I've stayed in a lot of motels. Some good, some ... not so good. For the most part, they all look the same. Same bedspread, same remote control, same individually wrapped plastic cups.

Of course, that's what you get when you stay almost exclusively at chain names. Problem is, when you don't, you really take your chances. I love a good independent motel, but too often the accommodations are less than agreeable.

I've often longed for the days that preceded me, when lodges with names like the Hiway Host and the Come On Inn could be counted on to provide a clean shower and a pleasant night's rest without the peeling ceilings and questionable sounds coming from the room next door.

Well, someone's finally turning back the clock. Smalltown America Inns, Lodges and Motels has launched an effort to buy up classic roadside motor courts and restore them to their former glory, with a few modern amenities thrown in.

Their first, the Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico, is scheduled to open today. They purchased the 1950s motel back in December, cleaned it up and refurbished each of its 23 rooms, adding flat-panel TVs and high-speed Internet. Yet, they've made sure to preserve its independent charm.

"We try to reuse as much of the old furnishings as possible to maintain its original image in history, but we do not sacrifice on quality," says Richard Talley, Smalltown America's president. "The desk furniture, the chairs, the vanities, will be the same. Everything that we can keep, we do."

And perhaps most importantly, they've preserved the Safari's classic Googie-style sign and its giant camel.

Smalltown America plans to have three more locations along Historic Route 66 by the end of 2009. Next up, they hope, will be the historic Boots Motel in Carthage, Missouri.

I, for one, will be keeping track of their progress and adding each of their acquisitions to my travel database. Let's skip the chains and their boring, plastic signage, and help support Smalltown America's efforts!