Kicking Down Route 66

US Route 66 became official in 1927 when a federal law made it one of the first national highway systems routes.  Starting in Chicago it bent it’s way south and crossed through seven states before ending 2,000 miles later in Los Angles.

Parts of the road were old wagon roads.  By the 1920s the automobile was rapidly becoming a part of daily life and the pressure for roads and highways caused local, state and finally federal governments to plan, fund, and build them.  Route 66 was fully paved by 1938. During it’s time it became the major automobile route to the west.  It was used by people fleeing the Oklahoma Dust Bowl (the Okies), by the military in WWII, by people seeking the dream of living in the west, and by all types of vacationers and adventures.

Perhaps you heard the song, Get Your Kicks On Route 66, first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946.  An interesting note about the song: It was written by jazz pianist, singer and songwriter Bobby Troup, who is likely more known to my generation as Dr. Joe Early on the 1970’s TV series, Emergency!

The end of Route 66 started in 1956 with the signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act. President Eisenhower championed this system formally known as, “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways,” or simply as the “Interstate Highway System.”  Eisenhower recalled his experience with moving army troops during WWI over the Lincoln Highway as a young Army officer.  One of his arguments for the system was the need to move troops, equipment, and supplies in the event of an emergency or invasion – the fear of an atomic attack was real in the fears of America at the time.

By the time I first traveled Route 66 in 1968 the route was already in decline and it didn’t survive much beyond that.  By 1976 most of the route was bypassed by interstate highways and in 1985 Route 66 was officially decertified by the Federal Highway Department.

Today there is a lot of nostalgia about the road – imagines of simpler, happier times when life moved at a slower pace.

I was eight years-old my first time on Route 66.  My mother had a fascination with the American Southwest – so armed with AAA maps, guide books, camping gear, canned food, canteens and a picnic basket she set off across California with me and my two brothers for a three-week vacation in the vast reaches of Arizona and New Mexico.  I can’t remember the exact places we went or the routes we took, but I do remember adventure.

I remember the time we had a flat tire.  My brother Rick and I had to unload the car to get the spare and jack.  Then some 60 or 70 miles down the road Mother found a gas station where she bought a new tire and I recall mother buying us root beer floats after we unloaded, and reloaded the camping gear a second time to put the spare tire back in the 68 Chevy station wagon – the mom-mobile of the day.

We got to unload the car for a third time and set up camp when we finally arrived at a KOA campground just before sunset.  We ate by the light of an old Colman gas lantern that had the annoying habit of bursting into yellow flame from time to time.

In exchange, Mother showed us some wonderful sites: The painted Desert, Petrified Forest, ancient cliff dwellings, a real Pueblo, the Navajo Reservation, and the stark desolate beauty of the desert.

The road was just a way of getting from one fascination to another.  It was an obstacle.  Our car lacked AC so we used what Bill called, 450 air-conditioning – roll down all four windows and get Mom to go 50 miles per hour.  We rarely traveled faster than 50 or 55 as the road was a two lane shoulder-less winding barren ribbon through the desert.  In the distance you could see heat rising from the pavement and near sunset you could feel the winds whip across the road.

You felt each bump and twist.  We rationed the water out of fear of getting stuck.  We tried to convince Mother to use the “Phillips 66” gas stations because we liked their sign and teased her that “Phillips” was her madden name and she should support the family business.

Parts of the interstate were completed then.  Interstate 40 through Northern Arizona and New Mexico largely follows Route 66.  We boys preferred the interstate.  It was generally the shorter route and you could go faster, reducing the time we spent in the car and upgrading our AC to 465.  I recall on the return journey from that trip to be disappointed when we discovered that much of Interstate 40 between Flagstaff and Kingman Arizona wasn’t finished and we had to leave the interstate for a long round about on Route 66.

There must have been hours of boredom and fights between three brothers on that trip, but all I remember is the adventure and jumping out that station wagon when we stopped.  I’d hit the ground running, Rick would chase me and Mother would call us back to show us some wonder of the desert.

Some amazing coloration of rock.  A tree from millions of years ago turned to rock.  Rocks balancing on each other or arches carved by rain and wind.  She showed us the dazzling sky at sunset and light bursting up from the horizon at dawn.  Words just fail to describe the memories of my heart.

Later, in 1972, it was just Mother and I in that 68 Chevy.  Both brothers had grownup and moved away.  This time we stopped at Canyon De Chelly, Bryce and Zion Canyons, Santa Fe, Carlsbad Caverns and ended up in Bend National Park, Texas.  Along the way it was maps, travel guides, road signs, gas stations and miles and miles of desolation and vast skies punctuated by mountains and clouds drifting through.

For years I’ve wanted to take Heather on a trip though this part of the world.  I’ve wanted to show her the wonders I saw in my youth.  That was the trip I planned and we went this April.  Due to pressures of life and limited vacation time we only had a week and we decided to make it a road trip.  While we did get to see many wonderful things, the trip did have its moments of disaster and disappointment.

Still, it was worth it and I hope to come back this way again soon, but likely we’ll take a plane and avoid the joys of Route 66.

Till Next Week,

Andrew

Note: This is the beginning of a multipart series on our trip.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I work in the high tech world doing software release engineering Then I got prostate cancer Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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37 Responses to Kicking Down Route 66

  1. Lovely post. Rout 66 is so rich in lore. I sometimes imagine having a beautiful chrome Air-stream RV and taking my time traveling from one end of the Mother Road to the other. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Margy says:

    We’ve traveled along quite a bit of Route 66 in Arizona. Last year we stopped in Williams – a sleepy kind of run down town when we stayed there in 1989, but a bustling tourist place now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love it. Looking forward to the next part. So great of your mom to do that with you and your brothers. It must’ve been kind of sad when they were no longer with you.

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    • Mother gave us some great experiences. I was 12 when my brothers stopped going (they are 8 years older than me), I wasn’t exact sad they weren’t there, but now as an adult I kind wish we’d had a few more trips together.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Route 66 went through St. Louis (we lived there for 18 months starting in 2010). What was interesting is that there are Route 66 markers everywhere. Like on parallel streets. This used to confuse us until we found out that the route changed multiple times over the years – at least in the St. Louis area. That probably didn’t happen out West when there was just one road… Loved your memories of your trip with your Mom and brothers!

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    • Out west the distances are longer and as you say, there’s just one road. The only rerouting I know of is where the Interstate changed things. There are a lot of memories out on that road for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Annika Perry says:

    I look forward to reading more about your and Heather’s road trip down Route 66! With all its disasters and hopefully so high points!

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  6. Priceless memories. Nothing compares to a road trip.

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  7. Those are fond memories. Soon, kids will think ‘Route 66’ is just Hollywood or a song.

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  8. Fond memories, Andrew. I look forward to reading about the rest of your adventures on Route 66. We had a quick trip across parts of it last November and enjoyed the nostalgic aspect of the iconic road.
    Ω

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is a lot nostalgia on the road and still lots of great things to see out there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember our summer trips from Florida to Ohio consisting of driving on 2-lane roads mixed with occasional four-lane highways. When the Interstates were under construction it was a lot of on and off finished sections mixed with a lot of Highway construction work-zones and stopped traffic. It sure turned out nice, but it left a whole lot of the countryside invisible and forgotten once the new roads opened up.
        Ω

        Liked by 1 person

        • There are times that I wonder if the Interstate Highway system worked more at isolating us rather than connecting us. It’s now possible to drive to Salt Lake City in a day, or fly there in 2 hours – skipping all the people and places in between. Sometimes I think that is sad.

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        • I’m with you, Andrew. I learned to speed read when I was a kid. The speed was 60 mph and there was no end to the historical markers and roadside plaques in the Deep South. Family vacations turned into unintended history classes and I find that lacking on today’s Interstate roads.
          Ω

          Liked by 1 person

        • I loved those historical markers. My mother always turned in to see them. Some times we just read the from the car.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. lorieb says:

    great memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Carrie Rubin says:

    I’ve never traveled on Route 66 and feel like I’ve missed out as a result. Nice to go on your journey with you through this post though!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. floridaborne says:

    I remember going on vacation with my parents in 1961. We used to watch the TV series “Route 66” (1960 – 64) and so the road held a great fascination for us. We went from Florida to California through the West on Route 66. I remember stopping at the petrified forest and the miles of plateau desolation. The next time I was on route 66,there was so little left of it I felt as if part of my life history had died with it.

    The last time I was on a fragment of Route 66, it was sometime between 2000 – 2010. My sister and I were on a road trip and we stopped at the Winslow crater. Pictures don’t do justice to the site. That’s how I felt about Route 66 — you had to be there to see it in order to understand why it affected 2 generations so powerfully.

    But as you’ve discovered, the memory lives on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The memories are still there. The road is mostly gone as is that slower way of life, but the wonders are still there if you go looking for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • floridaborne says:

        People don’t realize just how much the speed of life affects us. We used to do 1/3 of the job we do now, hiring 2 other people to do the rest of it (secretaries, file clerks, etc.). I see so many executive writing their own letters now and people doing their own filing — or using digital files. Our parents could run a household on one income prior to the 1970’s. I believe the artificially fast pace of our lives is affecting our health.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. PiedType says:

    I lived most of my life in Oklahoma City. Route 66 has never gone away in Oklahoma. It’s just that through traffic opts for the faster, less congested interstate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In parts of Arizona, California, and New Mexico, the old route is still there and in some places it forms the “Business Loop” off the interstate and through the town. Most of the traffic did stay on the interstate where there were speed limits up to 70 and cars often going over 90.

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  13. Great post, Andrew. I enjoyed your vivid memories of road trips as a kid. We live in Chicago and have been to Springfield a few times, either taking Route 66 or a newer interstate that parallels it, moving over for certain areas of interest. Some towns in Illinois have made a big deal over it as a tourist attraction, and in other places, it’s all but gone. I still don’t exactly know how to take Route 66 all the way from here, even if we did want to. Google Maps is no help, and the book we have is complicated on this subject. The signs are very present in the Chicago Loop, but then they disappear, and there’s some convoluted thing you have to do. The first time we tried it, we didn’t know that, and we ended up in the open-air drug markets of Chicago’s West Side, with our two kids. Talk about an unintended adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Officially Rte 66 is no more and Google Maps only tracks current roads. In many of the places we visited Route 66 is part of the attraction and many times we saw signs to the “Historical Route 66.” One restaurant we went to had tons of Route 66 memorabilia on the walls and even sold maps and books on it. We did see a few places in California where the old Route 66 had been abandoned and left to decay. We had a few unintended adventures, but nothing related to open-air markets.

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