The Mother Road – An Author’s Journey
July 15, 2012
August 9 – 12, 2012 is this year’s dates for the International Route 66 Festival. Route 66 2012 And the festival will be in Victorville, CA–only an hour from me! I will be there not only as a participant, but also as a vendor. Preparing for my adventure, I started thinking about the little I’ve experienced of The Mother Road in recent years, and I do mean “little”–there’s so much to see and do–and in that “thinking,” decided to revisit a couple of my early excursions in my neck-of-the-desert. In addition, the Newberry Springs Pistachio Festival is November 3, 2012, and I’ll be there too!
Redux—-first posted Aug 7, 2010 — how time flies!
As I start my Route 66 mystery series[i] journey, I’m taking the occasional “detour in the road” from book reviews, to share a few of the captivating places I’m discovering along the way. Since the Mother Road stretches from Chicago to Southern California, I have a lot of adventures ahead.
In the past, places have “called out,” enticing me to write about them. Now, the Mother Road is pulling me into an irresistible embrace. Since leaving Puget Sound (birthplace of “Uncle Si’s Secret”), and resettling in California’s High-Desert, particular stretches and places on Route 66 have captured my interest and tickled my imagination. The sparse but compelling terrain leads me to imagine tales of optimism, fortitude, endurance—and peril.
Certain spots make me think about the people who have passed this way before me. What they built or did—and why. Such people they were to settle along this route and build their businesses and their lives! As I take in what is being offered, I can only wonder what past adventures haunt the remaining structures, what past mysteries the creosote bushes and Palo Verde (green stick) trees are not divulging?
On my new journey, one of the first locations that has called out to me is “The Armstrong House” in Newberry Springs[ii], CA.
At this point of interest on National Trails Highway, what you’ll notice first are a roadside sign and a white Route 66 marker. Currently, the Armstrong House lives multiple lives as a museum, Chamber of Commerce resource center, and Nationwide Real Estate office. Sandi Brittian, the current owner, explained how the house was originally built by the Schmitt family around 1927. It was a time when electricity wasn’t available in the area, and the old windmill and well still remain. Can’t begin to imagine life without electricity. When I walked around the building, the adobe-walled home (a foot thick in most parts!) talked to me about the years—and mysteries—of a time long gone.
Sandi further explained the Armstrong House had the first indoor toilet facilities in the area, was cooled (during 100+ degree summers!) by a wind-operated fan with a water reservoir in a window; and the kitchen was out back—with a wood stove for winter, and a kerosene one for summer.
The Schmitt family sold to the Armstrongs in the 40’s. I haven’t seen a picture of Ruth Armstrong, but I sure can conjure up the “feel” of the woman. However she looked, Ruth was a well known rock-hound, and clearly a strong woman. When Mr. Armstrong died, she was quite determined to make it on her own. If you’ve seen the area, felt the desert, experienced its ruggedness, you know what an amazing woman she had to be!
She enclosed the large front porch, made a commercial rock shop out of the front half of the house, and lived with her family in the back. Indeed, rocks were used to face the front of the house, hence its well known name as the “Rock House.” Her clientele was international—of course, she was on The Mother Road!
I’ve been in the “Rock House” several times, and can feel the past emanating from the structure. A ghost? Not quite, but there is something… A mystery for sure.
The home’s next owner, John Melito, loved to garden. The date palm grove he established is still flourishing, and is now lovingly continued by Sandi. John sold the property to her in 1999, and she continues to restore the Armstrong House—and along with Real Estate Agent Wayne Weierbach—sells properties to new High-Desert adventurers.
I just know there’s a Route 66 “Rock House” murder mystery in my future!
[ii] Newberry Springs is about 20 miles east of Barstow on I-40. The Armstrong House is on National Trails (Old Route 66, just east of Newberry Road). For more information on Newberry Springs, visit these websites http://www.newberrysprings.com/ and http://www.newberryspringscoc.com
Since this post, have also published Lies of Convenience. Clearly, Route 66 has grabbed me and won’t let go…