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News: Cruising America: Californian to hit Route 66 with sights set on Woodward

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    Cruising America: Californian to hit Route 66 with sights set on Woodward

    Cruising America: Californian to hit Route 66 with sights set on Woodward

    Catherine Jun / The Detroit News

    Cruising America: Californian to hit Route 66 with sights set on Woodward-bilde-jpg

    Route 66: It's the highway that the Dust Bowlers took out west. It's the renegade path of James Dean. The highway runs from California to Chicago, drawing motorheads to its open road.

    With countless films, TV shows and tunes that kindle the nostalgia of the iconic pre-interstate highway, its allure still beats in the American consciousness.

    And it beats inside Tom Nagle. This morning, the Detroit native will walk out of his sun-kissed California home, start up his Corvette convertible and head east on Route 66.

    "There's a history there," said Nagle, 64, of Canyon Lake. "There's things you miss if you're on the interstate."

    He'll lead a caravan of a dozen Corvettes out of California, and somewhere on his 12-day road trip he will break off from the group and aim for his chosen destination: the Woodward Dream Cruise.

    And he's doing it despite exorbitant gas prices and thousands of miles of wear on his ride -- a 2004 edition rebuilt to the likeness of a 1961, costing $99,000 total.

    Cruisers like Nagle look askance at those who take their cars from place to place without driving them. Those are the "trailer queens." Nagle's kind also loves the gears and polish, but it's a reverence of the road that revs their imagination, as does the wayfarer's credo: The journey is as much the adventure as the destination.

    "Part of my love of cars is driving them," Nagle said. "That's what I built it for."

    On last year's cruise to Detroit, Nagle and his buddies made sure to meet memorable personalities and visit tourist traps along the iconic highway.

    There was, for example, the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M., known for giving guests' automobiles an uncommon degree of hospitality: single garages were built next to each guest room. (Incidentally, motel owner Bill Kinder's multicolor '72 Volkswagen microbus is believed to have helped inspire Fillmore, the hippie van in Disney/Pixar's movie "Cars.")

    "I remember Tom," Kinder said on the phone. "The minute you said his last name, I could tell you everything about his car."

    Another customary stop was the Cadillac Ranch just outside Amarillo, Texas, where an eccentric Texas millionaire planted his old Cadillacs nose-down in a dusty field. That's where Nagle spotted two towheaded brides in cowboy boots posing for pictures, a sight that still makes him chuckle.

    "They were quite an attraction," he said, meaning the brides, not the cars.

    Then there were the antique cars at the Auburn Cord Deusenberg Museum in Indiana -- "There is no car today that delivers the pure beauty of these vehicles," he says -- and a fan belt-tossing contest at an inn in Carlisle, Pa., on the roundabout drive back to California.

    This year, he and his friends will again stop at the Seligman, Ariz., barbershop owned by Angel Delgadillo, the activist who helped preserve the historic route after the U.S. government decommissioned it in 1985.

    New stops will be added, too, like Oatman, Ariz., an old Western town known for burros roaming its streets.

    Eventually, they will leave Route 66 and motor through the majestic Colorado Rockies, where winding roads narrow to treacherous single lanes on several sections and elevations rise higher than 12,000 feet above sea level.

    "I'm not worried about the car," Nagle said. "I'm worried about my body and how I'm going to handle the light oxygen in the air."

    There they will join other devotees at the Vettes on the Rockies, a four-day celebration of the hot rod in Breckenridge, Colo.

    "We're going to be going in 105, 110 degrees in some areas ... and we can hit snow in others," said Hal Vatcher, a 63-year-old IT manager from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., who devised the itinerary and will follow Nagle in his 1962 convertible.

    Nagle's love affair with the Corvette started when he was a teenager in Detroit, and from the start it was tied to the historic road. At 16, he sat before his parents' black-and-white TV each week to watch "Route 66," a weekly series in the early 1960s that featured two characters, Buz and Todd, who traveled across the country in their Corvette, drawn by the wanderlust of youth.

    "It's the link that brings all these things together: the cars, the guys, the highway," Nagle said.

    Now a program manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, Nagle and his wife, Wilma "Willie" Nagle, own six Corvettes: 1961, 1965, 1966, 1979, 2002, and the 2004 that looks like a 1961.

    On that one, his favorite, he will log about 7,000 miles on his trip -- to Detroit and back -- to the clucking disapproval of some car nuts who frown upon it if it isn't all original equipment. Last year's trip weathered the made-over car a little bit: "Some stone chips in it, one or two, but not many," he said. "That's life."

    He and his wife have spent the last week packing, and made sure to include car cleaner, folding chairs and clothes for at least eight days. They shoved most of the clothes into plastic bags rather than suitcases so they could leave their teeny trunk space bare enough to stow their convertible top for the ride.

    "You gotta have sunscreen, especially if you're going to have the top down for a while," Nagle said.

    An old hand at car shows and cruise events, Nagle recalled being reluctant to travel back to his hometown more than a decade ago when friends told him a new phenomenon had grown on Woodward Avenue.

    "It's just another car show, that's what I thought originally," he said.

    Eventually he came anyway. When he rolled onto Woodward on that August day 10 years ago, the variety of wheels and the sheer size of the crowd left him agape.

    "Holy mackerel, this is not just another car show by any stretch of the imagination."

    You can reach Catherine Jun at (248) 647-7429 or cjun@detnews.com.
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