Last weekend my sister, Amber Testa, and I got our kicks on Route 66. Ford Motor Company challenged a group of writers and our guests to travel from St. Louis, Missouri to Tulsa, Oklahoma on Route 66 using a single tank of gas. The vehicle of choice for the challenge was the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi plugin hybrid.
We started our day early in Phoenix and after an uneventful flight through Memphis, we landed in St. Louis, where we hopped into a burgundy Fusion Energi and headed off to Ted Drewe’s famous frozen custard. The location on Chippewa in St. Louis has been serving Route 66 customers since 1941. The store was busy but the staff quickly made two Oreo shakes and then my sister and I were on our way to Cuba. Cuba, Missouri that is.
I took the first two driving shifts because we were in a large metropolitan area and as the elder sister, I’m the more seasoned driver (or something like that.) My initial impression of the Fusion Energi was that the seats were comfortable, the front cabin was roomy and the ride was incredibly smooth. I didn’t notice when the gasoline engine kicked on and off, which is a good thing. When I owned a hybrid, my main complaint was that every time the vehicle went from EV mode to hybrid mode, everyone in the car knew.
After arriving at the historic Wagon Wheel Hotel in Cuba, the team at Ford took the vehicle to charge it overnight. It doesn’t need that long to charge, though. The battery can be fully recharged in just 2.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet. While the Fusion Energi was getting its fill, my sister and I got our fill next door with the rest of the Route 66 participants at Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q.
Missouri Hick owner Dennis Meiser’s pride shows not only in his tasty slow-cooked meats, but also in the restaurant’s décor. Meiser, who is also a woodworker, made the table and chairs in the restaurant. It’s not every day that you can have a home cooked meal on a homemade table in Cuba. Cuba, Missouri that is.
On Saturday morning Amber and I were up and out early. Saturday was going to be a long drive, our final stop of the day was in Tulsa. My sister took her first turn behind the wheel. She had never driven a hybrid before this trip but was excited when she scored a 100 percent for her smooth braking technique. Regenerative braking was new to her but she’d already mastered it. This throws a wrench in the hybrid vehicle learning curve theory.
Our first stop for the day was the historic Devil’s Elbow Bridge (pictured above) over the Big Piney River. The bridge was built in 1923 and it looks like it has had a long and hard 90-year life. Even though the river crossing was replaced by a four-lane road in the 1940s and I-44 in the 1980s, the Devil’s Elbow Bridge still stands as a tribute to the original Route 66 that traversed this area in the 1920s and 1930s.
As we made our way to Tulsa we stopped at an old stagecoach stop in Waynesville, Missouri. During the Civil War, the Union Army commandeered the stop and converted it into a hospital. The building was closed at the time but after my sister and I discussed the possibility that there could be some old Civil War ghosts roaming the halls, we decided that we were okay with missing out on a tour.
Eventually we made our way to our designated lunch stop in Joplin, Missouri. On the way I decided to take a quick power nap. I usually have a difficult time falling asleep in a vehicle but the Ford Fusion Energi’s ride was so quiet that it was easy to fall asleep.
Heading in to Joplin we decided to test out the Ford MySync technology and used the Bluetooth connection to play a little Nine Inch Nails from my iPhone. We’d been on the road for a while and needed the pick-me up. As we were driving through town I suddenly noticed that there were blocks of the city that had no trees. Amber and I realized that this was where the devastating EF5 tornado tore through the town in May 2011. Seeing the devastation that the tornado caused, still visible two years later, was a somber moment.
After lunch, which included a top off of the Fusion’s battery courtesy of mobile chargers, we were back on the road. As we continued our way to Tulsa we stopped at the Rainbow Bridge in Kansas, Mickey Mantle’s boyhood home (pictured above) in Commerce, Oklahoma and ultimately ended up on the turnpike as we made our way to the historic Campbell Hotel in Tulsa.
While the main trip is between St. Louis and Tulsa is about 400 miles, we took several side trips to visit places of historical significance and put on many more miles trying to find our way back to the main route after getting sidetracked. Over the three-day period, we easily logged more than 400 miles. When we finally arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma we had a smidge less than a quarter-tank of gas left in the plugin Fusion; challenge accepted and challenge mastered!
Thank you to Ford, who covered travel and accommodations for the event, my sister and I had a wonderful time.