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Southern California Transit Advocates is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion, development and improvement of public transportation in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Highway 66 Study Tour

-- Dana Gabbard

Charles Hobbs first proposed a study tour of local transit along historic Route 66 between San Bernardino and Santa Monica. Itineraries for starting from either end were developed, and at the May 12th SO.CA.TA meeting, potential participants voted for their preferred plan. The trip starting in San Bernardino via Metrolink was the winner. A rendezvous was set for Saturday, May 19th at 8:45am at Union Station. This would ensure people had enough time to buy tickets and walk to the platform and board before the 9:00am departure (from experience, I can assure you those Metrolink trains depart on time). After an informal "howdy" among those gathered in Union Station, we made our way to the train and rode on the top level of the last car, which we nearly had to ourselves.

At this point, our party included members Russ Jones, Mike Baron, Charles Powell, Mark Strickert, Steve Stone (with sons Orion, five, and Cory, six), Armando Avalos, Woody Rosner, and Dana Gabbard plus allies/bus fans deluxe Andy Novak and Chaffee Yiu, a student at Long Beach State University who has been an active bus fan via the Internet.

After a cup of coffee, Mike relaxed and watched the passing scenery. Steve and Chaffey also indulged themselves. Meanwhile, most of the others passed around bus photos Russ brought and talked about bus fan topics. As we passed the Vineland Drive-In, it was pointed out that it has been converted into a swap meet. For some reason, this caused Armando consternation (I guess it is an inside joke). Charles Hobbs boarded at Claremont Station. As he made his way through the train looking for us, he noted most of the passengers were inner-city folk on their way to visit relatives in San Bernardino; many were asleep. He finally made his way to the last car and joined our group. We arrived in San Bernardino 10:22am, about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Since the station is a mile or so from the downtown transit mall, we made our way to 3rd Street and caught Omnitrans route 1B at 10:35am. This bus was a New Flyer low floor numbered 0106 (the first two digits signify the year it was placed into service). There were ten passengers (all ride counts in this report exclude members). Most of us bought $2.50 day passes since we expected to ride several Omnitrans routes in our quest to follow Route 66. The passes were printed by the farebox, much like Foothill transfers. The bus had two steps to the upper level in the back. The back section had some side-facing seats. At the Carousel Mall stop in Downtown San Bernardino, some of the group got off to have breakfast. The rest of us rode to 5th and Arrowhead then walked to E and 4th. I noticed that, since I had last visited the transit mall, the multi-story Caltrans District 8 headquarters had finally been finished. It had been under construction for as long as I have been using the transit mall (at least five years). Across the street was a new CinemaStar megaplex that had been built in the past year.

We were undertaking a small side trip to enhance the historic tone of our outing when Omnitrans route 2 (New Flyer low floor number 0039) arrived at 11:12am (four minutes behind schedule). As we boarded, we inserted the day passes into a slot on the GFI farebox which verified they were valid. There were 11 passengers aboard during our short trip to 14th and E, which turned out to be a rather non-descript, bleak neighborhood. A small sign on a light pole noted we were on "Historic Route 66." After crossing the street, we arrived at our destination: San Bernardino Route 66 Museum at 1398 North E Street. The first thing we noticed were Steve Stone with his sons (they had gotten off at Carousel Mall), who somehow arrived at the museum ahead of us. Upon entering the museum, we encountered a mind-boggling collection of McDonald's memorabilia. It turns out that 1398 is where the original McDonald's stand was located. Local entrepreneur Albert Okura, who owns the Juan Pollo restaurant chain, bought the building presently on the site and turned it into a museum dedicated to McDonald's and Route 66. Toward the back of the building was Route 66 memorabilia -- road signs, photos, etc. We spent an enjoyable 20 minutes looking about (I even bought some postcards of the original McDonald's) before catching another route 2 bus (New Flyer low floor number 0028) at 11:42am with 11 passengers south on E Street back to the transit mall. At one point the CNG bus stalled, which we were told often occurs when the weather is hot. More passengers boarded as we made our way toward downtown. We passed several bus shelters that had Omnitrans system maps on the wall.

At 4th and E we deboarded and encountered Chaffee, who said goodbye before taking off to study for finals. Our next bus (New Flyer low floor #0022), for route 14, arrived at our transit mall stop at 12:03pm with the others in our party already onboard. As we departed, there were 17 passengers. This particular bus route is one of Omnitrans heavily used ones, as indicated by the daytime 15-minute headways. We passed through an industrial area, which included the Omnitrans' San Bernardino yard. Then came a well known Route 66 landmark: the Wig Wam Motel (a cluster of teepee-shaped units made of cement). Meanwhile, the bus fans had resumed their sharing of bus photos. The area we were passing through seemed to be economically distressed, with many buildings shuttered and very minimal business activity (fast food and strip malls only). As we continued, the surroundings (which, overall, were a mixture of open fields and suburban development) became a bit more affluent; service stations starting popping up. Ridership was steady, with some boardings and deboardings along the way. We arrived at the Fontana Metrolink Station at 12:45pm. Waiting for us was member Jaime Alcoba, who joined the trip.

At 1:05pm, we boarded an Omnitrans route aptly named 66 (TMC RTS high floor number 1682) with eight passengers. A plate above the front window noted our driver was named Holgun. The air conditioning was much welcomed after our exploration of the station environs. As we progressed on Foothill Blvd., we traveled from a commercial district to one more rural/agricultural. We also passed the Epicenter Sports Stadium, home of the AA baseball Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. This was a sign we were entering upscale suburbia -- along with the numerous malls dotting the landscape (although we also spotted grape vineyards and strawberry fields). Steve Stone and his sons hopped off to visit another Route 66 museum. Meanwhile, we diverted from Foothill to swing by San Antonio Hospital, where the bus schedule dictates waiting a few minutes (for timed transfers?). Leaving, we went through an older residential neighborhood before returning to Foothill. Passengers got on and off as we went along. More businesses were spotted sporting Route 66 signs. We started seeing more development along Foothill and less open space, though there were still a few vineyards here and there. Jaime opted at this point to depart the tour to grab a bite to eat. At 2:15pm, we arrived at the Montclair Transcenter. I shared bags of snack-sized candy bars with our weary travelers; we devoured them and were rejuvenated while staying out of the hot sun in the shade of the bus shelters. While waiting, we noted the inconvenient layout of the Transcenter, which included a fence along the roadway blocking easy access between the inner and outer stops. Jaime caught up with us (albeit just before we departed).

At 2:38pm, Foothill route 187 (Gillig low floor number F1172) arrived and we boarded, flashing our Omnitrans day passes, which were good for one transfer. Our driver, according to the plate above the front window, was William and we departed with eight passengers. The wide open spaces we passed through were green from recent rains. We entered the upscale Claremont area. After a bit, a driver named Richard, doing a ride along, took over the wheel. In La Verne, we passed I-210 construction. Just after entering San Dimas, I noted a sign stating "Equestrian Crossing." For some reason, child-care facilities were quite prevalent. On this stretch of Foothill, there was some beautiful scenery, especially at one river crossing. The scene was quite pretty, as there were yellow wildflowers in bloom and a there was a clear view of the nearby mountains. Overall, the area was commercial interspersed with residential. We passed a residential trailer park in Glendora. At Barranca came Azusa Pacific University followed by Cyprus College (as we zagged along Citrus to get from Alosta back to Foothill Blvd.). Soon afterwards were Irwindale and its rock quarry. Beginning in Duarte, more and more passengers boarded until we even had a few standees. Foothill and Huntington reminded me of Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley, with a continuous commercial district along them. The surroundings became noticeably upscale as we passed establishments including Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Claim Jumper, and Black Angus.

We waited for a relief driver at Santa Anita. Suddenly, the driver came back to ask why I was taking notes: "I know you're not a spotter." I briefly explained to him that we were riding along old Route 66 as part of a club activity. The driver hardly heard me as he hastily made his way back to the front and got under way since, by now, it was obvious the relief driver wasn't showing up. Further along, the relief driver finally drove up in a car alongside the bus and the exchange took place. We passed near the famed Santa Anita Racetrack. At 4:10pm, we alighted at Hill and Colorado in Pasadena, across from Pasadena City College. Mike Baron caught an MTA 180 bus because he had a prior engagement. The rest of us ate at one of the numerous fast food establishments in the vicinity.

While waiting at Hill and Colorado for our next bus, we spotted MTA 256. This is one of the contracted lines, operated by Coach USA, with vehicles recently acquired. In this case, it was a 30-foot El Dorado MST II bus number 12507 with cloth seats, armrests, and a GFI farebox behind the driver. Our own bus was egregiously late but we decided to wait for it despite having to spend over an hour in the hot sun (and spotted Steve Stone and sons on a 180 bus en-route home). Andy and Russ eventually decided to catch MTA 483 via the 180 and we wished them well as they departed. Minutes later, at 5:55pm, MTA 401 (Neoplan 1999 high floor CNG number 6777) finally came. There were 19 passengers (partly due to the missed runs). We whizzed along the Pasadena Freeway (I found myself leaning as we took curves). The driver was overheard radioing dispatch about the missed runs (evidently both buses scheduled for the 401 were AWOL). We arrived downtown at 6:25pm.

We were at 1st and Broadway. Our last bus would be MTA 4, which goes the entire length of Santa Monica Blvd. from Silver Lake to Santa Monica. The first bus was too crowded but then came a half-full Neoplan 1983 diesel number 3589 (from division 2?), which we boarded at 6:45pm. We followed Sunset Blvd. first, which near downtown is by turns ethnic, trendy, and trashy. At Sunset Junction we turned onto Santa Monica Blvd. and passed famed Jayburgers at Virgil. Jaime left the tour at Vermont. At that location we picked up a heavy passenger load, including many standees. We were then passed by the bus behind us, running nearly empty! Nearly half the passengers got off at Western only to have almost as many board. As we continued through Hollywood, passengers deboarded. This area has many small theaters with under 99 seats and non-traditional fare. We were moving like a bullet until we hit the West Hollywood road reconstruction. By now, the surroundings were more upscale and continued to be so until we reached downtown Santa Monica in twilight at 8:03pm. We walked across Ocean and read the plaque on the beach commemorating "the mother road." Our journey was at an end. We had seen Route 66 from San Bernardino to Santa Monica and witnessed the changing landscape of Southern California.

Special thanks goes to Charles Hobbs and Jaime Alcoba for contributing to this trip report.