2020 Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame Inductees Announced

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.

Harley presents the first picture he has of him and Annabelle together

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.

Route 66 National Historic Trail Designation Act Returns to the U.S. House

On Monday, September 14, 2020, Congressman Darin LaHood (R-IL) introduced HR8240 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, [D-CA] co-sponsored the bill.

The proposed legislation would add Route 66 to the National Historic Trail routes. Known as the Route 66 national Historic Trail Designation Act, it first passed out of the House of Representatives in June 2018. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate, where it underwent some language changes before passing in August 2020.

Route 66 has been a crucial transportation artery for the heartland of America for nearly 100 years. Towns from the Midwest to the West Coast have seen the Mother Road bring tourism, employment, a higher quality of life, and civic pride to their communities. This legislation will allow visitors from around the world to experience the history of Route 66 and provide local businesses and tourism industries along the route with ongoing economic benefits.

Next year, Route 66 celebrates its 95th anniversary. As that historic milestone draws closer, the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership can think of no better birthday present for the road than to make it a National Historic Trail. The Road Ahead commends the efforts of Congressman LaHood and Congresswoman Napolitano in introducing legislation to accomplish this designation.

Established in 2015, with the support of the National Park Service and the World Monuments’ Fund, The 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, as well as economic development.

Contact: Bill Thomas, Chair-Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership rt66theroadahead@gmail.com 217-648-5077

From the Rt 66 Road Ahead Partnership: NTHP Grant Opportunities

National Trust Preservation Fund – Historic Hawaii Foundation

NTHP Funding Opportunities for Route 66 Entities

The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership is encouraging qualified public agencies and 501(c)(3) entities along Route 66 to apply for grants offered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation [NTHP]. There are two different funding opportunities that might apply: NTHP Preservation Grants and African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Grants.

NTHP Preservation Grants are a source of financial assistance for historic sites on Route 66, which is one of the National Trust’s National Treasures. In addition to general preservation grants, the National Trust has dedicated grant funds for several Route 66 states including Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and California. Funds are also available for Modernism and preservation efforts for native cultures in both Arizona and New Mexico. Grants are generally $2,500 to $5,000 and require a 1:1 match that can be cash, in-kind, or staff time funding.

NTHP preservation grants are available for planning, education or outreach related projects. Grants are not available for “bricks and mortar” projects. Applicants must be a public agency, 501(c)(3), or other nonprofit entity. For a private entity to be eligible, it must have an eligible entity as a fiscal agent. Applications are due by or before October 1, 2020. For additional information access NTHP guidelines and eligibility and/or contact grants@savingplaces.org.

African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Grants are designed to help tell our nation’s full history, by drawing attention to the stories that evoke centuries of African American activism and achievement in the United States. Stories and places of African American culture and heritage have always existed, but too often have not been fully acknowledged for the integral role they play in the fabric of American society. These competitive grants range from $50,000-150,000 and support projects in four different areas, including: Capital Projects, Organizational Capacity Building, Project Planning, and Programming and Interpretation.” Matching funds are helpful, but not required. The next deadline for grant applications is in January, 2021. For additional information access: African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Grants and/or contact grants@savingplaces.org.

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
Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum Celebrates 25th Anniversary

When the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton officially opened on September 23, 1995, it was the first facility in the nation dedicated to the history and culture of Route 66, the most famous historic highway in the world. It is the largest museum from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, dedicated to the history and culture of Route 66.

With over 930,000 visitors in 25 years, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum has captivated the attention of people from around the world. Since the grand opening celebration held on September 23, 1995, the museum has proven to be a must-see for travelers— both Route 66ers and everyday vacationers.   

In 2007, the accomplishments of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum played a large role in Clinton hosting the  International Festival Route 66 Festival, which brought over 20,000 people to Clinton. The success of the 2007 festival also led to the transformation of the community’s annual Hot Dog Daze into Clinton’s Route 66 Festival.

In 2012, after 17 years, the museum completed a full renovation of all exhibit galleries, bringing the facility into the 21st Century. This achievement was celebrated with a special grand opening ceremony on May 26, 1012.

The museum has hosted a plethora of special events which attract Route 66ers from around the globe.  Beginning in 1996, the museum has held Route 66 anniversary celebrations every five years. These celebrations have featured premiere Route 66 historian Michael Wallis, as well as special exhibits by other Route 66 artists and authors such as the late Bob Waldmire, Shellee Graham, Jim Ross, Jerry McClanahan, Kathy Anderson and many more.

Also, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association inducts special Oklahomans into the Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame.  Inductions are held every two years for individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion and/or preservation of Route 66. The selection includes a nomination and committee process conducted by the association. The winners’ plaques are displayed in the Hall of Fame, which is located in the museum’s WOW! Room.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancelation of this year’s festivities, please help the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum celebrate this milestone anniversary by visiting sometime during the year.

The museum’s galleries are designed to offer visitors a personal journey through the history of the nation’s most revered highway.  Encounter the iconic ideas, images and myths of the Mother Road. Learn about the dreams and labor needed to make the road a reality. Experience the dust bowl as thousands streamed along the road, away from drought and despair and towards the “land of promise.”  Listen to the sounds of the Big Band Era, when the roar of the big trucks and the “Welcome home!” cries to returning soldiers dominated the road. Touch the counter and sit in the booth of the 1950’s diner and feel the open road as America’s families vacationed along the length of Route 66.  The museum also offers changing special exhibits, focusing on the Route 66 experience in our new Now and Future Gallery. And don’t forget to step into our gift shop for some Route 66 Memorabilia!!

While personal hygiene has always been important, the museum has introduced new safety procedures. Staff members ensure all areas are clean and sanitized. In accordance with Oklahoma State Department of Health guidelines, all visitors, staff, volunteers, contractors and vendors are required to wear face masks in public areas of the Oklahoma Historical Society museums, sites and affiliates, including the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum.

The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and is closed Sunday and Monday. The museum is located at 2229 W. Gary Blvd. in Clinton, OK. Regular admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children, and ages 5 and under are free.  For further information, please contact Pat Smith at telephone (580) 323-7866 or via email patsm@okhistory.org.

The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state.  Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.

Senate Passes Route 66 Centennial Legislation

From the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership:

Washington, DC – The Route 66 Centennial Commission Act (S1014) passed by unanimous consent out of the US Senate on August 10, 2020. After the measure is reconciled with the bill already passed by the House, it will go to President Trump for his signature. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced the bill on April 3, 2019, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of historic Route 66. The Commission will help plan this historic event for this iconic road that symbolizes the heritage of travel and the shared legacy of Americans seeking a better life.

Fifteen Commissioners will be appointed on the recommendation of the President, members of Congress, and Governors of the eight Route 66 states. Appointees will have demonstrated both a dedication to educating others about the importance of historical figures and events, and a substantial knowledge and appreciation of Route 66.

The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, is taking the lead in orchestrating the celebration of Route 66’s 100th birthday gala celebration in 2026, and it is starting immediately. A five-year series of birthday celebration initiatives begins in 2021, culminating in 2026, the road’s centennial year. Think of the initiatives as “birthday presents” that individuals, corporations, foundations, organizations, communities, and businesses are invited to give Route 66 over the next five years.

The purpose of these gifts is to support Route 66 through preservation, economic development, promotion, research, and/or education projects. The goal is to position the historic highway, the communities along the road, and the people who live there for success during the next 100 years. “We are very thankful to Senators Duckworth and Inhofe for their support of the Commission bill”, said Bill Thomas, Road Ahead Chairman. “They, along with the state Route 66 Associations and many grassroots supporters of Route 66, have put in place what we need to plan and carry out a “Party with a Purpose” – helping Route 66.”

Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985. Though no longer part of the US highway system, the road continues to be a popular tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers.

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
Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership

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!