By the time you read this we’ll be on the road, Anna and I in our ’33 and Bill and Sabina in their pearl pink Rivi. They drove down and met us in Glendale, and now we’re headed to Oklahoma for a new event called Gathering at the Roc, which is a classy, invite-only shindig on the Woolaroc game preserve/museum outside Bartlesville. Bill got us invited. And Anna and Sabina immediately got together and planned this out as a 2-week (plus) sightseeing-vacation trip.
So it was my intention to label this column “On Hiatus,” and strongly suggest that you spend the next two or three weeks scrolling back through my collection of Rod and Custom columns, which now number about 90–many of which you might have missed, forgotten, or never saw.
But then I realized I have one whole photo file already saved on my computer called “Travel Pics.” It’s just a smattering and a hodgepodge of photos taken from the road, hither and yon. You see, Anna and I have taken long car trips across this country on small numbered highways just about every year since we’ve known each other. And one of my pastimes has been taking photographs, especially in black and white. Some of these are good photos, others are just travel snapshots. But all taken from the roadside, somewhere. Hope you enjoy them. And when you tire of these, go back and check out some earlier columns. See you when we get back. Can’t say exactly when that will be.
Since we’re starting our trip in L.A., let’s begin here. I was driving somewhere on the West Side, on a big street, and caught this out of the corner of my eye. So I swung around the block, and yes it said what I didn’t believe it said. Luckily I had a camera (I don’t have a cell phone), and got some photos. Being L.A., this could’ve been for a movie. But I like to think it was witty folk art. And just plain hilarious.
There used to be a lot of these. I remember one in New Jersey. But there aren’t many left, and this one won’t last much longer. This is pretty much the town of Caruthers, CA, an intersection just off Hwy 41 south of Fresno. It’s also next to Raisin City, where Blackie’s Fresno Drag Strip still sits, intact but unused.
We’re not getting very far, but we will. Visalia is another California Valley town between Fresno and Bakersfield, where I was born, my mother grew up, and my grandparents lived. This cool little hot dog stand has been right there, just a couple blocks from grandpa’s house, ever since I was a little kid, and it’s still there. At night, when the neon comes on, the little dog on top looks like it’s running. Still does.
OK, let’s head east a bit. This one’s actually visible from I-10 in the Mojave desert, about halfway between Coachella and the Colorado River (aka Ariz. border). It looks like a rundown truck stop, so most people pass it by. But I’ve stopped there several times to take pictures (better in B&W), and peer through the dusty windows of the large old building behind the pumps. There were lots of old vehicles in there ranging from Model T’s to a 4-cyl. Indian motorcycle (complete) to a full-size Santa Fe streamliner engine. Anna and I stopped at the operating cafe for milkshakes a few times, but I think that’s now closed, too. It’s called Desert Center, built by Henry Kaiser to serve a mine, and birthplace of Kaiser Hospital.Speaking of the Calif.-Nev. desert, Anna and I made many exploratory trips out there in our younger days, looking for ghost towns, dry lakes, sand dunes, whatever. This was Goldpoint, Nevada, somewhere out there, and not quite ghosted yet–then.
When you leave Death Valley heading east toward Las Vegas, there’s a crossroads called Death Valley Junction, which consisted of a small cafe, a mission-style motel, and a matching small live theater where an old lady gave dancing performances for decades. Anna and I ate at the cafe on our honeymoon, and they gave us a little cake with a candle on it.
When we’re heading east on I-40, our favorite first night stop is the restored La Posada railroad hotel in Winslow, AZ. We might have been there last night. Across the street was this faded pre-fab cafe, made of porcelainized metal, like an old gas station. We never saw it open. Somebody should have bought it and taken it home.
They call US 50 the Loneliest Highway, and much of it is, running east from Reno and on across much of the US. But one good not-ghost town right in the middle of Nevada, great for lunch stop on the way to Bonneville, is Austin.
This is a classic, titled–what else?–“Snow White at the Blue Fox.” I-95 is a great drive all along the left side of Idaho, top to bottom, that we’ve driven many times. Grangeville is a Happy Days one Main Street town right in the middle, with a great lunch cafe…and a still-operating movie theater.
Back to US 50, this row of very weathered, padlocked, corrugated steel and wood garages was at some crossroads, probably in mid-Nevada, with nothing else around. There’s a whole lot of them. None look like they’ve been opened in many years. What do you suppose is inside?Farther north, we were heading from the Puget Sound to Lake Chelan in northern Washington, and found the only highway up there was Rte. 20. It’s marked a “scenic route,” but it’s definitely a lonesome road. Concrete was before the scenic part, and had no hotels. I snapped a picture and we kept going. How could you not take this photo?
Here’s one tasty morsel for car folk (or–especially today–truck folk). This was just beside some small highway somewhere in middle America. I don’t see any rust or dents from here, and that grille guard has done its job.
This was another photo op I couldn’t pass up. Anna says this was a campsite in Kentucky or Tennessee. Yes, we camped for several years, starting with a camper shell on a ’49 Chevy pickup, then in a slightly larger tent when young Bill was along. Anna cooked great meals on a 2-burner Coleman stove.
And we’ve driven miles and miles of Texas (and we might be there again, as you read this). All I remember is that this was just one of many dead or dying small towns we passed through on one trip down the middle of the state, maybe Wichita Falls toward San Antonio.
Much more recently (2018), pre-pandemic, we headed back to Texas specifically to see what Marfa was all about, then on to Kerrville to visit Tom Prufer, then to Seguin to see our buddy Skitch Kenney, and finally up to Little Rock, AR, to see my brother and his wife. Long-time car guys might remember Skitch (who took this picture) and his Chevys, or his partner “Woodie” Will O’Neil. Then Covid hit, and it got Skitch. RIP pal.
Hope this holds you till we get back. I just want to emphasize that this is a very small and rambling sample of trip photos we have. There are 30 albums, by year, with notes, in the bookcase, not to mention what’s still in boxes under the bed. Plus my own slides and negs in my archive. So if you like this sort of thing, let me know. There’s plenty more, and better.