By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
This year when the Rockabilly on the Route event shut down on June 8, the New Mexico Route 66 Museum did not pack up and go with the Rockabilly exhibitors.
The museum stayed and is now open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on the south end of the Tucumcari Convention Center, 1500 Historic Route 66 Blvd., Tucumcari.
Admission is free. With additional volunteers, Bob Beaulieu, a museum board member, the museum will try to maintain hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
The museum’s 6,000 square feet of open floor at the Convention Center hosts three cars from the 1950s and 1960s, plus a couple of black vintage vehicles from the 1930s. Also on display is a customized motorcycle.
Two walls now contain the 166-photo collection of Route 66 scenes captured by photographer Michael Campanelli as he traveled the whole Chicago-to-Los Angeles Mother Road in 2002. These photos lined the hallways of the convention center until they were all gathered on the museum’s walls recently, Beaulieu said.
One corner now features a malt shop scene cobbled together with cafeteria booths, folding tables and chairs and replica jukebox that plays tunes, both rock-n-roll and pop, from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
All of the exhibits have been donated and most the items displayed are on loan, Beaulieu said.
Local rancher John Bugg donated a 1931 Model A, which is for sale, Beaulieu said. A 1937 Studebaker President is on loan from a Clovis collector, Beaulieu said.
Tucumcari City Commissioner John Mihm has contributed a 1963 Ford Galaxy, and City Manager Doug Powers is showing his 1968 Dodge Super Bee from the muscle car era. Mark Russell, manager of Russell’s Truck Stop at Endee, is displaying a 1956 Mercury that complements the truck stop’s own collection.
John Duggar, owner of the Trade Station on Route 66, has donated porcelain Chevron signs from the 1940s. Local car and truck collector Junior Garza has added some vintage gasoline pumps to the exhibit, Beaulieu said. The motorcycle belongs to Wayne Fought of Steel Heating and Cooling, Tucumcari.
There are other exhibits and other donors, as well, Beaulieu said.
Gary Cardwell, president of the museum’s board, said the idea for the museum was born six years ago.
After years of discussion, he said, the 10-member board got together last year and said, “Let’s do it,” Caldwell said.
Beaulieu said a little competitive spirit got involved.
“We’re the first town west of Texas on Interstate 40,” he said, and most of the traffic on I-40, which follows much of old Route 66’s pathway, goes east-to-west.
Of all the eight states that Route 66 passes through, he said, New Mexico was the only one without a state Route 66 museum, which Tucumcari’s all-volunteer effort has now remedied, Beaulieu said.
Cardwell said the museum would have stayed open after last summer’s Rockabilly on the Route, but the city commission’s turmoil at the time made funding for continuous operation doubtful, so the museum vacated its floor space after the rockabilly event.
The convention center location, he said, should be temporary. “We’re looking for a bigger building,” he said, and he hopes to find a location that could accommodate 40,000 square feet of museum space.
The museum board is currently hoping to receive a 501(c)(3) designation, which will make donations to the museum tax free.“That should unleash dollars for us in a really big way,” Caldwell said.
Beaulieu said the museum board is making arrangements now for more exhibits, including some that may be interactive.
Caldwell said he is aware of several small towns along Route 66 whose economies were fading until they started to capitalize on their Route 66 history.
“Their economies grew by 30 to 40 percent,” he said.
At present, both Beaulieu and Caldwell said, the museum’s greatest need is for volunteers who can help expand its operating hours.
Volunteers may contact Caldwell at (575) 815-8237 or Patsy Gresham at the Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce (575) 461-1694.