Friends out there in interweb…its that time of year again! April is the “Blogging from A to Z Challenge” and for the third year in a row I will be participating and posting daily for the month of April, each day featuring the letter of the day.
Today I have chosen to reveal my theme for the 2018 version of the challenge and hopefully it will be fun!
During a good part of April I will be traveling across the United States and so my posting time will be limited. Therefore, this year will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada. I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines.
America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures
My photos may be like the one above (Letter A) or may be of unique objects like the one below (Letter P – Pistachio – though it is from Alamagordo, NM).
I have taken 1000s of photos along the Less Beaten Paths of America and I continue to share them here and in social media. I hope you will enjoy the ride with me on this A to Z adventure across America’s back roads!
Also — a reminder that you can get my first book, available on Amazon: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names (GET IT HERE). I am working on Book 2 – Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, which I hope to have available on Amazon by the end of March 2018 or mid April.
It is not every day that one takes a road trip and comes across not one, but two memorials to the famed Beatles.
The first of these is a fascinating little story about a small little town in Arkansas named Walnut Ridge (population abt 5000). It was in 1964 and the Beatles were in the midst of their first tour of the United States. On September 18 of that year they had just finished performing in Dallas, TX and were in for a well-deserved break. A rich rancher from Missouri named Reed Pigman had a nice little dude ranch in Alton, Missouri (see the Pigman story here). Pigman also had a charter plane and flew the Beatles into the closest airport that could handle their large airplane. It was the Walnut Ridge, Arkansas airport.
Somehow, some teen fans heard about it and when the Beatles returned from their visit to the Pigman ranch and to the airport on September 20, there was quite a little crowd there to greet them and see them off as they flew onto New York for their final shows. There were a few photos taken and a few autographs signed before the Beatles headed east. It was apparently the only time the Beatles ever set foot in the state of Arkansas.
This little event left such an impact on the town that a whole street and a little town square in Walnut Ride is dedicated to the Beatles. There is a beautiful sculpture in Beatles Park with the Beatles doing their walk across Abbey Road. Titled “The Beatles Abbey Road Sculpture,” this piece was created by local artist Danny West (who also owns the little yogurt shop and coffee shop on Abbey Road) and is about 10 feet by 200 feet. The street has permanently been named Abbey Road and the sculpture is at 110 Abbey Road. (See more here)
According to Beatles at the Ridge Website:
The entire street scene is featured, along with more than 30 hidden references to Beatles song titles and album names. There are also a few hidden surprises that were added in by the artist that are unique to our city, and tie the whole sculpture to our town. As lighting changes throughout the day, the hidden details in the sculpture reveal themselves to the observer, and at night, under the powerful lighting, the scene takes on a surreal quality, and more secrets can be seen.
There are also shops named after Beatles songs such as “Imagine.” And, in this one little section there are also wooden cutouts of the Beatles, a painting on a window of the Beatles album and a lot of little history and trivia regarding the Beatles.
The town even has a musical festival and other events as well as a different park commemorating other musicians on Route 67.
I don’t think that the Beatles ever made their way back into Walnut Ridge either as a group or as individuals, But I am sure that they would be honored by the dedicatory art and imagination that the people of this small community have put together. For Beatles fans, it is just another drawing card and a unique place to stop, which I did!
A few days later, I was in Houston and intentionally went downtown so that I could see another Beatles dedication that I’ve always wanted to see for the last few years. It is a set of four large, nearly 36 foot tall statues of John, Paul, George and Ringo created by Houston artist David Adickes, whom I have referred to in previous posts on this blog (see my post on the Three Giants of Texas). These statues have been moved to a couple of locations and currently reside in the parking lot of local 8th Wonder Brewery. I was able to get up close and personal with the statues, get some nice selfies and get a few other angles.
When I departed for my trip to Texas in early February 2018, I had indeed hoped to visit the Beatles statues in Houston, but had no idea about the Walnut Ridge story. Thanks to my trusty RoadsideAmerica app, it made for a unique theme to this long and winding road trip from Kentucky through the back roads of Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.
While in Fort Worth visiting my sister in late February, I decided to make a trip to Haltom City, Texas to check out some of the old retro neon signs, old hotel signs and things like that (having been referred by fellow travel blogger, author and friend Tui Snider). While I was doing so, I decided I would just check in on my handy-dandy RoadsideAmerica.com app and see if there was anything of interest in the area. One of the places that came up in Haltom City was the DFW Elite Toy Museum. I had a an hour or so to kill and it looked interesting, so I decided to find my way over there and give it a visit, especially since Roadside America had this tagged as a “Needs Research” location. And, moreover, it is a FREE musueum!!
From the location where I was in Haltom City, the route took me through a number of salvage yards and junkyards and a bumpy, pot hole filled and muddy road. I thought to myself “there must be something wrong.” Eventually the road led me to turn left and there were a number of small warehouses and building, many of which were associated with the nearby salvage yards. Unknowingly, I ended up passing the location just because nothing in there seemed to be what I would consider “museum-like.” I went back to RA app and looked again and it noted that the museum was in a building with an ice cream cone on top. Voila! There it was, the building with neon ice cream cone on top.
I got out of the car and walked in and my eyes were engulfed with some really beautiful scale model cars and even a Batmobile. I talked to one of the ladies there and they sent me to the back and there was a giant room full of a variety of sizes and ages and shapes and types of toy cars. Most of them were larger scale metal cars. There were even some toy cars that pre-dated World War II from Japan and Germany.
There were some handmade custom Rolls Royce’s and other hand made toys, many that appeared to be quite expensive. As I perused through all of the display cases, I saw dozens and dozens of unique vehicles and was amazed at everything that was there in this little hidden gem in the middle of Haltom City, Texas.
As if that wasn’t enough, I went into the next room and the first thing I saw were too beautiful Ferrari sports cars. And there was another car in a bubble. This is an air controlled plastic garage for the vehicle that was in there. Turns out that this car was called a Bugatti. This one’s a 2008 and the lady told me it was worth $1.8 million! I had heard of a Bugatti before but I had never seen one in real life and I really didn’t get to see it very well through the bubble either. Fortunately, the owner sent me a photo of the car before he placed it in the bubble.
The DFW Elite Toy Museum was created by owner Ron Sturgeon, a self-made millionaire. When Ron was 17, his father died and he inherited a half-interest in a rusty VW bug and $1500. He also became homeless. Ron started off in the salvage business, with his company called AAA Small Car World in 1978 after humble beginnings fixing a few small cars while driving around in an old VW Bug and living in a trailer. He had started by repairing cars, but then realized he could make more money selling the parts of salvaged vehicles. By the mid-1990s he had over 150 employees and a multi-million dollar business. A voracious reader, in a way you could say he read and learned his way to earning millions. He has also written a number of books, some of which are available at the museum including Green Weenies and Peer Benchmarking.
Ron began collecting his toy and model cars in the 1980s and today has amassed over 3000 of them. He is especially known for his rare Driving School Model collection which is probably one of the largest such collections in the world. He also has a number of other rare collectibles such as a custom-made one-of-a-kind 1928 Mercedes Benz SSK 1/2.5 scale model, some rare Japanese Nomura Dream Cars, a 1950s Ventura Alfa Romeo C6 2500 Spyder and many more. Sadly for me, I only had an hour, which provided plenty of time for photos, but little time to learn about the cars. I hope to make another trip in the future with four hours to learn more. Below are a number of photos of many of the unique items in the museum. There is another room dedicated to dogs and dogs in cars that I didn’t have any time to look at. You can see dozens of photos of the massive collection on the DFW Elite Toy Museum Website.
Ron has not limited himself to Toy Cars. He has a number of other collectibles including an original “Thing T. Thing” prop from the Addams Family TV show, and a few other oddities.
My experience overall was “overwhelmingly surprised and happy” after my visit here. I am grateful to Ron’s staff for all of their kindness and assistance (such as opening the case for a better photo of the Batmobile — which I DID NOT touch.)