4 May 2012

Tucumcari to Weatherford: All of the elements - rubber, oil and gas

We woke up in Tucumcari, which is truly a town steeped in Route 66. We were at the marvelous Motel Safari, which at first glance looks like any U-shaped motor court from the early post-war period. The old Ford Galaxie was the first hint it was different, the warm welcome from the owner was the second. The rooms were spotless, the beds were terrific and there were nice retro touches.

When I mentioned we needed an oil change in the Jensen, Motel Safari owner Richard Talley drove off for a bit and when he came back he had it all lined up. With our photos complete, a now four-car convoy headed a mile down the street past more motels and old Route 66 businesses. Any other town would have looked on the way down, but it was clear that this stretch of Route 66 was coming back to life and Richard is clearly one of the people working to that goal.

Richard took us to an old gas station that we probably wouldn’t have pulled into. Kerry Pender had just opened Mehanics Unlimited in the last two weeks and he and mechanic Edward soon had the big Jensen up on an outdoor lift — only in the southwest. It was quickly apparent that the oil leaks we’d seen had been from a very loose oil pan. Edward checked everything, tightened the bolts on the pan and tried to clean up some of the oil. We also spotted three more fuel filters, and they were ordered along with oil and a filter.

Edward also did his best to adjust the misaligned hood catches, and his efforts worked for a while. During the service interlude, part of the crew wandered next door to a restored gas station that had a private collection of old cab over engine trucks.

We — including Richard — then walked across the street to the terrific Rockin’ Y’s Road House, which is a good old-fashioned diner sitting right on Route 66. The breakfast was first rate and Jeff had a pancake the size of Alaska — in addition to traditional eggs — while several of us had a southwestern take on eggs with plenty of green or red chile thrown in.

Finally, we were on the road heading for Amarillo, where we should have made it the prior day. There is a silver lining, though, as we wouldn’t have wanted to miss Tucumcari for anything. Yes, it’s been down, but it is clearly on the way back.

We made a quick stop at another friend of Richard’s. Danny is retired and has his own private yard and shop that house dozens of old cars, the majority of which are Studebakers. A couple of Metropolitans and Henry Js were thrown in, too. He has his own shop with restorations under way and a good collection of memorabilia.

Heading east the cars were doing reasonably well, although a couple of times we had to stop to change the under-hood fuel filter on the Jensen. I was seen in one truck stop using the single sink to rinse out filters and get them ready for the next round. We probably had three filter stops. We also made stops at the abandoned town of Glenrio, right as we hit Texas, and in Adrian, where we took photos at an abandoned gas station (The Bent Door) and the grain elevator.

Driving the Jensen, about 20 miles west of Amarillo, we lost sight of the Datsun, so Claire and I pulled over. Apparently, one of the ancient tires had thrown a tread. Rory and Ignacio discovered the bottle to inflate the spare was empty, so they were crawling along on the carcass. While we were on the phone with owner Sass trying to line up tires, the call came in to Claire that the tire was flat. When we found Ignacio and Rory in the Z, they were along the old highway outside of Wildorado, Texas, at a cattle feed lot and the smell was intense. We left them there and raced off to the next town for a couple of cans of Fix-a-Flat and the filter started plugging again. As we pulled into the convenience store, Hagerty Price Guide Publisher Dave Kinney called me to serenade us with a verse from Lowell George’s marvelous song, “Willin’” Claire is now the only one at Hagerty to have ever heard me sing and it’s a wonder she wasn’t screaming: “Stop, Stop, Stop!”

(Click here for Rory's account of the day.)

On the way back, as the Jensen was acting out its new theme song, “Hesitation Blues,” we made the best time back to the stranded Datsun.  While Rory inflated the spare, I swapped out another fuel filter and we were on our way the 15 miles east to Discount Tire in Amarillo, where Felix there had four incredibly inexpensive Fisk radials. While we were waiting, the crew wandered next door into Cavender’s Boot City. I opted not to take my wife a pink cowboy hat for Mother’s Day and by way of a texted photo my daughter thought I made the right decision.

Back on the road long enough to get gas and gather our scattered cars back into a convoy, we went in search of food. But first more photos at the U-Drop Inn at the old Conoco Tower restored gas station. With careful orchestration we managed to keep Ignacio the photographer from being run over as he shot the cars and the building from the intersection. That done, we went around the corner to Big Vern’s Steakhouse. It wasn’t fancy, but the steaks were really terrific — and this is coming from someone who eats beef about once a month.

Trying to make up some time it was back to Route 44. The problem was Claire couldn’t find us rooms for the night. She finally scrounged four rooms in Weatherford, Okla., and I mean scrounged. When booking she had to overlook online reviews with comments like “sleep in your car it’s cheaper.” At check-in the clerk wouldn’t let me in and we had to conduct business through a tiny slot with no speaking hole, which was fine because she and I didn’t speak the same language — literally.

But it was midnight and the mattresses passed Ignacio’s tried and true bed bug inspection, and we did have a place to sleep. And so ended the day.
 

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