May 5, 2012

Cycling Route 66, looking for cars

Editor’s note: Wheels page editor Mike Berry and his wife, Kathy, hosted Ron Maskell for about a week during his Route 66 travels.

Ron Maskell may be rolling across America on two wheels, but his eyes are always cocked toward the ditches and the fields along Route 66, looking for four-wheeled treasures.

And the 63-year-old Australian is finding what he’s looking for while getting to know American car guys face-to-face. Maskell has been a regular on the Shoebox Ford website forum based in Oklahoma City for years, and he more than qualifies, having owned both a 1950 Ford Fordor sedan and a 1950 Ford Ute in his home country.

He retired from a job as a technical college librarian in Brisbane, Queensland, last December. "I decided it was time to have a bit of `me time,’” he said.

His youngest daughter, 22-year-old Tegan, already a world traveler, had put him on the spot, asking him when he was going to have his own adventure.

"That kind of stuck in my head," Maskell said.

He had long been intrigued with the history and lore of Route 66 and decided maybe it was time he come to America to explore the Mother Road himself.

Already an avid bicyclist, he arranged to have an American-made bike, a "Surly Troll," built to his specs in Chicago. He flew into Los Angeles on March 27 and then on to Chicago the next day, passing over some of the very pavement he would later cycle across at a slightly slower pace.

"The big attraction for me has been to meet these guys I have been talking to on the internet, to put faces to names and see them in their own patches," Maskell said.

He was very impressed with Chicago’s inner-city bike paths and the way motorists shared the road with him. "I had been told I was coming through the `polite’ part of the country," he said. The goodwill continued throughout the Midwest.

"The abiding thing has been the general friendliness, the kindness of the people," Maskell said. "A car will pull up, the window will go down and someone will ask, `You lost?’ I haven’t been given a bum steer yet," he said.

As he made his way through Illinois into Missouri, he began spotting more and more old cars along the roadside.

"It’s pretty mind-boggling seeing cars like that. I’m a bit stumped at how many old ’50s and ’60s cars are lying about. That wouldn’t happen in Australia. Somebody would have hoovered them all up by now," he said.

Maskell has developed an attraction to the Chevy HHR, especially the panel van version. "I’m fascinated because they look so much like a mid-’50s Holden. They look to be a tidy little car … I’d like to take one home with me," he said.

For now, though, he will have to settle for taking photos of old cars to help document his journey. And he is taking plenty of them, along with shots of fascinating buildings, farms and people he spots along the way.

Maskell is blogging the tale of his two-wheeled travels along Route 66 on a site called If you would like to follow his adventures, go to that site and scroll down to his blog.

His hope is to finish his ride back in Los Angeles by mid-June and ship his well-used bike back home to Australia.

"I’m working on doing about a state a week. I’m a little behind right now, but who’s counting?" he said. "If I do make it, when I get back home, I’ll have skyting (bragging) rights."

Thanks, America, for treating my Aussie car buddy so well.

On a much more somber note, we note the passing last week of Charlie Walker of Salina. Charlie was the guy who founded one of the great zoos in the Midwest, Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, about 6 miles west of Salina. He also started a great Fathers Day car show at Rolling Hills.

All of us car guys who also love animals owe Charlie a real debt of thanks for the contributions he made to our state.

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