Getting his kicks for free on Route 66

Friday, March 16, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

ST. PETERS — As an old song says, Richard Dinkela has made many plans to travel west. And he's certain Route 66 is the best.

Now he's getting his kicks for free, thanks to his winning entry in a Phillips 66 contest.

Dinkela, who resides near St. Peters, said he loves motoring down a road that's been popularized for decades in movies and songs. He said his parents took him on numerous road trips when he was a child.

"I was fascinated seeing dead-end roads or roads that would go to nowhere," he said. "My father used to tell us when we'd travel on Route 66, 'We're crossing the road people used to take to California.' That fascinated me. By trade I work in the paving business, and my mom was an archeologist, so my interest in (Route 66) is a culmination of that."

Dinkela's interest in the old highway, which stretched from Chicago to California, helped him win a year's worth of free gas as part of the "Local Legends" contest conducted by Phillips 66. More than 200 videos were entered in the contest; Dinkela's finished third. The top two winners received cash prizes plus free gas for a year.

Tami Walker, a manager for U.S. Fuels Brand Management, said Dinkela's video was one of the winners because of his dedication to and passion for the road that has had an impact on Phillips 66.

"Just like we strive to bring our customers the best in performance gasoline, we were intrigued by what Richard does best — keeping the dream of the open road alive and preserving a slice of Americana," Walker stated in an email. "We love that Phillips 66 fans take pride in things like this, and we were thrilled to recognize him and his commitment."

Dinkela learned in December that his video was among the winners. Since then, he said, he has received $2,600 worth of gas cards, his year's supply, from Phillips 66 and was using them on his latest journey on Route 66. On Wednesday, Dinkela was in San Jon, N.M.

Dinkela's video, which he taped last year, begins with him driving down a scenic road lined on both sides with trees with leaves turning to fall colors. Dinkela narrates the video and calls Route 66 America's legendary highway and main street. During the video, Dinkela tells viewers that he eats, sleeps and breathes Route 66 as his SUV travels on some of the old route's roads that have seen better days.

Route 66 is famous for its roadside attractions, most of them relics of a more simple time. Dinkela said he knows where nearly every cafe, motel and gas station is along the route he's traveled six times.

"I have exhausted and researched Route 66 the last 10 years," Dinkela said. "I run a GPS map on a computer so I always know where I'm at. Very rarely does something catch me by surprise."

Recently, Dinkela stopped at Trog's Service Station, which at 10456 Manchester Road in Kirkwood is along Route 66. George Trog opened several gas stations in 1951 and moved to Manchester Road in 1963. His son, Dick, has worked at his father's stations for 60 years and still offers full service to customers.

Dick Trog said a person would miss the small station if they blinked their eyes. He said his station has remained open despite the many changes around it.

"There's new buildings going up all the time," he said. "When you're here every day you don't pay that much attention to how much things change."

Trog was in the middle of answering another question when he said, "I've got a customer, gotta go."

Dinkela said Trog's customer-first approach is similar to that of other businesses along Route 66.

Mike Right, vice president of public affairs for AAA, said Route 66 today is more myth than reality because of the interstate system that was created to replace it.

"Route 66 doesn't exist as a route," Right said. "There are portions of it out there. In Missouri, the route is pretty much where Interstate 44 is now."

Right said several major arteries in the St. Louis area road network — Manchester, Gravois Road and Lindbergh Boulevard — at one time were designated Route 66.

"The old Route 66 in many instances was a two-lane road," Right said. "In St. James it goes right through the center of town. In many rural areas they chose to build new highways with shoulders and service roads on either side. You're talking about huge swaths of land needed to construct the modern interstates and highways."

Dinkela said about 80 percent of the old route still is accessible and drivable. He said he has painted close to 100 signs, using the Route 66 marker, on the route. Dinkela said the road is more of a series of alignments spanning different decades.

The end of Dinkela's journeys on Route 66 can be different places in California. To complete a trip, he said, a driver has to at least make it to Rialto, Calif. Dinkela likes to drive a few more miles west and finish at the Santa Monica pier.

"It's an elated feeling when you get there," he said. "You've got the sea breeze, it's nice to enjoy the beach. I might hang out a day, but most of the time I turn around and come back, like Forrest Gump."

Pictures Dinkela has taken on his trips offer a look back to a time when the names of businesses attracted curious drivers.

On his Facebook page, Dinkela has pictures of some of the remaining businesses. TeePee Curious, Blue Swallow motel (with 100 percent refrigerated air), Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket and the Elbow Inn in Devil's Elbow, Mo., are a few of Dinkela's haunts along the way.

Dinkela ends his video by saying he wants to keep the dream of Route 66 alive. Free gas for a year will help him accomplish that.

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