Route 66 museum brings history to Fun Run
In his four years as a volunteer at Arizona Route 66 Museum, T.R. Srigley probably sees as many foreign tourists coming through the museum as Americans.
They spend hours looking at displays, photographs, murals and life-size dioramas of groups and events depicting the historical evolution of the highway dubbed the “Mother Road” by author John Steinbeck.
Just inside the museum entrance is a rack of brochures in six languages describing each of the more than 20 exhibits.
“It seems to me like a lot of people are from China and Europe. There’s an awful lot of them,” Srigley said before closing up on a Monday afternoon. “They know a lot about Route 66. It’s pretty amazing. They know more about Route 66 than the Great Wall of China.”
The Route 66 Museum, located within the Powerhouse Visitor Center at 120 E. Andy Devine Ave., will be among the top attractions when some 800 participants in the 31st annual Route 66 Fun Run roll into town this weekend. It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, with $4 admission, $3 for seniors and free for children under 12.
It opened in May 2001 and is operated by the Mohave Pioneers Historical Society, the same group that operates the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, and draws about 50,000 visitors a year.
Museum visitors can feel the fun and excitement of traveling Route 66 during the 1950s.
“This really is the museum that helps explain the significance of Route 66 to our culture through the ages,” said Josh Noble, director of tourism for the City of Kingman.
One of the featured exhibits is “Grapes of Wrath.” A rusty old Ford truck is loaded with pots and pans, furniture and worldly belongings of the Joad family fleeing the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma.
“… and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the Mother Road, the road of flight …” Steinbeck wrote in one excerpt from his book.
Long before Route 66 was commissioned in 1926, early trade routes known as the “35th parallel route” served as the foundation for east-west travel, passing through northern Arizona. Native American trade routes and U.S. Army survey expeditions forged the path for the “Great Migration” west from 1810 to 1820.
Lt. Edward Beale and his famous camel corps came later, along with the first wagons, settler and Indian wars, prairie schooners and the railroad, all of which are chronicled at the Route 66 Museum.
Noble recently conducted a tour of the museum for a French film crew, and for about 16 travel representatives on the Arizona Office of Tourism familiarization tour.
The goal of the Fun Run is to host a car rally along the longest remaining stretch of Route 66 and highlight towns along with way, Noble said. Each town has events planned for participants.
“It does seem to me that more participants are spending a fair amount of their time in Kingman,” Noble said. “That’s why we started the Route 66 Drive-In and why we’ve been helping to promote the Downtown First Friday.”
The movie, “Cars 3,” will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday at Best Western King’s Inn, 2930 E. Andy Devine Ave., and the Show and Shine takes place Saturday with hundreds of cars lined along Route 66 and Beale Street in downtown Kingman.
“I think that a multi-stop, almost poker run-like format is key to this event because it’s unlike anything else hosted in Kingman,” Noble said. “At this rally, several hundred drivers get the feel of the old road in their period car with other period cars alongside. They take over the road.”
Another special element of this year’s Fun Run is that Angel Delgadillo, the 91-year-old Seligman barber who was instrumental in founding the event, is dropping the flag at 10 a.m. Saturday to send the first car off to Kingman.
Grand marshals Krystal and Everett Burge are making the Fun Run in the same 1960 Corvette they took on the first Fun Run in 1988.
“Every year we have about a one-third change-out in participants, but most of the Fun Runners are repeat visitors,” Noble said.
Nearly 80 percent of the 776 entries in last year’s Fun Run were from out of town, and about a quarter are from out of state, he noted. Some come from Australia, Canada, France and Germany.
“Hotel occupancy is always very high for Fun Run weekend. It can be tough finding a room in town that Friday and Saturday night,” Noble said.
The Route 66 Museum is truly unique in that it’s housed in a historical building that lighted the way for early Route 66 travelers, said Shannon Rossiter, director of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.
The Kingman Powerhouse was built in phases between 1907 and 1911, and was operated by the Desert Power & Light Co. It produced power for the mines, and also supplied power for the construction of Hoover Dam.
The Powerhouse was mothballed after the dam began producing cheaper hydroelectric power in the 1930s, finally restored and opened as a visitor center in 1997.
The Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum was added in 2014, in conjunction with the International Route 66 Festival held in Kingman, with vehicles donated by the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation.