Motoring West on Route 66
The old road between Tulsa and Oklahoma City offers burgers, barbecue and vestiges of history.
|Photo: Tera Leigh|
Vestiges of History
As Route 66 leaves southwest Tulsa, it passes through the old community of Oakhurst. Little is left of Oakhurst’s colorful oil-boom history, but a few vestiges remain, including a pair of long-abandoned service stations at the corner of South 63rd West Avenue and Southwest Boulevard. While one station is literally vanishing into the weeds, the second provides a tangible reminder of the past, its yellow brick walls and classic lines whispering ghost stories about long-gone pump boys and gleaming tailfins.
Bridge to the Past
After carrying traffic south from the Arkansas River to Creek County, Route 66 veers west in Sapulpa, passing through a charming downtown dotted with historic buildings. At Gabe’s – a mom-and-pop office supply store that celebrates its location with a surprisingly extensive selection of Mother Road souvenirs – we buy a set of Route 66 floor mats for the car and a child-sized T-shirt for a young friend.
Reaching the western edge of town, we follow the old Ozark Trail, which is marked by a small green sign. This roughly three-mile detour is an early alignment of Route 66 that takes us across a 1921 brick-decked bridge, past the old Teepee Drive-In, through a canopy of trees and under a graffiti-covered viaduct before rejoining Oklahoma 66 east of Kellyville.
Anchored in History
Since 1950, the Anchor Drive-In has been serving burgers from a little white cinder block building at the western edge of Bristow. We stop for double cheeseburgers and old-fashioned strawberry milkshakes to fuel us for the next 60 miles or so. A framed letter from President Ronald Reagan and a display case full of military medals hang on the wall. They honor the memory of the restaurant’s founder, George Shamas, a decorated World War II veteran who survived 14 months in a German POW camp.
Small Town, Big Heart
We have a soft spot for Depew, a tiny community tucked behind the railroad tracks on an old alignment of Route 66 between Bristow and Stroud. In 2005, we worked with the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, business owners, city officials and local children to give downtown Depew a face-lift, which included cleaning out abandoned buildings, removing trash and weeds and painting colorful murals on boarded-up windows.
On this visit, we stop at Spangler’s Grocery to buy a can of grape soda and read comments from international travelers who have signed the store’s guestbook.
We’re not sure why, but travelers have been flinging shoes into the branches of a slender tree east of Stroud for years. The tree apparently has cross-pollinated with a neighbor, which now sports shoes of its own. One of us celebrates the start of a new marathon training program by heaving last season’s shoes into the tree.
On this trip, we opt to cap our day with – what else – ice-cold bottles of Route 66 Root Beer.
While we’re in Stroud, we stop to check the progress of the restoration work at the Rock Café, which was gutted by fire in May 2008. While we’re there, a good-natured stonemason gives us a turn with the trowel. (Renovations have since been completed, and the historic café re-opened in May of 2009.)
Between Stroud and Davenport, we follow a small red, white and blue sign down a side road to an intersection marked by a tall, white obelisk. This unusual monument, which sits at a lonely crossroads in the proverbial middle of nowhere, once marked an intersection on the Ozark Trail, a series of named roads and highways that predated the establishment of the federally numbered highway system.
Chandler resident Bill Fernau showed his adopted hometown some love in 2003, when he transported a 1958 Little Chef-model Valentine diner from Leedy to the vacant lot behind his 1930 Phillips 66 station in downtown Chandler. Valentine Manufacturing Inc. sold prefab metal diners to aspiring restaurateurs from the 1930s to the ’70s. Fernau is working to restore both the cottage-style gas station and the diner, with the hopes of reopening them.
After a chat with the ever-amiable Fernau, we cruise down the street to the Lincoln County Historical Society’s Museum of Pioneer History. The museum is situated in a red stone building whose interior reminds us of a grandmother’s attic: Every available surface is covered with old photographs and family heirlooms, including many donated by local residents. On one visit, we saw a Japanese flag signed by a platoon of soldiers who captured it in World War II. Behind the museum is – we’re not making this up – a brick outhouse that inspires one of us to hum old Commodores tunes for the rest of the afternoon.
Before heading out of town, we make a stop at the Chandler Route 66 Interpretive Center. Housed in Chandler’s historic 1930s-era armory building, the center recreates the sights and sounds of the Mother Road with nostalgic photos and videos, memorabilia like real 1965 Mustang seats and even virtual motel rooms where you can stretch out and watch videos on “Vanished Icons” and “Neon Nights.” We can’t resist a stop in the gift shop – it’s a great place to find work from local artists and American Indian craftsmen.
We’re ready for dinner by the time we get just past Luther, so we stop at The Boundary on 66, a relative newcomer to Route 66 that serves what very well might be the best barbecue on the road. The menu is limited – diners have their choice of several meats, including gently smoked ribs and tender pulled pork, and a few sides and desserts – but what it lacks in diversity, it more than makes up for in quality. Ron orders ribs with a side of baked beans; Emily has her usual pulled pork and potato salad with a glass of sweet tea to wash it down.
A Round, Red Treasure
Next, we take Route 66 into Arcadia, passing by the famous red-hued Round Barn. Built in 1898, the “Old Round Barn” stood sentinel over the Mother Road for 90 years before its roof collapsed, causing major structural damage. The barn was lovingly restored by a volunteer group dubbed the "Over-the-Hill-Gang" (so named because most of its members were over 65 years old), and it opened to the public in 1992. The Round Barn is listed in the National Register of Historical Places and is the only wooden round barn in Oklahoma. Step inside to take a closer look at this landmark treasure.
99 Bottles of Root Beer
Now we’re ready for some refreshment. POPS – an Arcadia convenience store, soda fountain and diner with a 66-foot-tall soda bottle out front and a collection of several thousand colorful bottles lining glass shelves along the windows indoors – sells 65 kinds of root beer, and Emily has tried them all. Her rundown: Boylan proved to be the best of the lot, while the worst was a bizarre sage-flavored concoction that resembled root beer only in the sense that it was brown and came in a bottle.
Fortunately, Arcadia’s newest attraction offers more than 650 kinds of soda, including novelty drinks like a nice Chianti-flavored soda inspired by The Sopranos, so it wasn’t difficult to find something to take the sage taste out of our mouths. On this trip, we opt to cap our day with – what else? – ice-cold bottles of Route 66 Root Beer.