Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

We've hung out the CLOSED sign at the Old Curosity Shop and hit the road with a combination of geography and musicology.

Sometimes Pat and I get the travel bug, so we stock up the Lazy Daze motorhome, and get out on the highway.  For this trip, we’ll tell you how to:   Get Your Kicks on Route 66!

Written by Bobby Troup and recorded dozens of times, Route 66 has inspired travelers from all over the world to explore the legendary “Mother Road”.  The lyrics “Wind from Chicago to L.A.”, but being in Southern California already, we’ll go the other direction, and select some appropriate tunes for entertainment along the way.

When Veronica Plays Her Harmonica (down on the beach at Santa Monica).  A song I heard on Dr. Demento several times, and probably on earlier radio shows.   The traditional end of Route 66 is on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but the official end is a few blocks inland.

I Just Wanta Have Fun (until the sun come up over Santa Monica Boulevard).  Now designated State Highway 2, Santa Monica Blvd runs through its namesake town, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.   One landmark near La Brea Ave. is the Formosa Cafe, part of which is a retired Pacific Electric trolley car body.  It was a location in the movie “LA Confidential”.  I first heard the song for this street, recorded by Sheryl Crowe, while driving through, of all places, Connecticut, going from one trolley museum to another.  I bought her CD at a record shop in Boston’s North Station.

I Love L.A. by Randy Newman.  Not quite the same as I Left My Heart in San Francisco, but to many, this is the unofficial Anthem of Angeltown.

Los Angeles, How We Love You by The Zanies, is a more obscure salute to our metropolitan area.  Note that for the first ten years or so, Route 66 ended at 7th and Broadway in downtown L.A.  In those days it was a major crossing for the LA Railway narrow gauge streetcar lines, and it still has heavy bus traffic. 

Everything’s Coming up Roses, for that section of 66 that ran on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena.  The Tournament of Roses sees this street come alive with mind-boggling floral creations, ground-shaking marching bands, and equestrians reminding us of long-ago days in California.

The Bird, by the Pomona College Sagehen Band.  We leave Los Angeles County at Claremont, home of Pomona College and several other institutions of higher learning.  We’ll follow Foothill Blvd on east to San Bernardino.

King of the Surf Guitar by Dick Dale, with vocal by The Blossoms, which mentions San Bernardino.  “San Berdoo” used to be the home of the Santa Fe Railway “back shop” where locomotives could be given “frame up” overhauls.  Even units that had suffered heavy wreck damage could be straightened out, rebuilt and put back into service.  The shops are gone now, but the smokestack from the old steam plant stands as a relic of those days.  After going east from LA, we now turn north and ascend the Cajon Pass grade.  There are still some pieces of 66 here, but the old road finally dead-ends at an embankment, so we have to take I-15.

Old Trails, by Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band.  Once we get over Cajon Pass on I-15, we follow it to Victorville, where the old road parallels the BNSF Railway.  This section is part of the National Old Trails highway, which predated numbered routes.  The Edison power line which parallels the road and feeds the hamlets between Victorville to Barstow is the “Old Trails 33KV” circuit.  We even have a song for the “Mother of the Mother Road”: Old Trails one of my favorite Adam Marsland compositions.  

Barstool Cowboy from Old Barstow by Spike Jones and his City Slickers.  A very rare recording by the “Master of Musical Mayhem”, heard on (where else?) the Dr. Demento Show.  Barstow is a major junction point for rails and roads.  Santa Fe (now BNSF) has a big yard and locomotive servicing facility here, and folks heading for Las Vegas branch off to the northeast.  We’ll be heading east on I-40, because the section of 66 east of Barstow runs through a US Marine Corps base (not where they do amphibious landing drills).  At Daggett, we can pick up the old road, and follow the Santa Fe some more.  We’ll see some of the Edison power facilities at Coolwater and then head into the desert, but we’ll have to get back on I-40 when 66 dead-ends again.  

Ludlow 6:18 by Adam Marsland.  Ludlow is a wide spot in the road with gas stations, a motel, and a restaurant which may or may not be open.  Here we can take a side road to “Old Ludlow” which is almost a ghost town, and find the ruins of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, which once headed north from here to the gold mines of Nevada.  The T&T finally gave up around 1940, and the rail was salvaged for military base yard tracks.  From here we can follow the Santa Fe all the way to Needles, passing through such hamlets as Amboy and Essex.

On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe, from the MGM film The Harvey Girls.  Whole books have been written about how Fred Harvey established dining rooms in major Santa Fe Railway stations in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  His waitresses were wholesome young women who were carefully watched over by female supervisors as they brought as touch of civilization to the Wild West.

Take It Easy by the Eagles.  “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow Arizona” has become a “must do” in many music-loving tourists’ trips along Route 66.  There’s even a statue of a young man with a guitar, just waiting for visitors to take photos.  On another corner is a souvenir shop, where I bought my copy of the “Eagles’ Greatest Hits”.  Winslow is also the home of La Posada, one of the last of the “Harvey Houses”, where travelers can sleep in an historic inn and watch the trains go by.  One can even get there by train, since Amtrak’s Southwest Chief stops here every day.

Two Gun Harry from Tucumcari by Dorothy Shay.  I was looking for a song about New Mexico, and found this on CDNow.  Haven’t heard it, not even on Dr. Demento but thought I’d throw it into the mix.  Tucumcari is where the Rock Island Line diverged, one track heading for Amarillo TX, the other one going northeast to Dalhart, Texas.  At Santa Rosa NM, we started to follow what’s now a Union Pacific line, and it uses the Rock Island route to get to Kansas City.  The line to Amarillo and points east is mostly abandoned, and we’ll see old embankments and almost-ghost towns along I-40.

Rock Island Line by Leadbelly, Lonnie Donegan and Stan Freberg.  Dating back to the 1930’s, this song memorializes the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific, which finally gave up the corporate ghost in 1980.  Although the song mentions New Orleans, it never went there (but the Wabash Cannonball never went to Minnesota, either).  Sections of it remain in service, including a busy pair of commuter lines between Joliet (for all you Blues Brothers fans) and Chicago.

Amarillo by Morning by George Strait.  A more modern country song, it remind me of the time I was heading home on the Greyhound bus between St. Louis and Albuquerque in 1977 (The “Dog Tired Tour”) and we had a rest stop at Amarillo around 2 AM.  A bit on the “bleak” side, but at least I had a ticket that was good all the way to LA.

Deep in the Heart of Texas.  I think this song came out in the 1940’s.  It has an “audience participation” element in that folks are expected to clap their hands at certain points in the music.  I read somewhere that during World War II, it had to be deleted from the playlists of background music services because of its effect on production.  Workers would stop what they were doing to “clap along”.  There’s a parody titled Deep in the Heart of Jersey, with  a line “The air in June, ain’t like perfume/Deep in the Heart of Jersey.”

A relic road: former US 66 pavement west of Shamrock Texas.  The RV park is where
we stayed on the eastbound portion of our coast-to-coast trip.

Boris the Spider, by the Who. The RV park near Shamrock TX was part of the Good Sam network and had an OK rating, but it wasn’t graded for creepy crawly critters.  It had way too many tarantulas and other wee wildlife for Pat’s taste.  It did get extra points from “roads scholars” by being located on a frontage road that’s a section of original Route 66 narrow concrete

Oklahoma!   Now for our big production number!  Quiet on the set!  Lights!  Camera! ACTION!  All singing!  All dancing!  Oklahoma!  was one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s biggest hits of the musical stage and then on the silver screen.  (but the movie location work was done in Arizona)

She Caught the Katy (and left me a mule to ride).  A song made famous by the Blues Brothers, it celebrates the now-vanished Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway (M-K-T, think of the last two letters).  One relic that’s still in use is the former MKT depot in Elk City OK, which is now “Ed’s Katy Diner”.   One of the advantages of RV travel is that one doesn’t have to worry about where to have lunch—it’s anywhere you can pull off the road and open the fridge.  But sometimes it fun to take a break and try a unique eating place like this one.

We’re going to take a break here, pull into the campground, set the brakes, connect to the hookups and kick back for a while.  But look for the next chapter in two or three months.

Keep the shiny side up and the dirty side down.  Remember the Golden Rule of Railroad Grade Crossings: If you race a train and it's a tie, YOU LOSE!

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