The Lope: June 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Goodbye, Montana

Montana, the iconic Illinois rabbit and diplomat for Route 66, passed away night before last of natural causes associated with old age.

Montana made her home at Henry's Rabbit Ranch and was most often seen in the company of proprietor Rich Henry.

See more of Montana at home, here.

A few weeks ago, Montana joined Ace in the Presidential race. He is disheartened at the loss of his most worthy opponent and is left only with less-interesting candidates who think opposable thumbs are "all that."

Ace and I were able to pay Montana a visit just this past Saturday, but though she made a valiant attempt to be sociable, she was obviously tired.

We'll miss knowing Montana is at her desk autographing (biting) cards for visitors.

Never a more regal bunny have we met.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 23)

In a place named for the moon, Ace admires a heavenly visage. Perhaps she is a reminder of the ladies that are said to have worked on the second floor of this 1924-vintage Route 66 cafe decades ago.

Where is Ace Jackalope?

(Lisa T. has 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.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ace in Maxim?

Not exactly. But Maxim is running a photo they found on this blog. No, not this cover girl; it was a photo of a miniature golf obstacle.

On page 80-something of the June Maxim, the magazine ran one of my photos under a block of text describing a miniature golf course in Pennsylvania.

However, the photo was shot at Route 66 Carousel Park in Joplin, MO.

I also worked for Land Line magazine again last month (for the June issue) updating the status of tornado-ravaged Greensburg, KS, and its efforts to rebuild "green." I'll have more pictures from that on the blog, when I can get to them.

Of the two magazines, the word "naked" is on the cover of the one with businessmen in suits instead of the skimpy model. That's just not right.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Megaliths - Summer Solstice 2008

Summer took the Midwest United States today at 6:59 Central Daylight Time.

This is the full moon rising over Rolla, Missouri's version of Stonehenge, along Route 66 this past Wednesday night. Read about Rolla and their Stonehenge, here.

The six points radiating from the over-exposed moon are a result of the way the aperture in this particular camera is formed. The more closed the aperture is, the more dramatic the effect. This is f:8, which I used to get depth of field and keep the monument and the grass in focus.

I'm not crazy about the star point effect myself; there are filters with which you can have this deliberately, but I've always thought it a cliched effect that draws attention to itself and away from the subject. The moon is overexposed, by the way, because, being lit by the sun, it should be shot with the same setting you use for broad daylight instead of the longer exposure used for the monument, which is illuminated by street lights.

When I didn't need the depth of field to hold monument and grass in focus, I was able to use a wider aperture (2.8), do away with the star points and and got a more natural, rounded (albeit still overexposed) moon.

The real Stonehenge is actually a bit more weathered than its Rolla doppelganger. (1991 photo)

And on another windswept plain, a continent away, we have our own megaliths.
(grain elevator near Severance Street in Hutchinson, Kansas, April 2, 2008)

As always when beneath the full moon, beware the werelope.

2008 Route 66 Festival Begins

Somewhere southwest of Staunton, Illinois, a full moon-lit cloudscape passed behind one of that state's copious (and handy) Route 66 directional signs. It was 1:55AM Thursday morning and I was on my way to the Official Route 66 Festival '08 in Litchfield, which runs through Sunday.

The festival hosts summits for the various state Route 66 organizations, an artists and authors expo and an awards banquet. As much as that, it serves as a social network point for Route 66 aficionados. As seems to be its pattern, the national festival is attached to a local festival, which in this case is Litchfield's 5th Annual Classic Car Festival.

From my room at the Hampton Inn, Thursday dawned over Litchfield (population 6,815 at the 2000 census). In researching the city, I found out it has a 24-hr webcam, the smallest city I've ever seen that has one.

As much as I prefer to see the road from a blue highway motel room (and get one whenever I can), I have to admit that the view of a green Midwestern landscape with (dare I say it?) an interstate running through it - in this case, I-55 - evokes childhood memories of family vacation motel stays beside I-44 and I-70. Yeah; I just lost a bunch of readers with that admission.

Thursday was the day of a Route 66 summit of the various state associations and interested parties. On the way to the afternoon session, I ran across an unfamiliar railroad paint scheme on a repowered first generation diesel. This looks to be a General Motors Electro-Motive Division (GM EMD) GP-7 that was turned into a GP-10. As such, it would have been manufactured in LaGrange, IL. The water tower behind informs travelers that Litchfield is home to the Purple Panthers.

The locomotive is owned by Respondek Railroad Corporation, a supplier of contract rail switching. The RR Picture Archive website shows that number 604 was originally owned by the Rock Island.

Outside Litchfield's Lincolnland Community College, where the summit was held, I was reminded of the weekend's upcoming car show by the presence of this cool old blue Chevy. The licence plate holder references the Polk-a-Dot Drive-in in Braidwood, Illinois.

Ahh...I don't know cars, but I know what I like.

If you're interested in the summit, check out the Route 66 News summery of a report by Peter Stork of the Route 66 Yahoo Group. Here, Route 66 movers and shakers Michael Wallis and Jim Conkle discuss the creation of a new national Route 66 organization with a few dozen attendees. This was also discussed last year, but more specifics were brought up this time.

Route 66 has appeal far beyond the borders of the eight states through which it runs. Ace poses with Canadian Route 66 Association president Bonnie Game and George Game, webmaster. (This is why you should always have a Mountie uniform tucked away in the trunk.)

A nice little Litchfield Route 66 sight is the old sign for "Vic" Suhling - Gas for Less.

After the summit, a reception was held at the Ariston Cafe, built as such in 1935 and expanded a bit since. The business is even older than the building. Read its history, here.

Ace was provided a free Route 66 Yahoo Group name tag by event coordinator Mike Ward.

When I saw Ward in his pin-festooned jacket, I had a momentary thought of a metal detector screaming.

Inside, the Ariston shows the nicer features of an old cafe, like these wooden booths with coat hangers between...

...and this counter.

I'll have to ask about the age of this neon clock later in the weekend.

British tourists Bill and Aida Dalton of Stockton-On-Tees, England, walked into the Ariston and asked an employee if anyone there knew anything about Route 66. They were shown to the reception of summit attendees and given a hearty welcome. Ace changed into one of his British shirts to honor them.

Even the back of the Ariston has neon signage.

After the summit, I drove around a bit. I believe Niehaus Cycle Sales is a newer building as their website says they've been in business over 35 years, but I liked the art deco style of it. The Route 66 shields painted in town aren't bad, either.

I came back at dusk for a taste of neon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Look Back at the 2007 National Route 66 Festival

As the 2006 Route 66 Preservation Foundation's Official Route 66 Festival '08 begins today in Litchfield, Illinois, I am reminded of all the neat people I met last year when the festival was in Clinton, Oklahoma. Here is some information on the most recent festival for those thinking of going this year, and a set of memories for those who attended in 2007.

Route 66 caresses the hills east of Clinton, Oklahoma. Amid the sounds of crickets and frogs, one can hear the jake brakes of trucks on nearby I-40, as they drop out of warp speed to go into the town.

We were in Clinton in June, 2007 for the National Route 66 Festival, a meeting of various state Route 66 officials, authors, artists, bloggers and just plain dedicated tourists...and a good excuse for a party in this town of about 8,500. All in all, it was a great cross-section of people who enjoyed travel on the Mother Road enough to come from as far away as Belgium and Australia to meet others of the same passion. I'll introduce you to a few of them.

You might think that the name "National Route 66 Festival" would imply the existence of a strong national organization; I did. There is one, the National Historic Route 66 Federation, "The nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Route 66 across the country", but after a laudable series of accomplishments for preservation, the federation has attrited its efforts.

After a summit of the various organizations from states through which the Mother Road passes, the idea of a new national organization may have gained steam. Here, Wallis speaks at the meeting. Read more at Route 66 News. Perhaps a day or so into the 2008 festival, there'll be more news.

Swa Frantzen, Route 66 enthusiast and native of Belgium, made the point that the lack of a central organization for Route 66 is confusing for some Europeans.

Frantzen, webmaster of, is a pioneer, having started the first big Route 66 website back in 1994 when the Internet was something only your most nerdy friends had, and generally only at their offices. Yahoo did an nice interview with him here. Behind him, you can see Clinton's Frisco Center, where most indoor festival activities took place. By the way, that's Bob Waldmire's van in the background.

At the Artists and Authors Expo inside the Frisco Center were a number of authors of books of which I've grown rather fond. I was able to meet Jerry McClanahan, author of Route 66: EZ66 Guide for Travelers.

This is the map book I've used for Route 66 since my Illinois trip in 2006. I like it so much that I have two copies - one that I keep in the car for actual travel and another by the computer for figuring out where I've been.

McClanahan decorated my much used and abused EZ Guide with his character, "Rootie." he also paints; there's a nice yahoo video of him talking about his artwork here.

And maps are important. The banner on Frisco Street in front of S&D Drug states "You're on Historic Route 66", but you aren't.

However, wandering off the path has its rewards, such as enjoying a fine malt at the drug store's lunch counter and soda fountain with a nice lady. Darla Upchurch worked at S&D drug in the fountain back in 1950-51, when it was at a previous location. It moved to its current spot in 1987. Dig the sparkly upholstery. Employees of the store told me the booths dated to 50s or 60s.

I've always considered the grill cheese sandwich to be the yardstick of a lunch counter. Thus, I respect the store's retired grill.

Back at the Frisco Center, I met Russell Olsen, photographer of Route 66 Lost & Found: Ruins and Relics Revisited and Route 66 Lost & Found: Ruins and Relics Revisited, Volume 2.

The state of Oklahoma tourism folks had a nice display, featuring one of my favorite motel signs, the Skyliner in Stroud.

Drew Knowles, of the website, Route 66 University and author of Route 66 Adventure Handbook: Updated and Expanded Third Edition (Route 66 Series).

Not everything worthy of note on Route 66 is old. Jessica Acock is Marketing Manager for Pops convenience store.

The googie-style convenience store was under construction in Arcadia, OK at the time and has since opened. It features a giant pop bottle out front. Here it is last year on April 26.

Speaking of pop, Scott Cameron, President of Route 66 Sodas and his son, Matt, passed through Clinton twice during the festival while delivering their wares.

We enjoyed some of their product last year at Funk's Grove, IL.

Rod Harsh of, based in Carterville, MO, was shooting a documentary on the festival.

Harsh has opened a Route 66 visitor center in Carterville, MO, and advocates for more and better Route 66 directional signage in southwest Missouri.

Acting editor of the magazine, Route 66 Pulse, Bill Gates (left) interviewed me and ran the story here. It was a pleasure to meet Gates and his wife Bobbie Reed.

And now, another little "aside" of Clinton Oklahoma, the Howe Motors muffler man . I believe this is the only Indian version of the muffler man that is on Route 66. I asked owner David Howe if there had ever been any criticism of the huge fiberglass stereotype. He said that, somewhat to his surprise, there hadn't.

I know that muffler men have many fans (me, for one), so there are more pictures here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Clinton also has the adaptively re-used Redland Theatre. See a bit more of the landscape around the town, here.

And now, back to people I met at the 2007 festival..

Jan Howard Finder (a.k.a. Wombat) of the blog It Comes From Albany is an interesting fellow. He sums up his interest in Route 66: "It is never too late to have a happy childhood."

Aside from his interest in Route 66, he organized symposiums on J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth in 1969 and 1971. The papers presented at those occasions resulted in the book, A Tolkien Compass.

I remember reading it in the late 70's and found my yellowed copy for this scan.

On a different literary note, observe the cover art for "Love-starved and lonely she drove." Time was that 60 cents would buy you some Route 66 "literature" to enjoy in those isolated motel rooms. Actually, memorabilia exhibitor Joe Sonderman of Hazelwood, MO says he's read "Nude on Route 66" and it's no spicier than a modern romance novel.

Husband and wife Ron Warnick and Emily Priddy share a passion for Route 66. I'd previously met Priddy a couple weeks prior at Riverton. It has been my pleasure to contribute photos and information to Warnick's Route 66 News website on occasion. Personally, I can't see leaving on any Route 66 trip without checking his site for the latest news of whatever my destination might be.

I asked Priddy how she came to be involved with Route 66 and she wrote "I fell in love with Route 66 about eight years ago, when my husband and I -- both roadside kitsch junkies -- made a pilgrimage to the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Mo., as part of our ongoing effort to visit the Seven Wonders of Roadside America. We got a set of HERE IT IS! maps and took the old road from the St. Louis area -- where we lived at the time -- to northeastern Oklahoma. Eight miles west of Rolla, on a dead-end alignment of 66 that paralleled I-44, I got my first glimpse of John's Modern Cabins and promptly fell in love with Route 66. We've been traveling, photographing, promoting, and trying to preserve the road ever since. Our love of 66 eventually led us to Tulsa, where we moved into a house six blocks off the road. I currently work for the Red Fork Main Street program -- which promotes the Route 66 corridor in southwest Tulsa -- during the week. On weekends, I cruise 66 to Stroud to flip burgers and chicken-fried steak at the historic Rock Cafe." (The Rock Cafe recently burned)

Here's Priddy, scraping paint on the former Ray's Motel on Route 66 in Clinton. She helped organize a face lift for the structure as part of a workshop during the festival. The woman has more roles than I can keep count of, including author of "Route 66 for Kids". It seems that a good portion of the time I google a Route 66 restoration project, her name pops up. Read part of her account of the Ray's project, here.

Ace pitched in with a scraper. Photographer Lonnie Powers shot this for the official event photography studio, Blunck's Photography. I bought a few photos, as I've shot a lot of special events myself and found their prices quite reasonable.

Here's Ray's, after most of the scraping but before the painting.

A view of Ray's that same day, from across Route 66.

Two days later, it's been completely repainted and pretty much immune from being called an eyesore. Time has been bought for another fading Route 66 motel building.

Bob Waldmire, Carol Duncan, Emily Priddy and Ron Warnick pose at the finished project. Duncan, an officer with the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, is the person who found Ray's as a preservation project for the festival.

I was readying Ace for a photo when an attractive Australian woman saw me and exclaimed "you're that guy!" I was very flattered. Kathryn Sloan of Sydney, Australia was on vacation with her husband, Darren. She'd actually commented on my blog before, and is keeping quite an entertaining log of her own trip at Gettin' My Kicks.

She gave Ace a sample of Vegemite and a little clip-on koala (obviously a travelling Australian ambassador). I haven't opened the Vegemite. It's too cool a souvenir to consume just yet.

David Wickline, the photographer behind Images of 66, made this model of the Cadillac Ranch. I understand that for the 2008 festival in Litchfield, IL, he is showing a model of the arrows from the Twin Arrows Trading post in Arizona. I'm looking very forward to seeing that.

Ace wrote his name on a tire.

Some folks prefer a more personal canvas.

While some people cover Route 66, the Mother Road virtually covers Ron Jones.

I'd actually seen a photo of this tattoo at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, OK, a couple years ago.

Pop Hicks was a long-time institution in Clinton. Alas, it burned down a few years ago. For more info on Ron Jones, see this page at Legends of America

Friday night there was an awards banquet. The very elegant Joy Avery (left) is the granddaughter of Cyrus Avery, a man so instrumental in the creation of the mother road as to be called the "Father of Route 66."

Instead of looking for someone I knew, I decided to mix it up a bit and see if I'd meet anyone new and interesting. I did, and it was rewarding. I was seated with Manoj Patel, whose parents, Jagedish and Ramila, bought the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, CA.

They won the Cyrus Avery award at the 2005 Route 66 Festival because of their dramatic restoration of the place. I stayed there in 2005 and would do so again quite happily.

I asked Manoj for a few words about his family's involvement with the Rialto Wigwam Motel and here's what he said: "My parents knew about the motel for years and of how it was mismanaged. We live very close the motel, my parents operate an tiny 7 unit motel, which is more like a home for us now. My Dad met the Wigwam Motel owner at a convention, where he asked him about the sale of the motel. He was thinking of selling so my Dad offered him an amount and the owner accepted. He has now passed on, but his son I believe is handling some of his other businesses. The owner at the time neglected the property and so did family who was leasing the motel at the time.

Route 66 kind of came into the picture later on, we knew that it had some historic value. I grew up in the area and have memories of riding my bicycle down Foothill Blvd. I’d pass the Wigwam Motel on to the Orange Bowl, where I’d play arcades. I always thought of the Wigwam Motel as being something normal, since it was something that I grew up near. I’ve come to learn that it is something that you’ll never see anywhere else, except for in Holbrook, AZ or Cave City, KY. I did some internet searches as the motel was going through it’s renovations to learn about Route 66, the Wigwam Motels and contacted the 2 California 66 groups. That’s how the 66 stuff all started for me

I was hoping Manoj would buy the nearby Glancy Motel in Clinton. It's a beautiful property in need of renovation. In any event, I can't wait to see what the Patel family buys next; we need more motel owners like them.

The Glancy was eventually bought by Jay Patel and Sam Patel. Read about it in Route 66 News. See, I told you that site was useful.

Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road (currently available as Route 66: The Mother Road 75th Anniversary Edition) gave the keynote "State of the Road" speech.

The aforementioned Rod Harsh recorded it and offers it on his website.

Delbert and Ruth Trew (left and center) of McLean, Texas, won the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Trews are personal heroes of mine for their role is saving the recently-downed rattlesnake sign along Texas Route 66. They plan to display it in McLean.

Here it is on March 24 of 2007. (I passed it again in late February of 2008, and it looked much the same)

And here's what it looked like before the storm.

They brought the "R" to raffle off as a fund-raiser. The winner donated the letter back to them; good for them.

Tulsa author Marian Clark won "Person of the Year." She is co-author (with Wallis) of The Route 66 Cookbook: Comfort Food from the Mother Road and Hogs On 66: Best Feed and Hangouts for Roadtrips on Route 66.

Photographer Shellee Graham moves like a 6-volt toy hooked up to a 12-volt car battery. The last time I had this much trouble keeping something in the viewfinder, it had wings and drank nectar from flowers.

Apparently, Shellee Graham can stand still, but it's like watching a sports car idling at a stop light.

I think Ace would have run off with her if I didn't have all his stuff in the trunk of my car.

The history of the late, great Coral Court Motel (a place of architectural beauty and colorful repute) is Graham's specialty. She's the author of Tales From the Coral Court: Photos & Stories from a Lost Route 66 Landmark, photographer of the postcard book "Return to Route 66" and co-creator of the documentary, "Built for Speed: The Coral Court Motel." I believe she was also largely responsible for part of the Coral Court being saved for the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.

Read more about it on her Coral Court page. I find her collection of quotes about the place to be both sad and amusing.

Graham was running around with Jim Ross who would have seemed pretty hyper all by himself, had Graham not been there for comparison.

Ross is the author of Oklahoma Route 66, a guide I've used and recommend. I remember Ross fondly from a 2002 when my lovely significant other and I were using his guide on a short Oklahoma trek. We literally ran across him in Arcadia when we looked up from reading a description of his house and saw it, with him, in his driveway. He signed my book at that time, and answered a couple questions; it was one of many serendipitous episodes I've experienced on Route 66; the road seems to be a charm for me.

Graham got into shooting Ace with Ross.

We will never speak of this again.

Patty Ambrose (left), Executive Director of the Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project was on hand to issue an invitation for people to attend the 2008 National Route 66 Festival, which gets underway today (June 18-22, 2008) in Litchfield, IL.

Here she is with Ace and her husband, Dave. The couple runs a rare enterprise - a family-owned, award winning weekly newspaper in Central Illinois called the South County News.

Litchfield - site of the 2008 festival

"And where exactly is Litchfield, IL?", you might ask. Why use Mapquest when we can consult Bob Waldmire's van for the answer? You can see Litchfield about 1/3 from the left in this photo of the painted Route 66 map on his van.

We were last in Litchfield on July 9 of 2006. The corn lining nearly every road into town gave the effect of driving in a canyon.

Litchfield has a neat old drive-in theatre, the Sky View (or SkyView). That day in 2006, the part of the sign with the name of the business was missing. I believe it has since been restored. The theatre was showing "Cars" then. The features for the coming weekend, coinciding with the 2008 festival, will be Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Iron Man.

And they have what I hear is a neat cafe - The Ariston. We didn't have time to eat there in 2006, as we were already late from having eaten like hobbits every day of our last Illinois Route 66 tour. We'll correct that error later toady now that we've arrived in Litchfield for the 2008 festival.

We'll have some photos from the 2008 National Route 66 Festival later this weekend.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Robert Waldmire

(two photos added Nov 15, 2009)

With the (national) Official Route 66 Festival '08 beginning Thursday in Litchfield, Illinois, I'm looking back on my experience meeting so many personalities of the mother road last year, when the festival was held in Clinton, Oklahoma.

You probably haven't met Bob Waldmire, but if you've cruised the gift shops and postcard racks of a few Route 66 attractions, you've almost certainly seen his work.

Waldmire has illustrated the Mother Road for well over two decades; his postcards are a standard rack item at many a Route 66 stop. I've been buying them for years so it was quite a treat to meet him last year in Clinton.

Artist, environmentalist, political activist, off-the-grid hippie - Waldmire's 1972 Volkswagen van speaks volumes about his life and attitudes.

For more on Waldmire's history, read this article at Desert Exposure.

The van itself is iconic to roadies (Route 66 aficionados), and found pop culture relevance with the release of the Pixar movie, Cars. Fillmore, the VW van in the movie, is based on Waldmire and was originally supposed to bear his name. True to his colors, Waldmire did not sign off on that, partly due to the fact that toy versions of the van would be offered in McDonald's Happy Meals, which would clash with his beliefs as an ethical vegetarian.

He will autograph toy Fillmores, but signs as "Fillmore's cousin."

Here's the back of Waldmire's van.

And here is the back of a die-cast toy Fillmore. I hadn't noticed the "I Brake for Jackalopes" sticker until I shot this picture.

I asked Waldmire what he thought of "Cars" and he said he liked its message of "slowing down", but objected to the scene in which the protagonist, Lightning McQueen, races a train through a crossing.

He'd also like to have seen more of the recreational vehicles shown briefly in the movie.

Serendipity gifted me a nice moment of allegory when Waldmire described the varied contents of his dashboard.

It was one of those moments novelists and biographers cherish.

"Each object represents a memory", he said.

As the objects and layers get older and the memories they represent fade and blur in detail, they are joined by newer ones.

Trains are also an interest of Waldmire. He hopes to replace this melted Santa Fe streamliner with a metal version. I thought it looked like "Dali does Santa Fe."

Waldmire told me he would not be traveling as much in the future as he hopes to settle down in southern Arizona. I hope that's not too soon, as I'm looking forward to scanning Route 66 for that groovy yellow van.

We've certainly enjoyed Waldmire and his work, and hope he'll be at this year's festival.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Trek Expo 2008

For the past few years, one of my more interesting gigs has been convention photographer for the Trek Expo science fiction convention in Tulsa. Since 2004, Ace has attended with me, in his quest to understand human subculture. If you're not a sci-fi fan, you might want to scroll past this one. If you are, welcome, and come dweeb with me...

Ace meets Nichelle Nichols at Trek Expo 2008 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, early this month at the John Q. Hammons UMAC Center. Nichols was of course Lieutenant Uhura in the Star Trek franchise.

She's had a number of other entertainment roles and is also a published author.

Although all of the above really matters, my main impression of her now is of a kind and rather regal woman who spontaneously went nose-to-nose with Ace.

Walter Koenig gave a somewhat different reaction when introduced to a jackalope in a starfleet uniform.

Koenig played Ensign Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek franchise and Alfred Bester in Babylon 5. He's had a slew of other projects and remains active in theatre.

Koenig screened most of a still-in-production fan film, Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, which starred himself, Nichelle Nichols, and a large handful of ex-trek actors who, in most cases, played their original roles. Remember Stonn from Amok Time? They did. And you get to see pretty actress Chase Masterson as a green Orion slave woman, which, you need another reason?

I must say it was a good flick - better than watching any Voyager episode, for example. The movie looks and feel low-budget, but that's part of its charm as a fan-produced effort that respects the integrity of trek's intermediate characters and allows their actors to stretch quite a bit. You can download it for free at their website.

Koenig watched from the back of the auditorium and then answered questions. You might be asking yourself how they get away with using Paramount-copyrighted characters and such. The answer is that Paramount has not interfered as long as no profit is made. Koenig remarked the film-makers are keeping the Star Trek franchise alive while they (Paramount) are making their next movie.

In what I suppose is an inevitable moment, life imitated art imitating life when someone asked Koenig to repeat a line from Star Trek IV in Chekov's Russian accent: "Can you tell me where the nuclear wessels are?" He obliged, but prefaced the line with a laughingly spoken "you do you realize this is a total prostitution of my work - a compromise of my art - I'm selling myself." It reminded me of Fry in Futurama asking him to do the same thing.

Other entertainment included the Enterprise Blues Band, a group of six actors, most with Star Trek connections, who formed a band about two years ago and play largely at sci-fi conventions. It's not unusual at these large sci-fi conventions to have entertainment - plays, singing actors/actresses - these things sweeten the pot for holders of ticket packages as well as furnishing, I suppose, a creative outlet for actors who might tire of answering the same sci-fi questions for the zillionth time.

When I first saw these guys on the schedule, I figured "Oh, a Star Trek theme band made up of actors - this might be decent, if we're lucky." Actually they were a pretty good rock/blues band.

J'lope (hey, what else would you call a Klingon jackalope?) hangs with three guys who were Klingons - (L-R) Richard Herd, Vaughn Armstrong and Steve Rankin have all played Klingons in various Star Trek shows. All are members of the band.

Herd has played several sci-fi roles, but is probably most recognizable as George's boss at the New York Yankees in Seinfeld. More interestingly, he participated in a 2005 sound remake of the German expressionist masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

In addition to vocals, he plays the gut bucket, a string instrument made from a wash bucket. Read about the history of gut buckets here.

Vaughn Armstrong has played a bunch of different roles in the various Star Trek shows. He must be one of the go-to guys for roles that require good acting whilst wearing a pound of latex on one's face. Remember the Klingon death yell? Sure you do if you've read this far - it's that yell Klingons do when one of them dies...something about warning the afterlife that a Klingon Warrior is coming. Anyway, the first time that was seen, in Star Trek the Next Generation, this is the guy that did it.

Steve Rankin has appeared in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: the Next Generation.

Casey Biggs played Damar, a Cardassian bad guy turned good in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and has had a host of other TV roles.

This was shot during practice before the show.

Biggs handles a phone call for Ace.

Actor William Jones furnished vocals and drums.

Rounding out the band was Ron B. Moore, a special effects guy who has worked on several parts of the Star Trek franchise, including a fan production called Star Trek: New Voyages

Moore brought along some prop material. I'm pretty sure these bugs are from a late first season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Joining the band only for its Tulsa appearance was an audience member who played a mean saxophone. If someone would care to comment with this gentleman's name, I'll be happy to add it.

Lolita Fatjo, formerly heavily involved in the production end of the Star Trek Franchise, now manages a number of ex-trek actors in their convention appearances.

Two Klingon femme fatales were there: Gwynyth Walsh (right) and Barbara March who played the recurring Duras sisters, B'Etor and Lursa.

It was a very pretty convention. Linda Park played Hoshi Sato in Star Trek: Enterprise. She just got engaged; that's her fiance on the left.

There's always gotta be a Star Wars person at these things. Amy Allen, who looks really good in blue body makeup, played a Jedi with a really complicated name on Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. She was the only actor present who seemed a bit shy; she cancelled her own stage appearance, but did hang around at her autograph table.

Ace dressed to meet Helen Slater, who starred in Supergirl. Now, Supergirl was not that great a movie (and I have a tendency toward understatement), but she also plays Clark Kent's mom in Smallville, which is actually pretty good.

I had a few minutes to chat with Slater and when she saw a photo of Ace in front of the Holbrook, Arizona, Wigwam Motel on my business card, she asked a few questions about roadside attractions and Route 66 which I was happy to be able to answer. Like many in Los Angeles, she did not know the location of Route 66 in that city. This is not surprising as it isn't marked well, if at all.

Slater is a timely guest in that this month is the 70th anniversary of Superman's debut in Action Comics #1. This past January, we visited Jim Hambrick's Super Museum (not associated at all with Trek Expo, but relivent to Supergirl) in Metropolis, Illinois and shot photos of his frighteningly large collection.

See some of Hambrick's Supergirl memorabilia here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

For the past few years, actors from the Jos Wheden projects Firefly and Serenity have been popular.

Adam Baldwin played Jayne Cobb in both productions.

He also played the Wolfram and Hart bad guy, Hamilton, in the vampire TV series, Angel, as Nosferatulope apparently knew.

There are always a few sci-fi authors and artists in attendence. This is Robin Wayne Bailey, author.

Author Michael Vance (2007 photo) also works for the Tulsa Boy's Home, for which convention promoter Starbase 21 helps raise money through a charity auction and a "Supper with the Stars" dinner on the Saturday night of the convention.

Artist Keith Birdsong (2007 photo) illustrates Star Trek novel covers and has worked as a stamp artist for the U.S. Postal Service.

R. A. Jones is a comic book writer and editor.

Ace finds an enviable perch with a performer from Tulsa Belly Dance. I neither know what belly dancing has to do with science fiction, nor do I particularly care. When buxom women appear in front of you and gyrate...well, it's like Santa Clause in that you just shouldn't question it too much.

Ace (center) wasn't bothered by the mystery of anomalous belly dancers either.

A replica of the Knight Rider car was on hand.

I'm thinking maybe this is cooler than the Toyota Camry I'm thinking of buying...

...and has a better instrument package than the Scion I'm also considering. Yeah, I can see going to my insurance agent for a quote on this.

Of course there's always lots of stuff to buy.

Of course, conventions don't work without fans. Now, contrary to the impression one might get from many of the television stories I've seen on sci-fi conventions, most people don't attend in costume. TV reporters seem to make a b-line for guys dressed as Klingons. But, you know - what's the fun of photographing people in street clothes?

Princess Leia and an elf (I think)

Nosferatulope sought a fan dressed as Illyria from the TV series Angel.

Darth Vader meets Supergirl.

All of this comes together because a small army of volunteers keeps it moving. Here, a few of them pose with actor Adam Baldwin.

Previous Years

Here's a look at Ace with Trek Expo guests from previous years.

2006: J'lope has a photo-op with Robert O'Reilly (Gowron in STNG and Deep Space Nine) and J.G. Hertzler (General Martok in DS9).

2004: Wil Wheaton was going to be here this year, but cancelled. That's too bad. His sci-fi claim to fame is his role as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation, but I really wanted to interview him about his role as a pioneer blogger, and touch on questions like how to stop hot-linkers.

2007: Kate Mulgrew played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. I was never a Voyager fan, but man, look at her. And she was a very nice, too.

2007: Claudia Christian of Babylon 5.

2007: Robert Picardo played the cantankerous holographic doctor on Star Trek: Voyager.

2007: Ethan Phillips played Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager.

2007: Bonnie Piesse played the young version of Luke Skywalker's Aunt Beru in the latest two Star Wars films.

2007: Richard Anderson was "Oscar Goldman" in "The Six Million Dollar Man." I considered making a bionic jackalope to pose with him, but realized the bionic bit was done mostly with slow-motion and sound effects, and Ace in a exercise suit just isn't all that cool. I was more interested in Anderson's role in the sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet.

2007: You know the now-iconic (and much borrowed for parody) crippled Captain Pike from the classic Star Trek episode, "Menagerie"? Sean Kenney played the guy in the chair. He also had small parts in that series. I don't recall if he was ever send behind a rock to check out a noise while wearing a red shirt.

2006: Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander Riker on Star Trek the Next Generation (STNG) was a pleasant enough guy. Ace wore his red STNG uniform to greet him. When things are rushed, as they were here, I often end up taking this basic photo...not very interesting or different, but I'm glad I have it.

2006: Frakes is married to soap opera actress Genie Francis, who played Laura Spencer on General Hospital. You can tell she's done product shots before.

2006: Christina Hendricks of Firefly, wrote "To Ace Jackalope - you broke my heart XOXO".

She even hammed it up a bit and posed, down-cast. Yeah, I love sci-fi.

See also The Lope: Starfleet Exam

Note added April 8, 2009: Guests for Trek Expo 2009 have been announced.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Trek Expo 2008 Underway

This was a temporary post; it was updated and replaced by Trek Expo 2008.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

More #@&! Weather

My Garden gargoyle hides his eyes from hail - some of it golf ball sized, as seen at right - that fell on Hutchinson, Kansas at 4:13 PM today. My tomato plant (above left) may be asking the gargoyle "Why was I not made of stone, like thee?"

Actually, the concrete reinforcing wire cylinders I use as cages stopped much of the hail from reaching the plants, but now I have more storm damage to clean up. It never seems to end.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"When man goes to the stars, our microbes will be waiting for us."

Writer Patsy Terrell and I attended a lecture by three scientists at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum this past Saturday.

Why would we go underground on such a sunny day? We wanted to hear all about the oldest living thing yet discovered on Earth - the ancient and re-animated 250 million year old 2-9-3 virgibacillus bacteria. What did you do Saturday afternoon? You probably partied or cooked out. Shame on you. You could have been 650 feet underground in a miles-long slab of salt, hearing about bacteria.

Anyway, I shot the photos and she wrote most of the text for this post. She also edited the photos of the scientists, and did it much faster than I do. Maybe that's why she posts about once a day and I...not so much so. Anyway, this is very interesting. Really. I promise.

Three scientists who discovered a 250 million year old bacteria still alive in an inclusion in a salt crystal were in Hutchinson Saturday afternoon for a lecture at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.

Dr. Russell Vreeland (above) and Dr. William Rosenzweig (below) from West Chester University in Pennsylvania were the biologists. They worked with geologist Dr. Dennis Powers (left) to look at the layers of salt and make sure the area where they were collecting from had not been penetrated before they gathered it. As Vreeland said, "he reads layers like I read a book." 

In an inclusion in a salt crystal from a site near Carlsbad NM, in less than a drop of water (12 microliters), they found a bacteria that was alive but essentially in hibernation. Bacteria have an ability to from spores and be dormant for a long time, but no one had an idea they could be dormant this long.

As Vreeland explained, the bacteria could not reproduce in the water where it was because the waste generated would have killed it.  They put it into fresh nutrients, including a 20% salt solution, and Vreeland said they, "woke it up." It took four months for them to see growth in the bacteria.

"The feeling we had when we saw it was humility," Vreeland said in an interview after the lecture. "We're in the presence of an organism that has survived 250 million years in a crystal. You've got to respect that."

Their research was published in "Nature" in 2000. Before they published the research, "Nature" required even more stringent verification than usual. The researchers isolated the organism in 1998 and published in 2000. The museum here now has an exhibit about the discovery, including the crystal the organism was found in.

The scientists were surprised by the initial interest in the project. Vreeland said that "Nature" put out a press release on the wire and fifteen minutes later the college switchboard was getting calls for interviews, and was almost instantly jammed. The two biologists did interviews every half hour for the next two weeks. Vreeland said he started at 7:30 in the morning and was doing his last one at 11:30 that night on the BBC Coffee Talk Show. He joked, "Here it is eight years later ... and I'm a museum artifact."

He said one of the great things about the experience was that it has "given us a chance to give science back to the people who paid for it."

Prior to this, the oldest bacteria discovered was in a piece of amber and it was 25 million years old. Before that the oldest was a 10,000 year old spore found in a mummy.

Minerals can be dated radiometrically, and the ones where this sample was taken are 253-254 million years ago, right at the end of the Permian Period. They looked at 100 crystals, and found two organisms.

The dating of this has been one of the breakthroughs of this research. As Vreeland said, "You can only date an organism based on geology, not on DNA." This was dated like any other fossil.

"The key to the exhibit is the techniques, not the organism." They combined microbiologists, a geologist and a high level of sterility.

All of their work was done in very sterile conditions. Vreeland says that "sterility is never a given, it's a probability." The protocols they were working under produced a sterile environment that is 1000 times better than that of an operating room. The chance of contamination for Vreeland's system is 1 in a billion. By comparison, the Mars Rover's chance of contamination was 1 in million.

Vreeland said the crystal is a great preservative. Oxygen would kill the organism, but none gets to it in the crystal. Also, when the crystal is forming, the heavy metals that would kill the organism are being pushed away. Then, it gets buried where it's dark and cool, creating an ideal, stable environment.

They are also  working with 400 million year old samples, as well as 125 million year old ones.

Vreeland said we know that microbes can withstand the acceleration to get off planet Earth, and they can survive the deceleration of meteor hits, so it's likely microbes from Earth are on Mars. "When man goes to the stars, our microbes will be waiting for us," Vreeland said during the lecture.

A surprise with this organism has been that when the microbes are exposed to an environment where salt is forming, first thing they do is look for an inclusion and then recruit others. They then allow themselves to be closed up.

Vreeland said in an interview after the lecture that while there's no proof the organisms are affecting crystallization, there are indications of it. The higher the microbe population there is, the faster crystals form and those crystals are slightly different than those that form without microbes present, including the shape and rate they grow.

Vreeland says, "Somehow they are doing things we don't expect them to be doing." They've proven that microbes can navigate mazes, and the mazes the organisms pick are the same size as the inclusions in the salt.

"It's a fascinating idea and it's an idea that we as humans really need. We've bought too much into our own propaganda saying we're the pinnacle of evolution, that we're complex and they are simple," said Vreeland in an interview after the lecture.

"The feeling we had when we saw it was not pride. It was humility," Vreeland said in the interview. "We've given it its opportunity and that's all. I feel humble every time I look at it."

"I don't care what your beliefs are, there's no way we can look at ourselves and thump our chests looking at that. That is the oldest living thing on earth. Here's an organism that was alive 100 million years before the dinosaurs, you've got to respect it."

[ editors note: during the lecture, I asked Vreeland about any sort of Andromeda Strain scenario in which the bacteria could cause harm. His answer was more along the lines of War of the Worlds but with the bacteria and host roles reversed. You might recall that in H. G. Wells' classic story, common earth germs killed the Martians. In the case of 2-9-3 virgibacillus and any sort of animal, we're simply not salty enough for it to survive - we'd kill it, instead of the other way around.

Geologist Dennis Powers later pointed out that it is very likely the bacteria is weathering out of exposed salt formations and into bodies of water every day - released from its crystal refuge only to die in the dissolving water. Now that's irony.]

Dr. Vreeland and Ace Jackalope