Second-time lucky for Route 66 by Lambretta – Pete Fay recounts the alcohol-fuelled story
In 2014 Steve Orridge of Barnsley Vikings organised a trip to ride the famous Route 66 on Lambrettas. Barrie Smith of Bolton Spartans Scooter Club was one of the group who set off to do it. Unfortunately USA customs refused to let the guys import their scoots so the trip had to be abandoned. Barrie and a few of the others decided to complete Route 66 in a car, however the seed was sown to come back and attempt it again on a Lambretta!
Once he returned home Barrie found a shipping agent, so all we needed now was to find a back up van driver. A mate of mine offered to drive our van so no excuses now! Within the week flights and van hire were sorted, we just needed to be ready for May 4th. On our little trip we had Barrie and his girlfriend Linda, me and my wife Sandra and Tony our van driver. The girls were going to travel in the van and keep Tony company.
Sweet home Chicago
We hear many times that the internet and social media make this a small world. We had a few examples of this whilst we were in America. The first example of it was through Facebook; Barrie had contacted the Chicago Scooter Club so we ended up meeting with them for a few beers when we arrived in Chicago on Wednesday May 4th. Friendships formed were in ale.
The following day we set off to the American Airways cargo warehouse to pick up our scoots! Unfortunately we experienced the same problem as in 2014 and the customs officer refused to let us remove them. After a few hours messing about we eventually received the ok. Mine fired up ok but Barrie’s wouldn’t start. We quickly diagnosed a problem with the stator so it was changed and we were soon riding to Scooter Works to pick up the oil Barrie had emailed the shop about.
The guys in the shop couldn’t believe it when they saw two UK Lambrettas and riders were in their shop, they thought Barrie was winding them up! We bought the oil and were soon riding alongside Lake Michigan then down the Chicago historic mile. I had to pinch myself as I never thought I’d be riding a Lambretta in the USA!
Day 1 – Hangover in Chicago
Friday 6th May was our first day of riding on Route 66. The night before we had decided not to stay out too late as we wanted to be fresh for our challenge! Unfortunately that plan didn’t work as I was out till about 1am and Barrie got back to the hotel about 3am. We were so rough in the morning that we forgot to put any 2-stroke oil in our toolboxes. We only realised after we’d waved the van off to meet us at the outskirts of Chicago. We then took some photos at the ‘start of Route 66’ sign and set off; me on an LI150 with a Mugello 230 engine and Barrie on his series 2 with a standard 200 engine.
We followed the ‘historic Route 66’ signs through Chicago and I thought this will be an easy trip as we just need to follow a few signs. Unfortunately over the years the signs have been stolen for souvenirs or you just miss them, so after half an hour we were lost! We found a petrol station and filled up using 91 octane and some very cheap 2 stroke lawnmower oil! We couldn’t find the van so I said to Barrie ‘Get your map out’ so we could see where we were. Barrie smiled and said “Its in the van…” My sat nav got us back on track and we caught up with the girls and the van in a little town called Jolliet.
Once reunited with the van we set off again for Springfield, birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. We were making good progress until Barrie had a couple of heat seizures. At the next fuel stop Barrie’s scoot wouldn’t start, there was a lack of compression too. When we stripped the top end down the piston rings were stuck solid so we put a new piston in. While working on the scoot lots of bikers came over to see if we were ok, they were amazed to see what we were doing and even more amazed when we told them where we were going!
Within a couple of hours we were back on the road. We stopped several times to take photos of various famous Route 66 landmarks, so although we were only travelling 200ish miles it was slow progress. We made it to Springfield at about 8pm after 11 hours on the road and found a hotel, went into the town centre and had a meal and a few beers. It had been a tough first day but we had seen lots of Route 66 landmarks and the scoots were ok.
Day 2 – St Louis
The next day our destination was St. Louis and with only about 100 miles to do we hoped to get there and do a bit of sight-seeing, with the famous arch top of the list. Our plan went awry when we lost the van. Me and Barrie checked into a hotel and waited in an Irish bar for the girls and Tony to arrive. The sky suddenly went black and we had a massive storm. We said it was hurricane levels but the Americans assured us it was just a little bit of wind and would soon blow over! The van had been stuck in traffic, watching traffic cones being blown about. Sandra had to get out of the van to move them it was that bad. The weather in America changes so quickly and within 20 minutes the sun was out again. They eventually found us and the normal cycle of beer, food and lots more beer was resumed.
Day 3 – Rolla Missouri
The next day our destination was Rolla, Missouri. Again we only had about 100 miles to do, so we went to see the arch and then Barrie insisted we found an old Route 66 bridge! As it was only a short journey we were able to stop off at lots of 66 landmarks for photos. We called in to see the Meramec Caverns where Jesse James and his gang hid from the authorities. We even saw the worlds biggest rocking chair in a place called Fanning. We got to Rolla and me and Barrie set off looking for an Irish bar that he found on the internet. We passed a bar/steakhouse near the hotel and walked about the town for about an hour. Nowhere was open, we found the Irish bar – however it had closed down the year before. Sandra phoned to let me know that as it was Sunday and everywhere in the town was shut apart from the bar we had passed near the hotel…
Day 4 – Kansas
We left Rolla and headed to Baxter Springs, Kansas; a journey of about 200 miles. The route is full of quirky things to look at and old garages preserved to represent the way they were when Route 66 was at its peak. One of the best places to stop is the garage at Gay Parita where we were welcomed by a guy called Gary who showed us around and made us feel very welcome. Late afternoon we arrived at Baxter Springs where Barrie told me Bonnie and Clyde robbed the bank there! The usual cycle of beer, food and more beer followed. When the restaurant closed we couldn’t find any more bars open and when the thunder and lightning started we called it a day and headed to bed. The rain storm that followed was frightening. I was glad we weren’t riding at the time but at least the scoots got a good wash.
Day 5 – Tulsa
The next morning we found the bank so Barrie could take a few photos and headed towards Oklahoma City. Again we stopped at landmarks. The quirkiest being the blue whale at Catoosa and the best of the day for me the motorcycle museum in Warwick. The museum had hundreds of motorcycles from all over the world. No Lambrettas though. The owner couldn’t believe what we were travelling on. We got split up as we approached Tulsa. I went on the ‘newer ‘ version of Route 66 and Barrie followed the ‘old’ version of the route. I waited in the next town on the route, Barrie and the van met up with me about an hour and a half later after going around in circles in Tulsa. We got to a little town called Edmund on the outskirts of Oklahoma City and decided to call it a day.
Day 6: Dry McLean?!
We left Edmund and planned to get to Amarillo, Texas; approximately 270 miles. On the way we visited a town called Erick where one of the Route 66 characters called Harley lives at the Sandhills Curiosity Shop. When you go in his shop he grabs a guitar and sings to you. We left Erick and as it was quite a hot day and we were both knackered we decided to stop at a town called McLean. We thought we found the perfect motel as it was beside a steakhouse, however we were gutted when we found out we were staying in a dry town! No alcohol sales allowed. Thankfully everyone seems to be related in Texas and the steakhouse owner sent us to his cousin’s liquor store just over the county line to buy some beer. The smile returned to my face when the steakhouse owner said we could bring our own beers into the restaurant. We were chucked out about 11ish and we hit the sack for a good nights sleep.
Day 7: Is this the way to Amarillo?
We set off for Tucumcari, New Mexico as our destination, approx 190 miles. We decided to head into Amarillo town centre to look at the Route 66 attractions. I set the sat nav up, however I cocked the coordinates up and we got lost. Barrie explained that if we are riding west the sun should be on our backs in the morning. Then he asked why he had the sun in his eyes? I had to concede he was right! Barrie 1, sat nav nil. We eventually decided we had lost too much time and got back on the route to Tucumcari. We got to the other side of Amarillo and visited the Cadillac ranch where cars are half buried into the ground? We carried on and stopped for lunch at a town called Vega. The scoots had been great until now, however Barrie’s exhaust split on the swan neck. He’s not called lucky Barrie for nothing though, he went across the road and got it welded for 5 dollars. The next stop was Adrian, the midway point of Route 66! Photos taken and t-shirts bought and we were back on the road.
In Tucumcari we found a lovely quirky hotel preserved as it was in the 50s. Before we got stuck into our customary beer ritual Barrie took me and Tony to the train station made famous in the Clint Eastwood film ‘For a few dollars more’ when Lee Van Cleef got off the train. Barrie and Tony were proper excited about this (must be something to do with being nearly 60). We later found a lovely restaurant for our daily beer, food and more beer ritual.
Day 8: Santa Fe
Our destination today was Santa Fe, around 180 miles. We called into a car museum in Santa Rosa, one of the many on the route. One of the challenges we faced though was altitude. Santa Fe is 7198 feet above sea level, so my scoot was suffering getting up the hills as I’d over-geared it. When we arrived at our Santa Fe hotel I chucked my scoot on its side so I could change the gearing. Me and Barrie got stuck in to change the sprockets, while fellow hotel guests looked on in disbelief! Gearing sorted it was time for beer, food and more beer. Barrie had more than his fair share as he danced the night away with Linda. I think he called it Salsa dancing?
Day 9 – Gallup New Mexico
The following day we headed for Gallup New Mexico (approx 199 miles) my scoot pulled much better, however we were going down a steep hill towards Gallup but due to the very strong winds neither of us could get into 4th gear. On the way we stopped at ‘Continental Divide’ where rainfall divides. At this point west drains to the Pacific and east drains to the Atlantic. Elevation at this point is 7245ft so the scoots were still running very rich. We reached Gallup and booked into the El Rancho, a hotel on the route where famous film stars stayed over the years, each room was named after a famous or not so famous actor! The hotel had a bar next door so our nightly ritual started again.
Day 10: Scared? No, I’m petrified!
The next day our destination was Flagstaff a journey of 187 miles. On the way there was plenty to see, traditional Route 66 landmarks like “Joe & Aggies cafe” as well as breath-taking natural places like the Petrified Forest National Park, or the meteor crater site. We got to Flagstaff mid afternoon and found a motel. Flagstaff is a lovely little touristy town with loads of bars and restaurants so we were very happy to stay here! Again we started our nightly ritual but just earlier than normal.
Day 11: The Grand Canyon
The next day we decided to change our plans and headed to Williams, another little touristy town only 34 miles away. We were so close to the Grand Canyon National Park we just had to go. We left the scoots at the motel and travelled the 60 miles or so to the Grand Canyon in the van. The weather was warm but looked a little cloudy so Barrie bought a rain jacket and a Davy Crockett raccoon hat! We were laughing our heads off at him as the sun came back out. The bus driver at the park announced to be prepared for the weather to change every 15 minutes or so. We weren’t laughing when we got of the bus to look down into the Canyon and the rain was coming at us sideways, the wind was that strong! Barrie laughed at us and just put his silly hat back on. Photos don’t do the Canyon justice; you need to see it for yourself. It is truly breathtaking. Once we had enough of the Canyon we went back to Williams to explore its many gift shops and bars. Again our nightly ritual started.
Day 12 – Kingman
The following morning our destination was Kingman. We stopped for food at a touristy town called Seligman and to look at the car and motorcycle museum there. We parked our scoots outside and went in. There was a Vespa PX in it but no Lambrettas! When we came out of the museum a coach load of tourists were taking photos of our scoots thinking they were part of the display of old vehicles and were not too pleased when we rode off on them! We got to Kingman and for the first time on our trip encountered bad weather while riding. The rain was horrendous and was causing flooding of roads. We took shelter in a burger bar and decided that we weren’t gonna stay in Kingman after all. The rain slowed a little so we pressed on and headed for the old mining town of Oatman. We crossed the state line into California and the sun came back out. Oatman is preserved to look just like it did during the Californian gold rush. It still has Burros (donkeys) roaming the streets waiting to be fed by tourists. Barrie stuck a Bolton Spartans sticker on a burros and christened it ‘Ginger.’
The next town we came to was Needles where we found a lovely newly-built Best Western. Me and Barrie thought we would treat the girls to a nice room for a change, rather than a cheap motel. All the rooms they had left were an executive suite and two executive standard rooms, we booked them and it’s fair to say they were the best rooms we stayed in for the whole trip. It had been a long day (176 miles) so we just went to the local bar/restaurant next to the hotel for beers, food and more beers!
Day 13: Saucey old devil
We decided to head for a town called Victorville (203 miles). On the way there wasn’t a lot to see other than towns that have seen better days and a few Route 66 landmarks. We filled up at the “famous” Roy’s Motel cafe and had lunch at Ludlow Cafe/museum where we bumped into about 200 plus Harley-Davidsons on a ride out. You should have seen the looks they gave two little Lambrettas riding through them to get to the cafe! Then we visited the Bagdad Cafe made, err, famous in a 1987 film apparently? Our next stop was Elmers Bottle Tree Ranch at Oro Grande, made famous when Billy Connolly visited it when making his Route 66 series. Barrie brought him an old sauce bottle from the 50s to add to his collection! Elmer was delighted.
We got to Victorville and quickly found a hotel. It had a swimming pool and the sun was out so the girls were happy. Me and Barrie did a few maintenance jobs on the scoots before hitting the hotel bar. The barmaid asked why we had come to Victorville? It took us about an hour to explain what a Lambretta was, then almost as long to explain why we were doing Route 66 on them.
Day 14: Beverly Hill Billies
We only had 120 miles to go to get to Santa Monica! We hit the road and soon got to the outskirts of Los Angeles. We passed a big rounders stadium, rode through Hollywood and went through Beverly Hills! We had to pinch ourselves again to believe where we were and that we were doing this riding our Lambrettas.
We got to the Santa Monica Pier, the traditional end of the route after completing over two and half thousand miles. We rode the scoots onto the pier and parked them at the sign which marks the end. The smile on Barrie’s face was priceless. He had achieved his dream. I was chuffed too but a little worried about what Barrie was dreaming up next. We took a load of photos, had a glass of champagne and talked to loads of Americans who came over to talk to us and congratulate us on our achievements. They couldn’t believe we had done the trip on Lambrettas. After taking photos on the pier we found a hotel and the usual beer ritual started again!
The next day Barrie went off for a ride around Beverly Hills, I stayed in bed for a rest! That afternoon we had to get the scoots back to the shipping agents for their trip home. It was now Friday and our flight to New York wasn’t until Sunday so we had a couple of days chilling in Santa Monica. The next day was FA cup final day and due to the time differences I had breakfast at 9am and was on the beer by 9.15am LA time watching Man Utd beat Palace. Sandra finally dragged me out of the Irish bar where we’d watched the final at 6pm. After a walk and an hours kip I was pleased to say I got back out about 9pm for my tea.
As a reward to our ladies for following us across America we decided to have three nights in New York. Another example of how small our world truly is happened in New York! Me and Sandra were walking along 5th Avenue when I saw a silver series 3 Lambretta! I shouted to the guy riding it and took a photo. He waved back then shot off along the road. I put the photo on Facebook and Paul Todd from the LCGB asked me if I was off to see Graham Fowler as he now lives in New York, and you will know him from the euros. Graham got in touch with me inviting me to his shop, unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit as we had to fly home. However a few weeks later in Gieselwind at Euro Lambretta I bumped into Graham and said hello. Truly a small world.
Anyway back to Route 66!
Overall it was a fantastic experience. We saw some fantastic places of natural beauty and some quirky Route 66 landmarks, as well as some brilliant museums looked after by dedicated individuals who want to preserve the heritage of Route 66.
There are many sad things to see too as you ride past businesses long closed down and towns that have become ghost towns as work dried up and people have moved away. The people we met on the whole were very friendly and want to look after you. Our little Lambrettas did us proud! We didn’t thrash them all the time and stayed between 50-55 most of the time. They were a pleasure to ride on the quieter back roads, however when we had to use motorways it got a bit scary with the strong winds blowing across the desert and when lorries were passing us doing 70mph plus it was frightening. But they got got us across Route 66.
The last thing I want to say is thanks to Barrie for being a pain in the neck and not letting me say no as it was truly a trip of a lifetime.
Words and photos: Pete Fay