Thursday, January 5, 2017

A new year, a new book, and old challenges

The first day of a new year usually brings thoughts of new beginnings, a fresh new slate on which to inscribe our best intentions, a new fall of snow all ready for our footprints in a new or renewed direction.

My thoughts this new year are on (a) a renewed commitment to a book project that I began several years ago, and (b) a new commitment to fight threats to women's rights. I woke up on January 1st thinking about my main writing project for 2017 and how it relates to women's rights. And what is that book project, you ask.

Several years ago, I began to think about the women during the historic Route 66 era who made significant contributions to what we collectively think of as Route 66 culture. I began to search out and collect their stories. My recent 33-day trip to California and back afforded me some time for inspiration and research to add to the already considerable pile of books, notes, brochures, scraps of paper, business cards, and three-ring binder that recently got moved from my three (count 'em, three) sets of large bookcases to its own set of shelves.

Books for background information to supplement primary research, some from my main bookshelves and some recently purchased, moved into their own shelves--which won't be enough for long.
Although I'm still looking at several different publishers and do not have a contract yet, I'm ready to let everyone know what I'm working on. Working title: Women of 66: Their Extraordinary Contributions to the Culture of Route 66. Sometime during 2017, I expect that my almost-10,000 word outline of approximately 100 amazing women will grow up into a cohesive narrative—with a publisher, beautiful cover art, a comprehensive index, endnotes, historic photos, and, eventually, readers!

A gift from my good friend Cindy Reinhardt several years ago, to start organizing for the future book.
This project is near and dear to my heart because of, obviously, my love for Route 66, but also because of my women's history studies (MA, 2001, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), and my fascination with material/American culture. Beyond the scope of an Arcadia Publishing book (of which I've done six), this project will draw from all three disciplines. From now on, I'll be posting, in my usual occasional and erratic way, updates on the book's process.

You will easily guess some of the women in the book, as they are true--and well-known--legends of Route 66. Lillian Redman, Lucille Hamons, Cynthia Hare Troup, Erna Fergusson, are just a few that should come to mind. But since my goal is to document how women shaped Route 66 culture, I'm not focusing only on the motel/ restaurant/station operators or on the obvious choices. Women in the fields of design, engineering, art, and politics also contributed to the culture of the "Main Street of America," and you are going to meet them in the book.

So that's the new year and the new book. Now for the old challenges—women's rights, which, sadly, shouldn't even still be a point of discussion. However, since the election of November 8, many women realize that their hard-fought rights are going to be threatened again, and we are ready to face that fight head-on. Many of us know, through our mothers', grandmothers', or other ancestors' stories, or through our study of women's history, of our sisters' struggles.

If the upcoming Women's March in D.C. on January 21 is any indication, women (and men standing with us) are ready to fight against threats to our rights. Sister marches are scheduled in solidarity around the world. Women are forming coalitions, planning local political campaigns, and making thousands of calls to their representatives. This is a fight we don't plan to lose. Because we remember the Alice Pauls and the Lucy Burnses of history, and because we remember our mothers' or grandmothers' stories. And because we know this debate isn't really between two political parties, but between right and wrong, between misogyny and human rights.

The women included in my book lived and worked during different stages of the evolution of women's rights. Somehow, they did what they did anyway. Their accomplishments were often remarkable, at a time when there were few women in their respective fields.

So that's what I'm thinking about at the beginning of this new year, and what I'm working on. What we women face now will help to inform my insight into what women faced then, and vice versa. I'll try to use it to its best advantage.

Because we've already fought that fight.

And because I want this book to be the best it can be. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mini book tour for "Route 66 in Kansas"

Last weekend I took the new Route 66 in Kansas book on the road for a mini book tour to the Tri-State area. Three events were planned, sponsored by three terrific museums, for Friday through Sunday, July 22-24. It was a great weekend, and as a bonus, I stayed three nights at the wonderful Boots Court in Carthage, Missouri, and enjoyed the new neon.

The first event was a book display and signing sponsored by the Powers Museum of Carthage at the Carthage Art Walk in - where else? - historic Downtown Carthage on the Square on Friday evening. Michele Newton Hansford of the Powers Museum secured a prime space for me inside the Carthage Deli, and she and her husband, Gary Hansford, joined me for the evening at the deli. Owner Chris was a gracious host as usual, and we enjoyed a fine supper and great conversation. The oppressive heat and humidity caused some of the artists to cancel out of the art walk. That, combined with construction around the square and the weather itself, made for a smaller crowd, but the company and food more than made up for that. 

On Saturday afternoon, the Galena Mining and Historical Museum hosted a book signing. Thanks to the enthusiastic Fred Billingsley and Linda Phipps, everything was all ready and then some. Big table, flowers, refreshment table, and people coming in the door! The irrepressible sisters who have done so much for Galena, Renee Charles and Melba Rigg, came by to visit, followed by Ron Jones, the Tattoo Man, who drove up from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. What support. I was humbled. We had a nice crowd throughout the afternoon, and in between visitors we augmented Linda's home-made cookies with pizza. 

On Sunday afternoon, the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum hosted. The also-enthusiastic Mary Billington, the center's new director, had things arranged beautifully. Big table, flowers, chairs and microphone in case of an impromptu book talk, and another delightful refreshment table. We had a steady crowd there too, and who showed up but road warrior Fred Zander from Topeka, and fellow Arcadia author Steve Clem from Sand Springs.  I was happy to see Linda Kennedy, former director of the center, stop by. Linda at the Baxter Springs museum and Fred Billingsley at the Galena museum, are the two main reasons that there IS a Route 66 in Kansas book! 

Also during the afternoon, Dustin Andrews, owner of the new area newspaper, Spring River Current, came by and did an interview with me, interviewed visitors, and printed a nice review. You can read that online:

I want to thank everyone who stopped by, bought books, brought food, treated me to dinner, made arrangements, worked on publicity, and generally made it a very fun and productive weekend. It was also fun to catch up with Penny Black (she was heading east) on Thursday evening, as she, like me, stopped at the Boots Court in Carthage. 

Our next events are in two different Springfields. On Saturday-Sunday, August 13-14, Joe and I will both be at Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in downtown Springfield, Missouri. If you're in the area, please stop by and see us in the Author, Artist, Association, and Collector Expo in the Old Glass Place (east end of the car show) between 10 am and 4 pm. This is a fantastic event that has really grown in the last couple years - attend if you can.

On Saturday-Sunday, September 24-25, we'll both be at the International Mother Road Festival in downtown Springfield, Illinois. Again, if you're in the area, please stop by. I believe that we'll be at the corner of Washington and Fifth again this year (north side of the Old Capitol). This long-established big event is also always fun. We'd love to see you and sign a book for you.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Route 66 in Kansas book release/first book signing at Catsup Bottle Festival!

Monday, July 4, was the official release date from Arcadia Publishing of Route 66 in Kansas,  when it became available from Amazon, Arcadia, and other book sellers.

Route 66 in Kansas is the second book collaboration between Joe and me, the first being Route 66 in Illinois, which was released in 2014. The Kansas book is my sixth book for Arcadia, and Joe's bazillionth...or maybe ninth or tenth. Joe and I worked hard on this project, enjoyed every trip to this special 13.2-mile stretch of Route 66, and sincerely hope you like the book!

Our first signing for the new book is Sunday, July 10, from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. at the 18th Annual World's Largest Catsup Bottle Festival at Woodland Park in Collinsville, Illinois. We hope a lot of friends in the Edwardsville - Collinsville - St. Louis area can stop by! We are really looking forward to sharing the new book, AND, you'll have a ton of fun at the Catsup Bottle Festival. Think car show, tater tots with catsup, and vendors! 

I know, it's not Kansas, but our first event is here in Illinois for several reasons. #1:  I'm representing Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Sunday, so besides getting your very own signed copy of our new book, you can pick up (for free) a copy of the Illinois Route 66 Visitors Guide. (Sorry, I am all out of the famous Route 66 Scenic Byway flashing stickers. I'm down to my last one or two, which we just might wear.) #2:  We each live nearby. #3:  We think some of our Illinois friends will want a copy! #4:  The festival is fun!

As for Kansas book events, I am setting up book signings in the Tri-State/Kansas area. Confirmed events are Saturday afternoon, July 23, at the Galena Mining and Historical Museum in Galena, KS, and Sunday afternoon, July 24, at the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum in Baxter Springs, KS. Times to be announced but both are afternoon. Arcadia Publishing is setting up a couple additional events that weekend at book stores in the Tri-State area. I'll have the info on those early next week.

Meanwhile, Joe and I hope to see you Sunday at the Catsup Bottle Festival!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Blue Carpet Corridor weekend festival June 11-12

Here's this year's press release about our 2nd annual Blue Carpet Corridor festival weekend! It's BCC II !

Visit the Blue Carpet Corridor on Saturday-Sunday, June 11-12, and experience Midwest Americana on 100+ miles of Illinois Route 66! From Chatham to Collinsville, 13 communities will be welcoming visitors to their events, attractions, and Passport Stops. Joining in the fun for this second annual event are the following communities: Chatham, Virden, Girard, Carlinville, Gillespie, Staunton, Hamel, Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, Litchfield, Mt. Olive, Troy, and Collinsville.

From internationally-known attractions like the World's Largest Catsup Bottle, Henry's Rabbit Ranch, and Soulsby Station, to long-running festivals like Chatham's American Legion Homecoming and Edwardsville's Route 66 Festival, Blue Carpet Corridor weekend is the perfect weekend family trip. From vintage stops like Doc's Soda Fountain and Weezy's Route 66 Bar and Grill to quirky new attractions like murals and CM Studios' A Walk with Dinosaurs, from a Cannonball Jail to a Heritage Museum to the 66th year in operation of the Sky View Drive-In, the Blue Carpet Corridor has it all.

Begin your self-guided tour anywhere along the corridor and pick up your free souvenir passport at any of our 13 official Passport Stops. Travel to all the stops to get all 13 unique stamps. Passport Stop hours are Saturday 8 am – 5 pm and Sunday 8 am – 3 pm. Many of the stops will offer local tourism information and directions, souvenir merchandise, work by local artisans, raffles, and/or refreshments.

Festivals and events in many towns will also feature evening entertainment. And several communities will begin their weekend festivities on Thursday or Friday evening. Watch for the white and blue signs in each community to direct you to the Passport Stop and other activities.

Photo ops will be plentiful at the corridor's numerous attractions, including museums, theaters, historic sites, monuments, murals, and charming town squares. Take time for some shopping at the many vendor booths, antique stores, yard sales, and mom 'n pop businesses. Enjoy a meal or a snack at a cook off, food booth, soda fountain, or roadhouse. Let the kids play at the many children's activities. See a movie, go on a carnival ride, take a tour, ride a trolley, and watch a parade. Meet-and-greet an author and get a book autographed, admire classic cars, and take a selfie with a costumed character. Listen to a variety of live music and maybe do a little dancing. Collect passport stamps, souvenir t-shirts and coins, and fun family memories.

You'll also find a complete schedule of events and the 2016 rack card/community map to download at for updates at For more information, call (618) 307-5049.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

New tourism info center and events on the Blue Carpet Corridor!

The second annual Blue Carpet Corridor weekend (BCC II) is coming up June 11-12, but in the meantime, it's not just spring flowers that are opening on this stretch of Illinois Route 66 from Chatham to Collinsville.

Hot news is the new Tourist Information Center in Edwardsville! Through a partnership between Cindy Reinhardt, Edwardsville historian and author, and LuAnn Locke, owner of Afterwords Books, travelers can now stop and pick up brochures and information about Edwardsville's attractions, restaurants, and lodging! The new tourist stop is located inside Afterwords Books at 454 E. Vandalia (Route 66), the former Cathcart-Goddard Tourist Inn which served travelers during the Route 66 era. Here's the link to an article about the new tourist stop in the Edwardsville Intelligencer:

This past weekend, there were at least three events on the BCC--in Litchfield, Hamel, and Edwardsville.

Litchfield celebrated the Grand Opening weekend and also the 66th birthday of the Sky View Drive-In on Friday-Sunday, April 1-3. The Sky View has new owners, Nick and Mindy Pastrovich, and Nick's parents, Mike and Debbie Pastrovich. The Hillsboro Journal-News ran an article about the next phase of the Sky View:
And here's the Sky View's new website:

In Hamel, Route 66 Ridez held their first Cruise In of the 2016 season. Traffic was winding down by the time I got there late Saturday afternoon, but there were still hot dogs and chips available in the very cool vintage kitchen and a group of people talking vehicles and 66. If you haven't stopped here, you'll enjoy seeing the kitchen and shopping in the souvenir shop.

On the SIUE campus in Edwardsville, a one-man play about Buckminster Fuller was presented in the Fuller Dome on the 90th Meridian! The History (and Mystery) of the Universe, a play by Douglas Jacobs, was presented Thursday and Friday evenings by SIUE Arts and Issues and by the Center of Spirituality and Sustainability, which is located in the Fuller geodesic dome. Jacobs himself was delightful and thought-provoking playing Fuller. The Fuller Dome is one of my very favorite places around Edwardsville, and is a little-known treasure along Route 66 (a separate blog post about the Fuller Dome coming up soon).

Coming up on Saturday, May 14, is an event in Collinsville, Rockin' for the Miners 3, to raise funds for the restoration of the historic Miner's Institute Theatre in Collinsville. The Miner's "friends of" group is hoping to get this magnificent and large theater building completely restored by its 2018 centennial. If you want to know more about the Miner's, check out their website and/or read my article, "Movie Palaces:  Historic Theaters along the Blue Carpet Corridor--Part One," in the April 2016 issue of the Prairie Land

And speaking of the Blue Carpet Corridor, we'll have the complete list of passport stops and other information on this year's event soon. For now, mark your calendars for Saturday-Sunday, June 11-12!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Some news about our Route 66 in Kansas book

This past week, Joe Sonderman and I received some news about our Route 66 in Kansas pamphlet, er, book. (As expected, we have taken a lot of ribbing about producing a whole book about 13 miles of our favorite highway!)

Anyway, Arcadia Publishing informed us of the publication/release date of Route 66 in Kansas. Talk about patriotic. Our official release date is July 4th! We had guessed that the book would likely be released in May, since that is roughly six months after our materials submission date. But that's okay. We think July 4th is cool. 

Tentatively we will have some book signings in July and/or August in Galena and Baxter Springs. We'll post those dates once they're firmed up. And one or both of us will be at the following festivals with the new book:

Aug. 12-14    Birthplace of Route 66 Festival                                Springfield MO
Sept. 3          Berwyn Car Show                                                    Berwyn IL
Sept. 23-25   International Route 66 Mother Road Festival          Springfield IL
Nov. 10-13    Route 66 Festival                                                     Los Angeles CA

The other piece of news is that we received all our page proofs for the book this past week! So we will be going over the book for the last time before publication.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Death on Route 66: The Murders of Gene Reed and Martin Drenovac - Part two

(First published in Show Me Route 66, Vol. 23 No 4, 2013
Second published in the Prairie Land Buzz, February 2014)

In 1961, two AWOL Texas GIs went on a cross-country killing spree from Florida to Colorado, killing seven people in a two-week orgy of robbery, violence, and murder. Their travels brought James Douglas Latham, 19, and George Ronald York, 18, to Illinois' Metro East, where they made several tragic stops. Their senseless, brutal slayings of Albert Eugene “Gene” Reed and Martin Drenovac along Route 66 sent the Illinois communities of Litchfield, Edwardsville, and Mitchell/Granite City reeling. Reed and Drenovac were victims #4 and #5 respectively of nine victims assaulted (seven of which died) at the hands of Latham and York from May 26 through June 10, 1961.

On the morning of Thursday, June 8, 1961, Martin Drenovac was at work at his Twin Oaks Gas for Less service station on U.S. Bypass 66 in Mitchell, Illinois. The service station, along with a restaurant and motel, were all owned by the Drenovac family and were located just before the entrance to the Chain of Rocks Canal Bridge. The family – Martin, wife Ethel, son Sam, daughter Anne, and two grandchildren – lived in a large two-story house just west of the service station. Martin was 69 years old but was still working; he had spent decades building up businesses. Life was good.

Martin Drenovac with his grandson Richard and granddaughter Denise about 1959. Business signs can be seen to the right. Courtesy of Denise Madrid.
A native of Croatia, Martin Drenovac came to the U.S. in 1905. In nearby Hartford and Wood River, he operated grocery stores for 27 years before moving to Mitchell in 1947. He and his wife Ethel had two children, Anne and Sam. Sam grew up working in the family businesses. Ann became a school teacher; she married Alfred Madrid and they had two children, Denise and Richard.

Interior of Drenovac's general store in Hartford in 1932. Pictured (left to right) are Ethel and Martin Drenovac, their daughter Ann, and store employees. Courtesy of Hartford Public Library.

Granddaughter Denise Madrid recalls the restaurant: It had been built from an old barn and part of the front was remodeled with glass block; there was a matching glass block bar inside. Just inside the front door was a compass rose designed in the floor: as a child Denise liked to stand in the middle of it and twirl. Her grandmother, Martin's wife Ethel, grew up in Austria where she learned the fine art of baking. She was famous locally for her pies. A half-moon window between the kitchen and dining room was the spot where Ethel's fresh-baked pies would appear. Martin and Ethel grew some of the produce used in the restaurant, including about 200 tomato plants every year. Martin was ahead of his time, employing the “farm to table” concept popular now in many fine restaurants. The produce was grown organically. “We don't spray, we don't spray,” Martin would tell customers.

Martin called his businesses the Twin Oaks Restaurant and Rotel (“It's a hotel on the road!”). The Rotel consisted of about 8-10 cabins, one of which was an octagon. Although the whole business complex came to be known as Twin Oaks, Denise says that the service station was only named “Gas For Less” and was serviced by the Ashland Oil Company. The restaurant and rotel were called “Twin Oaks.”

Denise remembers her grandfather as a kind man with a big heart. The family was well off due to their businesses. During the Great Depression, he provided housing for a family who had nothing and nowhere to live. In the age of segregation, he allowed blacks to eat in his restaurant and if whites complained, he told them that they were welcome to take their food outside.

But on June 8, 1961, the Drenovac family's peaceful existence was shattered. For George Latham and Ronald York, their day had started with a brutal murder – their fourth in a rampage of terror across the country. That morning Albert Eugene “Gene” Reed from Litchfield had a fateful rendezvous with Latham and York, attempting to give the two “hitchhikers” a ride. But the killers had turned the tables. They killed Reed, took over his late-model Dodge, and dumped his body southwest of Edwardsville. From that spot it was only about seven miles to Twin Oaks.

Martin was watching over the service station that morning, while his wife Ethel and son Sam were at work in the restaurant. Sam was wearing his customary white shirt and white butcher's apron. Ethel was most likely baking pies. York and Latham pulled into the service station driving Reed's red Dodge. Meanwhile, Martin's grandchildren, nine-year-old Denise and six-year-old Richard Madrid were playing a game on the living room floor, their young world not yet shattered. It was about 10:00 am.

A few minutes later, Ethel looked out the restaurant window and saw a car at the gas station waiting for service. She saw the customers sitting in their car, but as she watched her husband Martin did not come out to greet them. Son Sam went over to the service station. It was Sam that found his father lying in a pool of blood in the service bay.

The parking lot was soon jammed with police and sheriff vehicles. An ambulance waited to load Martin's body as the investigation began. Sam walked over to the Drenovac home where his niece and nephew were innocently playing. Denise still remembers her Uncle Sam walking into the house with his white shirt and apron “covered with blood.” He told them, “Your grandfather's been killed. Call your mother and tell her to leave school and come. Tell her your grandfather's really sick. But don't tell her he's been killed.” Police investigations concluded that Martin had been hit on the head at least seven times. The family believes that the killers used the poker out of Martin's wood stove.

Emergency vehicles outside the service station and the ambulance waiting to load Martin Drenovac's body on June 8, 1961. Edwardsville Intelligencer.
Although Gene Reed already lay dead a few miles east, Drenovac's murder was reported first, and it would still be several hours before Reed's body would be found and reported. Initial investigations caused Madison County Sheriff George Musso to state that there “was apparently no connection between the Reed slaying and a fatal holdup and beating near the Chain of Rocks Bridge.”

Martin's wallet, believed to contain several hundred dollars in cash, was missing. Weeks later, a man in Missouri found the wallet where Latham and York had thrown it out. Knowing the story from the wide publicity after the murders, the man wrote a letter to the Drenovac family at Twin Oaks, alerting them that he had the wallet. Denise recalls the car trip to Missouri to pick up her grandfather's wallet. Later on, in their confessions Latham and York stated that they not only needed gas in the Dodge, but cash for the Chain of Rocks Bridge toll.

After their escape across the Mississippi River, the crime spree was not yet over. In Kansas, they robbed and shot to death Otto Zeigler, a 63-year-old railroad worker. In Colorado, they had sex with a teen-aged motel maid named Rachel Moyer. That was before they killed her, too.

The pair was finally apprehended in Salt Lake City, where they were still driving Gene Reed's red Dodge. York and Latham confessed to seven murders, two assaults, and six auto thefts. Madison County authorities went to Salt Lake City in an attempt to bring the killers back to Illinois to stand trial. “We feel that since the pair was arrested in the car taken from one of the Madison county victims that we have the best case against them,” State's Attorney Dick H. Mudge was quoted in the Granite City Press-Record. However, Kansas was given first chance to prosecute due to “witnesses, physical evidence, and evidence independent of the youths,” according to a later quote from Mudge in the Edwardsville Intelligencer. York and Latham were convicted in Kansas of shooting the Kansas man. They sat on death row with Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, another pair of murderers who were the subject of Truman Capote's book, “In Cold Blood.” After numerous appeals, the pair was finally executed by hanging in 1965.

Martin Drenovac's funeral was held on the Monday after his death. He left behind his wife Ethel, son Sam, daughter Anne, and the two grandchildren. Sam continued to run the family businesses for awhile and entered politics in later years. The family continued to live next door to the service station in the big house. Ethel passed away in 1984 and Anne in 1985. The grandchildren eventually moved away from the area. In recent years Sam stayed in the house as it deteriorated and the vegetation grew up around it. The crumbling gas station with the tall “Twin Oaks Gas for Less” sign in front has become an iconic image. The sign was damaged by a storm a few years ago and eventually disappeared. Perhaps it's safe in someone's memorabilia collection. Sam now lives in a nursing home as he approaches his 90th birthday. He hangs on to his dream of returning to the family home next to the station.

The Twin Oaks sign in the early 2000s--long after Martin Drenovac's murder but before a storm damaged the sign. Photo by Joe Sonderman.