The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 2, 2013

SLIDE SHOW: Route 66 Festival fun gets green light

Five-year-old Jace Forkner sat on the curb of Main Street under a tree and enthusiastically slurped a cherry snow cone.

His hair dripping and cheeks red from the day’s humidity, young Jace needed a break Friday afternoon from running around at the Route 66 International Festival, said his mother, Jessica Brooks, of Cherokee, Kan.

“We were just checking out the festival. We have never been to one before.”

She gave the celebration of the nation’s historic highway a green light.

“We went to the ‘Cars’ movie last night and that was pretty neat,” she said. “The kids had a blast” seeing the life-size replicas of movie characters Lightning McQueen and Mater.

Jay Ward, creative director for the “Cars” franchise, and Michael Wallis, the voice of the sheriff of Radiator Springs, visited with the movie’s fans before the showing at the Route 66 Drive-In Theater at Carthage. The kids stood in long lines to be deputized by the rich-voiced constable.

That event was so popular that 370 tickets, at $25 each, sold out in eight hours when it was announced on June 25.

“Cars” has a special connection to the area because many of the characters and locations in the movie were taken from real ones that exist or formerly existed along the route. Mater was inspired by a truck parked on Main Street in Galena, Kan., and can be viewed at Cars on the Route there.

An opening ceremony for the festival at the Route 66 Mural Park at 619 Main St. in Joplin drew visitors from a number of cities along the route spanning several states.

“This is going to be a major stop along Route 66,” Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said of Joplin’s two murals, constructed by Images on Tile and funded by public donations.

She equated the festival to an injection of fun for Joplin, which is recovering from an EF-5 tornado that destroyed nearly a third of the city in 2011.

“It’s good to see everybody come from around the world as they did after the storm,” when people arrived to help with the storm rescue and later the cleanup. “This time people came from around the world but it’s for a celebration,” she said.

Dozens of photographs were snapped of festivalgoers both there and at the dedication ceremony for a Galena mural at Seventh and Main streets there. Galena was host Friday night for activities, including a chili cook-off, an arts and crafts fair and concerts.

Today’s events in Joplin will include a car show at Sixth and Main streets, a children’s beauty pageant, concerts and the Main Street Marketplace, located in Christman’s Event Center, 501 S. Main St.

A number of exhibitors are set up at the marketplace, including state Route 66 associations.

Dora Meroney, of Amarillo, president of the Old Route 66 Association of Texas, said that Amarillo has one mile of Route 66, but it’s well populated with businesses and a couple of popular spots on the highway. “We have Cadillac Ranch, which is a big draw, and The Big Texan.”

Cadillac Ranch is a public art project from the 1970s featuring spray-painted Cadillacs buried nose-down in a field. The Big Texan is a steakhouse famous for its free steak dinners — to those who can eat a 72-ounce steak (4.5 pounds) in one hour with all the trimmings. If not, the tab is a buck for each ounce, $72.

The festival, in addition to promoting the highway and the cities and states along it, serves as the setting for a summit meeting of those associations, business owners and the National Parks Service to discuss preservation and economic development.

‘The summit was a great thing today,” Meroney said, giving the associations a chance to share information and develop common goals.

“It’s the eight states working together that makes Route 66 successful,” she said. “It’s the biggest tourism destination in the United States.”

Route 66 spans Chicago to Los Angeles through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Another show exhibitor, Sharon Foster, a volunteer with the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, said the 286 miles of the route attracts about 12,000 travelers there a year and more than half are from other countries.

“They’re from all over the world,” she said, with the museum recording visitors from all 50 U.S. states and 89 countries.

Foreign visitors want to see how Americans, past and present, live, Foster said.

From the era of the outhouse to modern cellphones, “they are amazed at the changes in technology,” she said.

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