Route 66 in the News

Chambless: a Stop, a Shade, a Silent Town

2010-01-20 21:11:10

CHAMBLESS, Calif. - Motoring west on "the highway that's the best," travelers routinely pull over at the site of the Route 66 desert town of Chambless.

One would think the name reflects its state: shambles. Located about halfway between the California border town of Needles and Barstow, this town and its environs are favorites of photographers and Route 66 buffs.

At present, Chambless is almost a ghost town. A walk around the site offers evidence of the once-important role it played in greeting weary travelers who needed gasoline in their cars and a bit of shade from the relentless searing rays of the sun.

The sign on the market is faded but the large letters are photographically enticing. The entrance is blocked to ward off vandals but at one time those walls offered relief to motorists and to soldiers from the nearby Army training center.

Built of handmade adobe bricks, the market remained cool during the summer months. The inactive gas station pumps remain, and one can visualize a line of automobiles awaiting service.

Although the town was known as a productive stop for those needing service, it has been described as "never really a town, only a shady spot on the desert route."

The site was named for James Albert Chambless, who homesteaded there in about 1920 and operated the store and gas station.

It's one of the towns along the route that had water towers serving the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Several tourist cabins offered overnight facilities, certainly a service appreciated by motorists traveling with families.

A mile and a half west of Chambless is probably one of the most photographed icons along the Route.

Braced against the deep blue desert sky, the towering sign -- which reads "Road Runner's Retreat Restaurant" -- features a large rendering of the iconic desert bird. The sign's claim to fame was that it was used in a Dodge television commercial in 1988.

Next to the "Roys" sign in nearby Amboy, the Road Runner's sign is a favorite for photographers, although its brilliance has faded, thanks to the daunting forces of nature.

In addition to serving as a cafe, the Road Runner at one time was the site of the Danby courthouse.

This 8-foot-by-10-foot portable courthouse located in the Route 66 town of Danby, east of Chambless, was "hauled from place to place if court needed to be held someplace other than Danby."

At one time it made its home at the Road Runner, but was later returned to Danby and today makes its home in Goffs.

~Claudia Heller,


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