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The Ostermann Station in Peach Springs, Arizona has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places

Osterman’s Shell Station, 1932

Peach Springs

Oscar Ostermann's Gas Station in Peach Springs

The Hualapai Indians nominated the Peach Springs Shell Station for the National Register of Historic Places and were accepted in 2009. Recently, it was placed on the register. The Hualapai Indian tribe owns the station these days and plans to restore it and start pumping gas again. They received a great from the National Park Service to do so. However,  Oscar Ostermann built the gas station in 1932, not his brother John in 1927. At the same time Oscar built the new gas station, he built the Peach Springs Auto Court next door.

Beatrice Boyd, whose husband, Frank, worked for Oscar and who purchased the Peach Springs Auto Court from Oscar in 1938, told me the story:

From Along Route 66:

“Swedish sailor John Osterman wanted to captain his own ship. In 1914 he set sail around the world, as was required by the Swedish Merchant Marine, but on a German ship. His ship was interned at Santa Rosalia, Mexico on the Baja Peninsula at the beginning of World War I. He jumped ship, ferried across the Gulf of California, made his way to Nogales, crossed the border into Arizona, and followed the railroad north to Phoenix where he went to work in a dairy. He hated the work. When the dairy shipped its cows, and John north, to summer pastures near Flagstaff, he took off and hopped a train to San Francisco with the intention of going back to sea. The railroad cops threw him off at Peach Springs where the largest body of water was a dry wash.

“He stayed, worked on a ranch, became a citizen, and was drafted when the United States went to war. After World War I, he returned to Peach Springs, opened a small gas station, and quickly developed a reputation for honest work. He would tow a car day or night. He stocked Ford parts, particularly springs–six were delivered daily from Los Angeles for folks who busted theirs on the rough road. He persuaded his brother, Oscar, to join him, sold him the gas station in 1925, and moved to Kingman. A year later the highway department designated the road in front of the gas station U.S. Highway 66, and then moved it a block north six year later. Oscar needed a new building: he built a jagged Alamo.

“He poured a two-story concrete frame, four bays wide, and filled it with concrete block, formed to look like quarried stone. By 1920 the reinforced concrete frame had come into general use in large industrial buildings–flour mills and factories, but it was unusual to see one on such a small scale.[Endnote #25] He housed his office and work room in the west half of the building and the garage in the east half. He provided a second-story sleeping room for the help behind the stepped facade over the garage. He finished it with a wide, spreading canopy that covered the pumps.” Photograph, 1998.

In  1998 when I was making a trip along Route 66 for my book, Along Route 66, I checked into the station to get permission from the Hualapai to drive across their lands and down into the Grand Canyon.

Along the road down into the Grand Canyon

It was a rugged, but worthwhile drive. Peach Springs received its name after farmers established peach orchards in the bottom of the canyon.

Here is a list of other Historic Sites on Route 66.

The Coliseum Ballroom in Benld, Illinois

The Coliseum, Benld, Illinois

It seems that this blog has been devoted to the passing of landmarks along Route 66. And the Coliseum at Benld, Illinois was a big one. And it seems I am way late on this one: Fire gutted the Coliseum on July 31, 2011.

There was a time when Route 66 departed Springfield in Illinois 4,  passed along the outskirts of Benld, and delivered people from all over southern Illinois to the Coliseum Ballroom for the music and the dancing.

From Along Route 66:

Russell and Ola Soulsby, Soulsby Shell Station, Mt. Olive, Illinois

Russell Soulsby (who had the Shell Station in Mt. Olive) liked to dance.

Why not, the best bands of his youth played at the Coliseum in neighboring Benld. Even as he grew old, he continued to dance.

Four coal mines provided the economic base for Benld, but during Prohibition it was a Little Las Vegas. Dominic and Ben Tarro, brothers who were butchers and grocers in Benld, kept gaming tables–craps and black jack–and slot machines at the Coliseum; but then so did every tavern in Benld.

Al Capone kept a distillery on the outskirts of town and shipped hooch north, up U.S. 66 to Chicago.

It was live and let live until 1930 when the Illinois State’s Attorney called Dominic to Springfield to testify about the $50,000 worth of sugar he sold to the still. Persons unknown intercepted Dominic on his way it to Springfield. He disappeared only to be found in the Sangamon River four months later.

Russell and Ola Soulsby

But the music, the music and the dances are what people remember in Benld. Guy Lombardo, Sammy Keye, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton: they all played the Coliseum. Chuck Berry got his start in Benld; so did Tina Turner. Russell danced to them all.

Dominic and Ben, who financed the Coliseum with the proceeds from their butcher shops,  hired an architect from Edwardsville to design the roller rink/dance hall in 1924.

The architect spanned the 10,000 square foot space with a curved truss, and enclosed the building in brick. The facade followed the arc of the truss. The brothers seated 400 people on the main floor and 400 in the balcony.

 

 

No Wait for a Blood Test to Get Married in Miami, Oklahoma

Drive Route 66 into Miami, Oklahoma and you will find the roadside franchised into oblivion: all those fast food joints and little in the way of memories of Route 66. That was not the case when I started documenting the roadside in 1979.

In 1979, as now, there was no requirement for a blood test. No requirement for a blood test meant no wait. There was no residency requirement for a license. No residency requirement meant folks from southwestern Missouri and southeastern Kansas could get married on the spur of the moment.

CherokeeMiami

The Cherokee Motel had a wedding parlor for folks from out of town. Get married at the Cherokee and check in for the night. The Cherokee is gone, but Lavern’s Marriage Parlor is very much still in business.

Laverne's Marriage Parlor

Off the beaten track, if you consider Route 66 the beaten track, Lavern Harris opened a Marriage Parlor on B Street in 1954 , right across the street from the courthouse. Pop into the courthouse, get your license, pop over to Lavern’s Marriage Parlor, get married. It all took less than an hour. Even now it all takes less than an hour.

Lavern had a preacher on call. She still offers a preacher’s service for $60.  And for a few dollars more the flowers, the garter, and the sign for the back of your car. Check out her website.

Bloody 66: Route 66 was a dangerous drive


Route 66, Halltown, Missouri

While working on Along Route 66, I got stuck behind an oil truck on a hilly, twisty two-lane road somewhere west of Tulsa. There was no passing that behemoth. I realized that this must have been what traveling 66 must have been like from its designation as a Federal Highway in 1926 to the completion of the Interstates highways beginning in the 1960s.

When Susan Croce Kelly and I conducted our interviews of the people who invented Route 66 and roadside tourism between the 1930s and 1950s, we heard stories about how dangerous travel on the highway was. An article about the dangerous of travel through Lincoln, Illinois, ostensibly through the flat prairies of Illinois, recalled the stories we heard.

The Golden Spread, Groom, Texas

From Chicago to Los Angeles, they called it Bloody 66, but there were regional names for it also: Death Alley and Blood Alley in Groom, Texas, also flat; Camino de la Muerte in Arizona across the Colorado Plateau, not terribly hilly.

Route 66, Mojave Desert, Amboy

Buster Burris at Amboy, who carried a saw in his wrecker to cut off the ends of  guard rails impaled in drivers’ chests, had a litany of stories about death in the Mojave Desert. From Along Route 66:

“With World War II over, civilian travelers learned that Route 66 in the Mojave Desert was a dangerous place. The 18-foot bridges that crossed the washes were too narrow for two speeding cars to pass safely in opposite directions. One car would hit another or worse impale itself, and sometimes its driver, on the wooden guard rail. Every wrecker had a litany of horror stories. But, vapor-locked gas lines and overheated radiators stopped more cars than did guard rails. Folks sat on the roadside, their radiators boiling, waiting for a wrecker to tow them to the nearest garage. Bored, they collected small stones, and laid them on the roadside berms in the shape of big letters, writing out their names.”

Quinta Scott's name in rocks at Danby in the Mojave Desert

“What was the purpose of the low berms? They were levees. When it rains in the desert, it floods. The berms that lined the north side of the highway funneled floodwater away from the road and into the washes.” And under the bridges. Over maybe even over the bridges.

Route 66 was a dangerous place.

 

Of course, knowing that story, I had to write my name in rocks in the Mojave Desert.

The Boots Motel–Carthage, Missouri

Boot's Motel

A month ago I got an email from Pricilla Bledsaw of Decatur, Illinois about the Boot’s Motel in Carthage. She and her sister had put in a bid to buy the motel and fix it up.

The Boot’s had gone the way of many of the best motels that somehow manage to survive along Route 66: It housed people, who live on the margins, by the month.

The Boot’s is a classic streamline moderne building on the lines of the, now departed Coral Courts in St. Louis.  I do hope the sisters remove the faux-gable roof and keep the nice black glass insets on the rounded corners of the office. The Boots had all the modern amenities–tile showers, radiant heat in the floor, air conditioning, and garages.

Boot's Motel: The Landscaping

In 1981, when I made this photograph, Rachel Asplin was maintaining the neatly trimmed trees and hedges between the garages that was so in keeping with the architecture of the building. The entrances must have been from the garages.

To start the sisters will rent the rooms in the rear for office space and use their earnings to rehab the rest for travelers. The Boot’s is a natural for a Route 66 Bed and Breakfast.

The only drawback is Carthage is off the beaten track for all but the most devoted 66 travelers, but from the daily friend requests I get on my Facebook page, there are plenty of them out there.

I wish the Pricilla and her sister good luck.

Route 66 Photographs: Redesigned Web Site

Detail of the Index Page of AlongRoute66.com

I have just finished redesigning the Black and White Photographs from Route 66 half of AlongRoute66.com.

Have a look and let me know what you think.

Bill’s Station Phelps, Missouri

Bill's Station, Phelps, Missouri

Thirty years ago, when I was first exploring the idea of writing a book on U.S. Highway 66, I made this photograph of Bill’s Station in Phelps, Missouri. The old station sits on one of those sections of the road, which at the time, could be considered a Route 66 museum. Between Springfield and Carthage I-44 had completely abandoned U.S. 66, stripping away the economic viability of the business in between.

When I wrote Along Route 66, I learned what I could about Bill’s Station. And all I could learn was Bill’s last name: Bill Tiller.  He built this little building, finished it in stucco, and added a wooden lean-to at the rear. Bill may have had a canopy over service area which may have met a bad end. The little mansard roof supported by steel poles must have been added to the front later. A few steps to the east he built a small, wooden garage. And the stucco building to the rear may have been a small motel.

Bill's Station, 2010

Rich Dinkela, who had been documenting what is left of the roadside buildings, posted this image, along with my image on my facebook page. Bill’s Station is well on its way to disintegrating.

Rich’s image brings to mind Alan Weisman’s great book, The World without Us, in which he examines what is happening in built places we humans have abandoned. What he wants to understand is what would happen if humans no longer roamed the earth. Nature, he concludes, would take it all back. This is what is happening to Bill’s Station.

I suspect what is happening to Bill’s is happening to many of the wood frame and stucco buildings that line this section of the old highway. Nature–wind, rain, and vegetation–is taking them back, bit by little bit.