship. As Ace just happened to have a shirt for Southern Hills, we decided to go golfing this weekend.

We won't see Tiger Woods where we're going. The only tiger is on the front of a kiddie coaster.

No posh and wussy links for us; we like a little peril with our golf.

No caddies or golf carts either. This is real man's golf - the kind where you have to face 'gators. To satisfy the primal urge for miniature golf this particular weekend, we chose Carousel Park on Route 66 (West 7th Street) just outside the western city limits of Joplin, Missouri. It's just as well, 'cause I'm not entirely sure I could get into a country club, even with Ace.

Of course, we don't need no stinkin' country club when we can visit one of my favorite mass-manufactured mini-golf obstacles: the play-through alligator. I don't know who made these or what they were called. I'm pretty sure they've been around since at least 1970 and that there are knock-off versions.

It lacks the satisfying sound of metal obstacles, but it's always nice to see the ball come out the tail.

There are a number of fiberglass animals on this course. A manager told me that many came from a defunct course in Tulsa along Admiral. Most are decorative and not obstacles though.

Tiger Woods may be the uber-golfer, but lets see him putt a hole-in-one into the dreaded volcano hole.

This particular hole has destroyed my under-par score a number of times.

This course is quite old - 1960's at least - and has had a few names, a few owners, a period of neglect and subsequent extensive remodeling. The semi-difficult wheel hole is original, I'm pretty sure.

Lets see those PGA big boys avoid these "water traps."

I'm an old fashioned guy. If it ain't got a lighthouse or a windmill, it ain't a miniature golf course.

One of my favorite Simpsons lines is from a miniature golf episode. Bart to Lisa: "you've actually found a practical use for geometry!"

A previous incarnation of this course had a slight mining theme; this may be a vestige of that.

Before "Carousel Park," this course was "Route 66 Carousel Park." There's Route 66 signage on one of the two courses; It looks and reads like artist Bob Waldmire's work.

This is one of the few virtually unaltered holdovers from the oldest version of this course. When I was a kid, the place was called "Above Par" miniature golf. It was the not-as-favored competitor to H&L miniature golf a few blocks south on 13th street. However, H&L is long gone.

The two-holer outhouse is a classic, even if this particular one is not all that old.

I've never been fond of these heads; they mess with my tendency to rationalize how something could really work. At least it's actually an obstacle.

All the steroids in the world won't help you pitch a no-hitter against this swinging bat over the hole.

Just remember, no obscene jesters. Carousel park also has go carts, kiddie rides and batting cages, but we always just zero-in on the golf.

I ran photos of a metal loop at Route 66 Miniature Golf in Clinton, Oklahoma back in June. Here's a short movie of the one (identical except for paint) at Carousel Park in Joplin. Park Manager Monica Burlingame helped me out by pitching a few to illustrate the sound it makes.

And again...I love these things.

I'd sure like to know how many vintage (let's say over 30 years old) miniature golf courses there are on Route 66...anyone care to comment and we can start a list? I know of this one and of Route 66 Miniature Golf in Clinton, OK.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Perseid Meteor Shower this Weekend

I have none of my meteor pictures handy to post, but I'd hate for anyone to miss the show. The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks Sunday night/Monday morning and we're favored this year by a new moon. There's a good chance of seeing more than the usual amount of meteors tonight (Saturday) and early Sunday morning too. Read more at this NASA page.

Grab a blanket or a lounge chair...better yet grab several and some friends and go outside! It's cooler at night, you know.

Here are two star exposures from slides I shot in about 1980. There are no meteors in them, but if you have a camera capable of time exposures, you might want to try this sort of thing and, this weekend, you might well get lucky and have a meteor cross the area you're shooting:

The area in the center that seems not to move (of course, everything is moving, but that's another story) is Polaris, the North Star. These were done on Ektachrome 200; I'd love to see what a good digital could do these days.

Because you have to focus at infinity for the stars and meteors, any ground object you use in the shot, like this tree, may be out of focus a bit. It's a trade-off, as are most things in photography: a narrower aperture will get you more depth of field and a sharper foreground...but will decrease the chances of getting the less-bright parts of a meteor tail.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Beyond the Fields we Know

Madella Dunn 1929-2007

Madella was an artist and a friend. For many years, she and her husband, Marvin, who passed in 2004, were very generous in allowing my family and I to roam their land in Oklahoma.

Although I had spent much time there as a child, it was my teenage years and my early 20's that I remember most fondly. This was a time when I roamed, virtually awestruck, over their land and learned to use a camera to record a glimpse, however inadequate, of what I could see and feel there.

The unforgiving Kodachrome's 25 and 64 taught me that there are many flavors of sunlight.

And I saw colors shout and whisper as I have not seen since, except perhaps in the hues of New Mexico. I used to show these slides to Madella, holding them up to the sunlight. She'd squint and tell me something about the history of the land that I didn't know.

I'm not a morning person, but I'd stay up all night, hike to adjacent lands, and await the dawn, listening to the shift-change of nocturnal to diurnal. In doing so I learned with absolute certainty that if there is a god, it is nature itself...

...and that light is its gift to us. During the early 1980's, we were favored with significant volcanic activity around the globe, the upshot of which was that we had spectacular sunset skies due to the absorption of colors other than red by the fine ash in the upper atmosphere. This is actually looking south, not west. There was that much red.

This is one of two cabins we once owned on Marvin and Madella's land. By the time of this photograph, it was long-abandoned and an add-on screened porch and back room had been removed.

Even in its long, slow demise, the cabin was beautiful. Madella painted, and I occasionally gave her a picture to work from. I considered it quite a complement.

Damselflies flit like fairies around the creek, which is fitting since they live for awhile as nymphs in the water.

The water. The water was the life. Revered by us but occasionally poisoned by industry upstream, it would always recover. Once in a while, as in 1993, it would rise up and remind us that what is beautiful can also be terrible.

I used to capture this snapping turtle every year throughout the late 70's and early 80's, just long enough to photograph it. It must have seemed to the turtle like an alien abduction. The poor thing had lost its tail in some previous incident, so I always knew it was the same one. I owned only a standard 50mm lens when I shot this, but I could reverse it and get a makeshift macro.

The snapper lived under this bridge, which was replaced awhile back. I haven't seen the tail-less turtle in over two decades, so I hope he'd moved on before the significant disturbance the bridge replacement caused.

Here's Madella with the new bridge in the background. She was watching my girlfriend gather rocks for a jewelry display just last year. She was amused by us; but then, she usually was. More importantly, she never let me forget that there was magic in the Earth beneath our feet.

Fossils! The chert underlying the area is a Paleozoic deathbed of sea animals that expired 354 to 290 million years ago when Oklahoma was actually south of the equator.

Everything dies, but there is also renewal.

And, like fossils, some people make an impression.

We'll miss you, Madella.

About the title of this post: Lord Dunsany (1878–1957) was a writer who believed that just beyond this mortal land, there is a realm of magic "beyond the fields we know."

Madella believed much the same thing. On some days - be those days wistful or wise I do not know - I believe they could not have been more right.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

CNN Again

We've gone and done it again. We're on, this time in a little story about the first anniversary of their I-Report program.

While Ace Jackalope is pictured, I'm not. In fact, it's the very picture above, taken at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona.

Mind you, I sent them pictures of me, too. But as is usual, the Lope gets the face time.

Isn't it enough that he usually gets the chicks?

(Ace with Christiane Amanpour and Nicole Saidi, now that'd be a photo.)

"I've lost faith in the nation's largest news-gathering organization" - my brother, Steve

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Kit-Cat Klock Catalyst for Kicks

on Route 66

The world's largest Kit-Cat clock (6 ft, 3 in) has been touring the area we happen to be in the the last couple days. One must photograph with the world's largest anything, so Ace Jackalope and I checked it out. By the way, the manufacturer does sometimes call them Kit-Cat Klocks on their website, with a "K" in Klock. However, I'll promise not to from now on.

The clock was part of Great All American Road Show, a tour of Route 66 and environs by the California Clock Company which makes the animated clocks. The tour started June 21 at the company's factory in Santa Monica, California, and is scheduled to run through September 3. Santa Monica holds the western terminus of Route 66; "Being a 66 company, we wanted to do something with 66", said Young. The tour's published schedule does make a few deviations from the route, like Branson, MO, and Eureka Springs, AR, but sticks pretty much to the Mother Road.

Company President Woody Young drives the tour's signature vehicle, a rebuilt 1932 Ford deuce coup roadster, through the portico of Laurel Richards Kane's renovated 1930's Afton Station in Afton Oklahoma on Route 66 this past Thursday.

Afton Station is quite an impressive project, and will be the subject of a later post.

Young says he chose the roadster as the tour's show vehicle because, like the Kit-Cat clock, it is 75 years old.

The 75th anniversary of the clock was the catalyst for the tour, which, not coincidentally, is scheduled to last 75 days.

The last time I saw this model of car, it truly was only a model in the California Route 66 Museum.

When I asked Young for a brief interview, he didn't have trouble finding something to say about Route 66: "We've been promoting Route 66 and all the fantastic things along the route - the interesting things and the nice people that make the route go to each city, and see the city, or town or community in its fullness. In other words, we didn't just want to just drive real quick through the town and say, Ahh!, there's a nice little icon..."

You can cruise the main drag of Afton in less than a minute without breaking the speed limit. Here, the car passes the long-gone Palmer Hotel.

"...No, we stopped and we took pictures and we looked the town over and we looked at as many different places to go as possible and we've been doing that each step of the way and trying to take in every museum along the way as well as every special gasoline station or cafe that makes it really unique, and of course all the car displays as well."

"We've really enjoyed it. this has been just a fantastic time and I'd recommend it to anybody who'd like to really do something adventurous. This was the route to take. They will find so many unique individual things to do; in other words, what you do in California is different in Arizona, is different in New Mexico, is different from Texas. It's different when you get Oklahoma, different when you get to Kansas and Missouri and Illinois. They're all on the same route but they're all different."

Young fondly recalled a college spring break trip in 1962 when he and some friends drove Route 66 from St Louis to Santa Monica as well as a lawn mower race he saw just this past week in El Reno Oklahoma.

Friday the tour stopped in Webb City Missouri, again on Route 66. Young helps Ace sit on the cat's shoulder. Ace wears red in honor of Webb City where the color predominates because of civic pride in its high school mascot, the Cardinal.

Local Kit-Cat enthusiast Kathy Sizenstricker had Young autograph the back of her yellow Kit-Cat clock. It's an electric model, as opposed to battery-operated which means it dates at least as far back as 1990. She bought it 5 years ago at an auction and had a new motor installed so she could use it on her office wall.

You know all the debates about what we'd pay for stuff if so much manufacturing wasn't outsourced to foreign countries? Well, these kitties ain't cheap: A new Kit-Cat clock will set you back 35 to 70 bucks, depending on size and decoration. The standard model is $40 and there's a Route 66 edition at $50. However, Young says that they are entirely American-made.

Woody, holding Kathy's Kit-Cat clock, poses with Rod Harsh of nearby Carterville's Route 66 Visitor's Welcome Center and Gift Shop Friday night at Webb City's Bradbury-Bishop Deli on Route 66. The visitor's center and the deli will likely be subjects of future posts. Speaking of the future, I asked Young if sales of the clock spiked when it appeared in motion pictures or on TV. He said that it certainly did, and pointed out a big sales increase coinciding with a scene in Back to the Future when a Kit-Cat clock was prominent.

Kit-Cat clocks have been in the news a bit this year. Felix the Cat Productions, the current owner of silent film era cartoon icon Felix the cat, has brought a lawsuit against Woody's California Clock Company for infringing on its copyright of the black and white cat.

I find oddities on both sides of this conflict. The Felix people waited 75 years to decide to bring legal action, and the Kit-Cat folks tempted fate by briefly calling their product a "Felix clock" right before the lawsuit was filed. As to the outcome, Young was confident as he lounged on a soda fountain stool at Bradbury-Bishop Deli on Friday: "they'll get nothing from this...they have nothing to put a hat on."

And what does the world's largest Kit-cat clock look and sound like in motion?

Here ya go! The clock is fiberglass and was built by California Clocks' graphics guy, Dennis McLain, who is on the tour along with Dave Yoder.

The clock is mounted on a swing-out panel in the trailer that carries the roadster when not in use. Young says he'll likely donate the clock to the Smithsonian Institution.

And just in case your real cat likes videos of things moving, here's a tail for you.

I do so love good ole' American kitsch. Now, if I can just photograph the world's largest lava lamp, that used to be in Times Square.

Update: Speaking of big cool stuff in Times Square, Woody Young told me tonight at a car gathering that the Yellow Tail wine company of Australia plans to exhibit an even larger Kit-Cat clock as an advertisement in Times Square in NYC, starting in October. Young says the clock will be nine feet tall and will have a yellow tail. Looking at the Yellow Tail website (actually, the company prints it "[yellow tail]"), I wonder if they aren't going to sculpt a variant that's based on the yellow-footed rock wallaby, an animal they say roams their vineyards.

Young also said that in addition to the one in NYC, there will be three other Yellow Tail Kit-Cat clocks used as public advertisements in LA, Chicago and San Francisco. Those are the terminal cities for Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway...sounds like additional road trip perkage to me.