You need to meet Harley. No, you *really* need to meet Harley.
We start our seventh day on the road in Erick, Oklahoma. Erick is the home of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop and it’s eccentric owner Harley Russell. Emily and I were familiar with Harley from videos we had seen on YouTube from our favorite vloggers. Honestly, we weren’t sure if we really wanted to meet him or not.
The Sandhills Curiosity Shop is one of those places where you’re not sure if you go in if you will end up having a great time or end up a statistic.
This was my mindset while I was standing around the corner from the shop taking photos by myself. Emily was around the front checking out the myriad of signs and antiques hanging all over the porch of the shop. Suddenly I heard her say “Oh, hi! We didn’t know if you were around today or not.”
Immediately I knew she had met Harley. This was it, the one Route 66 stop we had hesitated about checking out but we had crossed the Rubicon. I came around the corner, with the camera rolling just to see what would happen next.
What happened next was Harley. How to describe him? You’ve got the long redneck beard. You’ve got the red and white striped overalls and you just *know* he’s got nothing else on underneath them. You’ve got the booming voice welcoming you and telling you to take all the picture you want. You’ve got a guy who doesn’t hesitate to drop a f-bomb, take a drink from a bottle of Jack Daniels, to talk about how the local community has tried to get rid of him by “turning me in to every agency you can be turned in to” or threatened to burn his shop to the ground.
But, the longer you are there, the more you relax and the more you get to see the many layers of this man. Even after you leave, you’re not really sure how much is real and how much is an act designed to put money in his tip jar. Make no mistake about it, Harley is a smart businessman and he’s one of the few people in Erick, Oklahoma who seem to be having any success. All those oddities and signs in his shop? They didn’t pay for themselves, you know? Are the locals trying to get rid of him because he’s the crazy guy down the street or because they’re envious of how he has used the lure of Route 66 to make a living?
This is his schtick. He does it day in and day out, often for busloads of tourists (often from Europe) or for individuals like us. As I said, we sort of knew what to expect but for the uninitiated, I can only image what sort of impression he leaves on them.
Only once during our visit did we see a break in the act. When Harley picks up an old photo of his late wife Annabelle, the true Harley emerges. He looks at the photo and speak of her in a longing tone. This is a man who misses his wife dearly and you sort of think the drinking and the smoking is his way of trying to get to be with her sooner rather than later.
Harley was a real character and the most unique individual we met on Route 66. While Lowell Davis in Red Oak II was quiet and thoughtful, Harley is the polar opposite and you can’t help but love the guy for it.
You know he had an impact on us because despite seeing sights like the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, TX or the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, it is the former butcher shop in Erick, Oklahoma with its freedom-loving owner that remains the strongest memory of the day for me. Watch the video and see for yourself.