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THE LATEST ADVENTURE! Route 66, Chicago to L.A

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Ok so here’s a breakdown of our latest adventure to America… I had a couple of options this time, another West Coast trip or go hit something new and do Route 66… First of all, I wanted another van to travel in so searched for some options. I found a 79 G20 Chevy van up in Wisconsin that read right… genuine 38,000 miles, books, 2 owner custom van in original condition with dealer fitted decals and custom interior. Well that’s a bit of me so I jumped onto that and called a good friend up that way to go check it out for me and handle the money transaction. The seller, Ray was pretty fussy about where the van went and what the next part of its life would be and once I’d explained what we do and that we wanted to do route 66 back to L.A and then ship it home to Australia he was pretty fired up on the new life it could have. Needless to say, the van checked out, he had it taken to my friends museum in Wilmington, Illinois and sent it to a workshop to get prepped for its road trip.

Next thing to sort out was who I was travelling with… my buddy Josh normally comes with me, he’s worked for me and had his own panel and paint shop and we do these trips all the time but this time, he’s got too much on in his own world and can’t make it. Now Shaun is one of my mechanic’s who’s just finished up to move to America so the plan was made to both fly out at the same time and meet in Chicago, do Route 66 and then for him to fly up to Seattle to start his new life… and that’s how we kicked it off.

Now before I even got off the ground in Australia my mate Josh was ringing me having a heart attack about not being on this trip and how he thought he could swing it… so while i was at the airport waiting to fly out of Brisbane I’ve bought him a ticket to fly and he’s now meeting us a day later and a bit further down the road in St Louis! Shaun and I jump up the first day, go meet our buddy Mike from Midwest Classics on Route 66 and go through his museum, check the cars and memorabilia, make a couple of offers on cars and hit the road with a few Route 66 stops along the way before sliding into the St Louis Air Port to pick up Josh!

So now we have half the old band back together it’s time to chase some cars and tick off some iconic places along the way… Actually, first stop was brewery cos I met a cool South African guy on the plane who said his son owned a brewery in St Louis called 6 Mile Bridge and it was beer o’clock when we picked Josh up and it was literally 5mins away so we went there, walked in, saw old mate and had a couple of beers before burning down the highway in pissing down rain to the wagon wheel hotel on 66 in a small town called Cuba.

First things first… we secure our Aussie flag to the CB aerial and let that thing fly above us the whole way. Aussie Aussie Aussie!

So by the time we get to Cuba this storm is picking up… and we can tell this because while we are at dinner the music stops and an alarm comes over any radio or frequency going telling us a twister was about to come through and to head home and go to your bathroom for protection…Well, we still had beer to drink and meals on the table so we weren’t buying into that. We all grew up with cyclones, so we had this under control.

Needless to say, the night was pretty windy, and the rain was coming in sideways, but nothing really came of it… We woke the next day and loaded up and went for breakfast, but it wasn’t until we got a bit further out of town that we saw where the Twister came through and it wreaked some shit! Unlike our Cyclones that are very broad the Twister seems to have a small footprint, but it takes out anything it touches… It left a strip across the land like I’d not seen before.

Josh putting instant coffee in his coffee with maple syrup trying to get a drinkable coffee…


And Shaun being very impressed by Darren Beale’s Mum’s mullet…

This was a crazy cool set up in Cuba and an awesome stop… so many amazing signs and so much cool memorabila.

Sticking to the old Hwy 66 we ended up in a place called Devil’s Elbow… a rad little bar in the middle of nowhere parked beside a giant river. There were a few veterans in there having a beer but otherwise it was pretty dead. We ordered the longest to prepare but most simple sandwich we could… nice enough waitress but for someone with nothing to do she sure took a damn long time to sort our food out… regardless it was a good stop and there seemed to be a tradition that you wrote on some money and stuck it to the roof or you nailed your bra to the roof… needless to say we left money… Shaun still groped a lot of bras though.

And back on the road again… Blazing through Missouri on Route 66 driving to anywhere.

Back out chasing cars but it’s getting obvious, it’s hard being on the move and co-ordinating with sellers and trying to make everything line up…

This day travelling takes us to Tulsa in Oklahoma… we are on our way to a hotel we booked online when we went past the Hard Rock… we drove out and away from the city pretty quietly. Once we got to the hotel I went in, cancelled and we u-turned back into town to go to the hard rock… we deserved a few beers as it had been a few hours.

Next morning, we are off to check some more cars… We’ve been hitting dealerships and private sellers and combing the internet along the way but it’s pretty wet out here and even the nice-looking cars aren’t great underneath… this little Chevy truck checked out great though and is making its way home with us. Back on the road and we pick up a decent vibration, i can see the passengers rear tyre bouncing around in the side mirror and we’ve picked up an egg… a quick pitstop and we swap the spare out and hit the road again to go look at more average and overpriced cars.

A bit of quick down time and we get some new tyres on the big G20… she has to carry us all the way to California. Just outside the tyre shop a small crew of people start rolling in and a cruise night is coming together. We get taken in and everyone wants a chat and wants to show us their cars so we hang out for a bit before hitting the road again with new fitted and balanced tyres…

A bit further down the road and we get to Elk City, Oklahoma and to a Route 66 Museum. It’s nighttime but we still had a look around and snapped some photos… and tried to work out if we could get that big US 66 sign in the van. Next time we’ll take a bigger van! Then… back on the road heading for Texas.

We get into Texas late and make it to the Big Texan steak house, but it’s closed… the whole way we have tried to stay in the iconic areas and done a pretty good job of it. Some weird places out there but we had a blast doing it, this place was like staying in a movie set… Josh should have brought his cowboy outfit but apparently, he left it on the bus.

After our steak breakfast Josh buys a set of bull horns that ride the dash for the rest of the trip… we got onto this a bit late but from here we tried to get something from each State or city for the dash and over the course of the rest of the trip it gets pretty cluttered… the only bits left to see through are so peppered with bugs visibility gets pretty poor even on the best of days 🙂

So those who know me know that I love my Graff, so the Cadillac Ranch at Amarillo was my personal had to go back to place. I did visit here several years ago on another trip, but this was my spot… So, a couple of spray cans and we were in there… it was wet and muddy, and we couldn’t get near them but it’s just such a cool place. The cars are literally held together with paint and it’s just cars and Graff so it’s my happy place. We get a few tags done and a bus load of Monks come down for a look?? I get one to take a photo of us and then give him our left-over paint… Would like to have stuck around to see if he tagged anything but we had a road to hit.

Back down the road and we are chasing The Junkyard Brewery… it’s a scrap yard with a microbrewery on site… Goes ok but the beer was pretty damn weird and all the good cars were penned in a different area we couldn’t get to… but they had beer… so we drank beer and it was a good day.

Back on the road and we just keep traveling through these ghost towns, as much as there are some amazing sights 95% of Route 66 is desolate and just made up of vacated cities that were affected by the new highway… it’s as sad as it is rad and at this point we have just crossed the border into New Mexico and are heading to the Wigwam Hotel for the night… another cliché’ attraction and was pretty hilarious. Everything was tiny… But when in Rome…

From New Mexico, and with a new green alien on the dash, a few more stickers on the windscreen and 2000 new bug splatters we divert up to Nevada and head to Las Vegas. I have a lot of dealers I’ve been dealing with for years and have to swing through and see them and some Antique stores… California, Arizona and Nevada are my haunts and have done a lot of trips out this way now so I’m getting into my stomping ground and it’s time to get some work done…

But we are in Vegas, so the neon’s are calling us and the first night does go a little out the window… For Shaun it goes a little further. He makes a new friend in a security guard who brings him back to his room early in the morning and tells Josh he’s not allowed out any more… Next day we find he’s lost his phone, some money, chips and lucky dice… From this day on, Shaun in now known as Rowdy…Rowdy is pretty quiet the next day. Vegas 1- Rowdy 0.

It’s Sunday now and it’s basically a day off, so we go out to some Antique malls and i show the boys a few spots they’d not been to before… As we head into old Vegas i see down a side street a hard-core metal band just fully set up in a vacant lot just thrashing it out. I hit the brakes and back up and go down the side street and it was just the craziest shit… These guys were jamming and at the other end of the lane were a bunch of gangster cats that were jumping around as we drove up only to find on the other side of the street there was another gang and they were about to throw down and us dickheads have just rolled into crazy street and got all up and in amongst this shit!   PS, don’t tell my Mum about this bit.

Now off to see a guy I’ve been dealing with for years… He always has nice stuff and is good to deal with, so we go in and go through all the cars. There’s 6 I’m interested in so i chat with the boys and we go back over all 6 properly, I’ve got Shaun on mechanically working out my spend on road worthy items and what our workshop manager will need if they were to turn up in our workshop, Josh is in out and underneath them checking for rust, repairs, or damage and I’m running my maths on everything, dollar conversion. transport to L.A, shipping costs and customs charges, GST bills and getting them to the shop and then through the workshop and trying to work out if they are viable. I’ve made on offer on all 6 but we can’t get over the line… this is a hard game now; our dollar is shit and the American car scene is strong. 6 turns into only 2 but we’ve got the deal done and I have two more very nice cars in the bag and it’s time to keep moving… more shops, some private sales and then another Collectable shop I like to stop at before we head back to Arizona to jump back on Route 66 to head back to LA.

A bit more trawling and it’s the same thing, overpriced cars or not good enough but either way all fails…We do make it to the Collectable and Antique store I wanted to hit though and have managed to gather a pile of signs and bits and pieces like I do, mostly automotive signs and beer/bar related stuff. I’ve also done a deal over the phone on a couple of cars I’d seen back down the road at a museum and put a couple of offers on… the owner has also told me he was looking to close the museum down and had to have a chat with his business partner, so now in negotiations of buying the whole museum’s display of collectable enamel signs, neon’s, oil and fuel tins, a Harley collection, Betty Boop collection and Coke and Pepsi fridges etc… so we are half way in and starting to get some good traction. This Route 66 trip has had me doing more fun stuff than I normally get to do but this is still business and we do have a job to do and we are getting it done!

Now we back on the road and leaving Nevada and cross the border to Arizona and have to go through a check point… and for the second time we are pulled aside, these guys didn’t think for a second as we rolled in, they were passing cars through and we got sent to the inspection station and searched for guns. A bit of quick chat with us dickheads and our Aussie flag still flying high a couple of meters above us and they worked out we we’re just out for an adventure. They actually spun out on our CB that we’d not been able to get going and they jumped in and gave us a hand to try and tune it in, but we never did get that going… Still, can I get a Com’on!

So, we peel out and now we are crossing Hoover Dam, so we turn into tourists again and go for a wander around… pretty epic place, dam big thing to have to build, yes, the pun was intended. We have only pulled up for a second and get 100 meters from the van when we get lit up again by the cops, apparently this time we have just jammed the van anywhere because it was the end of the day and we have been directed to park in between the lines in a normal carpark… yep, no worries.

That night has us getting back to Flagstaff Arizona, it’s late and there’s nothing open but a small bar… So, we go have a beer and work out some accommodation. Shaun loads up songs into the jukebox and there’s a Shuffleboard there, so we play that for way too long… Then we need a feed, so we head to a diner and then get our rooms. Josh and i were first to get into the rooms, we opened both of them and one reeks and Josh and i look at each other and walk into the good room and then tell Shaun he’s been good so he gets his own room for the night… Josh and i get in the good room, close the door and leave that alone until the morning when Shaun comes in complaining about the smell in his room… Much to our surprise.

Next morning, we head back to Mr D’s Diner for breakfast, another shit American coffee and to work out our day… We are heading back to California and the weather is coming together and we are back into blue skies… Part of my love of America is just driving into a Cali sunset, doesn’t matter where I’m going, that’s just my happy place… hands around the steering wheel of something cool and just hunting down sunsets… Feels like that kind of day 🙂

After breakfast we go back and check out some cars, we’d seen the previous night while getting our hotel… Some cool stuff… Typical deal, prices don’t fit, too modified for our import laws or not good enough… Sure are plenty of dry old projects but even hauling any of these out and shipping home ends up not being viable and not really what we do… as car guys though you can look at this stuff all day. Still I’m wanting to bring some home! We get down the road a bit further and into California and into Hackberry, this is our first test of the commercial side of Route 66 and there are busses and day trippers around now taking photos and all the shops are full of mass production 66 souvenirs… it’s apparent we are getting close to the end and i realise how cool the actual road trip experience is we’ve had compared to these busloads of tourists.

Back on the road to stare through our bug sprayed windscreen, our cow horns from Texas, green martian from New Mexico and baseball from Arizona that takes up the dash, the corners of the windscreen are starting to close in with stickers from servo’s along the way.

We come across a small Saloon in the middle of nowhere, it’s a place called Kingman actually but there’s little here so we stop for a beer… as usual Shaun parks where ever he wants in a giant car park, as we approach the bar, the only people there are out the front, it’s the barmaid and what we learn are a couple of regulars… we don’t make it inside before the barmaid points out Shaun has parked right in front of the mailbox and the mail lady is coming at 2pm… and she’ll be pissed if we leave the van there.

Once inside we get a beer and it’s another one of these places you can write on the walls and there is a note book for travellers and we scribble on the walls, neck a beer, write in the book and get back on the road to chase down this Californian sunset.

Next stop is Eddie World and Peggy’s Sue’s Diner… Two places I always like to stop on the way back to Cali… Eddie’s is the biggest Candy shop I’ve ever seen and always get the kids some candy and treats for when I get home, Peggy Sue’s is a rad old diner opposite an army barracks and it’s always a good mixed bunch from bikers to Army to mum’s and dad’s getting their slice of American pie…


What’s that saying about it being hard to soar like an eagle?

Next stop is Old Town, California… a great place Josh tells me about and a place I’d never been, all the streets are done like an old western town and we are trying to keep this historical side of America going even though we are back in the thick of it now. We need a room for the night and there’s a couple of Antique malls around to check in the morning… We check in and all sit around doing what we are doing searching for cars on line within our new area.

Back in the van and it’s starting to fill up with signs and memorabilia but it’s time to go check some more cars and see if we can get some bigger fish in the net.

After looking at a heap more cars we head north to The Early Ford Shop in San Dimas, for those that know Shaun he’s also known as Captain Ford and this shop is full of early model parts and is like no other… if you’re a Ford guy or a Hot Rodder you’ll find it quite amazing and over whelming. This was the first time I’d see Shaun lost for words… if they sold the smell of that shop, Shaun would use it as a cologne.

More rummaging through Antiques and Collectables. This stop had me have to hire a truck to take my delivery to the holding yard so we could keep moving.

Next stop takes us into the Hollywood hills, we have to push the G20 up some hectic roads and then back down with the smell of our brakes wanting to catch on fire… But hey, it’s a rad view from up there and as much as I always want to go back to America I never know if this time could be my last so I do try to pack in all the experiences I can.

That night has us in Down Town Hollywood for dinner, we go past the Roxy, The Viper Room and up to Whiskey a Go Go… pretty damn rad to be in the club that pretty much every cool rock band got a start in… there’s signed pictures everywhere and they are all legends, Motley Crue, Guns and Rose’s, Ozzy Osbourne… it was endless and a pretty amazing place to be. Tonight, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus was playing and it was a cool gig, it’s a small room and it was full without being crowded.

Next day and we are out to Galpin Motors… You might know this better for G.A.S Galpin Auto Sports from Pimp My Ride… A few of the original guys are still there and involved but they have evolved a long way beyond that show and have some amazing builds and an incredible museum/collection of cars. I’ve actually been there several times, but this is the first time I’ve been there when the collection was open to view. And… it is amazing!

Now this leg of the journey has us soon parting ways with our boy Rowdy… He has to fly to Seattle and is starting a new life in Merica in couple of days… So, we have saved tonight to watch that sunset over the ocean at the Santa Monica pier which is the end of Route 66. It’s a pretty shit sunset to be honest and I really wanted a good shot of the Sunset Chaser at the end of the road but the clouds came in and we didn’t get our picture… we did however go to Bubba Gump’s and eat shrimp and have a beer… so was still a good day.

Friday and we are getting close to the end of the trip… Chasing more collectables and things we can load up to bring home, since I bought the museum’s memorabilia collection and have a tonne coming home I might as well go hard at this as I’ll have to have an auction when I get home or break it down into several smaller collections to sell etc but I’ll work that out later… right now I’ve got time on the ground so we are hitting everywhere we can get to. Another haul is pulled together, more coke, Pepsi, beer signs and enamels, a bunch of America post boxes… One trade stall we went to was closed, we ended up meeting a guy in the car park who commented on the van. His name was Jimmy and the trade venue was his, we got talking vans and he told us how he stared 3 van clubs in the 1970’s and took us upstairs and showed us all these articles and photos of him and his vans and van clubs from the 70’s… Jimmy was bad arse and he had lived a life, there were pictures of him with the vans and some mad Shovel and Knuckle Choppers and he told us the Hells Angels used to hang out amongst a lot of the van scene and how they had a big compound across the road where the owner used to let them all in with their vans and bikes on the weekends and they’d lock the gates and party to get around the over 21 drinking age. A huge part of these travels are about the people you meet along the way. Jimmy gave me some newspaper articles from the 70’s, a member’s card from the 70’s for one of his van clubs and a bunch of cool memories to take with me of the So Cal van scene i used to only read about as a kid.

Friday night has us up at Burbank for Bob’s Big Boy’s cruise night. There’s always a bunch of cars around at these gig’s but the weather held it off a little… Still I saw the nicest Trans Am I’ve ever seen in my life and actually had one of these on my hit list while I was over there but he wouldn’t sell and even if he would have it would have been about a 150k car back here at home and wouldn’t have fit anyway.. but I would have loved to have been able to pedal one of those through a Californian desert again.

After the cruise night we head to Del Ray so we are closer to the airport for the morning as Shaun fly’s at 11am… we go to several hotels and can’t get a room anywhere, we find some place online that can accommodate 3 without anyone having to spoon each other… It says it’s a double and two single beds. We have to meet the owner of the apartment and it’s a goose chase to even find the place. we get in at 11pm and follow him to the car park and then he tells us it’s a double bed in an apartment with 2 blow up mattresses… we’ll I’m already out and I’m not good with dickheads so I send Josh up to the room to see what sort of shemozzle we have ourselves in. Our phones don’t work because we are in an undercover basement carpark and about 20 long minutes pass and I see Josh and old mate walking back… body language tells me this didn’t go well and old mate walks straight past us, gets in his car and leaves and Josh starts flapping his arms telling us how the air mattresses didn’t even have bungs so couldn’t be used even if we wanted to and how he called old mate a few names and told him it was false advertising and he apparently as cancelling our payment which hasn’t happen yet! So, now it’s 11:30pm and we need a new place and have to get out of the basement to get internet and… the van won’t start. Got nothin, no click not nothing, check the plugs and there’s no spark so now we are pulling the engine cover off and chasing an electrical issue… we are all buggered and just wanted an early night, Shaun sorts it out and we get spark again and get it all back together and end up in a dodgy hotel by the airport at about 1pm. There’s highs and lows on these trips, shit accommodation to luxury, back streets to boulevards… you just have to roll with how it unfolds some days.
Next morning it’s up and off to the airport… Shaun has been working for me for a few years now, like anyone who sticks around here they are part of my family and we have just had a mad adventure… The sunnies stay on for this goodbye, I’ll miss old Rowdy, but I’m also stoked to have one of my 782 boys permanently in America and always up for an adventure. We spoke about a small 782 in LA, a place I can use and he can work out of… we’ll see what happens there but right now my other Chevy Van I have in San Fran that I’ve owned for about 7 years is getting trucked up to him in Washington for him to use… so my other van “Midnight Train” is prepped and ready to go at the drop of a hat. So, I’ll miss him till the next adventure…


Saturday arvo has us go chase one last Cali sunset so we head to Long beach on the way for some Gator Legs and a beer… Yep, you read it right, Gator legs… Josh reckons he has to eat that weird shit any time he sees it on a menu, I tried, it was like a giant frogs leg and greened me out a bit so left that for my boy Josh to finish off. After that we head off to Hermosa Beach for the night and a few more beers and a look back over the trip and where it has spat us out.

A pretty cool location and this is Longbeach, what you can see in the distance is the port of Longbeach and where our shipping containers get loaded onto the boats.

I’ve seen an ad for a Las Vegas sign for sale so I call up and the guy says he has other signs… we make an appointment to head around later that night and he’s got a garage full of stuff… I go through it all and buy what i can, again, beer related, automotive and just a few other cool pieces that I’ll haul home. Not sure what I’ll do with all this stuff yet, I’ve got a lot to ship home and will come up with a game plan once I get back and find my feet.

SUNDAY SWAP MEET! We get to get amongst some rad cars and amongst the swap meet… Find a few nice cars and are just about done for the trip. Monday night we fly home so it’s about getting the last of what we can in the van and getting it to the port tomorrow.

Monday, we head out to go see a DeLorean i was hoping to buy, I’ve been on the phone with the seller and just want to go get a real proper look at it now we are talking about handing money over. It’s an original 37,000-mile car, manual and he’s got about 30k usd in receipts for going through it after it was laid up for 25 years in storage… A good inspection and a test drive and it’s a great car and coming home with us.

Later that day we take the Sunset Chaser in to get detailed and when she comes out, she looks amazing… for the last couple of weeks she has been a war horse and been covered in bugs and road grime… She’s turning heads again now and ready to take down to the port tomorrow as we fly out Monday night and it’s close to all over red rover. This is the best van ever and has made the whole trip so awesome.

And that’s us done… The van is at the holding yard, we have cars and memorabilia coming from all angles all over the country, we’ve had a blast and got the job done. Time to head to LAX and get on the big bird home and back into the shop. It’s been a big trip, a big newsletter and a lot of logistics and paper work since getting home so apologies if you’ve been trying to get me but I do have to double down and finish all this stuff before I can walk into the shop and switch back into shop mode.

A big thanks if you bothered to take the time to read this… this is my world and I don’t normally share it in this detail, I’m sure it all looks easy from the picture painted but it’s taken years of trips and contacts to pull all this together, still even with all that behind us we still need Lady Luck on our side for it all to come together… She was kind to me on this trip and we got it done.

I’m back off to America again in October so we’ll see what that trip unveils but for now, thanks for following along. Ben Atkinson

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