HISTORY WORTH SAVING - Since 1950 Angel Delgadillo has been a barber working alongside the most famous roadway ever built. When his town and stretch of Route 66 were bypassed by the new highway, Angel stepped in and saved not only the historic roadway but also his town. Read the full transcript of my interview with Angel and see pictures from my visit down below.
Slide show for this episode below.
Podcast Download: History Worth Saving - Saving Route 66 - Episode 2
Opening: “Hello, I am Angel Delgadillo, born here in Seligman, Arizona, and I've been a barber here in Seligman, Arizona since May 22nd 1950 at 9 in the morning.”
MJ: So tell me how this got started. How did you get started with this?
“How did I start the rebirth of Route 66? It wasn't easy. We knew that we were gonna get bypassed. We knew that Eisenhower came back from Germany, the General said, we need a highway like they have in Germany, like the Autobahn. So, we knew we were gonna get bypassed. And we were bypassed September 22nd 1978 at about 2:30(pm) in the afternoon. The statistics said there were about 9,000 automobiles using road, Route 66, every 24 hours. Especially on the summer business. So, we weren't concerned about it. We were gonna get bypassed, big deal. What we didn't know was that we were gonna be forgotten by the world. It took me a while to understand why all the tourist went to I-40. When they built Route 66, they went around the mountains. When they built I-40 they went right through the mountains, so in traveling Route 66 back then, you couldn't travel fast.”
“You were always behind a put, put, put, up and down curves. So, we get bypassed and wow. It was a shock, we were just totally forgotten, but by the early 1980's or even before, in 1979 some of the traveling public, people in their 60's and 70's begin to trickle back into town. Some ended up here at the barber shop. Back then, I was doing barber work 5 days a week from 9 till 6. This was a pool hall, three pool tables. So, they begin to trickle in here and I begin to hear men and women tell me the same story, over and over. "When I was a little boy, when I was a little girl, this has got be the highway that my parents drove from the midwestern states to California." When it quite raining for about a half dozen year in those states. They all sound like a recording, I heard it once, I heard it twice. I heard it over and over. By this time, we're desperate. It was hard to put beans on the table.”
“So, I begin to talk about how we get the economy back. And my simple thought was, we ask the state to make Route 66 historic from Seligman to Kingman. My simple thought, right? I talked about it for years. You're gonna sit there and wonder, baloney, how can you talk about it for years and nothing happen. No one would listen to me. I was President of the Chamber of Commerce for eight years and Vice President for two years because Lorna Street sat right there and said I want to be President, I'm a new comer to town. I said "Lorna for me to work for Seligman, I don't have to be President, I'll work just as hard being Vice President. We'll stack the cards and make you President."
“So, we made her President. We talked about it, how we get the economy back but we were getting ready for Seligman’s 100th birthday. In 86 Seligman became 100 years (old) so it was shelved. So finally, that came to pass and I kept talking about Route 66, no one listened. I talked to tourist, anyone that sat on my chair, meetings, nothing. I told my wife "let's go to Kingman, talk to the other little communities, people in the other little communities, see what they think." Bingo! I was endorsed. By everyone I talked to, I was endorsed. Grand Canyon Caverns, Peach Springs, Kingman. I even have a beautiful letter from the Vice President of the Kingman Chamber of Commerce - good idea. I came loaded with my cannons, took it back to the chamber of commerce, I finally got their attention. Three people spoke on my behalf. So, we had the first meeting at the Grand Canyon Caverns at 1:00(pm) February 9th 1987. Lorna Street, the President there, had no interest in the community.”
“She was just using Seligman as a stepping stone. She didn't go to the meeting, I presided at the meeting. Forty-six people were there. Nothing happened. We agreed to meet a month later. Same location, same time. I walked out of that meeting and called that now famous meeting February 8th 1987. Here at Seligman at the Copper Cart that is now a gift shop. Bingo! We formed the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. We assessed ourselves ten dollars each, I was elected President. Jerry Richard from Kingman was my first Treasurer. Dave Westman from Kingman was my first Secretary. My brother Juan with the world-famous Snow Cap, was the other person and Mr. and Mrs. Barker from Kingman were the other two. Five of us, we gelled.”
“What an accomplishment. After years of talkin' about it. Wow, we were just happy. So, the first letter goes to the Department of Transportation in Phoenix, totally ignored. We did not exist. No answer. By this time, we were having meetings in Seligman to Kingman to the California border, monthly, monthly meetings. Sometimes we had forty-five, fifty people at these meetings. We had the backing of the community. We were all hungry. From here to Kingman, no traffic. At least from here a few trickled in from the Interstate, but in Peach Springs, Truxton, Kingman got a few. Ash Fork was still gettin' them. They were not bypassed. We were the only town that got bypassed. Well on 66 we were one of the four communities, three communities. Kingman was big.”
“I semi-retired from coming to work five days a week, when I was seventy. Nineteen years ago. I was gonna' quite completely. My four grown kids said, "Dad, how about these people that want to meet you? Get a shave and a haircut?" Okay, fine. Well since I semi-retired, 19 years ago, when I was seventy, I have had time reminisce with myself, who my parents were, my brothers and sisters. I learned that us, five guys, that gelled as one, that refused to take no from the state. We all grew up during the depression. When it was tough. We did not know what the word no meant. We stayed with the state. The state finally made us historic, November 1987, from here to Kingman.”
“Since then, our government has made Route 66 in Arizona, the title, the Scenic Byway and the All-American Highway. Like I said, I have had time to reminisce with myself, and to see what's been happening. The world is looking for yesterday. Our high-tech way of life is beautiful, but we have lost so much of who we used to be. Perseverance, dedication, desire, determination, discipline, that's what will get things done. If you want to really succeed at whatever you want to.”
“So how did I stay with this project so long? Necessity. Truthfully, I did not know that all this was gonna' come from it. Forming the association, from getting the state to make it historic. I have now been interviewed about a thousand times by the news media, national and international. The first couple of hundred interviews it was all about us, we but I began to notice the people so appreciative and so happy. Thanking me and thanking me. Picture taking, autographing, just happy, happy, people.”
“I can't emphasize enough, people just want some more of yesterday. Route 66 and Seligman is so much of yesterday. In so doing this, we have touched the hearts, the minds of people world-wide and I think we are making such an impression on people from all parts of the United States and the world that I think we - the people - are going to help to keep a little bit more of yesterday. In other states, people are taking their own money. They're taking an old filling station or some restaurant, they're bringing it back to life. Why? Public demand. People want yesterday. Yes, we knew we need the four-lane highway, freeway. Yes, we need the big conglomerate businesses but it isn't what this country was founded by. It was founded by we the people. The ordinary people. The backbone of America. We the people.”
“So, I think that we the people are making a difference in our country and other countries also. Seligman has a title that no other country from Chicago to Santa Monica has. The little town where Route 66 got its historic rebirth, against all odds.”
“When you fight City Hall, you better have your ducks lined up. You will lose. We did not lose. So, the world knows that it wasn't the Governor that called that now famous meeting, it wasn't the State Legislature, a Congressman, it wasn't a brilliant history teacher, a brilliant surgeon, a doctor, dentist, it was just we the people. You and I. And this is what's so intriguing to the people, that we the people can make a difference. I repeat, I did not realize in my wildest dreams, that it would just go to the east coast or the west coast. It went world-wide. If you could live in my shoes for just one day, especially in the summer time, and see the faces, the beautiful smiling faces of these people, it would warm up your heart.”
“I live in fantasy island. It's so sad, to be forgotten for ten long years. I lived it. I didn't read it, I lived it. It's so sad, I know what it is to be forgotten. Now it is so beautiful to be remembered by people that have been - well just this morning, I shaved and cut a man's hair from...was it England? I forget. I cut his hair and shaved him four years ago. Just as happy as...wow. Repeat business from here and there and everywhere else. It's not the business. It's the fact that they enjoy being here so much.”
MJ: What do you want people to remember about you, when it’s all said and done?
“If parents of young teenagers will tell their children. "Johnny, Mary, you can do it. If you put your heart into it. You can succeed at anything you set your heart to." This is why I live now, to try and help, to tell people. I key in on parents when they come in with young children. To tell them: "You can do it. If you set your mind to it. But, you have to pay the price." I have learned, at the age of sixty, of course I knew it years ago, but I re-learned it at the age of sixty, you ask people what they think and they'll tell you it won't work.”
“Young children, when they start excelling, whether its sports or in the classroom, their so-called friends, are going to get jealous. They're going to try and hold them back. They're not going to help. They'll try to jeopardize their thoughts. They will try and talk them out of it. Because, now he's getting better grades than me. He's looking better than me. And your so-called friends will drag you down. You don't ask people what do you think - what do I think. That's what matters.”
“In so doing this, we have helped to keep the American Dream alive. The American Dream alive in America. The sky's the limit. There are no doors that will remain closed. I tell these young people, there’s a lot of help, but you have to believe in yourself.”
Hello, I am Angel Delgadillo, born here in Seligman, Arizona, and I've been a barber here in Seligman, Arizona since May 22nd 1950 at 9 in the morning.
The Haircut Interview
“The chair that you're about to get a haircut on, my father, a self-taught barber, bought this chair April 10th 1926 for some $194 dollars. There's the invoice right there. He went broke during the depression.”
MJ: It's worth a lot more than that now.
MJ: No, I think it's worth more than that.
MJ: “So who else has been in this chair? Anyone we'd recognize?”
AD: “No, just people. I did cut Joanie Holiday, a famous comedian from France, but we don't know him. (laughter) He was here. People from France no him, very, very famous. His picture hangs on the wall.”
MJ: “How many people live here?”
AD: “About five hundred and fifty.”" This used to be a railroad town. A terminal for trains from the east and the west. The unloaded their crews here. At one time, there were roughly 250 men that worked, first in - first out here out of Seligman, where they lived. They couldn't get called before they rested for four hours. Sometimes they were here for 20 hours. So, this was their home away from home. Santa Fe had a big complex here. They repaired the steam engines back then. The Harvey House was open. They hired people, so there was about a thousand-people lived here, back then. That was blow number two, when Santa Fe quiet using us for a layover.”
“The railroad men use to spend roughly ninety thousand dollars a year here. They quiet using Seligman February 5th 1985. So that was another blow to the community.”
MJ: So what did you think of the Cars movie? What did you think of that?
AD: “He interviewed me. John Lassiter. You know, up until John Lassiter put in the air, for the world to see it, we got mainly grown people, but after he showed that to the world, we began to get families. So, in he doing that, and he no doubt did it to make money, it cost him a lot of money to it, but in doing it, he exposed the next generation to America and what we the people can do.”
“I have had, American people, international people, tell me that they have sat down and watched that DVD, whatever you want to call it, with their children or grandchildren, four, five, eight, twelve times. The children can't get enough, because it was so cleverly done. “
“He interviewed me 12th day of June 2001.”
MJ: So have you driven Route 66, Chicago to L.A.?
AD: “Just to Oklahoma City.”
MJ: Maybe one day you can do it.
AD: “I like to stay home. (laughter)”
AD: “Have you been to...ohm...what do you call it. My story is there. (Asks his helper). The Smithsonian! Check it out one of these days.
MJ: I need to. I will. I'll send you a picture. It's huge. They have five or six museums now.
AD: “Wow! What they have to display must be incredible. I think it’s in the Automobile.”
MJ: Is this the family band?
AD: “There is much to tell you. My Dad's old pool hall, was. We're in this building here. My Dad's old pool hall is the second roof. On old Route 66. One block south. In 1933, instead of coming from Los Alamos and make a left here, they opened right up here. So, he went right up here, worked during the depression when he lost the tourist business. But because my brother Juan, as about a 20-year man and my brother Joel he was playing the trombone for change right there. Joe was playing the banjo for the Hank Becker Orchestra. A five-piece band. I was too little to remember, but my brothers tell me that we all but loaded the Model T Ford, had been fixed from one end to the other, with a trailer, all eleven of us were going to California, join the Okies. Because of my two brothers, Hank Becker, who worked for Santa Fe (he played the drums) he was my idol. His wife, played the piano. George played the tenor sax, so it was a five-piece band. When he heard that he was going to leave two musicians, he pulled strings and got a job for my brother Juan as a laborer for Santa Fe in 1947. So, music kept us here.”
“The lady on the piano is my sister, Juan, it's me, brother Tony, brother Joe, brother Augustine and the bass fiddle a guy from Ash Fork. “
MJ: So what do you play?
AD: “I started on the drums. Then while my brothers went to war there was nobody to carry the melody so I picked up my brother's tenor sax. So, I play tenor sax since 1945-46. “
MJ: Do you still play much?
AD: “We try to get together once a week. My brother Joel, Juan's son, brother Joel on the guitar, my brother Juan of the world-famous Snow Cap's son on the drums and Pat (another here from town) on the bass guitar. We do the music of Glenn Miller, songs of the big bands you know. We try to imitate the big band music makers. So, music is the reason why we're still in Seligman. Music kept us here.”
MJ: It saved Route 66.
AD: “This has been said. Yeah.”
MJ: What's your favorite Glenn Miller song?
AD: “In the nude. I mean in the mud. I mean In the Mood. (laughter)”
AD: “I received a CD from these musicians, man and wife, back somewhere in the east. We were talking about it. I couldn't ask about it. If they knew how to play In the Nude, because she's a female. So, I said do you guys play In the Mud. (Laughter)”
“They do a sixteen-piece band. And they do that kind of music.”
AD: “You get a haircut at the base, huh?”
MJ: I do, George.
AD: “He does a nice job. He doesn't skin you up. I do a nice job.”
MJ: I'll tell him.
AD: “What's his age about?”
MJ: Maybe seventy?
AD: “See, this is what I know about George. George, the barber. He is of the old school. That's why you get a good hair cut. He has those work habits of we the people of then. More responsible. It’s that simple.”
AD: “What I want to tell you. I think you for this moment. The interview, and you being here, because you are going to in lighten and make more people happy when you put this on the air. Just more happy people that will probably end up traveling Route 66 and some of them may end up here.”
MJ: I bet they do. Thank you.