On Route 66: Driving the Mother Road

One of the country's first continuous spans of paved highway linking east and west, Route 66 played a significant role in defining 20th-century American culture.

| May/June 1990

  • 123-036-01-pix1
    Once stretching across more than 2,400 miles and one of the most famous highways in the world, U.S. Route 66 now exists only in memory.
    PHOTO: PHILLIPS PETROLEUM CO.
  • 1924 cars
    Early highway boosters gathered in Tulsa in 1924.
    CYRUS STEVENS AVERY COLLECTION/COURTESY RUTH SIGLER AVERY
  • 123-036-01-pix7
    Those were boom times in Tulsa in 1947.
    PHILLIPS PETROLEUM CO.
  • 123-036-01-pix2
    Road sights: old Cadillacs in Texas.
    SUZANNE FITZGERALD WALLIS
  • 123-036-01-pix3
    Empty motels farther west.
    CALTRANS LIBRARY HISTORY CENTER
  • 123-036-01-pix5
    In 1925 in Arizona, traffic was light.
    ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF LIBRARY, ARCHIVES AND PUBLIC RECORDS
  • 123-036-01-pix4
    Santa Monica was the end of the road, but all along it the same two digits always beckoned.
    CALTRANS LIBRARY HISTORY CENTER

  • 123-036-01-pix1
  • 1924 cars
  • 123-036-01-pix7
  • 123-036-01-pix2
  • 123-036-01-pix3
  • 123-036-01-pix5
  • 123-036-01-pix4

It conjures up all kinds of images. Route 66. An artery linking much of the nation. Route 66. An inspiration to literature, music, drama, art and a nation of dreamers. Route 66. A highway fashioned from vision and ingenuity. Route 66. A broken chain of concrete and asphalt. Route 66. It has forever meant "going somewhere."

U.S. Route 66, starting at Grant Park in Chicago, reached across more than 2,400 miles, three time zones and eight states before it dead-ended at Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. People like to say the highway started at Lake Michigan and ended in the roaring Pacific. It was one of the country's first continuous spans of paved highway linking east and west.

One of the most famous highways in the world, it now exists only in memory. Parts of it were known as the Pontiac Trail, Osage Indian Trail, Wire Road, Postal Highway, Ozark Trail, Grand Canyon Route, National Old Trails Highway, Mormon Trail and the Will Rogers Highway. Steinbeck called it "the mother road, the road of flight." Some, like the Okies, knew it as the "glory road." Because it went through the center of so many towns, it became known as the "Main Street of America." The highway has been a mirror held up to the nation. It put Americans in touch with each other through its necklace of neon, Burma Shave signs, curio shops, motor courts, garages, diners and cafes with big-boned waitresses who served up burgers, blue plate specials and homemade pie.

Route 66 means a time before America became generic—when motels didn't take reservations, when there were genuine barbershops and drugstores, when doctors made house calls. Movie theaters weren't look-alike boxes in a shopping center. There were no diet soft drinks or imported waters. People drank straight from the tap and sipped iced tea brewed by the sun, or guzzled bottles of cold beer or Coca-Cola or grape Nehi. Hitchhiking was safe. Nobody worried about cholesterol. Summers seemed to last longer: There were drive-in movies and miniature golf courses and slow-pitch softball games under the lights.



Route 66 was also a highway of flat tires, overheated radiators and cars with no air-conditioning; tourist traps with few amenities; treacherous curves, narrow lanes, speed traps and detour signs.

The highway that spanned two-thirds of the nation was christened in 1926, when we were between wars and on the wagon. It was the America of Edgar Lee Masters, Sinclair Lewis and Thornton Wilder. Calvin Coolidge was president. People across the country, especially in the Bible Belt, were still mulling over the Scopes trial of the previous year. Aimee Semple McPherson, Admiral Richard Byrd, Gertrude Ederle and the U.S. invasion of Nicaragua were also making headlines.






Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: February, 16-17 2019
Belton, TX

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!

LEARN MORE






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard
Free Product Information Classifieds

}