Day 2: June 11, 2004



Once I was on the road (which was none too early), it wasn't long until I was in Kansas. There is a very noticeable change in road surface at the state line but otherwise nothing dramatic. But, just a quarter mile inside Kansas, there is this overpass which I think would be a very nice entrance. On the two previous occasions that I've passed here, I thought that it looked like a good photo but drove on without using the camera. Today I stopped in the middle of the empty road and took my picture.

In Galena, the Green Parrot was still there but it was too early for both of us. It was not yet open for the day and I was hardly ready for a beer. My only stop in Kansas was at the Eisler Brothers market. It is another one of those places noted in guidebooks that had somehow escaped my notice in the past. They certainly have a lot packed into their space, including the Kansas State Route 66 Association, and I reduced the inventory by a single shot glass and a can of cream soda.

So I soon reached Oklahoma. In Miami, I stopped at the Coleman Theater and, after studying some photo collages out front, tried the door. As it opened a tentative few inches, a friendly voice called, "Come on in". I did and was soon being shown around the theater by Larry, the theater's general manager. I had seen the theater from the outside on earlier trips but this was my first look inside. Wow! George L. Coleman spared no expense on its construction and the Friends of the Coleman are well on the way to returning the grand theater as close to its original state as practical. A brochure uses the phrase "dazzled the audiences of the day" in reference to the 1929 opening. That phrase certainly applied to this audience on this day. This is a working theater (the Coleman has never been "dark") so restoration work has to coexist with rehearsals and performances. Add dealing with tourists and budgets to that and the reconstruction may be even more of a feat than the construction.

The Coleman impresses not only with its looks but with its sound. Larry fired up a "player piano" style demonstration of the Mighty Wurlitzer that ran while the theater lighting, including that large and versatile chandelier, matched the many moods of the music. Dazzling is the right word. The light control panel is the original Wurdack. It is not unusual for the highly skilled lighting professionals of a visiting production to be stumped by the wall of switches. When that happens, local students, some from junior high, step in to train them on the board.

A year ago, I stopped at the new Buffalo Ranch, near Afton, just a couple of days before its opening. It was close enough that I looked over multiple pumps before a laughing worker explained the lack of front panels on them. Unlike last year, I had plenty of gas when I reached the ranch but topped off just to complete last year's search. The pens in back remain empty despite last year's claim that real buffalo would soon return. There may be a very good explanation for this (see below) but, as things stand, the place seems just like a million other big gas-food-souvenir-etc outlets with some pictures and a buffalo head on the wall.

Laurel Kane's Afton Station is just down the road in the actual town of Afton. I knew that Laurel would be in Tulsa for the festival but stopped anyway just on general principles. There is no doubt that Afton station is good for the road and I suppose that, in its own way, the new Buffalo Ranch is, too. In order to reach places like Afton Station, travelers need to be supplied and sometimes it has to be at places like the Buffalo Ranch.

ERRATA and APOLOGY: Thanks to someone more familiar with the road, I've learned that there are buffalo here and their lack of visibility is a mystery. Possibly temperature related. Terry, the owner had seemed sincere so I guess I felt I might have been taken when I saw no buffalo. Thanks to Emily and apologies to Terry.

I filled in two gaps by turning left in Foyil. I had been aware of Ed Galloway's "World's Tallest Totem Pole" but descriptions, including the fact that it was concrete, did not make me want to drive the few miles off Route 66 to see it. I'm glad that I made that turn today. The huge tower is certainly the attention getter but I was actually more impressed by the wall of hand made violins displayed in the gift shop. Each violin is made from a different type of wood and there were once about 300 of them. Only about 30 are now displayed here. After Galloway's death, the place fell into disrepair and many "disappeared".

I had somehow twice driven past Eisler Brother without taking notice but not so the Top Hat. Sitting at the intersection leading to the totem poles, it had caught my eye twice before so today I stopped after the side trip. A sign proclaims it a "Dairy Bar" so I figured something like a cold milk shake would be nice. It turns out that the Top Hat's ice cream offerings are of the soft serve variety. Oh well. I still enjoyed a friendly visit and a vanilla & chocolate swirl cone.

I had stopped at a completely deserted whale in 1999 and had entirely missed it in '03. In 1999, it surprised me by suddenly appearing from behind some trees. Last year my surprise was realizing that I had passed it when I was a state away. Today, I was not alone in the little park and souvenirs and snacks are available. The park looks very different from the overgrown neglected place I saw five years ago. But the whale is still blue and there is still "No Fishing".

I did make it to the Steinbeck Awards dinner although I do not have much to show for it (or of it). Food was good and entertainment was great. Things started with Native American dancers who had many of the guests dancing with them before they were through. Other entertainment included (partial list) an excellent jazz combo (ended their set with Get Your Kicks on Route 66, of course), Cyrus Avery & John Steinbeck impersonators, and a wonderful Michael Wallis speech. Michael's talk included a story about a night time visit to Seligman where he found Juan Delgadillo sweeping the street in front of the Snow Cap. What a great image. I'll bet that was a straw broom.

Of course the reason for the whole event was to present the awards. Virgil Smith picked up the Cyrus Avery Award for his restoration of a Valentine diner in Clinton, OK. Then, with universal and overwhelming approval, the Steinbeck Award went to Bob Waldmire. A nice end to the evening.

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