Spring 2007 Forward to a Friend

The Mystique of Route 66
by Jennifer Fischer Cadillacs
The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, boasts the familiar Caddies buried nose-first in the dusty ground.

  Route 66
  Signs of the Old Mother Road mark the pavement on Chain of Rocks Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri. It is now a footbridge.

Old Route 66 breathes the charm of a time gone by. What started as a convenient bridge between east and west turned into a new reason for going.

No road captured America’s love for motoring more than the Old Mother Road herself – Route 66. She belongs to a simpler time, when the doors of the West opened for so many people and the storied highway wound her way into the hearts of American travelers.

The “Main Street of America” joined two metropolitan areas – Chicago and Los Angeles – and breathed life into all the remote and underpopulated cities in between. Unlike the Lincoln, the Dixie, or other highways of the day, Route 66 moved diagonally. Its twisting, meandering path linked hundreds of rural communities, leaving trails of opportunity in its wake.

here it is  
Signs along Route 66 counted down the miles to the Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Joseph City, Arizona.  

The road became a symbol of freedom even before it was completely paved. Dust storms in the early 1930s devastated the South. Families already hit hard by the Depression packed their belongings and headed for a better existence – usually in California.

Life became easier for those who opted to eke out their living in the weakened economies of Kansas, Oklahoma, West Texas, and New Mexico. Farmers discovered a more efficient way to transport their grain and produce. Unemployed laborers found work with road gangs laying the winding ribbons of asphalt. Truckers prospered. And, above all, highway commerce was born. Roadside businesses nourished budding economies for the tiny communities. Previously unknown towns appeared on maps, and the romance of Route 66 was born for generations of charmed travelers who followed her seductive path.

  A quick plate of good, home cooking still can be found along the “Main Street of America.”

Restaurants, travel motels, service stations, and neon-blazing tourist attractions dotted the 2,448 miles of magic through three time zones and eight states. Travelers could enjoy a quick plate of good, home cooking before venturing back out on the road. Some might rest for a spell in a tepee-shaped Wigwam Motel before gassing up at the local Phillips 66 and disappearing over the horizon.

Business owners worked together and essentially rebuilt their towns so people were compelled to stop instead of simply passing through. For close to 50 years, the original Route 66 remained America’s celebrated Main Street. Novelists, songwriters, and poets immortalized her boundless charm and allure. Road-borne Americans rambled along her crumbling pavement with backseats full of wide-eyed children taking in the unique and wondrous sights. The passage itself was the destination.

tee pee motel   Gas Station
Just pull up next to your own cozy tepee and turn in for the night at the Wigwam Motels in Rialto, California, and Holbrook, Arizona.   Lucille Hamon’s gas station served travelers along Route 66 near Hydro, Oklahoma.
The Marsh Arch Bridge was part of the 13.2 miles of Route 66 that passed through Kansas.

National Historic Route 66 Federation

Up-to-date news and events about America’s Mother Road

Photographic images from all eight Route 66 states

Life became busier, and the slower, more scenic route began losing its appeal. The hurried world wanted faster, more direct thoroughfares. Ask any old-time roadside business owners when the interstate bypassed their town and they probably can narrow it down to the hour of the day their once-busy streets became eerily silent.

By 1970, Old Route 66 was almost entirely bypassed by modern, four-lane highways. She ultimately gave way to the interstate system in 1984, when the last vestige of the original road was overtaken by Interstate 40 at Williams, Arizona. Looking at a road map today, the delicate, wavy line that was once Route 66 appears frail and broken by the mighty interstates that cross its path.

But don’t let the old lady fool you. Though entire sections of her roundabout trail are missing, she still delivers the journey of a lifetime. An abundance of books and Web sites guide travelers who seek the spirit and romance of this historic highway. Every Route 66 state boasts its own nostalgic tales and spectacles. Driving through the dusty towns – many dried up and abandoned, others alive and well – has become part of her legacy.

If you get the chance to travel this legendary byway, take time to do a little homework before you go. Pick a unique stretch of the Old Mother Road. Savor the sights and sounds as you bump along the faded asphalt. Explore a quiet town that was once a horn-honking metropolis. Find a neon-trimmed burger joint and treat yourself to an egg cream or a steaming cup of joe. And, by all means, seek out the people in these towns whose lives and legends are the lore of Route 66. Through their stories, the magic lives on.