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Route 66 Part Two


“If you ever plan to motor west…..”   Bobby Troup 1946.

From McClean I try to follow old 66. About 3 miles of dirt road, it becomes a track across some pastures, past a farm, trying to follow ruts across the land. Come to down hill section but dirt is too soft, the back sinks into the ground and after great effort, get going, I turn back and rejoin the road.

Amarillo , and I find a HD dealer in a back street that the rancher had suggested I pop in and see. This chap has a collection of old HDs. He looks like Frank Sinatra, slightly fatter‑faced, and more alive of course! Shows me his collection and lets me drive his new vibration-free HD. Generous and trusting these Yanks!

New Mexico border and find Glenrio, genuine ghost town. Died as the Interstate opened. I notice that alongside the ‘abandoned’ buildings are Keep Off signs. I continue on old 66 that is red dirt. Looking behind the bike leaves a vast dust cloud that blocks out the view. Thinking about this remote trail makes me think of Easy Rider, and how if some red‑neck were to take a dislike to me, I could just disappear. Just then, in the far distance, I see the dust trail of a pick‑up coming towards me! As it passes I see the driver: a red‑necked hill‑billy! Several minutes later I stop to take a photo and see the truck has stopped, U‑turned and is heading back!

Now I’m not prone to irrational thoughts, but for a moment I did wonder what to do. As it turns out, the truck pulls up alongside the Chief, the chap jumps down and with a large toothless grin says:

“Wow wee!  Ain’t seen one of these here machines fer a long time! You had her long?” Etc etc.

I see his companion in the cab is a twenty-something Mexican girl, who stares with big eyes through the glass. Gets mighty lonely in them thar hills!

Stop for night at Tucumcari. Mileage 220. (After I00 mile detour after day‑dreaming and taking wrong road!)

Like several night stops along 66, the freight rail‑road runs alongside the main street. Can be quite noisy as they sound their desert‑shaking klaxon horns at the road junctions. At Tucumcari the track lay on the far side of the road from me so the noise is reduced, and anyway, with ear‑plugs, all I can really hear is my own breathing.

Meet HD rider returning from the HD Milwaukee event. He has been forced to buy a new HD just for that trip because his daughters, who travelled on their Sportsters,  refused to let him travel along if he used his Gold Wing. He was a bitter bunny: spending all that dosh on the new HD and found he had to change the air‑filter so he could keep up with them at 80mph. He didn’t like the ride, parts of the trim already

beginning to tarnish, and the fact the machine was only assembled in the USA from foreign parts, he resented the whole HD image of good honest, traditionally built home‑produced goods. He is not  happy as he inspects the Chief, and ruminates about the lack of American produced motor‑cycles compared with the Japanese invasion.

Thurs 4th

Checking the maps and adding daily mileage, I realize that I’m making too fast a progress. I had planned to stop more often and explore different areas/sites along 66.

The main trouble has been that the first couple of days riding through the storms I hadn’t stopped because the Chief electrics may have been saturated causing problems.  It would have been a job and a half to try and dry out the distributor in that deluge.  And once the weather cleared, the Chief seemed so happy chugging along, it seemed a shame to keep stopping! Perverse ain’t I!

66 runs almost East‑West across the states, but just past Santa Rosa , New Mexico , the older 66 heads north towards Santa Fe . I had read accounts that old 66 ran through a notorious pass called La Bajada Hill. It was so steep and treacherous, that during the twenties, travellers could hire locals to drive their cars through the pass for them, sometimes in reverse because of the gradients. That sounded an interesting place to visit!

Santa Fe, short for La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assis, lies between two mountain peaks. Its’ Mexican architecture is very soothing to the eye after the hard light on the road. I drive through the streets slowly, absorbing the South American influence. Storms are building up in the mountains so I head off for La BaJada, Hill.

It is not easy to even find the start of the old route! No one knows where it goes, let alone where it starts! After an hour stopping at various shops and dwellings, I find a young bearded hippy running a blacksmiths shop, with an abandoned thirties truck outside. He draws a map on a scrap of paper, looks up at the approaching clouds, and wishes me luck because “no one ever goes up there”.

“Mad Englishman!” he probably mutters as I chug away.

I find the dirt road lying at the foot of the mountains, pointing upwards. Seven miles along this unmarked trail, I start to think that maybe I have bitten off more than I can chew. The dark clouds complete with forked lightening are drifting nearer, the temperature is increasing on this lonely plateau. The Chief is hitting so many rocks, ruts, deep soft dirt and assorted natural objects designed to throw a horse‑rider out of the saddle, I think, maybe I should turn back.

A broken chain, a puncture, or just driving into a large soft hole, and I would face a bloody long walk back to the road. But the English intrepid exploring spirit has taken over.

I carry on forward. The trail then deteriorates further so I am forced to travel at 15mph. The vague meandering of the way forks in front: to the right, it follows  power‑lines as far as the horizon. I veer left because the compass shows that to be more in keeping with the direction I want. After several miles I come to the edge of the plateau.

“I’ve made” I must have cried out.

I dismount and walk to the edge and look down. My heart drops. The first of the hairpin bends, and it is full of large boulders! Impassable. What a bummer!

I sit next to the Chief, on this empty plateau, looking across 30 miles into desolation with the nearing storm behind me. I feel a bit silly, and I start to feel a sense of trepidation.

The trail had become a six foot wide gully and trying to turning the Chief it gets stuck between a small boulder and soft dirt. Twenty minutes later, I’m on the move again after having unloaded all the luggage and almost rupturing myself, pushed the machine onto slightly firmer ground. I begrudgingly retrace my way back to the road where I then inspect the bike very thoroughly. I had ridden about 22 miles on surfaces that would have tried the strength of a trail bike. Nothing is broken, nothing is loose. The only thing that is dented is my sense of achievement.

Through the mountains, the storm follows me. I put my waterproofs on and off so many times because of sudden rain, I now ride in them till the end of the day. One time the thunder crashes so close I swear the bike shakes. Quickly I see an abandoned cantina and have just parked under the rickety lean‑to when the heavens open to a cacophony of reverberating thunder. The cosy dry ground where I stand becomes a running stream, covering the bike’s tyres up to the rims. As quickly as it arrives so does it leave, and two miles up the road, no signs of the storm at all.

Mileage 330. Spent the night in a B&B Mexican hacienda run by an American ex. female traffic cop. Nice place, but their dog, during the night, drags away my empty holdall which I never see again. Evening meal in nearby town, Bernalillo: invited to join elderly couple at table who have travelled 120 miles to watch their favourite country‑western band. Old groupies! Lead singer looks out the window and comments on the Chief parked outside.

“That your machine?”

“Yes” I reply.

“Where’re you from, Australia ?”


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Died waiting for the pumps to open!!

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You neverknow who you will bump into?

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VIctim of a superstore

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Competing for best rat with car above

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Abandoned or ridden hard???

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All too true


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Fri 5th

Into Albuquerque . Another city in a vast valley between mountains. Take a scenic ride up to the mountain top on a cable car. Cool air, fresh smells. First time I have travelled off the bike. It feels strange.

Back on the road towards Los Lunas, passing old adobe dwellings faded pink. Poor areas? Or are they preserved for historical reasons? Each one has the obligatory old battered truck alongside, pink dry rust where the paint once was.

Miles of nothing but hot scrubland between Los Lunas and Correo.

If I hadn’t filled up in a remote desert petrol station, I would not have ridden another part of the old 66. The side road is not marked by the now familiar 66 Historic Sign. The cashier points me to a tiny road. Another remote part of the route.  This leads me along part of 66 that is not maintained by the County and in a few years time will probably have become over‑grown with weeds, the asphalt cracked and after some more abandoned years will have returned back to the desert.

Riding along I noticed that 66 seemed to be taking a more tortuous and longer route to reach the approaching mountains range. Why did the early settlers and travellers choose this way? The Interstate, taking a more direct route, was I0 miles over to my right with an escarpment between. I then saw the reason. Between the two was an enormous ravine, and until high explosives were used to cut through solid rock for the new road, this was the only way through. Like in one of the Indiana Jones films, you could have driven at high speed towards this ravine and before you saw it, would be plunging over the edge!

Approaching the continental divide. Have to use the Interstate. Gigantic hoardings advertising the fact that this is Navajo country. Indian souvenirs, trinkets, genuine blankets, pottery etc. etc. Had visions of vast reservation, whole towns flogging tourist paraphernalia. Turn off the Interstate as directed.

One shop! Selling tat. Unsmiling bored shop‑assistant. Quickly leave.

The freight railway line is often in sight, running away to the left, following the same direction. Notice that the maintenance is continuous. Large road trucks with special wheels mount the tracks at crossings, riding the line checking the condition of the rails. Miles away I see mile‑long trains pulled by up to four locos and pushed by two more. Giants. Like oil tankers in the English Channel . Must take miles to stop, God help any car stuck on a crossing.

One snake‑like train across the distant skyline looks like a zip on its side. Each separate wagon is one raised piece of zip.

Arrive at Gallup . Mileage 2I5.

Another town where the rail‑tracks run alongside the main road. Eat in family food restaurant. Eat tasty lightly battered fish, soup, bread, salad, pudding, coffee, water, all for $9. Navajos Indians sit outside selling jewellery and various hand crafts, sometimes coming to the tables offering their products. Very polite and smiling.

SAT 6th

Great blaring from goods train woke me at 7am . Set out for Arizona border. Through State line and on to Lipton. Road follows along basin with scrublands running up to plateau ends on both sides. Red rock reflects sunshine‑rocks balance on others like having been placed by some colossal giant. Decide not to try any more unmade roads. Weird motel in Holbrook, concrete tepees instead of the usual rooms. Fifties cars parked outside. Have ham and eggs in nearby restaurant. Only person in there‑ waitress says since the Interstate opened this small thriving town simply died. On the main street motels are closed, eating places shut, and shutters banging in the desert wind. All that is missing is the wind blowing tumbleweed down the dusty street.

“Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona”. Small town which only arrived with the railway. One of so many places that blossomed only because of the ever extending rails. Further along the Gerommo Trading Post; one solitary building which is selling the usual tat for tourists. Look forward to the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. Must be more interesting. No! One more remote single building, jaded and dusty, selling similar trinkets.

On then the well‑known Two Guns, where you can see Cowboys and Indians in a show. Trouble is, it’s completely abandoned. Just wind‑swept and sad.

Flagstaff Arizona , Don’t forget Winona ”: small clean hamlet with original 66 bridge and short stretch of the road. Meet Scotsman travelling the other way down 66 in a rented Cadillac.

Then Flagstaff . See the sign showing altitude 7.000 feet. I never really noticed the climb. Air is slightly chilly, storm is brewing. Talk to bike dealer in shop, says look in at HD Roadhouse further along. Large dealership with Roadhouse alongside. Walk through the shop, all gleaming new HDs, punters eye the expensive machines and the expensive clothes and the expensive accessories. Car park has two HDs parked up. The place must be empty. Wrong, the place is packed. Wannabe rufty‑tufty bikers. They have bought the image next door and now are playing pool and drinking lo‑cal beer. They all look the part. Leather jeans, leather jerkins, with logo bandanas. They are all driving 4x4s. Still, it does look like rain!

Try to drive up to mountain pass but road becomes unmade through a forest then becomes a private road. Turn back. See a couple of Indians trudging along the road looking very despondent.

Reach Williams, high in the mountains. Storm is brewing, lightening flashing everywhere, but it’s dry.

Have delicious meal complete with home‑made raspberry pie. Mmm! See the old train that takes tourists to the Grand Canyon . Cheapest fare about $80. Also would take a full day, so decide to ride there next day. Motel owned by Pakistanis from England . I see now why several motels along 66 have large signs, ‘American owned and American run’

Washing piling up. Chief now using little oil: bores must now be bedding in. See dozens of Indians with battered trucks parked along the road selling‑ rocks. The whole terrain is covered by the things. Like Eskimos flogging ice to the locals!

66 runs alongside the I40 which for stretches I have to use because old 66 suddenly becomes dead‑end and I’m getting fed up with having to double‑back. Some old 66 road is so narrow, pot‑holed and steep, I wonder how the early travellers ever made progress. Those crude cars, loaded with belongings, must have laboured like the old horse‑drawn wagons that went before them. Every rain‑storm must have made the road impassable.

Williams mileage 262

SUN 7th

Great storm during the night. Drive to the Grand Canyon . A little disappointing. Have to wade through a knee-deep sea of Japanese tourists. From the rim of the Canyon the view is very limited. Would have to fly to get idea of the sheer size of the place.

Return to Williams then head out of the mountains, slow drop down to sea‑level, towards Seligman, which proves to have a sense of humour. Old cars are parked outside the few shops, full size mannequins of film stars lean on the cars and over the balconies. Everybody stops to take photos. The road then heads towards Kingman and is pure 66. A hot ride along the empty road, waving to the occasional biker riding towards me. Stopping for swigs of water.

Hackberry, small hamlet with old cars. Then long straight road to Kingman.

Coffee and pork snack in the town. Tasty. On to Oatman, way up in the mountains through the Black Country . The road is remote, high and winding. Suddenly the road drops and then wooden buildings appear and you’re riding into a Hollywood film set. Only the 4x4s parked give the game away. I don’t stop. The heat is intense and to stop would mean taking off all my riding clobber. Too hot for that.

I stop for a pee, pulling slightly off the road behind a small embankment. Bad mistake! The Chief’s rear wheel sinks into the soft dirt up to the rear units. Oh no! I’ve been here before! So, I unload the bike, push some small rocks under the rear tyre, and by rocking the bike on the throttle manage after 20 minutes to clear the soft area. To keep the bike moving onto firmer land I shoot through some driftwood debris and then spent the next I0 minutes extricating all that stuff from the front wheel spokes and lower engine area.

Down the mountain and into California . Signs warning of speed limits and spotter-planes. Rubbish by the road‑side, then a security check‑point across the Interstate. Great welcome!

Stopped at motel in Needles. Days Mileage 246.

MON 8th

Can’t seem to lose the railway. It’s alongside the building.

Leave Needles at 7am . Don’t want to get stuck in the Mojave Desert in the full heat of the day. Strange noise has started when the bike is ticking over. Doesn’t sound mechanical so I’m not too worried. Anyway, the Chief s running perfectly well. Parked up later in desert garage with some HD riders looking at the Chief, asking about the generator. Looking down I then notice that the belt had split in several places, held together only by the outer moulding. So that’s the noise. Well, never mind. When it breaks I’ve got a spare in the bags.

Two hours riding through the barren land, with the petrol level dropping low, I pull into Amboy. A fly‑blown, dusty, hot and quite uninviting collection of few dwellings. The petrol pumps are chained up. Entering the dirty shop, which had a large hand‑written sign outside, ‘ALL THE WATER YOU DRINK HERE HAS BEEN BROUGHT IN BY TRAIN. THEREFORE IT IS VERY EXPENSIVE; THE RESTROOM IS ONLY FOR USE BY CUSTOMERS!’

Customers! I was the only soul in the place. From out the kitchen comes a fat‑faced look‑a‑like Gene Hackman. Tatty shirt and dirty trousers.

“Any chance of petrol?”

He growls back, “Yeah, I’ve turned the power back on”.

”Any food?”

“Hah! Flood’s closed the other road so kitchen’s closed!”

After filling up I ask for a coffee which is dropped heavily down on the counter by a shifty looking Mexican. Trying to break the awkward silence I joke: “If water’s so expensive here, does that make this coffee $I5!”

Stony silence from both men.

I sip the vile coffee quietly and looking around walls notice various photos. They show the Hackman clone arm in arm with various customers, one of which is Harrison Ford. (I don’t think it was taken in that bar). I stand up and closely studying the picture ask,

“It’s great what tricks you can do with computers these days!”

‘Hackman’ and the greasy Mexican look at me with beady dark eyes, and if looks could kill….. I quickly leave. For several miles I am checking my rear‑view mirror.

I later found out that Amboy had been for sale, complete with fifties police patrol car and uniform for about $I.5m. I don’t think I’ll make a bid! Maybe those two dodgy characters had bought the defunct Amboy. Or maybe they were peed off because they were the owners with no offers. Be warned, don’t stop in Amboy if you can help it!

Light clouds mean the desert temperature is kept to a bearable level. I can stop for photos without breaking into a sweat. Luxury!

Near Barstow the route leads you to the entrance of the US Army’s front gates of a vast depot. Slight detour and into the town. Another rail‑head town but considerably larger than most along this section of the route.

Arrive on the outskirts of LA. The route now leads to the Freeways. Very busy, uninteresting and potentially quite dangerous. I am refusing to travel at more than 50mph, and the traffic average is around 20mph more. So I head south towards Perris, which is home to Bob Stark, long‑time Indian dealer.

Day’s mileage 252

My trip ends when I knock on his door saying, “Hi, I’m Chris from England , I’ve just travelled Route 66”.

Bob and his wife ‘shorty’ then adopt me for two weeks. A very hospitable couple. But that’s another story.

ps.       The strange noise: split generator belt and the pulley had destroyed the shaft end.

        Bob supplied me with a replacement unit.

        What a great place to need an Indian part!

Chris Ball     

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