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"Life doesn't happen
along the interstates. It's against the law."
-- William Least Heat
Moon, Blue Highways
inspires in many of us a nostalgic bone which niggles at something buried
deep within us. While some may see
Route 66 as
a link to our parents and grandparents, others perhaps feel the sense of
freedom that the road provided to those early travelers. And then, for
those of us that live continuously in the nostalgic past, the
Mother Road is, but yet, the next adventure beyond the
Santa Fe Trail.
Whatever the reason, the
is an experience, a feeling, a perception, a taste of sight and sound, and
a mystery that can only be resolved by driving the pavement itself.
"super-highway,” as it was thought of in 1926, represented
unprecedented freedom to travel across the
American West. Spawned by the rapidly changing demands of America,
entrepreneurs, Cyrus Avery of
and John Woodruff of
conceived of the grand idea of linking
and began lobbying efforts to promote the new highway. While other
East/West highways existed at the time, most followed a linear course,
leaving out the rural communities, dependent upon transportation for
farm products and other goods.
Toodlin' Down 66 Postcard by Kathy
Weiser-Alexander. Available for purchase
Sitgreaves Pass Arizona along the pre-1952
alignment of Route 66. Photo by Jim Hinckley available for prints
No doubt a
daunting task for the pair, the federal government finally pledged to
link small town U.S.A. with metropolitan capitals in the summer of
1926 and designated the road as
Unfortunately, shortly after work began on November 11 that year, the
depression came, halting progress on the new "Super-Highway".
1933, thousands of unemployed men were put back to work and road gangs
paved the final stretches of the road. By 1938 the 2,300 mile highway
was continuously paved from
Steinbeck, in 1939, proclaimed
as the "Mother
Road” in his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. When
the movie was made just a year later, it immortalized
in the American consciousness. Shortly thereafter, more than
200,000 people migrated to
California to escape the
Dust Bowl of the Midwest, symbolizing the
highway as the "road to opportunity.”
War II broke out,
proved to be invaluable in transporting troops, equipment and products
across the vast West to
where the government established multiple industries and armed force
bases. When the war was finally over in 1945, the Mother Road served to transport thousands of troops home.
Perhaps more than any other American highway,
symbolized a new positive outlook that spread
through the nation’s postwar economic recovery. For thousands of
returning servicemen and their families,
was more than just a highway. "It became," according to one
admirer, "an icon of free-spirited independence linking the United States
across the Rocky Mountain divide to the Pacific Ocean."
Almost immediately, the tourist industry began to grow, giving rise to countless
tourist courts, motels, service stations, garages and diners. However, the excessive truck travel during World War II and the ever
expanding automobile industry had left the Highway in appalling
conditions, with narrow pavements and poor road conditions.
Section of nine foot wide road, part of the
original Route 66 near Afton Oklahoma. Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander,
available for prints
In the mid 1950s the public lobby, along with
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, were demanding a
federal sponsorship for a system of divided highways, and on June 26, 1956, the
Federal Aid Highway Act was passed by Congress for a national interstate highway
program. The act, also known as the National Interstate and Defense
Highways Act, allocated over $30 Billion for the construction of over
40,000 miles of interstate highways, the largest public construction
project in U.S. history at the time. On June 29, Eisenhower signed it into
law. While it is remembered by many as
Eisenhower's greatest domestic achievement, the flip side was the demise
of small towns along highways which connect more isolated parts of the
country. With the highway act, Route 66 was doomed.
Doomed or not, by the 1960s, many points of interest were familiar landmarks to a new generation of travelers, and the television series "Route
66” was aired "driving” the
Mother Road into homes all over America. Though the series created great
interest in the American public, it was to be short-lived, as by 1970,
nearly all segments of original
Route 66 were bypassed by modern four-lane highways. By 1984, all of the
poorly maintained vestiges of
Route 66 had completely succumbed when the final section of the original road
was bypassed by Interstate 40 at Williams,
As Route 66 was decommissioned
on June 27, 1985, its signs were removed and the
Mother Road was almost lost. Even to this day, the Mother Road appears on very few current maps. Most states have installed
Historic Route 66 signs along portions of the road, but, unfortunately, they rarely give exit directions where the road so very often veers off from the interstate highways.
Obviously, the route today is not what it was in the past. The sights and
sounds of the
Mother Road change daily with the emergence of new businesses and development along
the old highway. You will want to take a lot of pictures, because what is here today might be very well gone tomorrow.
However, much is preserved and the Route 66
Historical Associations and private groups have done much to preserve
these vintage treasures. As you travel along, you will often see a sign or marquee of the vintage road as
these icons of history are preserved, though their buildings are long gone.
Restored 1927 Phillips 66 in
Texas, September, 2007 Kathy Weiser.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Traveling the road, you will experience everything from the frustration of finding the route in a
metro city to being pleasantly surprised by the next small town that you
venture into. The landscape quickly changes from the hustle and
bustle of metropolitan area, to quiet meandering roads, to tall grass
prairies, where you feel as if you might be the only person left on earth.
While it’s a good idea to plan your trip, because the road can be confusing, the
whole idea is to experience the Mother Road. Our advice is to get a couple of really good
Route 66 books and some good maps before you begin your adventure. Here and
there, some places will give you a road sign when the road veers off the
interstate, but mostly not. Even with a few good maps, you will, no
doubt, take a wrong turn once in a while. Take the Business Loops off the
interstates when possible – they will often lead you to your photo
opportunities of our scenic past.
Such is the experience!! Enjoy the ride!
of America, updated June 2013.
East to West from Illinois
Go West to East from California
Route 66, produced by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, December 2013.