Update on the Blue Whale of Catoosa

In April, the City of Catoosa finalized the purchase the Blue Whale and the surrounding 23.5 acres. The Whale was built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as an anniversary present to his wife, Zelta. The property changed hands a few times over the years, but it has always stayed in the Davis family until now. Rest assured, Catoosa knows how important the Whale is not just to their community but to the entire world.

Since Catoosa has taken ownership of the land, there have been several improvements. The Whale itself has had a good cleaning. The bathrooms have been repaired. Much of the scrub brush has been removed and the walking path on the north side of the pond has been cleared.

Future plans include clearing a path around the south side of the pond and cleaning up the other walking trails through the woodland part of the property. The city plans to continue enhancing the area without negatively impacting the charm and integrity of what our Route 66 family knows and loves.

The gift shop remains open and staffed primarily by Linda Hobbs. All proceeds from the shop will continue to go to the Catoosa Arts & Tourism. Hugh and Zelta’s son, Blaine, has lived on the property off-and-on for the last eighteen years. Although he will no longer live on site, he plans to stay engaged with the Route 66 community.

The Blue Whale remains open daily. Follow along with them on Facebook to stay up-to-date with changes: https://www.facebook.com/blue.whale.144/

The Oklahoma Route 66 Association is excited to see what the future brings for ol’ Blue. The legacy of the Whale is a big part of our story and we stand ready to help ensure that this unique roadside attraction continues to welcome visitors for decades to come.

Oklahoma Humanities HOPE Grant

In May, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association received an Oklahoma Humanities HOPE Grant thanks to Oklahoma Humanities and the National Endowment of the Humanities. These monies helped replace the lost funds that we depend on to keep our Executive Director, our single paid staff member, employed and engaged with our individual and business members. Since summer is typically our busy season, it is vital we are in a position to provide travelers with the resources they need to enjoy the Mother Road in Oklahoma.

As you know, we have over 400 miles of Route 66 within our borders. The association helps bridge the gap that comes with those 400 miles to provide promotional opportunities, education resources, and enhancement to state tourism efforts like the #OKHereWeGo effort to encourage local engagement. If we can help someone in Sayre see what’s working in Vinita or share best practices from one of our sister organizations in the other seven Route 66 states, it helps everyone. A rising tide raises all boats!

This grant program would not be possible without the $2.2 trillion relief package that passed federally in late March. The association wants to thank our representatives for their support of these measures along with others to help our communities weather this unprecedented time.

As you feel comfortable venturing out and exploring Oklahoma, we know that Route 66 will be a part of that journey. Our continued engagement will make sure that people are aware of the long-time attractions and the new points of interest along our famous highway.

2020 Board Elections Update

by Rhys Martin, President

The Oklahoma Route 66 Association had a great meeting in Elk City on Sunday, January 26th. Many thanks for the National Route 66 Museum for hosting us!

National Route 66 Museum; the motorcycle belonged to a traveler from Europe

We talked about all of the happenings along Route 66 in the Sooner State and held elections for a few board member positions. Here are the results of that election:

  • Secretary: VACANT (no candidates)
  • Treasurer: VACANT (no candidates)
  • Western Region Vice President: Pam Shelton*
  • Custer/Washita/Beckham County District Rep: Julie Lenius*
  • Delaware/Craig/Rogers County District Rep: Linda Hobbs
  • Ottawa County District Rep: Amanda Davis
  • At Large Rep: Michael Jones

Pam Shelton and Julie Lenius retained their previous positions on the board. Linda Hobbs had previously been an At Large representative; she stepped forward for the District position when the previous representative, Liz Huckleby, stepped down. We thank Liz and our previous Ottawa County representative, Jordan Boyd, for their service and hope they remain involved in the greater Route 66 community!

We have reached the submission deadline for new Trip Guide advertising; we’ve been tracking a little behind where we’ve been in years past so if you want to advertise in the 2020-2021 guide, please reach out to us immediately! We’d love to put your business in front of travelers for the coming year.

Muffler Man Art Installation by John Cerney, west of Fort Reno

It’s easy to see how the excitement around Route 66 has grown over the last few years. I drove down to Elk City from Tulsa and, as always, took the old road as much as I could. New attractions like the Muffler Man art installation near Calumet bring fresh attention to the road while a place like the Canadian River Pony Bridge keeps bringing people back. If it’s been a while since you’ve turned miles on Historic Route 66, be sure you make some time for it soon. You never know what you’ll encounter!

Road Ahead Partnership – Update to Promotion Working Group

Road Ahead Promotion Working Group Comprised of State Marketing Professionals

In the fall of 2019, Jennifer Mullins, Oklahoma’s Director of Travel Promotion, became the new Chairman of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership’s Promotion Working Group. In just 3 months, she has completed the task of recruiting members from the seven other Route 66 state tourism departments as new members of Working Group.

These tourism professionals will join the current members of the Road Ahead’s Promotion Working Group, Bill Kelly, former Executive Director of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Program and Brennen Matthews, Editor of Route magazine. This marks the first time representatives from tourism departments in all eight Route 66 states have committed to working together to promote the Mother Road.

“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with my counterparts on ways to promote and increase visitation, both domestically and internationally, for Route 66,” Mullins said. “The Mother Road is such an important and fascinating part of our nation’s history and culture, and such a key piece of our state’s tourism economy.  Thousands of tourists visit Oklahoma each year to drive the highway. They stop in our cities and towns, bringing in millions of dollars and helping create jobs in both urban and rural areas.  With state leadership that recognizes the cultural and tourism significance of the Route, and who is committed to supporting economic development, historic preservation, and marketing initiatives, we have begun to see real momentum.  My goal is to bring that energy and collaborative enthusiasm to my role within the group to collectively effect real change on a national level.”

The first order of business for the newly formed Promotion Working Group will be setting goals, based on the challenges and needs associated with promoting Route 66.

The new tourism department members of the Route 66 Road Ahead Promotion Working Group include:

Jan Kemmerling, Director of Tourism, Illinois

Ashley Sneed, Marketing Coordinator, Missouri

Jennifer Mullins, Director of Travel Promotion, Oklahoma

Bridgette Jobe, Director of Tourism, Kansas

Brad Smyth, Tourism Director, Texas

Erin Ladd, Marketing Director, New Mexico

Tim DeClaire, Senior Director of Marketing, Arizona

Jennifer Walker, Director of Brand Advertising, California

Established in 2015, with the support of the National Park Service and the World Monuments’ Fund, The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership’s mission is to revitalize and sustain Route 66 as a national and international icon through partnerships focused on promotion, preservation, research and education, and economic development.



Bill Thomas, Chairman

Rt. 66 Road Ahead Partnership



The Waldmire U-Haul

by Rhys Martin, President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association

When it was announced this summer that the contents of Afton Station were going to be auctioned off, I was tremendously sad. Afton Station had been a great asset to Route 66, not just in northeast Oklahoma but throughout all 2400+ miles. It wasn’t just the old D-X station and the impressive Packard automobile collection inside that endeared it to everyone, but it was owner Laurel Kane and her loyal volunteers that really set the place apart.

I didn’t know Laurel very long, but we became friends in record time. In fact, it was Laurel that stood on the stage at Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom in 2015 and served as the officiant in my wedding. Her unexpected passing in early 2016 was a real heartbreak, both for me personally and for the Mother Road at large. I feared that Afton Station was not long for this world without her passion in residence. The shop and museum remained open for a time, but when David Kane also passed suddenly in late 2018 that was the end of the road.

Afton Station in 2016 with Ron Jones’ 1956 Chevrolet out front

On June 29th 2019, the day of the auction, I took the day off work and drove up to Afton. I hoped to secure some artifacts for the Oklahoma Route 66 Association and perhaps a small something for myself. Alas, my pockets were not deep enough to compete with the likes of Barrett-Jackson auctions out of Arizona and a few of the other attendees. I left that day disappointed on many fronts.

Imagine my surprise when I received a message in late August telling me that the item I most wanted to secure for Oklahoma Route 66 was once again available: the Bob Waldmire U-Haul Truck.

The U-Haul at Afton Station in 2019

Bob Waldmire was an artist and who I consider to be the prototypical Roadie. He spent a lot of time wandering the country (especially Route 66) creating artwork and speaking out in support of preservation. He turned the vacant Hackberry General Store into a Route 66 destination in the 1990s and was the inspiration behind the Volkswagen Microbus character ‘Fillmore’ in Disney/Pixar’s Cars

Bob adding the finishing touches in 2008 – photo courtesy of Josh Friedrich

In 2007, Bob painted a giant mural on one side of an old U-Haul truck for Ken and Marian Clark of Tulsa. According to Ken, Bob originally used the truck to move some items from Illinois (where his family runs the Cozy Dog Drive-In) to his off-the-grid home in Portal, New Mexico. Although Bob had originally intended to sell it, he passed before that became a reality. The Clarks donated to the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, but they didn’t have room for it. In 2012, it was given to Afton Station, where it was displayed until this summer.

Arriving in Afton in July 2012 – photo courtesy of Laurel Kane’s blog

The Oklahoma Route 66 Association is so proud to announce that this artifact has been secured in Chelsea, Oklahoma: Project Chelsea has stationed it near the restored Pedestrian Underpass. Travelers and roadies can continue to experience this beautiful work by one of Route 66’s most enduring artists.

Many thanks to Sylvie Kane, Samantha Extance, and Route 66 Germany for their donations that made this possible. Thanks also to Pam Stanbro and Project Chelsea for coming together and taking stewardship of this treasure. Through continued donations and support, we hope to restore the truck to working order and potentially restore the faded parts of Bob’s artwork. One step at a time…

The next time you’re in Chelsea, stop by and take a selfie with this one-of-a-kind Route 66 Artifact and tag #ok66!

Announcement: Harvest Hosts and the Road Ahead

The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership announced today that they are partnering with Harvest Hosts to build a network of varied destinations that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay overnight. This network will provide unique lodging options for Route 66 travelers that bring a bit of home with them on the open road. Below is the full press release with more information.

Learn About this New Way for RVs to Travel Route 66

The Road Ahead and Harvest Hosts have partnered to provide RVs traveling Route 66 a new way to experience all the Mother Road has to offer. Harvest Hosts [www.harvesthosts.com] is a membership network that invites self-contained RVers to stay overnight for free at selected sites, attractions, and businesses across the United States. In conjunction with the Road Ahead, this unique experience will now be offered along Route 66. The goal of the new partnership is to expand the current listing of Harvest Hosts locations to include some of the unique sites along Route 66.

Harvest Hosts is a membership program that currently provides access to a network of wineries, farms, breweries, golf courses, museums, and other attractions that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay overnight. For a small annual fee, Harvest Hosts members can visit and stay at any of its 700+ locations completely free. In return they are asked to support the local businesses they visit. The goal is to connect RVers with the hidden gems of Real America, where they find unique experiences and make lasting memories with family and friends.

Harvest Hosts has tens of thousands of members from the United States, Canada and around the world, including retirees, full-time families, business professionals, bloggers, and adventurers all of whom have one thing in common: the desire to experience unique locations as they travel. In an effort to support local businesses and make it beneficial for those who act as Hosts, members are encouraged to support the businesses they visit, whether that’s through buying some wine, shopping in the gift shop, making a donation to a museum, or buying some local produce.

The Road Ahead invites attractions, sites, and businesses along Route 66 to contact it if interested in becoming a Harvest Host site. Just email rt66theroadahead@gmail.com for information and details.

Established in 2015 with the support of the National Park Service and the World Monuments Fund, The Route Road Ahead Partnership’s mission is to revitalize and sustain Route 66 as a national and international icon through partnerships focused on promotion, preservation, research and education, and economic development.

Road Ahead Partnership – Annual Board Meeting Summary

Front Row (L-R):
Amy Webb CO (Rep. National Trust for Historic Preservation), Melissa Lea Beasley NM (BOD / President – NM Rt66 Assn.), Dries Bessels Holland (Chairman International Advisory Group / Dutch Representative – Rt66 Assn. of Netherlands), Rhys Martin (BOD / President – OK Rt66 Assn.), Sharon Foster (BOD / CA Historic Rt66 Assn), Renee Charles KS (BOD / President – KS Historic Rt66 Assn.), Ruth Keenoy (Rep. for MO Rt66 Assn. sitting in for Tommy Pike).

Middle Row (L-R):
John Conoboy NM (Chairman – National Historic Trail Task Force), Kaisa Barthuli NM (Program Manager – NPS Rt66 Corridor Preservation Program), Sharlene Fouser AZ (BOD / AZ Rt66 Scenic Byway Program), Bill Thomas IL (Chairman of the Board / Director – Economic Development, Logan Co, IL).

Back Row:
Steve Mandrgoc NM (Admin., Rt66 Oral History Office, Univ. of NM), John Cannella NM (Rep. for National Park Service, sitting in for Aaron Mahr), Dean Kennedy IN (Road Ahead Roadies & Stakeholders), Gary Daggett TX (BOD / TX Rt66 Assn.), Bill Kelly IL (BOD, Treasurer, Chair – Promotion Work Group / Ex Director – IL Rt66 Scenic Byway), David Bricker CA (BOD, Vice Chairman of Board, Chair – Preservation Work Group / Deputy District Director – CA DOT).

Here is a full report on the 2019 Road Ahead Partnership Annual Board Meeting:

The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership held its third Annual Board of Directors Meeting February 22-23, 2019, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Highlights of the meeting included an update on efforts to designate Route 66 a National Historic Trail, the 2019 budget, a new partnership policy, reports from working groups and task forces, and the election of the 2019 Board Officers.

John Conoboy, Chairman of the Road Ahead’s National Historic Trail Task Force, and Amy Webb, representative from the National Trust for Historic Preservation reported that much progress was made in 2018 and hopes were high that HR801, the Federal legislation to designate Route 66 a National Historic Trail, would be passed last year. The government shutdown in mid-December, however, resulted in the legislation not moving forward. The bill has been reintroduced in the new Congress, with a goal of having it passed by Congress and signed by the President before the end of 2019.

The Board approved a budget for the 2019 fiscal year. In addition to approving basic administrative costs, the Board discussed and approved funding for several expenses related to achieving specific strategic goals established by the Road Ahead including:

Economic Development Working Group – $5,000 was approved to develop case studies illustrating successful efforts by communities across Route 66 to leverage Route 66 for economic development purposes. Funding of up to $10,000 was also approved to conduct additional research in conjunction with work done by Rutgers University to update its 2012 Route 66 Economic Impact Study.

Route 66 State Associations Advocacy Working Group – $6,000 was allocated to improve the Road Ahead’s ability to inform and educate Route 66 stakeholders and Roadies regarding what the organization is and what it is doing. Communication efforts will focus on the dissemination of press releases, Facebook posts, email blasts, news articles, etc. through communication channels used by state-based Route 66 Associations, including their newsletters, magazines, websites, Facebook pages, etc.

Green Book Task Force [GBTF] – $1,000 was allocated to cover potential research and/or travel costs for the GBTF as it initiates its work to address needs/challenges associated with Route 66-based Green Book sites.

Preservation Working Group – The Board approved up to $2,000 to cover potential travel costs for its newly appointed Historic Resources Specialist [HRS] Anne Haaker, retired deputy State Historic Preservation Officer from Illinois. Her focus will be the development, coordination, and implementation of the Road Ahead’s review of federal, state and local construction projects that may affect Route 66 historic resources, in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Promotion Working Group – $9,900 was approved by the Board to address one of the most frequently reported challenges faced by Route 66 travelers, i.e. navigating the Route. This funding is being used to design and develop a Route 66 navigation app in conjunction with the Arts Technology Program at Illinois State University.

Vintage Motel Task Force [VMTF] – Up to $5,000 was allocated to underwrite the work of the VMTF, including costs associated with providing benefits to owner/operators who sign up to become members of “The Route 66 Motel Collection” being created by the VMTF.

International Advisory Group –$1,000 in funding was approved to support implementation of an online survey designed to identify challenges, needs, and wants of international visitors traveling Route 66. The survey was piloted last summer at the European Route 66 Festival.

Executive Committee – The Board approved setting aside $14,500 into a reserve fund. The reserve will be called upon as needed, pending the organization’s ability to raise additional public and/or corporate sponsorship funding.

The Board adopted Policy 2019-01 that deals with establishing partnerships between the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership and other not-for-profit organizations. Looking ahead, the Board will also draft a policy for establishing potential partnerships with for-profit entities. Chairman Bill Thomas will work with Board member Dr. David Dunaway, to draft the proposed policy.

Throughout the meeting, the Chairs of the Road Ahead’s several Working Groups, Task Forces, and Advisory Groups, presented updates to the Board. Those reports are presented in the minutes of the Annual Board Meeting and – once posted – can be read online in the Resources section of the Road Ahead’s website (www.route66roadahead.com).

Research 66 representatives Maria Felchlin, Sean Evans, and Audra Bellmore presented options to formalize a working relationship between the Road Ahead and Research 66. The Road Ahead Board endorsed the idea and directed Chairman Thomas to draft a Memorandum of Understanding to bring to the Board for discussion/action. Research 66 is a group of 10 archival institutions along Route 66, that focus on making research materials accessible to the general public and Route 66 stakeholders for the purpose of education, preservation, and management of the historic Route 66 corridor.

The Board also passed two resolutions of appreciation and welcomed three new members. Dora Meroney, who had served as the representative from Texas, and Brad Nickson, representative from Oklahoma, were recognized for their service as they ended their time on the Board. Each had served on the Board since the founding of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership in 2015. Sharon Foster, representative from California, Gary Dagget, representative from Texas, and Rhys Martin, representative from Oklahoma, were introduced and welcomed as new Board members.

Board members enjoyed the opportunity to become better acquainted during their time in Albuquerque, as they dined together and participated in a field trip of vintage motels and neon along Central Avenue [Route 66]. The field trip was led by Ed Boles, an historic preservation architect, who is also a member of the Road Ahead’s Vintage Motel Task Force.

Officers of the Board for 2019 were elected: Bill Thomas, Chairman [Illinois], David Bricker, Vice Chairman [California], Renee Charles, Secretary [Kansas], and Bill Kelly, Treasurer [Illinois]. Officer terms are for one year.

When completed, minutes of the 2019 Annual Board Meeting, a copy of the Treasurer’s Report, and the approved 2019 Budget will be posted on the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership’s website, accessible at: www.route66roadahead.com.

Members of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership Board of Directors in attendance at the Annual Meeting included:

  • David Bricker – Chair of the Preservation Working Group
  • Melissa Beasley – New Mexico Route 66 Association
  • Renee Charles – Kansas Historic Route 66 Association/ Route 66 Association of Kansas
  • Gary Dagget – Texas Old Route 66 Association
  • Sharlene Fouser – Arizona Route. 66 Scenic Byway Program
  • Bill Kelly – Chair of the Promotion Working Group
  • Ruth Keenoy [sitting in for Tommy Pike] – Route 66 Association of Missouri
  • Steve Mandrgoc – Interim Chair of the Research & Education Working Group
  • Rhys Martin – Oklahoma Route 66 Association
  • Bill Thomas – Chairman of Board, Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership

Also attending and/or presenting at the Annual Board of Directors Meeting were:

  • John Conoboy – Chairman of the National Historic Trails Task Force
  • Aaron Mahr – National Park Service
  • John Cannella – National Park Service
  • Kaisa Barthuli – National Park Service
  • Amy Grant – National Trust for Historic Places
  • Debbie Pogue – Vintage Motel Task Force

Board Members/Advisory Group Representatives not able to attend the Annual Meeting include:

  • John Miller – Illinois Route 66 Association
  • Jeff Fulgenzi – Chairman Economic Development Working Group
  • David Dunaway – Chairman Research & Education Work Group
  • Emerson R. Vallo – Chairman Tribal Advisory Group

At the conclusion of the Annual Board of Directors Meeting, members of the Board hosted the Second Annual Route 66 Stakeholders Reception and Update Event, to which any and all members of the public interested in Route 66 were invited. Approximately 25 stakeholders attended and engaged Road Ahead Board members in a discussion of their interests and questions. The Board of Directors looks forward to holding the Third Annual Stakeholders Reception and Update meeting following its 2020 Annual Board of Directors Meeting. The location of that meeting will be determined and announced at a later date.

Established in 2015, with the support of the National Park Service and the World Monuments’ Fund, The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership’s mission is to revitalize and sustain Route 66 as a national and international icon through partnerships focused on promotion, preservation, research and education, and economic development.


For more information about the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, contact:

Bill Thomas, Chairman Rt. 66 Road Ahead Partnership rt66theroadahead@gmail.com 217-648-5077

President’s Report – Road Ahead Partnership in ABQ

Greetings, friends!

On February 20th, I left the Sooner State and headed west to Albuquerque for the annual Board of Directors Meeting for the Route 66: Road Ahead Partnership. If you’re unfamiliar with this national group, here is a summary:

The Road Ahead Partnership is a collaboration of representatives from state-level Route 66 Associations, state Directors of Tourism from across the route, representatives from state and private historic preservation agencies/organizations, as well as individual business and attraction owners across Route 66. The organization has also established an International Route 66 Advisory Group and a Tribal Advisory Group.

Our group gathered at the El Vado Motel, a beautifully restored motel in Albuquerque. The site was brought back from the brink of collapse and turned into a remarkable complex consisting of lodging, food & drink options, and an event center. It’s a terrific blend of 20th Century style and 21st Century amenities. As such, it was perfect for our needs.

Photo courtesy of Bob Lile

Led by chairman William Thomas (Atlanta, IL), our team discussed all manner of projects relating to the preservation and promotion of the Mother Road. All eight state associations were engaged in these discussions, as was the National Park Service and a few other interested parties. A full accounting of the meeting will be made available soon, but for now I wanted to share a few highlights:

  • National Route 66 Legislation
    • Although legislation to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail did not pass in 2018, the wheels are already turning to get this re-introduced in Congress this year. Optimism is high that we will have this in place in time for the sunset of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.
    • A bill advancing the creation of a national Route 66 Centennial Commission has already been created and passed by the House of Representatives (HR-66). All eight states were urged to speak with their individual state governments to create state-wide commissions in preparation. Illinois and Missouri have already accomplished this.
  • Mobile App Progress
    • A mobile travel app for smartphones is nearly complete. This should enter beta testing this summer. The goal is to provide a complimentary service for travelers to help them navigate Route 66 on-the-go. In addition to turn-by-turn directions, the Partnership is working on including itineraries specific to Native American culture along the Route 66 Corridor as well as a narrative tied to the Green Book.
  • Vintage Motel Task Force
    • A report from Debbie Pogue of the Sunset Motel in Moriarty, NM on the creation of a network of vintage Route 66 Motels along Route 66 to help enhance the experience for roadies and non-66 travelers alike. More to come on this but it’s really exciting!

While we were in Albuquerque, we were also treated to a bus tour of vintage motel properties courtesy of Ed Boles (Historic Preservation Architect) and Kaisa Barthuli (National Park Service). Ed pointed out multiple historic properties along Central Ave along with their current status – like many other cities, Albuquerque has lost a lot of architectural treasures over the last few decades. However, other properties have been given new life. We stopped at the Sundowner and visited with its owner about the work done to repurpose this vintage motel into a mixed-income housing development.

All in all, it was a very productive two days in the Land of Enchantment. Look for more details when the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership sends out a news released about the meeting, which will be posted at their website here.