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Straight through Hillbilly Country

A father-and-son team put the new Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid through its paces on America's most iconic road — Route 66



Self-proclaimed hillbilly Gary Turner, 78, is making us laugh. He's telling us the tale about marrying at the age of 16 and causing a scandal because he did NOT marry one of his cousins.

"T'was unusual for the time," says Turner in his languid Ozark drawl.

"But I'm still married to the woman 52 years on."

Once Turner gets warmed up with his storytelling it's hard to get him to stop.

He remembers how when he was a kid his entire family loaded up the car every summer and vacated their mountain home in Hurley, Missouri to drive on a new highway called Route 66.

The destination was California to make some money and memories picking fruit.

"We were hillbillies, gypsies, fruit tramps, all of us," says Turner.

He also gets into how the U.S. can become great again if only people stopped buying cheap junk made in China.

Turner is still on Route 66, but now the highway is considered historic.

He's in the tiny town of Ash Grove, Missouri presiding over a gas station that hasn't pumped gas in decades.

It's now a souvenir shop selling American made T-shirts and Route 66 paraphernalia called Gary's Gay Parita.

"But there's nothin' gay going on here," stresses Turner.

"Place is named after one of the original owners Gay Parita of Fred and Gay Parita."

My son Alex and I have ended up in this middle-of-nowhere for a couple of reasons.

Route 66 is now considered an iconic bucket list travel destination that spawned a 1960s hit TV show of the same name and a 1946 song that lives on and on — "Get Your Kicks on Route 66."

We are also part of a group of journalists putting the new Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid car through its paces.

The stretch of Route 66 from St. Louis to Tulsa (the entire road runs from Chicago to Los Angeles) was chosen by Ford because it's a nostalgic ribbon of blacktop that will perfectly showcase the Fusion Energi.

At 644 km this section of scenic, winding, two-lane road will be covered in two days with a couple of charges of the car's electric battery and just three-quarters of a tank of gas.

In fact, the Energi with a full charge from either a special 220-volt outlet or a standard 110-volt outlet and full tank of gas can travel 1,000 km.

That's up to an equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of combined hybrid gas and electricity both from the original charge and regenerating the battery every time you put on the brakes.

The stops along the way have been picked to showcase the Midwest along old Route 66 at its quirky and kitschy best.

While meeting hillbilly Fred Turner was a highlight, there was plenty more to take in.

Marge Connors stays in character as a woman in 1880s costume at the old stage coast station that's now a museum in Waynesville, Missouri.

Under the category of world's biggest, we, of course, had to stop at Redmon's, the World's Largest Gift Shop in Phillipsburg, Missouri, and at the World's Largest Rocking Chair in Fanning, Missouri.

Ironically, you can't sit on the chair and it doesn't rock, but it does live up to its name at an impressive 13 metres high, six metres across and 27,500 pounds.

You may rightfully ask: What's the point of having a chair that big?

For you to stop and take pictures and, of course, shop at the adjacent 66 Outpost, where an array of Route 66 trinkets and cold beer are for sale.

We matched our accommodations to Route 66's kitsch and overnighted in Cuba, Missouri at the Wagon Wheel Motel, a 78-year-old property of basic rooms in brick A-frame cottages behind an old school neon sign.

Dinner next door was at Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q, where the workers don't mind if you call them hicks and the pulled pork, ribs and beef brisket are served up tender with brown sugar baked beans and sweet potatoes.

Out of Missouri, Route 66 only cuts through Kansas for 20 km and the quaint little towns of Gelena and Baster Springs.

Out of Kansas and into Oklahoma the next big pit stop is billed to be a great Midwest swimming hole — Blue Whale Swimming Rock in Catoosa.

Pulling in we see it's a man-made concrete whale jutting into a pond like a bulky dock.

Confoundingly there's a sign that says 'No Swimming', and the water is scum.

Needless to say, we didn't take a dip.

From Catoosa it's a short drive into Tulsa where we stay at the Campbell Hotel, a refurbished boutique right on Route 66.


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