Off the Map: Ghost Towns of the Mother Road – Chambless, California

Route 66In the early 1920’s, James Albert Chambless of Arkansas settled in the Amboy area, near the intersection of Cadiz road and the National Trails Road.  The family built a store in the late 1920’s after the National Trails Road was renamed Route 66.  In 1932, a gas station, motel and another store were added to Chambless Camp (as it was known).  In 1939 a Post Office was opened — cabins and a café were also built.

In the late 1930’s, James married Fannie Gould, who is said to have turned the camp into a desert oasis, with a rose garden and fish pond.  The auto repair shops kept busy even in the remote location.  Travelers needing repairs had cafes to eat at and cabins or motels to sleep in while they waited – with business so brisk, it could sometimes be days before repairs were completed.

The building where Fannie ran a gas station, grocery and café had a large covered porch area – something that was a welcome relief in the scorching desert heat. Fannie made lemonade for the soldiers who came to the area during World War II for desert training. One source said that some two million soldiers passed through the area surrounding Chambless during the war.

About a mile and a half west of Chambless the Roadrunner’s Retreat (café and gas station) was a well-known landmark, but today the property lies in ruins. Of course, business for Chambless Camp boomed (as it did for other towns along Route 66) during the peak years, but eventually the townspeople left and buildings fell into disrepair (the Camp porch was blown away at some point).

In 1990, Gus Lizalde purchased Chambless with the intent to restore it to its former glory days. He was able to open the gas station in the late 1990’s, but forced to close when the underground storage tanks became unstable. Gus seems determined (or was at least in late 2009) to keep working to restore Chambless. His last blog post here was written on December 30, 2009 and he is listed on LinkedIn as the CEO at Chambless California Water Services, Inc.

For an article in the Riverside Press-Enterprise in November 2009 he described his vision:

“It’s going to be a full-blown restoration to the way it was built,” Lizalde said. “I want to bring back that nostalgia. The renewed Chambless would feature “totem” gasoline pumps with meters that look like clock faces. Lizalde said he wants to track down original pump bodies and retrofit them with modern gas-delivery and metering systems.

The main building would have a 1950s-style diner, a tavern and a souvenir/convenience store. He intends to fix up the nine concrete cottages behind the main building and build a swimming pool in the shield shape of the Route 66 road sign. For the trailer park area, Lizalde envisions hauling in about 50 vintage Airstream trailers, refurbishing them and renting them out.

Why Airstreams? “They are so cool,” he answered.

Gus also hoped to replace the Roadrunner Café sign with one of his own, according to The Route 66 Cookbook: Comfort Food from the Mother Road. This book was published in 2003 and at the time Gus was said to have employed a cook and served “the best Mexican food you’ll find on the road.” In 2009 he also sent a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein touting a solar power project (apparently Senator Feinstein had opposed efforts). I love nostalgia, and if Gus is continuing to pursue his dream of restoring Chambless, I wish him great success!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.



    • Cool .. do you know the status of the efforts to revive Chambless? Thanks so much for stopping by!

      • I am not aware that anything has changed. Ultimately, unless somehow traffic starts to flow through there, which led to the original 66 heyday, nothing will happen. Traffic can exit on Ludlow exit then return back to I-40 past Essex….so only thing that is needed is some sort of gimmick, like Baker’s “World tallest thermometer”. Maybe the Air Force can donate a plane from the boneyard to park next to ’66 and draw traffic.

  1. Where is the old town where donkeys roam loose?? Roger

    • Perhaps you’re thinking of Oatman, Arizona? Thanks for stopping by!

  2. My wife’s great aunt was Carolyn Chambless. She was married to Melvin. We are going through some old letters that Carolyn and Melvin wrote to each other during the war. We have letters with the printed return address of there business in Chambless and have the postcard with the picture of the original store. Melvin had told me stories on building the camp with his father. Hope to get the this next winter.

    • That is so cool… thanks for stopping by!


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