Heinkel Touring Route 66

by Ralf Mueller

Note: This text originally appeared in the Vespa Club of America's member magazine American Scooterist, Autumn 2001.

Heinkel Touring

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of my Heinkel 103-AO scooter I wanted to make an extraordinary tour. What could be more extraordinary than to fly to the U.S. and take my scooter with me across the country on the legendary Route 66? During my nine-week tour I crossed 13 states and covered 9,700 kilometers.

I started my journey in Chicago, the start of Route 66. When I picked up my scooter at the cargo terminal at the huge O’Hare airport site after a 17-hour flight, I was completely exhausted, but also very happy. It was like a dream. Fully loaded, I drove on the freeway toward downtown Chicago. Finally, I was on the famous Michigan Ave. The streets were filled with people and I suddenly got the impression that the Heinkel was the only vehicle on the road since everyone was looking at it. When I parked my vehicle in front of the hotel some pedestrians immediately stopped and asked me a question which I had to answer many times during my journey: What is that? Of course, the question concerned my scooter and I patiently responded every time. Afterwards, I looked forward to having a good sleep after this very beautiful but exhausting day.

In the morning, I left my scooter in the garage and went sightseeing on foot. The next day the time had finally come. Early in the morning, I took my Heinkel and drove to the corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street for the first road sign for the legendary Route 66. After about and hour and a half, I left the huge city with its many suburbs. Finally I was away from the city’s hectic rush and smell of gasoline. After covering 227 kilometers that day I reached Pontiac. This small town is home to the famous Old Log Cabin Inn. When Route 66 was re-routed behind the inn, the complete building was simply lifted up and turned around. Shortly after leaving Pontiac, the Heinkel’s motor suddenly stopped and I was unable to start it again. After dismantling the cylinder head, I discovered that the head gasket had burned out. Since I was well-prepared with sufficient spare parts the problem was quickly resolved.

The next day I traveled to St. Louis. The city’s landmark, the huge Gateway Arch, can be seen from a distance and is an overwhelming sight. The arch is nearly 600 feet high and made of rust resistant German steel. It is considered the “gateway to the west’ and commemorates the 1803 Louis and Clark expedition. There are eight elevators in the arch leading to a platform, which gives a wonderful view of the Mississippi and the entire city.

West of St. Louis, I stopped at the Meramac Caverns. This enormous cavern was said to be the hiding place of Jesse James. All the paths in the caverns were asphalted, equipped with waste bins, and illuminated with neon lights. Unfortunately, this ruins the attraction of the caverns.

With Peter and Ralf

Slightly disappointed, I continued my journey westward. In Afton, I stopped to have lunch at the Route 66 Cafe. From a distance, I saw that two young men also held a German edition of Tom Snyder’s Route 66 guide. Their names were Peter and Ralf and they were from Cologne. They told me they were also touring Route 66 with their Harleys. After talking for an hour, they told me they could drive 60 miles an hour with their Harleys and suggested we travel together for a few days. The motors of their Harleys made such a noise that I could no longer hear the beautiful sound of my four cycle Heinkel engine.

Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to Peter and Ralf in Oklahoma City as I had an engagement there. Before leaving Germany, I looked at the Heinkel Club Deutschland membership directory and found the address of a member in Oklahoma City. I wrote him and asked if I could visit him during my trip. One day he called and said that I would be welcome. After I parted from the two young men from Cologne, I stopped to wait for Jerry Pfannkuche at the expressway service area. I was eager to meet him, as I had no idea what his age was or what he looked like. When a man with a pickup truck arrived and stared at my Heinkel I immediately knew it was Jerry.

The welcome was cordial and we got along with each other from the very beginning, even though Jerry was “slightly” older than me. I asked him if there was a motel near his home and he answered that was out of the question since I was to stay overnight in his home. First of all, Jerry showed me the town, then we drove to his home where I got to know his wife Sue. Jerry is a great fan of Germany. He showed me his collection of German beer mugs, as well as his great passion, American scooters from his youth. He has approximately 35 Cushman scooters. Of course, my Heinkel as well as the gift I brought for him, a Barvarian beer mug, was exactly on his wavelength. During the next few days, I had enough time to get my Heinkel ship-shape in his garage. Jerry and Sue looked after me if I were their own son even though we had known each other only a few days. And it felt almost as if I were home. Each day Jerry invited me for lunch and during working hours he looked around town for new batteries for my scooter. He refused to let me pay for them. It was not easy to leave Oklahoma City and until the day I die I will never forget my stay in Oklahoma and the kind assistance from Jerry and Sue.

The next few days were extremely hot. This part of the journey was pure torture for both man and machine. However, passing across the dreary landscape of the Texas Panhandle I was again and again overwhelmed by sights such as the bridge with 38 arches in Geary and the “Cadillac Ranch” in Amarillo. The ten Cadillacs were rammed into the ground as a memorial and warning to the affluent society.

After leaving Texas, I continued toward Santa Fe, New Mexico. This beautiful town is fascinating because of the adobe architecture and large Indian population. There was not a trace of the hectic rush of cities. In Santa Fe I left Route 66 for a time to make a northern sightseeing loop. First, I visited the “Four Corners”, where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet. Then I went to Mesa Verde National Park, where many old Indian Pueblos are located. The next day I took a steam locomotive from Durango to Silverton in the Colorado Rockies. Silverton is a nice small town with only one paved road. Next, I drove north, via Denver and Aspen, to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Riding a scooter on the twisting roads of the Black Hills was especially enjoyable. That evening I drove to Mount Rushmore, where the four heads of the presidents are illuminated. Near Mount Rushmore there are further sights such as the Crazy Horse monument, Devil’s Tower, and the small town of Sturgis, where the largest Harley meet in the world takes place every year. Unfortunately, I was a month early for the meet.

In Yellowstone National Park

Two days later, I visited another highlight of the trip, Yellowstone National Park. Located on a plateau at an average height of 7000 feet, Yellowstone was like a paradise for me. With temperatures at nearly 100 degrees, and driving in a short sleeve shirt, I crossed passes still covered with three to four feet of snow. Again and again, I saw herds of buffaloes and bisons, but when they came close to the road I got a little bit frightened. However, what impressed me most were the large number of hot springs and geysers.

On the way to the Grand Canyon

Driving in a southern direction, I reached Moab, Utah several days later. Moab was the next highlight of my journey. Moab is a small town surrounded by fantastic national parks and offers a lot of fun and diversions. On the first day I drove to Arches National Park. The enormous natural rock arches are absolutely stunning. Next I visited Dead Horse Point in Canyonlands National Park. From this point you can look down to the Colorado River and enjoy the infinite size of the canyons. During the next few days I went rafting on the Colorado and mountain biking. Overwhelmed by these simply wonderful experiences in Moab, I continued my journey and the next highlight was not long in coming. Monument Valley is a symbol for the “dream of adventure and freedom”. At the entrance to Monument Valley some Indians tried to persuade me to make a jeep tour, but I didn’t let anything stop me from driving the badly surfaced gravel roads on my Heinkel. Time and time again, tourists shook their heads uncomprehendingly when they saw my Heinkel nearly sink in the sand. But I had enormous fun, even though I had to clean my scooter afterwards.

My route quickly led me to another major highlight of the trip: the Grand Canyon. In the blazing heat I made a day trip down to the Colorado River on foot. I immediately jumped into the river to cool off. Returning to Route 66, I journeyed to Seligman, Arizona by way of Flagstaff. Seligman is the birthplace of the initiative to preserve old highways in Arizona. The founder of this initiative is Angel Delgardillo. A visit to his barbershop could not be avoided. I had him shave off my beard. He told me stories about the good times and slow decay of the highways after the last part of it was replaced by Interstate 40 in 1984. I stayed overnight in the historic Route 66 hotel in Seligman. The names of famous persons who stayed overnight in the 1950’s and 1960’s are still fixed on the doors of the hotel rooms. I continued on the marvelous twisting Sitgreaves Pass to Oatman, which is an old gold mining town. Oatman is the last station on Route 66 since the remaining segment to Los Angeles has almost completely been replaced by Interstate 40.

On Pismo Beach

I decided to make a side trip to the “gambler’s paradise” of Las Vegas. On my way to Las Vegas, I also visited the famous Hoover dam. The dam was built between 1931 and 1936. The Colorado River was turned into 110-mile long Lake Mead. As night was falling, I reached Las Vegas with its fascinating neon signs. During my three day stay I visited amusement parks, Siegfield and Roy’s show (with the famous white tigers), and succeeded in not spending a cent for gambling. After an all too short stay in this exciting city, I continued my journey to Santa Barbara and the Pacific. Under beautiful palm trees, I was soon skating along the beach on rollerblades and relaxing in the sands. I then continued north on the legendary coastal highway, Route One. After a visit to the famous Hearst Castle--a fairy-tale castle in San Simeon built between 1919 and 1951--I reached Pismo Beach, another of the great highpoints of the trip. One can drive their own vehicle on the 10-mile long beach. And I couldn’t resist taking advantage of the opportunity to drive my scooter on it, even though I had to clean it afterwards to prevent salt corrosion. At the beach’s entrance, a female ranger welcomed me with the slogan: “Welcome to paradise”. And I really felt like I was in paradise when I drove along the sea with my scooter. This was one of the moments when I was aware of why America was called the land of unlimited opportunities.

Under Redwood Tree

Soon, I reached the final destination of my journey, San Francisco. San Francisco is one of only a few cities in which you immediately feel as if you are at home. With its many tourist sights and friendly people, the city has a special flair. North of San Francisco, I met a man at a parking lot, who told me he was pilot and invited me for a flight over San Francisco in his small Cesna. Under the marvelous evening sun I enjoyed the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the beautiful city. Because John wanted to take some photos, he asked me to take over the controls for a short time. Because I had neither a pilot’s license nor flying experience, I hesitated.. After some short training, I tried it and became so fascinated I would have liked to continue flying for a longer time.

Golden Gate Bridge

The next day I drove into the city of San Francisco. As I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge on my old Heinkel, it felt like a dream and I experienced a feeling of complete happiness. Unfortunately, the weather refused to cooperate during the last three days of my journey, and because of the fog I was unable to take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge and my Heinkel. However, this did little to dampen my enthusiasm after an adventure filled with a lifetime of experiences. As I traveled to the airport I was already dreaming of the next destinations to take my Heinkel to. And I will certainly come back to the land of unlimited opportunities one of these days.

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