Documentary featuring locals wins Emmy

Tom Drake and TV Hagenah

A documentary featuring work in Tucumcari and five other New Mexico Route 66 communities to restore historic neon signs has won the Rocky Mountain Emmy, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division announced earlier in the week.

The PBS production, “Route 66, the Neon Road” documents the award-winning Route 66 Neon Restoration Project managed by the New Mexico Route 66 Association, which resulted in the restoration of ten classic neon signs in Tucumcari, In addition to Santa Rosa, Moriarty, Albuquerque, Grants and Gallup.

The showing of the documentary in a large format version was a featured part of the Route 66 Festival this summer held at the Tucumcari Convention Center. In fact, the combo who did the soundtrack for the award winning film, the Fireballs, was the featured act at the festival’s 2004 Rock ‘n’ Roll Extravaganza.
“Not only does this documentary celebrate the artistry and craftsmanship of an important art form in America, but it shows the renewed pride the Route 66 communities and businesses have in their heritage,” said Katherine Slick, State Historic Preservation Officer. New Mexico Route 66 Association President Johnnie V. Meier agreed with Slick.
“The restored signs like the TePee Curio Shop, the La Cita Restaurant, and the Paradise Motel reach out to travelers today as effectively as they did when they were first erected. Memories of travels on Historic Route 66 are associated with landmarks that are identified by their evocative signage,” said Meier. “The signs have become Route 66 icons celebrated in guidebooks, history books, calendars, souveniers, and videos. The Neon Road documentary captures the essence of these signs visually as well as their cultural significance in the words of the Mom and Pop business owners and the sign artists who created these neon icons.

“This is recognition to not just the film makers but to the people who truly care about the ‘Mother Road,’” said Meier. “This is a salute to all of those people in Tucumcari and everywhere else along the road who have spent time and money to make Route 66 a very special place.”
The documentary won the Rocky Mountain Emmy for best cultural documentary at an awards ceremony presented in Phoenix by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Earlier this year, the preservation department gave Meier a 2004 Heritage Preservation Award for his ongoing work to preserve road culture in New Mexico, and the treasures of Route 66 in particular. “These signs are the jewels of Route 66, and the documentary commemorates them and the hard work done by the Route 66 Association, which actually doubled its plans to work on five signs to ten, using its own resources,” said John Murphey, State Register of Cultural Properties coordinator at HPD.

The Neon Road documentary features interviews with business owners along Route 66, and actual sign restorations. Teepee Curio Shop owner Mike Callans said he has long felt the documentary deserved recognition on a number of levels. “Well,” said Callens, “it is a well done movie. Any one that has seen it knows that, and Manny (producer/director Manny Machuca) really deserves the recognition.” Meier agreed with Callens but said it went beyond just Machuca.. “The film itself is a work of art so what we have is a work of art documenting the restoration of works of art. It’s an Emmy Award winning combination and Route 66 communities like Tucumcari can be proud of their place in the documentary and their place in the history of Route 66. The 27-minute film is for sale as a DVD through Meier at the Route 66 Association.