Roy's Motel and Cafe
87520 National Trails Highway,
Situated halfway between Barstow and Needles on Route 66 is the barely more than a ghost town, town of Amboy. It is most known for the business, Roy's Motel and Cafe, which opened in 1938. At one point Amboy was a flourishing boom town, prospering off of Route 66, complete with a population of 700. Now, the population sits probably around four, the town a victim of going bust in 1973, post establishment of Interstate 40 which completely bypassed the town.
The area was first settled in 1858 due to salt mining, but the town itself was not truly established until 1883, a result of being the first of a series of railroad stations that were going to be constructed through the Mojave Desert. The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, for some reason, named these stations alphabetically beginning with Amboy. The line, after Amboy, went Bristol, Cadiz, Danby, Edson, Fenner, and Goffs. This was the work of a survey engineer named Lewis Kingman who worked for the company.
The prosperity of the town began taking off starting in 1926 thanks to the opening of Route 66. And it became a major stopping spot along the National Trails Highway. However, it truly began to flourish post World War II with the surge in tourism and travel that marked that period. Many of the service stations, restaurants, motels, and other businesses devoted to catering to the influx of travelers operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to the garages, motels, restaurants, and service stations, a church, school and post office were also added to the small town.
The most famous set of buildings though in Amboy is Roy's Motel and Cafe! Roy Crowl began the business as a service station in 1938. Roy had arrived in Amboy with his wife, Velma, in 1924 when their car sadly broke down in Amboy on their way to Los Angeles. Unable to pay for the car repair, the two were forced to stay. But by 1938, the Crowls owned land in town and started with a gas station known as Roy's Garage. Later the name changed to Roy's Garage and Cafe, and finally to Roy's Motel & Cafe as more amenities were added. By the forties, his son-in-law, Herman Buster Burris had joined them and a cafe, mechanics' shop and several small cabins were all added to the business. It is even rumored that Burris put up his own poles and wires all the way from Barstow in order to bring power to Roy's. Business did so well, the business employed seventy people and by February 1st, 1959, the famous neon sign of Roy's was put up. The same year, a building for guest reception and office space was built in the googie architecture complete with lots of glass and an inclined roof. Burris also took over the business full time in 1959, when Roy retired.
Much of the economy of Amboy completely collapsed in 1973 when Interstate 40 was built, bypassing the poor town of Amboy. In the words of Buster Burris, "It was like somebody put a gate across Route 66. The traffic just plain stopped. That very first day it went from being almost bumper to bumper to about a half dozen cars."
Roy Crowl passed away in 1977, and meanwhile the town of Amboy limped along. The famous sign was no longer lit up sometime in the eighties. Things progressed like this until 1995 when Timothy White leased the town to use for filming locations. He purchased the entire town in February 2000 from Burris, who passed away a few months later on August 10th, 2000 at the age of 91. White ran the property poorly and it went into foreclosure in February 2005.
On May 3rd, 2005, Albert Okura stepped in and purchased the entire town. Okura is also the owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain and the original McDonalds (now a museum) in San Bernardino. Okura has been working to preserve and restore the town, but the process is slow due to the fact that there is no potable water in Amboy, and the cost to ship it in is expensive. By April 28th, 2008, Okura managed to refurbish and reopen the coffee shop and gas station. On November 16th, 2019 in front of a large crowd, the sign, having been refurbished was once again turned on, bringing hope to the area again. The former lobby has its angled rooftop lit up in neon again, and even the inside of the lobby has been restored to what it might have looked like all those years ago, complete with old style furniture and other accessories.
Visiting the town today, one can use the public restroom there, as well as get gas at the station. For some reason, there's a large white statue of a stallion, rearing up, out front of the bathrooms. A shop is opened that serves some pre made or packaged food, as well as souvenirs. You can walk by and check out some of the other, mostly abandoned structures, including the cabins, the building with googie architecture where guests use to check in (I've heard rumors that it's planned to turn this lobby into a gift shop, although I think it looks awesome setup as a replica of an old style lobby), the church (formerly St. Raymond's, it closed in 1970), school, and even the post office. As it's the desert, other weirdness seems to just be attracted to the town. There's a trash pole, for some random reason, apparently replacing a falled shoe tree that is no longer with us. There are, of course, the awesome Route 66 emblems drawn on the road out front of Roy's and one can pose in the road with them, as there is little traffic now adays, getting a picture of both the emblems and the famous sign.
Amboy still has an operating post office. I believe the building was built in 1965. Before that, the post office operated out of a convenience store, a motel cabin, and even a trailer.
The Amboy School was originally built in 1903 but was relocated to its present location later. It only accommodated first through eight graders. At one time the school also functioned as a community center. Once having an enrollment of about sixty, the school is now long closed with a faded, decaying sign over its closed gates. The building is long abandoned, with boarded up windows and is slowly deteriorating.
I believe sometime in late 2020, more likely the first quarter of 2021, a large golden Buddha statue appeared in town, in the southwestern area. It is covered in a lot of junk, trash, coins, rocks, and other nick knacks for some reason, as if travelers are presenting it with offerings for safe travels. The statue has seen some abuse and has deteriorated quickly, including losing its right hand, and having markings drawn on it and stickers adhered to it. The statue certainly hasn't been treated very well, unfortunately. If this weirdness wasn't enough, in addition to the strange Buddha, for some reason there are two amazing Chinese Guardian Lions sitting off the road out in the desert a few miles out of town to the east.
Movies such as The Hitcher starring Rutger Hauer and Kalifornia starring Brad Pitt were filmed there, as well as several other less famous movies. A few music videos also used the town for a location.
Amboy and Roy's Cafe
Amboy, settled as early as 1858, became a water stop when southern Pacific Railroad laid its tracks through the Cadiz Valley in 1883-84. Following the course of the railroad and the National Old Trails Highway. Route 66 was opened in 1926. Amboy soon saw heavy traffic along "The Mother Road" as flivvers, dust bowl emigrants, soldiers and vacationers made their way through the Mojave Desert. Facilities included a cafe, service station, school, motel and post office. Water was hauled by rail from Newberry Springs, 50 miles to the west.
Roy's has served travelers along Route 66 from the beginning. Opened by Roy Crowl and later operated by Roy's son-in-law Buster Burris, Roy's has provided hot foot, a cold drink, and gasoline to many a weary sojourner. Motorists could spend the night at the motel while vehicles of all types were serviced at the garage. Even after interstate 40 bypassed the town in 1973, Roy's has served as a welcome oasis in a lonely stretch of desert.
Dedicated March 18, 2006 by the Billy Holcomb Chapter of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampis Vitus.
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- Route 66: America's Longest Small Town (2017) by Hinckley, Jim, p: 136
- Travel Route 66 (2014) by Hinckley, Jim, p: 217
- Route 66 Adventure Handbook (2017) by Knowles, Drew, p: 416 - 417
First Created: 2021-02-03
Last Edited: 2021-07-03