Get Bent

22 Dec

The weather as we set out this morning was a crisp 22 degrees (wind chill 13). As we worked our way west out of Amarillo we began to notice snow dusting the landscape. We drove by Cadillac Ranch (this time at 75 mph on the freeway) and could still see our wadded up paper stuck in the mud near the cars off in the distance.

Before long we came to Adrain, TX, the official midpoint of Route 66. Adrian is famous for the Midway Cafe (which was closed), but we were much more taken with the Bent Door Cafe down the street. As we were taking photos of the building and the gas pumps outside, the owner happened to pull up and invited us in, even though he is closed for the season as well. He just happened to stop by to fill out an insurance form from the place being broken into two nights before during the big snow storm that closed I-40 for the night. Some stranded motorist evidently spyed the electric heater through the window and decided to break the side door and spend the night in the cafe. While we were looking around, he told us some of the history of the building, and the origins of the unusual bent door.

Portions of the building have been on the site since the late 20s, but in the late 1940s it was purchased by a young man who had just returned home from WWII a year earlier. His first year home he had a particularly successful wheat season and used his profits to purchase the cafe. Another item he acquired with his newfound wealth was a portion of the air control tower from a nearby Air Force base that had just been decommissioned, which included the angled windows for viewing the airfield and the unusual bent door. He installed this new section as part of the cafe to attract tourists to the establishment as they drove down Route 66.

This gentleman owned the place for over 40 years, but he eventually sold it to a family that allowed the building to fall into disrepair. Over time, the new family lost it due to not paying taxes, and the original owner got it back. The county gave him an ultimatum – get the place open again in two months or else it would be condemned and demolished. The owner protested that there was too much damage to be fixed in such a short amount of time,but the county would not budge, so he worked non-stop for two months straight to restore the facility and opened on the due date with great fanfare – a huge dance with a band, a BBQ, the works. And the very next day he closed the business and went to Germany for two months. The current owner likened it to Howard Hughes and the Spruce Goose – he just wanted to see if he could do it, and was satisfied with flying it only once, so to speak.

The building once again was left to sit for years, but the current owner is making an effort to restore it to its original glory. While it is closed for the season booths and tables are piled to one side in order to complete repairs on the flat concrete roof, which leaks in many places. The space is filled with photos of the original building and Route 66 memorabilia, and on a wall near the bent door we spied a reminder of home – a poster commemorating Shoeless Joe Jackson.

We got back underway and before long found ourselves in Tucumcari, NM, a veritable treasure trove of vintage signs. These are just a couple of examples, but I don’t think you’ll have to squint too much to see the seeds of future paintings here.

One I’m particularly excited to find is the Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant sign. I’ve been wanting to paint a vintage Chinese sign for years but have never found one that inspired me. The search is over. (I’m sure those two barking dogs tied up out back are pets, right, and not future members of the “all you cane at u77et?” Right????) (They are).

After Tucumcari it began snowing much more heavily, and the last 80 miles or so into Santa Fe were in a whirlwind of white where it was challenging at times to tell where the horizon ended and the sky began. It was starkly beautiful and not at all scary to drive in, by the way. (Remember, I grew up in Michigan and have a good deal of winter driving experience).

Just as we arrived in the city, the clouds cleared, and we enjoyed a few hours in the square downtown and had an enjoyable meal in the Railyard district. Tonight we’re tucked away in our motel (in the Willie Nelson room, which appropriately has the lyrics to “On the Road Again” in a frame on the bathroom wall) and the snow is falling. Looks like we’ll be enjoying a white Christmas in Santa Fe.

We’re planning on an extensive gallery crawl tomorrow, weather permitting. Updates to come.


The Best Laid Plans

21 Dec

If you’ve been following the Tweets, you already know this story is going to get dirty. Very dirty. Filthy, even. But there were a few other events that deserve mentioning so I will cover them first. Gonna be a long post tonight…

As we left Tulsa this morning I spotted this fantastic sign for Daylight Donuts. Of course we had to go inside to get a donut and we started chatting with the owner. I told her the sign would probably become a painting and she was excited because she’s getting ready to start a fundraising campaign to restore it. I asked her to keep me informed so if I get further info on that I’ll be sure to share. We had a donut called a pinecone, which looked kind of like an exploding flower and was described as an “inside out cinammon roll that’s deep fried.” It tasted just as good as you would expect a sugary, fried dough bomb to taste. By which I mean, it was awesome.

A few miles down the road we encountered one of the famous road landmarks, the round barn in Arcadia, OK, which as you can see, is indeed round.

Just down the street is a newly-built attraction called Pops. I was prepared to hate it since I am into the vintage sights, but this place was really cool. They sell over 400 different brands of soda, all cold and all in glass bottles. Brands I haven’t seen in years (Faygo Redpop ring a bell for any of you Detroit-area readers?) and some I’ve never heard of. They’re arranged by color/flavor – all the grape in one cooler, orange in another, and so on. You grab an empty 6-pack carton and pick and choose what you like. Of course we had to pick up a variety as souvenirs.

The most peaceful part of the day was a little further west, where we got to drive on an extensive section of original 1930s concrete, much of it with curbs. The concrete is a pinkish color, and in this area you can see miles and miles of mostly nothing, which gives you a great idea of what it must have felt like to drive the route in the 20s or 30s.

As we entered Texas, we encountered what is billed as the largest cross in the western hemisphere, which implies some larger cross exists in the eastern hemisphere, but I digress.

Ok, now things are going to get dirty.

Amarillo is home to the famous Cadillac Ranch, 10 mid-century finned Cadillacs buried nose-first into the ground. It’s one of the sights I have been most excited to see, and one of the big events on this trip was for JJ & me to graffiti one of the cars with the names of all the sponsors of Project 66. JJ laid out a great design before we left and we printed it up in large format to wheat paste on one of the cars. We were at Lowe’s in Tulsa at 6:30 am picking up the supplies to paste it on along with some spray paint to further decorate with after it was affixed. We’ve been talking about it all day – what’s the best way to put it up, what angle to photograph it, etc. We got into Amarillo with plenty of sunlight left to work, and found the location with no trouble at all. So far, so good.

Then we looked across the road and saw this:

A row of 10 Cadillacs beckoning in the distance. In between us and them: anywhere from 200 to 300 yards of muddy field that may or may not have contained cow poop, but certainly smelled as if it did. I have to admit, for a split second I was disappointed, thinking that we were going to miss out.  But we are  dedicated artists! I didn’t come 1978 miles to watch my buddies die in the muck… sorry. Went all Lebowski on you there. The point is, I wanted to see some cars, I promised some people graffiti, we were going to go make some graffiti.

You may think from this image that there are just a few puddly places, that to the left and right of the water the ground is dry. You would be very, very wrong. Walking across this was like ice skating in banana pudding – you would slide with every step, but not in a predictable direction. You also had to move quickly or else you would sink. And with every step, your shoes would gain another ounce of gooey, sticky mud. And we were carrying a gallon of wheat paste, assorted spray cans, a huge cardboard tube with the paper rolled up inside, and a brand new, pretty expensive digital camera, all of which we wanted to keep clean and mud-free.

Quickly we learned that short steps and a rapid pace were the way to go, and after much cursing and a lot of laughing we made it to our destination. JJ began to prep the wheat paste, and I unrolled the paper to ready it for application. And did not take into account the 20-25 mph wind. You know, the wind that had been blowing on us for the 10 minutes it took to traverse the sea of mud. The wind which immediately ripped the graffiti from my hand and rolled it like a tumbleweed across the muddy field.

So, what I’m saying is – the “massive graffiti tag on Cadillac Ranch” did not quite turn out as I planned. As promised, here is a photo with everyone’s name near the cars. It’s kind of an “arty” shot:

Despite the frustration of  not getting the tag done, I haven’t  laughed that much in a long time and I know our visit to Cadillac Ranch is one we won’t soon forget. Our shoes will never be the same, though I’m surprised we didn’t get much dirtier.

I’m going to let the mud dry and preserve the shoes as a souvenir. They’ll probably be displayed on a pedestal next to a painting of Cadillac Ranch.

JJ, however, had the bright idea to wash his shoes off in the hotel bath tub. This did not go well. This photo is not the vast Amarillo landscape, it is the inside of the bottom of the tub after he was done cleaning his shoes. We’ve cleaned it up the best we can, but the hotel maid is getting a giant tip when we check out tomorrow for the trouble.

Tomorrow we’re up bright and early to photograph the other interesting sights around Amarillo, then heading west for a little side trip to Santa Fe. We’ll be taking a break from driving and staying put there for a couple of days.

Updates tomorrow.


Welcome to TULSA. (not Oklahoma City)

20 Dec

I am not sure why I had in my head that today we were going to make it all the way to Oklahoma City. The destination all along for the day was Tulsa, and thank goodness because there is no way we could have made it any further without skipping sights, and there were many wonderful sights to see today despite being dogged by rain for all but an hour or two.

We left St. Louis bright and early and headed out on the route. As we wound our way west through Missouri I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty the countryside is. I lived in Missouri for a few years when I was very young but that area of the state was all flat farmland, nothing like the rolling hills we encountered. We passed through many small towns, most of which had at least one great hotel or gas station sign. In Lebanon, we also found the Bell Restaurant, which unfortunately is about to be demolished. We got great photos of the building and sign, and a few through the window of the great old diner interior. It’s possible that we may be the last people to photograph the site before it’s gone forever.

We had a great lunch in Springfield, MO, which was much larger than I expected and had a very charming downtown area. Not long after that we crossed the state line for the extremely short 13 mile stretch of Route 66 through Kansas. Though it was raining pretty hard and was slow going on a narrow road, it was well worth it to see the Rainbow Bridge, the only remaining Marsh arch bridge on Route 66 (named for their designer; there used to be three but the others were demolished).

Soon we were on our way to Oklahoma, where the scenery was beautiful – especially the clouds. We were alternating between rain and clear skies but the cloud formations were some of the most unusual I have ever seen, including the coloration. You could see for miles, and it was interesting to see the patterns of the storms as they moved across the area.

We made it to the outskirts of Tulsa just before sundown in time to see the famous Catoosa blue whale. He sits on the edge of a swimming hole (where there are numerous signs that say “no swimming”) surrounded by a small picnic area and a soda stand that is closed for the season. Dark was fully upon us as we entered Tulsa but we passed several more neon motel signs that we had to photograph.

Tomorrow we head to Amarillo, Texas (through Oklahoma City), where we will be putting the graffiti on Cadillac Ranch. Weather looks clear but cold for our trip tomorrow, which suits me just fine.


Another Rambling Artist on Route 66

19 Dec

Today we made our way from Chicago to St. Louis and it seemed everywhere we turned we were being shadowed by giants. The first one was in Wilmington, IL, where the Gemini Giant resides. If you have been following the blog and the Project so far you already know this attraction was high on my list of things to see, and he did not disappoint. Little did I realize that giants would appear further down the road in Atlanta, IL and in Springfield. All three are made from fiberglass “muffler men,” a common fixture at Goodwrench garages in the 60s. The originals were dressed as service attendants and held up a giant muffler. The Gemini giant holds a rocket, his brother in Atlanta is dressed as Paul Bunyon and holds a giant hot dog, and the one in Springfield is still in front of a garage but he holds nothing at all.

Another presence who kept appearing during our trip was the late artist Bob Waldmire. Bob was a fixture on Route 66 for over 50 years, traveling up and down the route in his orange VW bus. Bob was also the inspiration for the character Fillmore,, voiced by the great George Carlin, in the first Cars movie. In Pontiac, IL, we had our first ”encounter” with Bob at the Illinois Route 66 musuem where a lovely lady named Pauline showed us the display of his van, which is filled to the brim with buttons and toys and general debris – as she said, “he was a real hippie, you know.”  She told us that Pixar offered Bob 3 million dollars to be the voice of Fillmore in the movie, but he found out one of the biggest sponsors was McDonald’s and he was a strict vegan so he refused the check. Talk about sticking to your principles! Bob used to doodle maps and postcards all along the route, and some of you receiving postcards will get his designs – you’ll know if you do because they are rendered in “vivid black and white” and take a magnifying glass to read.

One of our last stops of the day under less-than-ideal weather conditions was the Cozy Dog Cafe, which – as it turns out – was started by Bob Waldmire’s father and is supposedly the birthplace of the corn dog. They have a ton of 66 memoribilia and it was fun to rest a while and enjoy a beverage before getting back on the road.

We arrived in St. Louis in really heavy rain, but that did not deter us from visiting Ted Drewe’s frozen custard, where we waited outside in the rain with about 50 other people to get one of the famous treats. JJ’s cousin Brenda met us there and explained that it is custard, not ice cream. The difference, according to Brenda, is that “it’s way worse for you – has a higher fat content.” So there’s that. It was quite delicious and I can see why it is a fixture on the route. St. Louis has some of the most beautiful houses and buildings I’ve seen and I would love to come back when we can spend more time and see it in dry weather – I am sure seeing it in the rain at night was not the best way to experience things.

Tomorrow we are off bright and early to Oklahoma City!


The Beginning (or The End, depending on your perspective)

18 Dec

Today we began our Route 66 journey on foot. The traditional start of the Route used to be at Michigan Ave. and Jackson Street, but now Jackson is one way going the wrong way, so the Route begins on Adams Street. If you are on the steps of the Art Institute looking west you are looking down Route 66. To be sure we covered the old alignment and the new, we began on Jackson Street and worked our way east to Michigan Avenue before doubling back down Adams. We started off at a traditional stop for Route 66 travelers, Lou Mitchell’s restaurant. Lou’s has been there since 1928 and is a haven for locals – we were the only people at our counter who had to place an order. Everyone else walked in, sat down, and was brought his or her choice of breakfast without saying a word. The waitress was addressing everyone by name. It was packed to the rafters with a line out the door and was an absolutely wonderful place to eat a hearty breakfast and get in some good people watching. The neon sign outside if the restaurant is sure to show up in at least one painting. And if you look closely at the photo above you may notice a Project 66 sticker on the sign marking the beginning of the route.

It was game day, so as we wandered the streets of Chicago we encountered festive pedestrians decked out in their finest Bears gear. They were a lot happier before the game than they were after. We made our way up to Michigan Avenue and took a slight detour north to see the “Bean” and the Gehry-designed amphitheater by the lake before heading back down Adams for the first leg of our tour.

We walked about 3 miles until we were out at the edge of the loop and saw many interesting sights along the way. We covered a lot of territory pretty quickly, so once we hit a freeway and the obvious edge of the ‘burbs we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the Art Institute and caught a cab back downtown. We spent about 3-1/2 hours wandering around the displays and saw some great works including a few of my favorites that I haven’t seen in person before. Highlights included Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and a couple of gorgeous Rothko pieces. There was also this interesting Dali piece which seems to have some subliminal idea it is trying to convey. Can’t quite figure out what he’s getting at with it, but there is a “smoking gun” sticking up through the top of the tower.

After the museum we headed back to my uncle’s condo to change and then went back out to meet my cousin and her boyfriend at a great vegetarian restaurant in Wicker Park. The meal was fantastic – even JJ enjoyed it. We passed two great neon liquor store signs on the way but of course did not have a camera – I guess we’ll have to come back to Chicago soon so I can get photos!

Tomorrow we’re planning an early start to St. Louis and are looking forward to all the great things we’ll see on the way, including the Gemini Giant statue in Wilmington, IL. If you backed the project and received a screen print you already have a good idea of what he looks like. There’s also something called the Rabbit Ranch along our stretch tomorrow that I can’t wait to check out. And at the end of the day we’re looking forward to some of the famous frozen custard at Ted Drewe’s in St. Louis with JJ’s cousin Brenda.

Updates tomorrow night!


Coma Pie

18 Dec

So I was planning to do a blog post last night, but this ^^^ happened.

We got into Chicago around 4, made our way to my Uncle John’s beautiful condo in the heart of downtown. We were starving. JJ insisted that I had to try a Chicago-style pizza, so we walked to a place called Giordino’s a couple of blocks away, waited an hour, and then this monstrosity was delivered to our table. This is only a small one. I had one slice – well, only about 3/4 of a slice, because my mouth got tired from trying to chew the thick, doughy crust at the edges – and it immediately sent me into a downward spiral of sleepiness. All energy in my body had to be immediately diverted to my digestive system to process the meal. So we walked a few blocks of the Magnificent Mile (because we were right there) and then came home and I fell asleep by 9 pm.

The good news is that was the most hours of sleep I’ve had in a row since I can’t remember when and I feel GREAT today. The next time I can’t sleep I’ll need to get one of these deep dish things fed ex’ed to my house.

Now we’re up bright and early and getting ready to go explore the parts of Route 66 we can see on foot. And here’s the beautiful view from our balcony this morning:

I love Chicago. More updates tonight.


Road Warriors in the Rain

16 Dec

So here we are in Lexington, and we spent all day driving in the rain. I guess if we are going to encounter rain I’m glad it was in territory I have covered so many times before so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything due to weather. Our mission right now is simply to get to Chicago – not much sightseeing today.

That’s not to say there aren’t sights to see. Take the photo above – of course when we saw this dragon from the highway we had to pull over. He’s guarding an empty lot near a Motel 6, where you can “Come as a Guest.” How else are you going to do it? 😉

The other main attraction at this particular exit is the Liquor Barn – a store that proudly asserts itself on billboards as “Tennessee’s Moonshine Capital.” Evidently all it takes to achieve this title is one endcap display filled with screw-top mason jars of clear liquid. But they’re branded with cheeky little tags and cost $29.99 for an 8 oz. jar. Popcorn Sutton has a dead-eyed stare and a bad attitude:

And what should be located across from the Moonshine Capital of Tennessee? Why, a fireworks store, naturally. Somehow this seems like a bad idea. But hey – buy one get one!

We had one other tourist opportunity that we had to pass up because it was after hours – the Museum of Appalachia in Kentucky. It’s probably just as well, because as JJ helpfully pointed out in his usual un-PC manner they probably wouldn’t let us in because we’re not cousins.

We had a nice dinner in downtown Lexington and got pleasantly lost in a beautiful neighborhood of Victorian houses – blocks upon blocks of them. Would love to explore that area in the daylight but I’m not sure I could find it again.

Tomorrow we roll into Chicago!


So Where Will You Be on (insert date here)?

14 Dec

Many, many people have asked me where we will be on Christmas or what day we’re leaving or what all our stops are going to be. In an effort to simplify the answer (for me, anyway) I am presenting it here and will henceforth refer everyone to this post.

BONUS! Answers to other related frequently asked questions:

– yes, I know where I’m staying every night (assuming we don’t run into weather or other travel issues); I booked hotels weeks ago

– no, I’m not traveling alone – I will have my trusty sidekick/husband with me

– no, I don’t think we will end up getting divorced/deserting the other party in the desert halfway through the trip/murdering each other. We get along quite nicely, thank you.

Without further ado, in all its glory, I present you the official Project 66 trip itenerary (barring unforeseen weather conditions/car wrecks/alien abductions):

12/16 – Greenville, SC > Lexington KY

12/17 – Lexington > Chicago

12/18 – Day in Chicago

12/19 – Chicago > St. Louis

12/20 – St. Louis > Tulsa

12/21 – Tulsa > Amarillo, TX

12/22 – Amarillo > Santa Fe, NM

12/23 & 12/24 – in Santa Fe

12/25 – Santa Fe > Flagstaff, AZ

12/26 – Day in Flagstaff & vicinity (Grand Canyon, etc.)

12/27 – Flagstaff to Las Vegas (short afternoon side trip to neon boneyard and to celebrate our two year anniversary by visiting Elvis)

12/28 – Vegas to Kingman (to rejoin Route 66) to Santa Monica – the end of the Route

12/29 – 12/31 – In Los Angeles

1/1 – L.A. > Tucson, AZ

1/2 – Tucson > Ft. Stockton, TX

1/3 – Ft. Stockton > Austin by way of a short detour through San Antonio

1/4 – Day in Austin

1/5 – Austin > New Orleans

1/6 – Day in New Orleans

1/7 – New Orleans > Home to Greenville

If anyone will be in the vicinity of any of these places the same time we are and would like to meet for coffee/lunch/just to say hi, give me a call. You can get all my info at


The Cutest Little Studio East of the Mississippi

6 Dec

Welcome to my favorite place.

This adorable little building is my painting studio, the place where all the Project 66 paintings will be created once I return home. It’s located in Taylors behind Buckingham Palace, the home of Robert & Lou Buckingham. They kindly allow me squatter’s rights on the building out back. Mostly because they got tired of hearing me say, “if I lived here I would make this building my studio.” I only said it about 47,897,091 times before they relented and let me use it. (Really, it was only 3 times – they are very kind and generous).

Another kind and generous person is my friend Ian Curcio, the photographer responsible for making me look almost as good as the building in this shot. As the blog goes along and you see candid shots from the road you will realize how vast his talent truly is. Check out his website at

If you ever want to come by and visit, please give me a call or send an email and we can set up an appointment. (Get my contact info at I’m looking forward to a busy and productive 2012 turning out Route 66 inspired paintings from my favorite little corner of the world. Be sure to keep up with the blog after I return for progress reports and other interesting stuff.


Countdown to Route 66 Road Trip

1 Dec

Welcome Project 66 backers, friends, fans, groupies, and web stalkers. My name is Darlene Fuhst, AKA D. Fuhst,  (spelled phonetically for your convenience as the name of this blog) and I am an artist. I’m about to undertake an epic road trip and I want YOU to tag along. Check back frequently over the coming weeks for updates on trip preparation and then daily from December 16th – January 7th for updates from the road. Once I get home I’ll post painting updates, random thoughts from the studio, and other fun stuff.

In case you don’t know what this is all about, here it is in a nutshell.  I like to paint old neon signs and roadside attractions. Earlier this year I launched a Kickstarter project to fund a road trip down Route 66. When I get home, I will take about a year or so to make 66 paintings of the stuff I see along the way. If you are one of those people who is obsessed with details you can view the original project outline here:

If you’re interested in learning more about me and my work, please visit my official website:

I’m hitting the road with my trusty sidekick (husband and fellow artist JJ Ohlinger) on December 16th and am looking forward to sharing all the awesome stuff we see with you.

Happy to have you along for the ride!


PS – For you stalkers/miscellaneous nefarious characters – please do not interpret this extended absence as an opportunity to rob my house. A big strapping man is house sitting while I’m gone, he has a gun, and he’ll shoot to kill. I’m not kidding. Also, my cat is a hell-spawn demon disguised as a common feline and will not hesitate to claw your eyes out. That is all.