Every two years, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association inducts two new members into our Hall of Fame for their contributions to the road. Since our first induction and including our 2020 inductees, there are 25 individuals recognized within those ranks.
There is an open nomination period for several months (which includes all previous nominees that had not been selected in years prior) and a small committee selection process takes place. The committee (made up of volunteers within the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association with the President serving as tie-breaker if needed) selects one living recipient and one that has passed on. There is no checklist of criteria; it’s simply a discussion: What was the individual’s contribution? Was it a one-time project like Luke Robison’s leadership of the group of volunteers that saved the Round Barn or a continuing impact like Jim Ross’ work with historic Oklahoma bridges? How big of an impact did their work have on Route 66 as a whole?
This year, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association is proud to announce that this year’s inductees into the Hall of Fame are: Harley and Annabelle Russell of Erick, Oklahoma.
Harley Russell was born in Erick, Oklahoma in 1945. After graduating high school, he hit the road with his guitar. He had a full life before returning to Erick in the mid-1980s to, as he put it, “clear the cobwebs out.” A few years after he came home, a woman came into his shop to get her guitar worked on. That woman was Annabelle – and she never left. Their love was swift and strong.
Back then, Route 66 wasn’t the tourist attraction it has become today. In fact, originally, Harley and Annabelle’s little shop was a health food store. It slowly evolved from a music store to a place where people could get music lessons to an antique shop. Nothing seemed to fit.
In 1999, Harley and Annabelle were just hanging out, picking on their guitars…when a man poked his head in the door. He asked if he could bring some people inside to listen. Harley said yes…and instead of one or two people an entire busload of tourists poured into their little shop. They had such a good time hootin’ and hollerin’ with Harley and Annabelle that the Russells decided to form the Mediocre Music Makers. They weren’t musicians – they were performers. They were partners.
They encouraged travelers to stop and, “see rednecks work and play in their own environment.” That environment includes an amazing collection of Route 66 memorabilia; the old brick meat market building cannot contain it all. Nor can the Redneck Castle just over yonder. Nothing is for sale because it’s not about the money. It’s about the experience. Harley has joked, “We do not have anything that has to follow any kind of regulation because we can’t even regulate ourselves.”
People from all over the world have stopped in Erick to hear the music; everybody leaves with a story to tell. These travelers are often greeted with the flag of their home country and welcome signs made by Annabelle herself. The lovable Mater from Pixar’s Cars films feels like a child born of this couple, for good reason. The crew stopped here on their research road trip for the first movie.
Harley and Annabelle became beloved institutions of the Mother Road. Entertaining guests was a full-time gig; they survived on the tips and donations from visitors.
Annabelle passed away in 2014 but her presence is still loud and clear here at the Sandhills Curiosity Shop. She asked Harley to keep going, and he does. He continues to entertain visitors from all around the world here in this small town near the Texas border. Those that have stopped here have said that there is no accurate way to describe their visit; you just have to stop and experience it for yourself. It truly is, “Insanity at its finest.”
I found a quote from 2003 that Annabelle said to a traveler. “Happiness doesn’t come from all the things outside; it comes from inside.” The Mediocre Music Makers have been lit that fire of inward happiness for an incalculable number of travelers.
Harley, it’s your turn to get the best of OUR love. Congratulations. Our road wouldn’t be the same without you.
Thank you to Melody Murray of Bazaar on 66 in Elk City for the video!
Harley now has a pair of plaques on display at his shop in Erick and two plaques will also be on display at the Hall of Fame itself at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma.