ROUTE 66, THE TRAVELERS
Angel Delgadillo stands right smack dab in the middle of old Route 66 and blithely mangles a metaphor: "We have a sleeping elephant here. It's just waking up a bit...wriggling its toes." Can you imagine an elephant wriggling its toes? Angel points back over his shoulder.
The sleeping Old Route 66 stretches out behind Angel as far as he can see. It is a sleeping elephant that Angel, a mild, gentle man you wouldn't figure to walk up and poke elephants, can probably be credited with awakening, a renewed and intense interest in an old, old highway.
At one time Route 66 passed through 8 states, 3 time zones, a dozen subcultures and the very soul of millions of imaginations. It was a highway for traveling, the going as much of the experience as getting there.
In Arizona it is a HISTORIC HIGHWAY. It is more than historic. A modern-day traveler rushing along passes over the beat down footprints of the ages, reminding one of a line from Longfellow about distant footsteps that echo through the corridors of time.
Distant footsteps echo from a long, long time ago over near where Holbrook is now. The land was swampy and steamy and creatures the size of a greyhound bus tromped around, pea-brained, evil-tempered, always, always hungry. Some of the first travelers, if you will. Their footprints can still be found...
The greyhound-bus-monsters were long gone when another traveler came shrieking in from outer space at 40,000 miles an hour, slammed into earth west of Winslow and left a footprint in the ground you could play 20 simultaneous football games in. Two million spectators could sit on the sloping sides of the crater and watch. Travelers today stand around the edges and gape...
Man arrived on the continent and immediately developed an affinity for the setting sun. The expanse out setting-sun-way had less people, except maybe heathen Injuns, and where no white man with any sense at all would go in the 1840's the trappers went. Travelers on Route 66 today beat down their footprints on the way by...
The Feds gave Lt Edward Beale $200,000 and he built a wagon road across the 35th parallel in Arizona that travelers on Old Route 66 can still see the tracks of today. It was such a superb job of surveying that Route 66, the Santa Fe Railroad and a modern Interstate all closely followed its original route.
Travelers this way today truly beat down his footprints passing by...
In Seligman Route 66 vibrated at Angel Delgadillo's front door, an artery of American life, throbbing with hurts and heartaches and hopes and passions, folks moving, always moving. He cut hair in his one-chair barber shop and folks played pool in the back room and he watched the "Okies" stream by in the 30's, an almost endless river of broke-down, beat-down souls chasing rainbows. U.S. Route 66 became...The Main Street of America.
The "Barber of Seligman" as he's called admits he didn't pay much attention. Until that day in 1978 when the Interstate bypassed Seligman and Seligman became (oh, how they hate this phrase) a sleepy little town, dying off to the side of a four lane rush that took away the traveling dollar.
Even at that it was still almost 10 more years before Angel decided enough was enough, decided to cast a long shadow rather than stand in one, jumped in his car, drove out over the longest remaining stretch of old Route 66 in the country, that portion from Seligman to Topock on the Colorado River and in his own quiet, impassioned way "pounded" on doors and stuck his face in other faces and insisted they needed to do something to get people traveling on old Route 66 again.
Whatever he said made sense and they formed, and made Angel the president of, the HISTORIC ROUTE 66 ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA. It was their effort that resulted in the state dedicating Old Route 66 an Arizona Historic Highway.
Route 66 has made a traveler of sorts out of Angel Delgadillo. His brother, though, caters to travelers...
With the sensitive touch of an artist Juan Delgadillo pulls at the string attached up under the dash of the white 1936 "air-cooled" (there's no top) Chevrolet with the decorated Christmas tree in the back and the flowers sticking out of everything. A wolf whistle, delicate in nuance yet shrill in volume, shatters the quiet morning. The lady on the sidewalk knows Juan, it's a small town. She waves at him but her smile implies he's just a little outrageous. Juan is...a little outrageous.
It is Juan's occasionally nomadic billboard jerking and bouncing and coughing down main street that says come on down to his place of business and buy something. MALTS is painted on one side of the hood, SHAKES on the other, DELAGADILLO'S SNOWCAP on the door.
"We serve dead chicken, cheeseburgers with cheese." He jerks the string on the whistle, "and make people smile." He sneaks a look at me. A totally contagious grin.
Route 66 passes in front of Delgadillo's Snowcap, sort of Seligman's answer to Dairy Queen. It's where Juan's done business for 30 years and for 30 years he has given his customers THE TREATMENT. The treatment starts at the door. There are two doorknobs, one on each side. "One is a practice doorknob, Bill," Says Juan, straight-faced.
Leading her husband and three kids, the lady from California grabs the wrong one, yanks, confused, finally twists the right knob, grins, comes inside.
"Well, we'll have five big cheeseburgers..."
"With cheese, right?"
"Uh huh." One of the kids gets it and looks at Juan kinda' funny.
"Would you like some straws for those cokes?" From under the counter Juan pulls out a raggedy handful of straws. Bent straws, a few good ones, empty wrappers, a mess. Laughing, the lady manages to cull five good ones.
"You just don't say, here, here's your hamburger and take their money and send them out the door...?" I ask.
"Oh, never, never, no way. I make 'em feel at home. Take their money." He laughs. "No, I like to treat my people like I would like to be treated. We do a lot of things, like if they're looking at the menu we ask, 'you wanna look first?' They say yes and I throw a Look candy bar on the counter.
"But they like it. Bill, they tell me, 'thanks for being here...you made our day...you made us laugh.' You bet."
People from all over the world have stopped here in Seligman specifically to see Juan and the Snowcap. He's been on TV, radio, in newspapers, Playboy Magazine recommended him. For those travellers in the know Juan Delgadillo's Snowcap is a "must stop" on the way by.
"Want some ketchup for your cheeseburger with cheese?" It's one of those squeeze bottles. He squirts it at one of the kids, a long red string shoots out and the kid jerks like he's been shot. Same with the mustard bottle aimed absent-mindedly at the lady. Squeeze. She flinches. Juan deadpans, what's everybody excited about?
West of Seligman Route 66 crosses Aubrey Valley in a long, straight line. A traveler here can see as far as the eye can see out across a mind-numbing expanse of high plains.
Past the turn-off to Grand Canyon Caverns, a subterranean maze of limestone caves formed over millions of years of stirring and shaking by Mother Nature.
Off a ridge of high hills now Route 66 swoops down into another valley and through the town of Truxton. Don't Blink. The road gets windy again through Peach Springs on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.
A few more miles west Hackberry was one of those here-for-a-while-then-gone mining towns. A few years ago the Hackberry school graduated one, count them, one, junior high student. Then they closed the school.
Up over the Black Mountains west of Kingman Route 66 negotiates Sitgreaves Pass like a sick snake. For those "Okies" it might as well been called Heartbreak Pass, or Breakdown Pass. Ed Edgerton operated a restaurant and gas station on the eastern side and once told me, "They'd boil over and break axles and throw parts out of their engines. Hell, in the summer I'd have 50, 60 cars parked around here waiting for the cool of evening to try and make it just 3 miles up to the top." Seventy years later now there are still a few rusty remains of cars from that time scattered along side the road, abandoned, their owners having left only echoes of their footsteps in the corridors of time.
If you made the Pass you bottomed out in another Mining town, Oatman, that these days kind of relaxes in its memories and caters to tourists and has a lot of burros roaming the streets so watch where you step. A sign over one of the bars in town reads, DRINKING IS A GOOD WAY TO FIND OUT IF YOUR NECK LEAKS.
Angel Delgadillo gets all flustery when he talks about Old Route 66. He always wears a baseball cap with a Route 66 emblem and a button pinned to it that says, "Get your kicks on Rt. 66." In his own way, he is the most eloquent spokesman, you can FEEL his passion for the road...he talks fast and rambles, he has just so, so much to say.
"And you know, I was just talking to myself this morning. All these people who traveled this road back then, they shaped up America out here."
Another Delgadillo metaphor. "There's America littered all up and down this Route 66."
It is a road for traveling...a place to listen...for distant footsteps that echo through the corridors of time.
Route 66 in Arizona can be accessed in a number of places. On the east, get off Interstate 40 at Seligman. Visit Angel & Juan then head west to Kingman on the old road. Once you get to Kingman, you have to get back on I-40 for about 5 miles before you re-join Rt 66 up over Sitgreaves Pass to Oatman. Leaving Oatman you drive south and rejoin I-40 at Topock just before it crosses the Colorado River into California.
Obviously, then, you could pick up Old Rt 6 at Topock and Kingman.