OK County 66
We've encountered a lot of Route 66-themed attractions along Route 66, and we're not happy about it. The idea that wacky American tourism existed only along one road is absurd -- highwayopic, Six Six Syndrome -- and the implication that all of the good places are gone -- a common theme in self-celebratory Route 66 attractions -- is just plain wrong. If you'd just get off of Route 66, you'd find plenty of treasures.
Still, despite our cranky dispositions, we couldn't help but like OK County 66.
It's the creative product of John Hargrove, a former airplane and school bus mechanic. John grew up just off of NW 23rd St (Route 66) in Oklahoma City, and was always fascinated by the "Mother Road." He originally thought about spending his retirement rebuilding wrecked airplanes, "but the liability is just horrendous," he told us, which seems correct (and had us looking at our plane tickets home for the "wreck re-furb" fine print...).
"So then I decided, well, if I'm not gonna do that, I'm gonna live on Route 66!" In 1998 he sold everything that he had, bought a piece of Route 66 property just east of Oklahoma City, and began building his attraction. "I'm just doin' what I want to do."
What John is doing is building replicas of classic roadside imagery, most of them found along Route 66, and scattering them around his property. He's got his own versions of the giant Twin Arrows and a big jackrabbit, a Wigwam motel room and a big kachina doll, a fake Meramec Caverns barn roof and a Volkswagen Beetle buried nose down in the earth (John's homage to Texas's Cadillac Ranch). He built a pond to hold a replica Blue Whale, but the water leaked out.
"I'm doin' icons," John explains. "You know, when you see something out of the ordinary, you kinda forget about troubles."
John, who greeted us with a big smile and with hands covered in axle grease, has never actually visited most of the attractions that he's erected on his property. He's only driven the Route 66 stretches in Oklahoma.
Indoors, the roadside theme continues. John has built a replica diner interior that can seat between 50 and 100 people. A drive-in movie screen fills one wall. There's another Volkswagen Beetle, which sticks halfway out of the second floor, next to the balcony (visitors can crawl into the driver and passenger seats for a hard-to-capture photo op). The indoor bathroom is a wooden outhouse that John built for less than $60.
"I've never watched a football, baseball, basketball game in my life," John says, which is his way of explaining how he has had the time to build OK County 66 while indulging his other passion: running 100 mile, 24-hour marathons. "You gotta be brain stubborn."
John, who tells us that he has driven the same car since 1976, admits that his attraction is "low budget as heck." But he still feels that he has created something worthwhile. "There's a lot of people that's got the knowledge," he says. "They just don't have the motivation to get up off their ass."
July 2007: John finally got his pond filled and has outfitted it with a 25-foot-long Blue Whale. New indoor additions include a Bob's Big Boy and a McDonald's "Speedee Service" bun man, while outdoors there's Fillmore the VW bus from Cars, the Captain America motorcycle from Easy Rider, and "Petro Man" next to the gas pumps. "This has been a busy summer," John told us. "They're flockin' in. I got a PT Cruiser out here takin' pictures now." John said that a fashion magazine even brought models out and did a photo shoot among his icons. "I'm livin' life, man! Don't forget to live life!"