Route 66 in the News

Area to Host National Route 66 Event

2010-06-11 12:04:41

JOPLIN, Mo. - Melba Rigg has been nicknamed by her friends “The Mouth of the South.”

Part of the nickname comes from her ability to tell a variety of detailed stories about the history of Route 66. That comes in handy in her position as one of the “4 Women on the Route,” a gas station, gift shop and cafe celebrating the historic road in Galena, Kan.

But as she will tell you, she is also very uninhibited.

“I’m the kind of person who talks from the hip,” she said. “I say what I mean.”

Rigg will therefore have no problem telling you it’s about time the Route 66 Festival came to Kansas.

“We’ve had a lot of kids in our shop that didn’t even know Route 66 came through Joplin,” she said.

As there is only 13.2 miles of Kansas on the highway, the state has always been bypassed by the Route 66 Alliance of California. This year’s Tri-State Route 66 Festival will be held Thursday through June 20 at the Downstream Casino Resort and will put an end to this bypass and celebrate the Southwest Missouri, Northeast Oklahoma and Kansas sections of the road.

Carolyn Pendleton, of the Baxter Springs, Kansas Chamber of Commerce and head of the Route 66 Visitor Center, said that Downstream was an ideal location both symbolically and physically.

“You’ve got a parking lot in Kansas, a casino and resort in Oklahoma, and you’ve got to take a Missouri road to get there,” she said.

The festival, on one hand, will be your traditional four days of fun, food and friends. There will be a car show by Dwight Cooke and Street Dreams.

“There’ll be anything in there from 2010 cars down to 1925 Model As, Model Ts,” Cooke said. “I’m hoping to have somewhere from 500 to 750 cars. I can even put 800 cars in 750 spots.”

Cooke says this will be his biggest show yet, and that the preparation has been rigorous.

“I’ve gone as far as Wichita, Kansas handing out fliers,” he said. “(We’ve been) e-mailing car clubs to get a bunch of cars in here.”

The festival will also stress the importance of the preservation of Route 66, as will be discussed in detail at a summit meeting on Thursday.

Although there will be several guests and speakers, one of the primary presenters will be founder and chair of the Route 66 Alliance Jim Conkle, who will be discussing his hopes for Route 66 to become a “green road.”

“What better way to recognize an iconic historic road?” Conkle said. “We are in the process of using 66 and its ability and its length to work on alternative ways to fuel cars.”

As it does, the celebration will be attracting people not only from around the United States, but artists and authors from around the world.

“I’ve heard Tokyo, Belgium, South Africa, Spain, Germany at least,” Rigg said.

To give people a better idea about our often-overlooked area, Pendleton said, there will be an attempt to highlight what makes this section of old 66 unique. To this end, there will be a bus trip to the Spook Light next Friday evening.

There will be lots of vendors, live entertainment by band Coup De Ville, and a special appearance by Michael Wallis, author of “Route 66: The Mother Road” and voice of the sheriff in the Pixar film “Cars.” Although Wallis’ role in the animated film may be what garners the most attention, he is supposedly responsible for reviving interest in the highway, and the aforementioned text has been called “the Bible of Route 66.”

The festival will continue with an awards banquet, an annual tradition. Various Will Rogers Awards will be given, as well as the ultimate award named for the father of Route 66, Cyrus Avery.

The banquet will be hosted by Conkle, who after traveling Route 66 more than 200 times, appreciates that each part of the road has an individual culture.

“When you live in one of those bigger communities, they have a lot going on, but they don’t capitalize as much on their relationship to Route 66,” Conkle said. “The smaller towns are all very unique and interesting Route 66 communities.”

For some people, this festival is not just a celebration of an old highway.

“The main thing is to keep it alive for my generation, for my children’s generation and for the future generation,” Rigg said.

“Route 66 is the way America used to be and we’re trying to make it that way again,” said Conkle. “You’ll meet a lot of new people and walk away with a lot of new friends.”

~Will Blanchard,


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