Saturday, June 6, 2015

Windham couple got their kicks, and more, on Route 66 - By Walter Lunt

Since 1926, driving down Route 66 has been the experience of a lifetime for travelers, adventurers, desperados and dreamers.

Stan and Cheryl Page spent most of April and May driving their dream. It was the entire 2,249 mile length of historic Route 66, through eight states from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. Often referred to as the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road, Route 66 was created in 1926 to accommodate the growing number of motorized vehicles, mostly going west. Route 66 was officially removed from the U.S. highway system in 1985, replaced by a patchwork of interstate roadways. The old route, however, is clearly marked and supported by various historic and business organizations.
Today, travelers on the iconic road, particularly baby boomers, know their tour embodies the nostalgia and pop culture of the mid-20th century. Stan said the road has strong ties with old cars and the old days, so this trip wouldn’t be authentic unless he and Cheryl made the trip in their vintage car, a meticulously restored and smartly modified 1969 blue and white Camaro. Familiar to many around Windham, the Camaro has earned an astonishing 300-plus plaques and trophies in car shows from North Carolina to Toronto. To date, the car has logged over 320,000 miles. Stan has done all the mechanical work. He credits Ray Philpot, owner of J & R Garage in Windham, for much of the body and paint work.
So how does one prepare a high mileage classic car for a trek across America? Page said the process began four years ago. He installed a new wiring harness, replaced rear end gears, the shocks and springs, and upgraded to a 5-speed transmission, with overdrive, for long term highway driving. He also added air conditioning.

Despite the extensive preparation, acquaintances winced when learning the Pages would embark on an 8,000 mile trip in a 45-year-old vehicle. Skeptical friends and patrons at Cheryl’s work place, Mr. Mike’s (formerly Puff & Stop) in North Windham, went the distance and gifted the Pages a Triple-A gold insurance plan – good for towing and lodging, “just in case.”

Although equipped with GPS, the Page’s relied almost exclusively on a thick travel booklet published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation. It features maps, information on attractions, games, history, and even roadway scavenger hunts. Cheryl kept a diary of the couple’s travels, recording weather conditions (“we went through tornado alley during tornado season” but luckily encountered no storms), attractions, motel and lodging stays and personal details.

Nearly all roadside businesses and attractions capitalize on the glory day’s theme of Route 66, from restored gas stations to murals depicting old advertising signs, autos and life styles of the road’s early days. Their favorite sites: Cheryl, who is considering retirement, was taken by the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, standing 42 feet tall. Stan, on the other hand, never got to visit his, which would have been The Big Texan tavern, a steakhouse that advertises a 72 oz. steak – “consume the meal within one hour and eat free.” Friends and high school classmates of Stan know him to be the biggest fan of steak on the planet. But the tavern was too far off their route. 

Both said they were captivated by the Town of Oatman, Arizona, populated almost exclusively by burros walking free and wild. The town, located in the Black Mountains, became a mining mecca in 1863 with the discovery of gold. When the last prospectors left around 1915, their pack animals were set free. Now managed and protected, Oatman is a tourist destination, complete with wondering burros and gift shops.

Another trip highlight was the 800-car May Run, an antique car cruise extending 158 miles along an uninterrupted stretch of the original Route 66. The Pages were delighted to be able to join the nostalgic caravan for the first day of its run.

Among the historic sites, celebrations, sagebrush and tumbleweeds, tourist shops, motels and lodgings (all depicting early day themes), Cheryl said she was dumbfounded by the number of wrecked, abandoned and rusting antique cars. “They were everywhere, all makes, along the entire route. A field day for old car lovers.”

And yes, they heard that unmistakable Nelson Riddle instrumental that was the theme music of the early sixties television series Route 66. It played in various establishments, along with pictures or murals of the two young adventurers (Martin Milner and George Maharis) driving a Corvette on Route 66, exploring the social problems of a changing America.

There were side trips and a different route home. The Pages visited Yellowstone National Park, Hoover Dam, rode a horse within 200 feet of the famed Hollywood sign, drove a race car in Las Vegas and saw a Wild West show at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. Both agreed the most unforgettable experience was seeing the presidents on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

And did they experience the predicted mechanical problems? “Yeah,” admitted Stan. With raised eyebrows, he added, “Twice.” Once in Texas where they lost two days to a smoking rear axle, and the second time on their way home; “We drove from New York to Windham on seven cylinders.” Presently, the Camaro sits in Stan’s garage with no motor and “parts everywhere,” waiting for the installation of a new “383 Stroker,” which arrived last week. Thinking back on the four years of mechanical prep work, Stan grinned and added, “I guess I should’ve changed engines too.”

Asked to reflect on their adventure with a single thought that best expresses their month-long journey, Cheryl responded, “I love America – beautiful, beautiful America. And I’m so thankful to have seen a good percentage of it.” Stan summed up the experience from a different perspective. “Well, I got to cross it off my bucket list, and I completed the trip in a 45-year-old car.”

As for advice to others contemplating Route 66: “Don’t just say you want to do the trip – get up and do it. Don’t wait.”

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