The Lope: May 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

Remembering the Rock Café

Sometimes news reaches out of the computer monitor and punches you in the gut. Such was the case when I checked Route 66 News last week and read this story about the Rock Café in Stroud, Oklahoma. It was heavily damaged by fire last Tuesday, May 20, and is closed for the foreseeable future. Here's Ace with the Rock's iconic sign on July 30 of 2005.

I say "damaged" and not "destroyed" because the characteristic rock outer shell, seen here in May of 2005, remains. This lends hope that if owner Dawn Welch chooses to rebuild and does so on site, it will still have that characteristic look. The sign is also apparently safe, as is the gift shop next door. I do not know if the gift shop remains open.

The Rock Café holds was a special place to me in that it was part of my "discovery" of Route 66 around Labor Day of 2002. Sure, I was raised in Joplin, Missouri, and had been on many a road trip that included bits of 66 out west, but it wasn't until a trip the previous week that I fully understood that many of the places I knew and loved were parts of the same continuous highway.

The previous week, I had dropped my girlfriend at the Oklahoma City airport and intended to see "a bit of 66"...maybe as far as El Reno, I figured...before heading north and home to Hutchinson, Kansas.

But I was seduced. The next day I woke up in a sleazy motel in Shamrock, Texas, with a new mistress. She had long straightaways and dangerous curves - and she was made of asphalt, neon, decay and renewal. But that is another story.

The Rock Café had all of the better qualities of Route 66, as I discovered a week later when I picked the girlfriend up in Tulsa and talked her into riding with me between Tulsa and OKC - opposite the direction we needed to go - before I took her to Joplin. I just had to explore with her more of the road I'd "discovered."

The Rock Café's sign had peeling green paint on that day in September of 2002, instead of the jaunty red it would later possess. I wanted a night shot of the neon, but we were much too early.

The protruding squares on the poles were silver then. Attached to the poles were diagonal signs which read, on the west side: * Cold BEER * * Rt. 66 Souvenirs !! * Buffalo BURGERS! How could any reasonable person not want to stop? I believe it was a Sunday and the place was closed.

The front of the roof in 2002 read "Hickory Smoked Bar-B-Q" (Que?) and had a graphic of (I believe) a pig's face on it. These were gone by May of 2005. There was an Acknowledgement of Support sign in front, which mentioned the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, Stroud National Bank and various other parties. It also mentioned the cafe's listing on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation Welch had obtained for the 1939 building.

Mamie's, the café's gift shop, had not yet been added on the east side of the building.

Flash forward to May of 2005. By this time I was travelling with Ace Jackalope and, on a trip with my mom and brother, I suggested we stop for a sandwich in Stroud. Note the sign is now red and the gift shop has been added on the far (east) side of the building.

I'll miss the Rock's sandwiches. Welch really understands that food is made of texture as well as taste, and biting into one of her sandwiches was a pleasant excavation into layers of both.

I'm tossing in more pictures than I usually would. I've received a couple emails from people who want these. Once again I was too early for a night shot.

I don't know the story behind the wooden motorcycle but two years later I would meet the maker of the Route 66 map behind it, Bob Waldmire and the guy to which the tattooed arm belongs, Ron Jones. I was beginning to perceive that Route 66 had a whole subculture around it. I didn't yet know the significance of the autographed Toy Story item - more about that later.

Here's a wide shot of the counter of the café in May of 2005. I think I also shot a photo of the booths opposite. If I find it, I'll post it here. I'd really like to urge more people to photograph....well...everything around them. Whether it's a business or a city, bad stuff happens.

I revisited the Rock Café on July 30 of 2005 on a roadtrip to California with two friends. Once again I was too early to get a night shot of that great sign outside, but here's a more telephoto shot of the counter taken from the west end of the café.

For the first time, I got to meet owner Dawn Welch who held Ace for a photo. This was taken in the gift shop. An Oklahoma Route 66 Association article by Emily Priddy quotes Welch as saying of some tourists: "You have all your American weirdos doing all their American weirdo stuff." I proudly qualify.

I'm going to toss in all the pictures I shot of the café on that trip.

I do not know if the Ron Jones who did this Lincoln-like drawing is the same one with the tattoos.

Burma Shave signs rested near the outdoor fish pond. I do not know if they were original or reproductions, but they were a good decorative choice.

This "skinny cooks can't be trusted" sign was on the wall behind the counter.

A postmark map was on one of the walls.

There were quite a few signed Pixar items around, left over from, I assume, a 2001 Pixar crew trip down Route 66 to do research for a little movie that would be called "Cars."

I'd never used a bathroom there, and so had missed the fact that the whole thing is pleasantly graffitied. For a larger view, click here.

Here's where John Lasseter, founder of Pixar Studios, drew Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story. I didn't know about Cars yet, but was tickled to see the Toy Story characters.

Flash forward again, this time to April 25, 2007. I don't know who Logan is, but why would anyone who truly "rocks" write over the Lasseter stuff? Click here for a larger view.

I visited the Rock Café on March 11, 2007, and on April 25 of that same year. I'm going to mix those photos in this last section.

Here is more graffiti on the bathroom door and wall. Click here for a larger view. (April 4, 2007)

Cars had been released the previous year, and it had become well-known that Dawn Welch was the inspiration for "Sally", the Porsche character. I don't think she played this up too much, the Rock still felt very much like a working café and not a Hollywood-linked tourist attraction. This is laudable; I can think of a few business owners who really would have overdone the connection, to the detriment of the innate character the business already possessed. (March 11, 2007)

(photo: April 25, 2007)

From the interview by Emily Priddy: "Welch bought the Rock Café in 1993. Her plan was to stay in Stroud for a year, build up the business, then sell the restaurant at a profit....The Rock Café turned out to be so much fun that one year turned into ten."

Dialog from Cars:
Lightning McQueen: "After a while, why didn't you go back?"
Sally: "I fell in love." (referring to Radiator Springs and Route 66)

A bulletin board held notes from the Pixar crew. Wanna read what they all wrote? Click here for a legible version. (April 25, 2007)

My waitress on that trip walks past a memorabilia case. (March 11, 2007)

Funny how you never see Ace wanting to pose with male servers, isn't it? (March 11, 2007)

This view shows the patio area, outside the west door of the café. On that day, March 3, 2007, I was again too early for a night shot.

I don't remember if this plaque was in the cafe or the gift shop. (March 11, 2007)

And on April 25, 2007 - my last visit to the Rock Café - I finally got that neon shot I'd wanted.

We at the would like to convey our fondest wishes to Dawn Welch and her family. No matter if she re-opens the Rock or not, she enhanced many a local's night out and a tourist's road trip.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Williamsville Illinois Veterans Memorial on Route 66

This Memorial Day, I am reminded of a July 2008 Route 66 trip during which we passed this Veterans Memorial in Williamsville, Illinois. This was during a nocturnal dash from Lincoln to Springfield; I may see more of Illinois Route 66 in late June, if I attend the Official Route 66 Festival in Litchfield.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thunderbolt and Lightning - Very, Very Frightening, Me

Some rather scary storms boiled across Kansas last night. (picture at 1:51 AM)

We were not visited by a tornado in Hutchinson, although some were reported to the west of us. We did have an anxious warning siren sound tracked half-hour or so when clouds containing rotation hurried toward us, only to peter out and become a wind and rain event by the time they arrived.

"Rain event" - remember when meteorologists started using "event" that way, seemingly all at once? They must issue internal memos on these things. (picture at 1:53AM)

I did hear a report of 85mph winds in the city, and saw a few branches down afterward. (picture at 2:20AM; the lightning was moving to the east so I panned to follow it)

At this time I do not know how much damage occurred in the state.

I do know that lightning is cool, however. Now, watch me go back and delete that sentence if I hear today that lightning killed someone. (picture at 2:33AM)

All of these pictures were shot after the front of the system had moved through. All are 30 second exposures at f:3.5. ISO was set at 200 for the first two in order to show detail in the houses as a ground reference point, but I was having some trouble with overexposure in the sky so I moved the ISO to 100 after that. They are not color-corrected...I'm not even sure what color lightning really is. These are views of the 900 block of East Avenue A, facing south and then south-east. (picture at 2:33AM, a detail from the one above)

Cool Old Truck Show

The American Truck Historical Society National Truck Show and Convention concludes today (Saturday, May 24) at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson. I'm not into cars or trucks as such, but as objects that carry the styles of their times, their retro rating is pretty high.

Some of the trucks even brought their own cars. Doesn't this thing look like a huge Tonka toy?

There are a few hundred trucks of diverse age and manufacture in attendance.

Go see them. It's free.

I just hope they fared well in the storms last night.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Crystal Skulls and Space Wanderers

I've never done a movie review, but I just saw a midnight showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and it ties in rather well to book reading given by novelist Max McCoy at the Hutchinson (Kansas) Public Library last month.

Why am I reminded of McCoy? Because among his varied accomplishments (investigative reporter, screenwriter, independent filmmaker) is his introduction of a crystal skull into the Indian Jones franchise via his four Indiana Jones novels: Indiana Jones and the Philosopher's Stone, Indiana Jones and the Dinosaur Eggs, Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth and Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Sphinx. Which brings me to...

My review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (no serious spoilers):

Yeah, it was good - not as energetic as Raiders of the Lost Ark, much better than Temple of Doom (the seemingly obligatory cute kid movie of the series) and not as witty as the Sean Connery-enhanced Last Crusade.

Harrison Ford is rather low-key much of the time, but an older Jones might not be credible if he played it like a young man. He's more the reasonable man annoyed by the circumstances into which he is cast than he is the action hero for the first part of the film.

That being said, it's a fun two hours of the sort of action you expect from the franchise, multiple chases, ticked-off natives, archaeological practices that'll make anyone familiar with the science cringe more than the inevitable creepy-crawlies will. There's a somewhat predictable ending, but it's a good ride getting there.

We get to see the warehouse again - you know the one.

Fans of retro space-age culture will enjoy parts of the 1957 setting, including a brief glimpse of an Atomic Cafe sign that may or may not be a tip of the hat to the documentary of the same name. There's also Indiana's brief voyage into a late 50's household that isn't what it first seems. The kitchen even has retro product placement.

If you want to impress your friends, read up on crystal skulls - particularly the Mitchell-Hedges one - which the characters mention. Wikipedia has a decent summery, but has more depth. And those of us who read Chariots of the Gods at an impressionable age will enjoy seeing some of the sites mentioned, even if you later realized von Däniken was really reaching.

One scene might give "I Like Ike" buttons a brief spike in popularity.

Oh yeah. Karen Allen is still cute.

And in a case of "isn't that weird?" or maybe just smart programming, one of the Family Guy episodes Cartoon Network showed last night ended with a scene in the warehouse. You know the one.

Which brings me back to Max McCoy and an interesting insight he gave his audience on the process of writing novels around an established and well-guarded character.

McCoy mentioned a white book containing George Lucas' views on Indiana Jones - his past and future - a sort of writers guide by which he had to abide.

"This white book", I asked him, "is it kept in a crate in a huge warehouse?"

"Yes" He replied "And it's being studied by top men."

Ace poses with Max McCoy.

In addition to McCoy's just-published novel, I, Quantrill, he is working on Strangely Heavy: A True Story of Passion and Rivalry in the Meteorite Fields of Kansas, from which he read a draft of the first chapter.

The Kansas state motto is Ad Astra per Aspera - Latin for "to the stars through difficulties." How proper that some really choice stars - falling ones, anyway - came to Kansas. Of course, falling stars are meteors, or meteorites if they reach the ground, and Kansas has a whole field of them, courtesy of the atmospheric breakup of a large stony-iron meteor which sent pieces shotgunning into the ground near Greensburg about 10,000 years ago.

The most famous of these is Greensburg's former "World's Largest Pallasite Meteorite" (seen here with Ace in 2006), a tourist attraction of the town which is not currently on display, owing to its building having been blown away - literally - in the May 4, 2007 tornado. The 1,000 pound meteorite has a name: "space wanderer."

This close-up of the space wanderer shows the structure of a pallasite meteorite - an iron-nickel matrix containing bits of olivine.

The structure of a pallasite meteorite is clearer in this cross section of a small specimen shown by McCoy at his Hutchinson appearance.

Pallasite is even fashioned into jewelry, as seen in this work for sale at Greensburg's temporary Big Well gift shop earlier this month.

In late 2006, professional meteorite hunter (and a subject of McCoy's book) Steve Arnold, found a 1,400 pound pallasite meteorite, also near Greensburg and part of the original mass that broke up in the atmosphere over Kansas 10,000 years ago. It now holds claim to the title of world's largest pallasite meteorite.

This particular meteorite is referred to as "oriented" because it stayed in one position during its atmospheric journey, as seen by the curved surface, which resembles the heat shield of a space craft.

I shot these photos in August of 2007 when the meteorite was on display in Kansas City's Union Station.

It was actually the second time I'd seen it. Here it is on display at Hutchinson's Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in July of 2006. It had red accent lighting, though I think this would have been better on the top, indicating the heat shield effect.

From red to green - McCoy also discussed the catalytic effect of Superman's Kryptonite on public awareness of meteorites. Here's a piece of movie serial prop Kryptonite in the Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois, earlier this year. We'll feature more of the museum in a story on the 50th anniversary of Superman's debut in Action Comics, later this year.

And from one hero to another: I always enjoy cruising the Kansas State Fair for the latest not-quite-licensed copyrighted pop culture properties. Among the inflatable spidermen and stuffed Stewies this thinly disguised Indiana Jones has decorated the side of a carnival ride the past few years.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Full Moon

Beware the Werelope.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 22)

Ace heard there's trouble at the old Dutch mill. He's a little late, as the crisis occurred over 53 years ago when this windmill partially burned, but the outside has been fixed up just fine.

When life hands you a back lit subject, see if it isn't suitable for a silhouette.

Here's the whole thing. That small wheel behind is a tail wheel, designed to keep the mill facing into the wind. According to a plaque nearby, the windmill is over 125 years old, but is not at its original location.

"Trouble at t' of the flayrod's gone out of skew on treadle" is a bit of Monty Python dialog that is hard-wired into my brain. That's not a clue; I just hoped that typing it would clear it from my head. It didn't work.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot - Where is Ace Jackalope?

(Cumbres and Lisa T. have answered this correctly. Click the comments if you want to see, or make your own guess. Comments will not automatically display with this post unless it is called up on its own separate URL.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

I'm very fortunate to have a mother who has always instilled a love of travel.

These last few years, My brother, my best friend and/or I have driven my mom on trips from Joplin to see her brother and sister-in-law in Phoenix. Ace found his western persona - and half of his wardrobe - on the Route 66 portions of such trips. Here's mom at one of her favorite places on the route, La Posada, in May of 2005.

When my brother and I were teenagers in the 1970s and the Phoenix relatives lived in Denver, mom would let us take every exit off I-70 to check out the railroad acton at the local grain elevator. I took my very first picture - a polaroid, no less - on one of those trips in 1975.

Oh, this is also La Posada - March of 2007.

I think this is the "haven't you already shot me here?" look.

This year, my uncle passed away and Arizona was a sad trip. Fortunately, it is our nature to revel in a few moments of pleasant discovery; this was one of them.

Mom gives thumbs-up to the Circle RB Guest Lodge in Mesa, Arizona, a well-preserved 1949 motor court.

My Cousin David has photo of her, taken a bit before the others on this page. How utterly retro.

The "you're not going to shoot one more angle of this old tourist trap?" look. This was during a stop at Meteor City. Hey, there's always one more angle or juxtaposition, ya know?

Ah, now this makes her happy. A thread of comforting continuity on our Arizona trips is dinner at La Posada. (February, 2008).

We are at least part what our parents made us, and I lucked out in that regard.

Thanks Mom, for allowing Goodland, Hays and Salina to be places of dusty magic where Rock Island streamliners and Union Pacific GP30s basked in their sunsets....and for not screaming when I needed (needed, I tell ya!) one more shot of Two Guns...or Twin Arrows...or The Jackrabbit Trading Post...or...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Anxiety Season

Hello from Hutchinson, Kansas. Theses are the clouds to the north of me as of about 90 minutes ago. There is a storm coming.

One year ago today I stood in the middle of Greensburg, KS, acutely reminded that while nature may not hate us, it sure as heck is dispassionate.

As I have begun of late to appreciate, the houses in my neighborhood range from Victorian through Arts and Crafts, with a smidge of Tudor Revival thrown in.

But right now, I'm trying to shake the realization that burned into me a year ago tonight when I returned to the non-desolated world outside the path of the thing that took Greensburg:

This is what houses look like before they come apart.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo 2008 in Hutchinson, Kansas

Hutchinson Kansas held its annual Cinco de Mayo festival this past weekend. I have often heard that this is the Mexican Independence Day. It isn't - that's actually September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is more of a celebration of Mexican culture, and seems to be a bigger deal in the U.S. than in most of Mexico itself. I hadn't shot Cinco de Mayo since 2006, when I ran one picture of three girls in dresses. As sort as that post was, it is hit often.

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses were in town for several functions, including an appearance downtown for the festival. I know little of horses, but I can tell these are big.

The one on the left was restless and tossed his head a lot.

The horses were gathered for a short pass down Avenue B and then a brief trot down Main street. I liked seeing the hooves against the bricks on Avenue B.

I wondered what this would sound like, so I shot a short video. It's short and simple, but I like the audio:

Main Street was blocked-off to traffic between Avenues A and B. Tony Flores, owner of the Mexican Restaurant on that block, the Anchor Inn, watches the festivities.

The "Anchor", as locals call it, debuted its recently completed repairs. In 2006, the top front of the center building of the three that comprise the restaurant had pulled away and collapsed. Nobody had been injured, but proper restoration took some time.

Here's the affected section on February 2, 2006, soon after the damage occurred. See more, here.

And here it is today.

I've always liked the range of color available in the northern section of the restaurant. It's a big place, having grown and taken over two adjacent buildings - sort of a Mexican restaurant manifest destiny.

I am enamored of ceiling tiles these last couple years. Here are some of the Anchor's, lit by the "Bienvenidos" (welcome) sign.

This mural above one of the doors commemorates Cinco de Mayo - the 5th of May - on which date in 1862, Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín defeated French forces in the Battle of Puebla. This only delayed the French, and they took Mexico City a year later. Tides turn, however, and the French were eventually ousted in 1867.

There was dancing on the blocked-off Main Street.

The band Picante played music for the evening street dance. The huge building in the background is the Wiley Building, an endangered building and the subject of current controversy in Hutchinson. As I saw this photo on the viewfinder, I realized how different our downtown would look without it.

As evening fell, the King and Queen of Cinco de Mayo were crowned. The King was Tanner Flores and the Queen was Alyssa Hill.

Hill addresses her subjects.

As the night wore on, folks hung out in the streets talking and doing that small Town people-watch thing. This is the east side of Main Street.

This is the west side of Main.

As we meandered home, a Styrofoam Pillsbury dough boy waved from an antique store. And a good time was had by all.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Does Greensburg's Hunter Drug Soda Fountain Survive?

It's been almost a year since the town of Greensburg, Kansas was destroyed by a tornado. A few days afterward, I was sent into Greensburg by Land Line Magazine.

I checked on the beloved soda fountain I documented in a post called Remembering Greensburg.

I saw it was damaged, but looked (to me) still salvageable.

I documented this in Greensburg Before and After.

Since then, I have enquired about the fate of the fountain, knowing that the site upon which it once stood is now completely cleared. Having failed to reach its owners, I've heard several versions of its fate, ranging from "hauled away with rubble" to "safely in storage."

This week, with national attention again on Greensburg for the one-year anniversary of the tornado, and with readership of my previous Greensburg posts peaking, I'm hoping one of you can tell me, via comment or email (, what happened to this wondrous icon.


Here's a list of my Greensburg posts so far; there will be more shortly:
Remembering Greensburg
Greensburg Before and After
Greensburg "After" - Downtown
Greensburg "After" - Highway 54
Subsequently, many of my photos of the town were used on CNN and