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Southwest 66 Air Tour

Pilots were treated to the Mother Road from the sky during the first Route 66 Air Tour across the Southwest. The tour began February 16th, in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and ended February 19th, in Winslow, Arizona.

The event was organized and sponsored by Albuquerque-based Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 179. Richard Perry, EAA Chapter 179 and Route 66 Air Tour Coordinator, said they had “participation from the New Mexico Aviation Division; the Lobo Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (Moriarty, New Mexico); the New Mexico Pilots Association; the Cibola County Historical Society; the cities of Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, Moriarty, Las Vegas, and Grants; the High Plains Museum in Winslow; the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas; and numerous aviation businesses.”

The air tour was to highlight aviators, aircraft, and significant historical events along Route 66, according to the Quay County Sun of Tucumcari. It was also to serve the double purpose of commemorating Route 66 and New Mexico Governor, Susana Martinez’s proclamation of February being Aviation Appreciation Month.

At each tour stop the high flyers were to take part in commemorative events and celebrations, as well as visiting historic sites and museums, and doing a little talking about aviation’s effects in New Mexico. The tour’s first stop was Santa Rosa with other landings at Tucumcari, Moriarty, Las Vegas, and Winslow, Arizona. Perry said they had also planned to stop at Grants-Milan airport but unfavorable winds that day prevented it.

The Sun said organizers had expected around thirty fixed-wing modern, antique, and home-built planes to participate in the tour. However, Perry reported twenty aircraft and forty people signed up, but due to airplane maintenance, bad weather, and sickness, a few were lost. The Santa Rosa Communicator newspaper wrote that thirteen aircraft and 40 pilots and crewmembers touched down in its town and that most of the planes came from New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Colorado. The first arrivals were Jeff and Stephanie Pounds of Houston, Texas, who were on their first tour; they also took the record for flying the farthest distance.

In Santa Rosa, participants were literally able to get some of their ‘Kicks on Route 66’ since the town’s municipal airport may be the only airport that can boast of having a runway that was once a Route 66 roadbed. While the airport was established fittingly enough in 1966, the almost mile-long runway (sporting its painted, modern-day Route 66 shields) was a part of the pre 1937 Route 66, and may even have been used earlier than that.

At the tour’s conclusion, Perry said that it was very successful, “and we are considering having a similar event in the future during a period of better weather, though the few months of really good flying weather are already filled with aviation activities nearly every weekend.”

Courtesy Keith Kofford


Restored 66 Landmark to Open

Since their inception, the Gemini Giant and Launching Pad in Wilmington, Illinois have attracted travelers from throughout the world. Unfortunately, the restaurant has been closed for several years, leaving the eatery and the giant in need of renovation and repair. Fortunately, in October 2017, Holly Baker and Tully Garrett of New Lenox, Illinois have purchased the business and plan offer an appealing restaurant and historic landmark.

The couple are movers and shakers and will certainly accomplish their aforementioned tasks, and become a welcome business on the legendary highway. The Launching Pad is now open for business.

Courtesy Route 66 Magazine

Launching Pad Restaurant


Don Imus Ranch

Don Imus Ranch Sold

New Mexico has lost another celebrity landowner with the April 2018 selling of the 3400-acre Don Imus Ranch, at Ribera, about 45-miles east of Santa Fe. Imus and his wife acquired the cattle ranch in 1998 and operated it as a non-profit organization to benefit cancer-stricken children.

Imus had said he wanted to sell the property in 2014. In 2017, it was listed for $19.9 million and sold for around that to Nebraska TV mogul, Patrick Gottsch, according to the sale coordinators. Gottsch is founder and president of RFD-TV, LLC., and Rural Media Group.

The sprawling ranch includes an Old West-style town that equals Hollywood movie sets, a 10-bedroom main ranch house, ponds, numerous buildings, and a short strip of an early alignment of Route 66 on the old Santa Fe Loop.

Imus, known as a controversial talk show host helmed Imus in the Morning for many years, retired from broadcasting in late March 2018.

Courtesy Keith Kofford


Foreclosed Arizona Motel Purchased

The Hill Top Motel, located on Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66) in Kingman, Arizona suffered a foreclosure by the Mohave State Bank of that city; According to chief executive officer Brian Riley of the bank, who was the lender and ironically was the highest bidder of $157,500 when it was sold at public auction.

The motel was constructed in 1954 by Los Angeles developer John Meisheid. In 1954, he built a wall with concrete blocks and cement slabs topped with a stone slab roof at a cost of $60,000. Today, the motel sits in a state of disrepair.

Kingman chiropractors Makenzie Baker and husband Francisco Sinopoli formed Black Hat Properties and have purchased the motel from the bank for $175,500. The couple plan to invest $500,000 to renovate the property to its ‘50s style motor court.

Hill Top Motel


Animated Sign Lights Up the Sky

During October 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that the 2017 Wilder’s Steakhouse grant application for $24,000 was approved to restore the vintage, animated neon sign on the roof of the restaurant in Joplin, Missouri. The sign has been inoperative for at least twenty-five years, and is not to be confused with the beautiful neon sign that hangs over the front entrance, which has been continuously maintained over the years

In 1930, Verne Wilder purchased a building located at 1216 Main Street; there, he opened Southern Pharmacy drug store. The pharmacy would be a short term business for Wilder, when he soon switched occupations, trading his pharmacy instruments for a recipe book and a chef’s apron. By 1933, he added another business to his pharmacy, the Southern Buffet restaurant. Three years later he converted the entire space into a full-scale eatery and changed the name to Wilder’s Buffet. For the next forty years his legacy would be connected to running an upscale restaurant.

By the mid-1970s, due to declining health, Wilder sold his restaurant. During the 1980s, the place changed hands several times. Clarence and Shirley Burggraff ran the noted establishment for over a decade. In 1996, Mike and Marsha Pawlus purchased the restaurant from the Burggraffs, and ever since have enjoyed preserving a piece of Joplin’s heritage.

Wilder’s restaurant has had two neon lit signs (one over the front door and one on the rooftop) since the 1950s at this legendary establishment.

The animated rooftop sign was specifically added to be seen from downtown 7th Street (Route 66) “That sign is what drew in a lot of people from Route 66,” said Marsha, “it lit up the sky.” The restoration of the rooftop sign was completed over the Winter months, and a grand relighting event was held on April 14, 2018.

The sign now “lights up the sky” over downtown Joplin.

Courtesy Jim Thole

Wilder's Neon Sign