Not long after the first of April, we had finished cleaning out our Rodder’s Journal headquarters in South San Francisco. More than 25 years’ worth of memories were sorted, stacked and stuffed into a trio of 53-foot tractor-trailers and sent east. In a way, it was bittersweet; that old sand-colored industrial building on 263 Wattis Way was the most permanent home TRJ has ever had. It was our studio, our office, our warehouse and our meeting place. After creating 58 issues in the Bay Area, we decided it was time to start a new chapter back on the East Coast.  

For our road trip to our new office in Virginia, we drove down to Southern California. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves on historic Route 66. From California, Arizona and New Mexico to Texas and Oklahoma, we stayed close to the Mother Road for most of the week. This particular stretch was in Amboy, California.

And so, with the semis in route, Geoff (our resident Australian) and I loaded up the company van and prepared to hit the road. According to our map, 2,910 miles and 43 hours of driving separated us from our new office in Ashland—a small town just outside of Richmond, Virginia.

Starting in San Francisco on Monday afternoon, we barreled down to Barstow before heading east. We spent the better part of the next four days on Highway 40, occasionally taking stretches of Route 66 when possible.

There’s no better way to explore a country than on the road, and during our whirlwind trip Geoff and I saw plenty of it. Through our bug-splattered windshield, we watched the rolling green hills of the East Bay transition to lush orchards and eventually arid desert as we went south. The desert turned to plains and then back to verdant hills as we approached the Old Dominion. We saw the highs and the lows, the old signs and the older towns, the thriving cities and the places that time had forgotten.

In Amboy, California, we swung by Roy’s Café to take in the Atomic Age signage, and we couldn’t resist a taco stop in Kingman, Arizona. Even though we nearly got blown away in Tucumcari, New Mexico, and Cadillac Ranch, we kept on trucking to Little Rock, Arkansas, where we visited the oldest drugstore west of the Mississippi. From Graceland and Sun Records to Memphis’ latest automotive museum, we soaked up a whole lot of Americana in a few short days.

Now that we’re in Virginia setting up our new office, we figured there’s no time like the present to share a few snapshots from our big trip east. —Joey Ukrop

California

After almost missing the exit for Amboy, we managed to hook south to see the iconic Roy’s Motel & Café. Originally built in 1938, the complex was updated to its current form in 1959. Although the motel is vacant, the café and gas station are still operational. In a strange turn of events, famed photographer Timothy White bought the town in 2000, used it as a film/photo location, and listed it on eBay a few years later.

Arizona

On Tuesday afternoon we stopped to stretch our legs in Flagstaff, Arizona. As we walked around downtown, we were impressed by their old brick buildings like the 73-room Hotel Monte Vista and the Babbitt Brothers’ store (which, oddly enough, were both located on San Francisco Street).
Babbitt Brothers’ Outfitters, a Flagstaff staple since 1888
Even though we didn’t grab any Mission Ice Cream, we were big fans of their signage.

New Mexico

We reached Albuquerque by nightfall only to find all the classic motor lodges booked. After finding somewhere else to stay, we came across two favorites: the KiMo Theatre and the El Vado Motel. Designed by the Boller Brothers in Pueblo Deco style, the KiMo was built in 1927 and fully restored by 2000.
The El Vado opened 10 years after the KiMo and, after falling into a state of disrepair, has been completely revamped.
It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling east or west, Tucumcari, is worth the stop. In all my travels, I’ve never seen a higher concentration of mid-century signage and architecture in one place. Diners, motels, lounges—they’re all there. As amazing as it is, there’s a tinge of sadness about the little eastern New Mexico town. The once bustling streets are now basically empty, but traces of its electric past still remain. With its martini glass/arrow motif, the Trails West Lounge sign was a favorite of mine.

Texas

While traveling through Texas, we had to check out Cadillac Ranch. Despite the high winds, I wandered over to see the 10 half-buried Cads that were planted by members of the Ant Farm art group back in 1974. As I approached the cars, a friendly couple offered me two cans of spray paint to leave my mark on these pieces of Americana. Not surprisingly, the rattlecans didn’t work too well in the windy conditions.
Kustom paint was out in full force.
In Shamrock, Texas, we came across the U-Drop Inn. Originally constructed in 1936, the Art Deco-style building features covered gas pumps, a service garage and the Tower Café all under one roof. Now owned by the city of Shamrock, it has been returned to its pre-war guise—complete with brilliant red and green neon lighting around the roofline and towers. Much to our surprise, we found a sextuplet of Tesla electric car chargers located on the building’s eastern side.

Oklahoma

Plenty of great open road out on the Great Plains. They were right: Oklahoma’s OK!

Arkansas

Neither Geoff nor I had ever been to Arkansas, but it didn’t take long to discover why it’s been coined the Natural State. After enjoying the treelined highway for a few hours, we headed towards the capital city to see the sights. While walking the streets of North Little Rock, I was enticed by Argenta Drug—an old corner store with weathered white and green paint and a towering neon sign hanging over the sidewalk. There were Coca-Cola advertisements abound, and a hand-lettered sign above the front door reminds customers that “Filling Prescriptions Is Our Business.” After speaking with David Chu, the owner and head pharmacist, I learned that Argenta is the oldest operational drugstore in Arkansas—and possibly the oldest one west of the Mississippi.
Greetings from Argenta!
Geoff explores City Hall.

Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee, was one of the last stops on our trip. We arrived in the late afternoon and made our way over to Graceland—Elvis Presley’s longtime home.
After dinner, we walked over to the Sun Records studio, where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins started their rise to stardom.
Sun shines bright, even at night.
A little further down the street, we swung by Walker Radiator and admired not only their intricate neon signage, but also the building that they’ve called home since 1932.
Not far from Walker, we stumbled upon a beautiful Deco-era building with a red ’59 Cadillac and Chrysler 300 in the front window. As we peered in with mouths agape, we saw a man in a blue blazer charge towards us from inside the building. With a beer in one hand, he opened the door with the other. “Would you guys like to see inside?” he asked. “Of course!”
We soon learned that the man was Richard Vining, the driving force behind the new Edge Motor Museum. Based out of an old chassis assembly plant, the freshly renovated space is now filled with everything from a Crosley road racer to an ultra-rare 427-powered Shelby Mustang. The goal? Educate guests about the history of the American sports car. The museum is set to open to the public later this month.

Virginia

Here in Virginia, the setup process has begun. As much fun as unpacking is, we would much rather be hanging out with you guys. Here’s longtime Richmond hot rodder Pete Hartman’s ’40 Ford sedan alongside Tom Trovato’s Deuce five-window in our new parking lot in Ashland, Virginia.