Route 66 – From A Blue Whale To Counterfeit Bills

Not tiring of the Blue Whale, but knowing we needed to head on down the road, we first headed directly across the street to check out the old Arrow-wood Trading Post. It was a waste of a few minutes as we found it is now a car repair shop and even though there were several cars inside the building in various stages of torn-apartness, there was nobody there working on them.

Old post card of Tulsa, the Oil Capital
of the World
Heading west, it's only a short 15 mile drive to Tulsa, at one time proclaimed as the "oil capital of the world." Settled in 1836 by Creek Indians who had been forced to relocate along the infamous "Trail of Tears," they called the settlement,"tulsy," which meant "old town." There were very few white settlers in this mostly wilderness and they lived in peace until the Civil War broke out. The Creeks were divided as to which side to support and in the end, after several battles took place in the area, 1,575 of the Indian men served in the Confederate armies and 1,675 men served in the Union armies. Most of the women, children, and old men sought refuge in Kansas and other areas in the Indian Territory. When the war was over, only 264 members of the Creek nation returned to "tulsy."

"The Hanging Judge"
For a number of years, Indian Territory was a lawless land, a very bad place where outlaws and desperadoes roamed and committed crimes at will. President Grant appointed Judge Isaac Parker to rule the federal district court in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the court which held jurisdiction over the Indian Territory. Parker hired tough lawmen to arrest the outlaws and bring them back for trial in Fort Smith. It wasn't long before his judgments of the arrested earned him the nickname of "The Hanging Judge" and as word got out, order was pretty quickly brought to the land which would eventually become Oklahoma.

In 1889, the unassigned lands in Indian Territory were opened to white settlers and the people who came flooding into the area were soon nicknamed "boomers." In 1901, the discovery of oil in the cow town then known as Tulsa turned it into a boom town. Another oil discovery in the nearby town of Red Fork brought even more wildcatters, investors and their families to the area. In 1905, an even larger pool of oil was discovered in another nearby town, Glenn Pool, and this led to Tulsa's Golden Age in the 1920's and its title of "the Oil Capital of the World." By then, almost 100,000 people, 400 oil companies, and 200 lawyers called Tulsa home.

Youngest-daughter and I didn't stop to see any of the sites in Tulsa.  Several years ago, I earned my living as an IT Consultant and worked a contract in Tulsa 5 days per week for 4 months.  I consider it to be one of my favorite contracts - good people to work with, good money, and a nice, friendly town with lots of things to spend my evenings doing. One of those things was driving through town on Route 66. Seeing as how I had already "done Route 66" there, we drove it and I gave Youngest-daughter the choice of stopping at any of the places I had marked on our itinerary. Most of the route is through the industrial section of town and it wasn't time for lunch yet so she decided to not stop in the city, opting instead to drive on through to get further along on our trip. I was fine with that, but you may want to make a different decision as there are a number of interesting old structures & businesses on the drive.

After a few miles of rolling countryside, we passed through the town of Bristow and into Lincoln County. The former sheriff of Lincoln County, Bill Tilghman, was once a deputy in Dodge City and was the man who brought Bill Doolin, the leader of the infamous Wild Bunch, to justice in 1896. Tilghman himself was killed in a shootout in 1924 and is known as the last man killed in an old west-style showdown.
Henry Starr
Next up was Stroud, a town which got it's start by selling whiskey to the cowboys and travelers coming from the "dry" Indian Territory. With 9 saloons and a number of "houses of ill repute," it soon became known as a hell-raising town.  In 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, it was forced to become "dry" and the partying was over. On March 27, 1915 though, Stroud became the victim of one of the last outlaw robberies in Oklahoma when Henry Starr, brother-in-law of Belle Starr, decided to rob two of the town's banks in a historic double daylight heist. Henry and six other outlaws thought they could do much better than the Dalton Gang who had disastrously attempted to rob two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas.

While robbing the Stroud National Bank and the First National Bank, word got out and the citizens took up arms. In the ensuing gunfight, Henry and another bandit were severely wounded and captured. The other outlaws managed to make a clean getaway with $5,815 in stolen loot. Starr recovered from his wounds and was sentenced to serve time in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Just 4 years later, he was paroled and less than two years after regaining his freedom, he was shot dead during a robbery in Harrison, Arkansas.

The famous Rock Cafe on Route 66
Rolling into Stroud, it was close enough to lunch time that we stopped at the famous Rock Cafe at the intersection of Main & 8th Ave. (N3544 55.4 W096 39.16.1). Opened in 1939, for years it was open 24 hours per day and was THE place for travelers to stop for a bite to eat and some good, strong coffee. On May 20, 2008, the place caught fire and except for the stone walls and the steel grill, burned to the ground. The good news though is it has been rebuilt and is good as new. The grill, nicknamed "Betsy," is back in service and has cooked over 5 million hamburgers. One of them was mine! Good atmosphere and good food at a reasonable price. Here's hoping it's still there serving up grub in another 70 years!

Inside the Rock Café
In the Rock Cafe - Youngest-daughter doing a
"Price Is Right" takeoff  with a ketchup bottle.

Old Conoco station where counterfeit bills
were made.
Leaving the Rock Cafe with our tummies full and ready to see more interesting sites, it was only a few miles to the next one. It sure didn't look like much; just a couple of rock walls standing on the side of the road (N35 39 36.1 W097 16 26.1), partly covered by trees and brush. But those ruins were part of an interesting story.  It was the site of an early, primitive Conoco gas station built some time between 1915 and 1920.  It was so remote that electricity was never ran to the building. Chocolate candy was only sold during the winter months because it melted on the shelf in the summer. Once a week a truck brought blocks of ice and until the ice melted, cold soda's were sold. With no electricity, kerosene lamps were used for lighting at night. Oil was also sold which was dispensed from a large metal drum with only a simple spigot to control the flow. The same with kerosene. It's a bit of a miracle that the place never blew up!

Youngest-daughter inspects the station ruins.
In the 1930's during the depression, times were tough and coming by a dollar was hard. One day, a traveling "salesman" stopped to fill up his car with gasoline and before he left, had sold the two men who owned the place a way to make a lot of quick cash - a printing plate to make bogus $10 bills. The men added on a tiny room to the back of the station which only had a small window for an opening. It was built around the printing press and was so cleverly disguised that nobody even knew it was there. Eventually the counterfeit bills were traced back to the station and after a very thorough search, the plates were found. The station owners were arrested and sent to prison, never to be heard from again.

It wasn't all that long before Youngest-daughter was ready to fire up the truck and get to our next stop - a red, round barn. She knew there was some shopping to be done there and she had a couple of dollars burning a hole in her pocket!
Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 & The Great Blue Whale

After leaving the world's largest totem pole, we found a Comfort Inn in Claremore on S. Lynn Riggs Blvd. for $80.99. Not a bad place - basic room, cheap carpet and furniture, cheap rough toilet paper, and not as clean as you would want it to be, but the wi-fi worked ok and the a/c got the room down to a nice sleeping temperature. It was late and we were tired so it was good enough. The pissy thing is I was charged an extra $1.50 because the room evidently had a safe in it. I didn't even know it did, but the extra $1.50 was for the "safe w/ltd Warranty." I've never seen that one before. I would have argued against the charge, but I had already paid and was in the truck before I noticed it on the receipt so I let it go. If it had been $2.00 though...

The famous Blue Whale on Route 66
It was just a short drive from Claremore through Verdigris to Catoosa and the famous Route 66 Blue Whale (N36 11 36.3 W095 43 58.4). There wasn't a big sign or even a little sign announcing "Here it is!" so you need to look for it, but it's big so if you are paying attention, it's hard to miss.

It began as a special gift for a special lady, but it became one of the most famous icons you will see on Route 66. This land-locked blue whale has greeted travelers since 1972 and offers a welcome break for road trippers and is a perfect place for taking some fun and unique family photos.

The Blue Whale is a concrete structure fashioned with a lot of hard work and creative imagination. In 1970, Hugh Davis began building a structure as an anniversary present to his wife, Zelta. He kept secret from her what it was going to be for several months. She knew it was something for the kids and that it was something big, but thought at first it was an airplane. A few weeks after he started building the actual structure, she caught on.

 Since he was a kid, Hugh had loved animals. As a young man, he traveled through Africa with wildlife experts Martin and Osa Johnson. After returning from Africa, Hugh traveled the lecture circuit giving presentations about wild animals. Zelta shared his passion for animals and accompanied him on the circuit, wrapping snakes around her waist as he proclaimed the beauty of wild beasts. Later, he and Zelta settled down and Hugh made his living as Director of Tulsa's Mohawk Zoo. At his wife's urging, he built an alligator farm on their property which fronted Route 66 and it proved to be a moderate success. Hugh eventually left his position at the zoo, retiring after 38 years on the job, closed down the alligator farm and shaped the pond into a water park.

I'm not exactly a little guy, but there was still
plenty of room for me to walk and climb around.
It's bigger than you might think!
Their children kept saying they wanted something big to jump off of into the pond and Hugh knew Zelta had always liked whales and there’s nothing much bigger than a whale so 2 years after he started building it, Zelta got herself an 80-foot concrete and steel whale for an anniversary present and the kids got something big to play on and jump off of into the pond. It had cost Hugh all of $1,910.24, including the $5.75 worth of nails to tack down the wooden flooring inside the whale.

It took two years to build because he did almost all of the work by himself.  The only construction assistance he needed was the welding work required to form the whale’s steel under-structure because he didn’t have a welding machine or the skills for that part. He would bend the rods, tie them together, and position everything where he wanted it and then get his friend, expert welder Harold Thomas, to come by once a week and weld all the pieces together. They repeated this procedure until the entire under-structure was built. From then on it was concrete work done by hand, all 126 sacks of it.

On the property before the Whale was completed, there were three places to dive off into the swimming pond, but they were low and not much above water level. The swimming  pond started out rather small, but grew larger when road work on Route 66 took place between 1955 and 1959. The road crew took out a few of the sharp curves from the existing roadway and widened it into four-lanes. During that project they were in need of a lot of fill dirt so Hugh arranged for them to come in and take all the dirt they needed right out of the pond. Hugh and his family got a bigger pond, the road crew got their fill dirt and traveler’s got a safer, straighter road.

As Route 66’s traffic flow grew, people would see the kids and a few locals swimming out there and would stop and ask if they could swim there, too. When it first opened, the cost to get in was just 50 cents and soon, the little swimming pond took off in popularity. People came back home, sent postcards out and told everyone they knew about this great swimming place out there in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

The top of the tail where the braver kids used to
 dive off is pretty high. Look real close and you
can see Youngest-daughter sitting there.
When completed, the whale had three diving boards on it, two were at a little lower elevation from the big one that was positioned off the tail.Of course the depth of the pond fluctuated according to how wet or dry it was, but it averaged about 12 feet to the surface of the pond from the main diving board. The kids that jumped off it would often claim they had been all the way to the bottom, but to prove that fact, the other swimmers insisted they come up with a handful of mud. The center of the swimming pond had a deep trench where the earth scrapers had gone in and cut out all the fill dirt needed for the road work so it was  a good challenge to come up with a handful of mud from the 18 to 23 feet depths.
The Blue Whale pond was open for swimming until 1988. Hugh decided to close it down after interest waned. Not many people traveled on Route 66 anymore, folks were getting their own swimming pools in their backyards and kids just started going elsewhere. He had raised the price of entrance to $1.50, but with the cost of maintenance and insurance, it was beginning to lose revenue. Hugh and Zelta were getting elderly and it became harder and harder to keep it up so the time came to close it down.

The children grew up, left home and began their own lives. After Hugh and Zelta passed away, the Blue Whale began to deteriorate as neither of the kids had any interest in keeping up the  property. Eventually, several preservation groups repaired and repainted the whale. In 2002, the Hampton/Hilton Hotels Corp’s “Explore the Highway with Hampton, Save A Landmark” program chose the whale as their 12th project. They repainted the whale, erected a new fence around the grounds, repainted the old snack bar and installed a new septic system.

When Youngest-daughter and I visited, it was early in the morning and nobody was there. The gate was open though so we parked in the little gravel lot next to it and walked in. The picnic facilities were there and were in good shape. The whale itself was also in good shape and seemed to be well maintained. The pond will definitely need to be dredged out though before anyone could think of swimming in it. Part of it was crowded with Lilly pads and the water by the whale was thick with weeds. The piers were broken and falling into the water. We did see a few fish in the pond and spent a few minutes feeding them crumbled bits of crackers we had in the truck. The rest of our time was spent climbing in and around the whale, taking pictures, talking together, and just sitting next to each other, relaxing and listening very carefully in the silence for the splashing and laughter of days gone by.
Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 – Sears House & The World’s Largest Totem Pole

The Sears catalog house in Chelsea, Oklahoma
From the old ruins of the Avon Motor Court, we raced the late afternoon sun through Vanita (where we did not stop at the world’s largest McDonald’s) to the town of Chelsea for a quick stop to see a Sears house. It’s not exactly what you would call an exciting stop, but it was  interesting to see a home purchased from Sears Roebuck. The house is still standing and serving as a private residence. Shipped by train from Chicago in 1913, it was assembled for $1,600. A home with perfect craftsmanship arriving in a box - some assembly required.

We passed through the site of Bushyhead without seeing it because there’s nothing much left of that ghost town except a funny name. Our next stop was in Foyil to see the memorial to a native Foyilan (just what do you call someone from the town of Foyil?). Andy Payne, a 19-year-old Cherokee became famous in 1928 and helped put the Mother Road in the minds of Americans by winning one hell of a foot race.

Soon after Route 66 was completed, Lon Scott, a promoter for the newly formed Route 66 Association, came up with the idea of a transcontinental footrace. Calling it the “Bunion Derby,” the race followed the new highway from the Pacific Ocean to Chicago and then on to New York City.

Running from California, across the desert of Arizona, the open lands in New Mexico, through the Panhandle of Texas and right through his own hometown; through sand storms, snow storms, rain and city traffic, Andy ran 3,423 miles into New York City and the finish line 84 days after the race began. He finished hours ahead of his nearest competitor to claim the $25,000 prize. Andy went home a hero with the American public comparing him to Charles Lindbergh and other famous icons. Will Rogers, a native of Oklahoma, said, “I kind of felt jealous when I read that someone had supplanted me as favorite son.” Andy came back to Foyil, used the prize money to pay off the mortgage on his parent’s farm and married Vivian, his former high school teacher who was one year older than him. He retired after 38 years serving as the Oklahoma Supreme Court clerk and passed away peacefully in 1977. 

A totem pole “gate” in front of the home
Nathan Galloway built by his own hand
In addition to the every-day average person quietly making their way through life mostly one day at a time, Route 66 seems to have attracted more than it’s fair share of “interesting characters” who have made their home along its roads. Nathan Edward Galloway was one of those interesting kind of people; one of those special people who brought a little magic into people’s lives. Our next stop was at his creation just a couple of miles down the road. He was born in Missouri in 1880 and fought in the Spanish-American war. After his release from military duty, he was making his way to California when he ran low on funds and took a temporary job in Foyil, Oklahoma. He stayed for 45 years.

Youngest-daughter and the
world’s tallest totem pole
He became the industrial arts teacher for the Charles Page Home for Widows and Orphans in Sand Springs and in his spare time, he crafted three-dimensional works for his own pleasure. He loved to sculpt, creating beautiful animals, intricate pictures of wood inlay, and became very proficient at hand-carving and making violins. He purchased some wooded land on an unpaved road just off Route 66 and when he wasn’t working or creating his art, he was building a country home of native rock on his property, walking the land to find the perfect stones and placing them just so. When it was finally completed in 1937, he retired from his teaching job of 20 years and moved into the home he had built with his own two hands.

For several years, Galloway had been thinking about a new creation, a very large totem pole, and now with the time to do it, he began construction at the front of his property next to the road. For the internal structure, he used surplus wire the railroad was going to throw away. He combined the wire with pieces of scrap metal he found in the town dump and salvage yards. When complete, the skeleton weighed 6 tons. Sandstone rock was then added and over that he hand-plastered a mortar mix that used 28 tons of cement. Using only a 5-gallon bucket, he hauled hundreds tons of rock and sand from a nearby creek. 
Very interesting piece of folk art
by Nathan Galloway
He sculpted a 30-foot diameter turtle at the base and began to work upwards, carving bas reliefs of head dressed Native American chiefs, mythical birds, owls, fish, flowers, and lizards. The carvings were then covered with brightly colored paint. Inside the structure, he painted murals depicting memorable events in history. When it was complete after 11 years of hard work, the totem pole stood 90 feet tall.

Not being one to just sit back and watch the grass grow, Galloway designed and started building a 12-sided structure that resembled an Indian hogan. Supported by 25 cement totem poles, this was to be his museum to display the 300 fiddles he had carved by hand, each of them in a different kind of wood. When it was finished, not only did it house the fiddles, it also a contained a large number of his hand-made furniture pieces along with beautiful bas-relief portraits of all the U.S. Presidents up to John F. Kennedy. Local residents began calling it “The Fiddle House."

The 12 foot tall cement tree
trunk Galloway built.
Galloway then added a 12-foot cement tree trunk, complete with holes for the birds to build nests in. Local’s and even a few travelers began stopping by to see the interesting structures and to have a picnic in the shade of the large hardwood trees so Galloway added brightly painted cement tables, stools, and benches. Soon, Totem Pole Park as people called it, became a destination in itself. Seeming to work almost non-stop, Galloway kept adding more structures; more totem poles, cement animals, a totem pole gate and a large arrowhead topped with a spinning weather vane.

He was designing another piece of art, but Galloway ran out of time before he ran out of ideas. In 1962, he passed away at age 82. As he was dying, he wrote his own epitaph: “All my life I did the best I knew. I built these things by the side of the road to be a friend to you.”

Sadly, after his death, with nobody to take care of it, Totem Pole Park fell into disrepair. Vandals, weather, the weeds and decay took their toll. Sometime in the early 1970′s, the Fiddle House was burglarized and all of the fiddles and works of art were stolen. They have never been recovered. It didn’t take long for people to forget about the decaying structures along this piece of side road as their brightly colored paint faded.

Totem Pole Park. The Fiddle House and
picnic area.
In the 1980′s, a slow resurgence of Route 66 began and travelers became curious about the structures they could see in the weeds. Finally, in the mid-1990′s, the Rogers County Historical Society, the Kansas Grass Roots Art Association and the Foyil Heritage Association banded together to rescue Totem Pole Park. On the brink of collapse, just in the nick of time, the Fiddle House and the other structures were restored, repainted, the weeds pulled and grass planted. Today, Totem Pole Park survives; a gift to roadside America, created single-handedly by Nathan Edward Galloway, a true Route 66 folk art genius.

The sun setting on a very good day.
As Youngest-daughter and I walked out of the park, I dropped $10 into the little voluntary donation box. The sun was below the horizon and it was time to call it a day. As we got into our truck, my navigator and traveling companion, this young lady who will always be my baby girl no matter how old she gets, paused to take a picture of the sunset. We headed to Claremore to find a motel for the night. It had been a good day; a very good day.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Oklahoma - Miami to Afton

Continuing west from Commerce, we came to Miami, the first town in Indian Territory which legally sold  land to the white man. By the way, you probably pronounced it wrong. It's not Miami, as in the city in Florida, it's pronounced "my-am-uh," the pronunciation of the Miami Indian tribe from whom it took its name.

The "Sidewalk Highway" outside
Miami, Oklahoma
Just south of Miami, we took an interesting section of the original Route 66 called "The Sidewalk Highway" or "Sidewalk 66."  Built in 1922, the roadway is only 9 feet wide. Originally just a dirt road between Miami and Afton, the road was in dire need of being paved because when it rained, it became an impassable mud pit. According to local legend, there was only enough money to pave it half way, but one of the local officials came up with an idea - if they only had enough money to pave it half way, then they could pave half of it all the way! Thinking half a paved road was better than no paved road, the citizens agreed.

Later, a different alignment of Route 66 was laid out and the Sidewalk Highway never was widened. Today it is fragile - cracked and broken in most spots and sparse graveled and dirt on the sides. It is still open to traffic, but it is not advisable to drive it if it is raining and larger vehicles should not attempt it as the road cannot handle the weight.

Afton Station in Afton, Oklahoma
We passed through the little town of Narcissa, the only town located on the Sidewalk Highway and came to the community of Afton. Established in 1886, the town was named by a Scottish railroad surveyor for his daughter who had been named after a river in Scotland which had been immortalized by Robert Burns in his poem Afton Water. Today, Afton's claim to fame is Afton Station, an old 1920's DX gas station on Route 66 which has been completely restored by David and Laurel Kane. It houses an informal Route 66 museum, the world's largest Route 66 post card collection and one of the best Packard automobile collections anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, it was closed when we came through so we had to be satisfied with just looking through the windows at all the interesting items inside.

The 1922 DX service station that is now
Afton Station.
Sign in Afton Station

Sign in front of Afton Station. I particularly love
the "Old-Fashioned Tourist Trap" wording
at the bottom.
The old Palmer Hotel and Café in Afton
Directly across the street from Afton Station is the remains of the Palmer Hotel and Cafe. Once the most prominent business in town (after the bank, of course), the original wooden building burned down and was replaced in 1911 by the now abandoned brick building you see today. Afton was a railroad town and the hotel mostly served the rail workers until Route 66 came in. Once the Mother Road came to town, the hotel did so much business that a restaurant was opened around 1940. The old timers tell that single male travelers and the rail workers could find female companionship in the rooms if they knew who to discreetly ask. Later, the railroad roundhouse and turn-table were taken out of service and demolished and the interstate highway took away the Route 66 traffic. The Palmer Hotel and Cafe and the building that held them has been abandoned and boarded up for years, serving now only as a reminder of what once was.

The old Avon Motor Courts
Leaving Afton, just a short distance outside of town, we came across the remains of the Avon Motor Court. This was one of The Mother Road's little surprises for us as we didn't have it on our itinerary and I didn't remember reading about it during my research before the trip. And I still haven't found much on it since then either. Very picturesque and interesting, I couldn't resist stopping and spending a good amount of time here. We had walked a lot that day and my poor, broken and bruised toe (here's the story) was barking at me, but I hobbled around taking pictures so long that Youngest-daughter finally gave up on me and waited in the truck.

Once providing welcome rest and shelter to
weary travelers, now there is no shelter, just
weeds and a little trash.
When we finally left the old Avon Motor Court to continue our journey west, the sun was getting low and we wanted to make it to 2 more places before stopping for the night. We would have to hurry if we made both before looking for a hotel in Claremore.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state: