How to restore a Route 66 motel--and stay sane

You've been looking for a way to spend your spare time. Why not restore a historic Route 66 motel like the Wagon Wheel in Cuba, Mo.? It will only take two years, your entire savings, and your every waking moment.

Wagon Wheel neon sign
You know you're on Route 66 when the neon winks at you. Amanda Kooser/CNET

CUBA, Mo.--You, too, can be a part of American history by restoring one of the deteriorated jewels of the Mother Road. Today, the Geek's Guide to Route 66 looks at what it takes to join the glamorous life of motel ownership. Here's a hint: it's not all champagne and chrome.

Connie Echols
Wagon Wheel owner Connie Echols enjoys a relaxing day at the office (click to enlarge). Amanda Kooser/CNET

To-do list

1. Buy a Route 66 motel. An operational, but run-down, motel can be picked up for a song. Look for a motel with a distinct neon sign and an architectural style that whispers about the mysteries of yesteryear. For example, you could have picked up the 1930s-era Wagon Wheel Motel here in Cuba, Mo., at a bargain price a few years ago. Current owner Connie Echols did just that. "I gave them an offer I didn't think they'd take," she says. Much to her surprise, she became a motel owner.

2. Don't look too closely. You really don't want to know just how bad of a shape the motel is in. At this point in the process, enthusiasm is key.

3. Start the restoration. Pick a room or a building, such as the office. Redo the roof, walls, plumbing, electrical, sidewalks, paint, and floor. Get out a hot-air gun and start peeling the paint off of the original doors. Don't think. Just do.

4. Don't despair. You're too far in to turn back now. Take it one room at a time. Plan on spending about two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. It helps to be on good terms with your bank. "It took way, way more funds and energy and time than I ever dreamt," Echols says.

Related links
• Geek's guide to Route 66, part 1
• Cadillac Ranch: Texas-size lawn ornaments
• Route 66: Build your own giant Blue Whale
• Route 66 Muffler Men: Collect them all

5. Tech it up a little. The rooms are so tiny that you'll need to install flat-panel TVs on the wall. Modern travelers expect Wi-Fi, so get that up and running ASAP. Enlist a friend to spruce up your Web site and get you going on Facebook. "People go online. They don't read about us in magazines," Echols says. She garners plenty of online interest from overseas visitors planning Route 66 trips. The restored neon sign out front lures road trippers like moths to a porch light.

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a thoroughly modern, yet still very retro, Route 66 motel. You will need to raise the rates a bit from the pre-restoration $18 per night level. Do it right and you may some day be able to pay off the cost of fixing up your motel.

Wagon Wheel motel office
The Wagon Wheel office and gift shop looks old, but it's thoroughly modern inside. Amanda Kooser/CNET

About the author

Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET's Crave blog. When not wallowing in weird gadgets and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.

 

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