Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Celebrated in song and television images which linger, like internet photos, seemingly forever, Route 66 once stretched across the US from sea to shining sea, a string of lights and and odd necklace across America's southlands.  President Eisenhower's plans for an interstate highway system, to facilitate lateral military movements during the 'Red Dawn' era (which also lingers, although the fictional culprit appears to live in the White House, according to an Arizona local  who bent my ear in a tavern), ultimately chopped up Route 66 like a broken snake, and the rideable stretches sit between moto-boring freeways.

Exiting I-40 on the many 'Historic Route 66' turnoffs reveals what a fascinating and diverse place America was, and what a strip-mall horror of universal corporate sameness she has become, at least along the major transport corridors.  The old highway is narrow and twisty and full of spectacular vistas, and small, dying towns, which once thrived with cross-country tourists who had no option but to take one of the few point-to-point highways headed all the way east or west.  Meandering through these scruffy desert gems, with their living-on-disability inhabitants in accretive trailers or corrugated tin shacks, you just never know what you'll find, and who you'll meet, but with an open mind and friendly demeanor, it is possible to shut out the 'Obama is a nazi' crap you'll inevitably hear at first (since you're city folk, and need to hear 'the truth'), and find how resourceful, intelligent, and generous desert folk can be.

And of course, prove the truth of my motto, 'Old Motorcycles Are Everywhere.'  It was beer-thirty, and the tiny saloon, the only one in town, displayed sometimes toothless and slightly inebriated locals out front on plastic chairs, enjoying the afternoon warmth. Not wanting to interrupt, we slipped inside to the fantastic old bar, for the cheapest beers I've had since 1988.  One charming local asked what we were about, and the mention of 'a vintage motorcycle rally' had him at our side, with offers of a tour of his home, and the local old bike collection.  True to his word, the tour was spectacular, the the locale made me think, just for a moment, that the incredible vista of bluffs, rugged canyons, Saguaro cacti, and old tin shacks, was very appealing, while the dead quiet and beautifully clean air gave a perfectly clear reason to Stay.

Wonderful Cleveland two-stroke single; note the cross-ways crankcase, mighty clutch lever, and magneto upside down and backwards... 

Nice early Indian single-cylinder motor, ca.1910

Sports JAP engine in the desert; certainly.

What on earth is a Veteran Rochet doing here?
Looking very period-correct with a Longmuere carb; note how the automatic-inlet valve (AIV) engine is attached to the frame

Our tour guide, Mr. Jim Quinn
Thor spares, anyone?

Desert shrine
H-D 'WR'-style special
And actually, the road Was closed nearby, due to flash floods
You never know what you'll find on Route 66...


Robert said...

Great stuff.

Graham Motzing said...

When I was a kid we took a family trip to the grand canyon and indulged my dad's wish of returning exclusively along whats left of route 66. It was an awesome experience that I haven't thought about for years, but this reminded me of it. We made it past Tucumcari, NM and pressed on past the point when reasonable people would have turned back, eventually ending up on a degenerated tractor path. We finally had to turn the minivan around at a point where a bridge over a wash was completely missing, had been for some time, and didn't appear would ever be replaced. It would be an awesome trip to revisit on an adventure bike, as the remnants of the road are still mostly there and surrounded by a beautiful dilapidated landscape that has been mostly left as-is.

Matt said...

"Exiting I-40 on the many 'Historic Route 66' turnoffs reveals what a fascinating and diverse place America was, and what a strip-mall horror of universal corporate sameness she has become, at least along the major transport corridors"

Or as James Taylor put it:

Anonymous said...

Love it. It seems everyone else is on or has been on an epic journey see www.fiftiesroadtrip.com
Route 66 was truly insperational though.

GP said...

What's this? A blogger story about Oatman without the obligatory buro petting pictures? At least tell me you bought a t-shirt while you were there. Knock the strip malls all you want, but remember how little you had to deviate from I-40 and that veneer of corporate america to find what you were looking for.