HomeCar CultureCommentaryWe're walkin' in a Willie's wonderland

We’re walkin’ in a Willie’s wonderland


(Editor’s note: One of the features we hope to include as a regular part of this blog are  photos and stories from those often unexpected but usually very pleasant surprises found while exploring the rust and dust of the old roads. Let us know if you’ve come across such places so we can share your stories and photos as well.)

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

Bobby Troup wrote about Flagstaff, Kingman, Barstow and San Bernadino, and for some reason he didn’t forget Winona, though I’ve been there and saw nothing that might be a reason for memorialization in a song. Unless, perhaps, Winona wasn’t just the way station between Gallup and Flagstaff but a woman who shared the town’s name?

Regardless, Troup didn’t include Newberry Springs in his lyrics for (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66, perhaps because even back in 1946 Newberry Springs was little more than a watering hole in the Mojave Desert (they wouldn’t film the movie Bagdad Cafe there until the mid-1980s), or maybe because Vartan “Willie” Kalajian had yet to establish his business in Newberry Springs.

We were driving the California section of old Route 66 when we spotted what appeared to be an auto salvage yard hidden behind trees and protected by a big fence. However, it never — well, not usually — hurts to see if you can get in, so we followed a long, sandy driveway to an open gate.

There sat Willie himself, wrenching on a spotless white Karmann-Ghia he was building up for his daughter.

Willie mind if we wandered around and took some photos?

Help yourself, he said.

Later, we got to chatting and realized that if we’d have asked to stay for dinner, Willie likely would have been accommodated.

Willie’s business is Willie’s On & Off Road Center, which specializes in Volkswagens and in using VW parts to build dune buggies, he said. After our trip, we checked his website (www.williesoffroad.com) and learned he also scouts locations for movie shoots, and provides vehicles for those movies and location support for film crews working throughout the region.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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