Route 66 Rest Stop
Traveling Down Americas Highway
Below is from a Special Research Study done by the National Parks
The history of this country has included a number of periods of human migration. Shortly after its emergence
from the War of Independence, the new nation saw the steady outward drift of its people across the
Appalachians into the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. Navigable rivers and foot trails and military roads were
the earliest transportation network. While some turnpikes leading to and from burgeoning centers of trade
were surfaced with gravel or "pounded stone," most roads were improved only to the extent of removing
stumps, boulders, and other major irregularities. Most backwoods trails remained impassable to wheeled
vehicles, especially during the winter or subsequent spring thaws. For the most part, bridges were
nonexistent; early travelers forded smaller streams and crossed larger ones by ferry.
At the beginning of the 19th century the first federal subsidies of roads and highways were granted. East of
the Mississippi River, postal roads and public thoroughfares like the Cumberland Road benefited from
limited government appropriations for construction and maintenance. Meanwhile, west of the Mississippi,
land-hungry settlers traveled wagon roads forged earlier by U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers.
When Mexico ceded to the United States the vast western territories from Texas to the Pacific Ocean, the
great trails Santa Fe, Oregon, California and Mormon made possible a mass westward movement of
Americans in search of economic prosperity and free land. A century later, the rut-filled corridors of the
western frontier yielded to the smooth-surfaced, all-weather highways of a highly urbanized, postwar
America. U.S. Highway 66 was one of several roads that hastened the continuous flow of emigrants west
during the most recent decades.
Americans assumed an identity as a people on the move, constantly in hope of job opportunities and new
beginnings. The trend westward continued well into the present century. When the United States Bureau of
Census published its findings in 1980, it revealed for the first time that neither the industrialized Northeast
nor the agricultural Midwest were the nation's most populous regions. Census figures for 1980 indicated that
most Americans resided either west of the Mississippi River or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. A decade
later, the West, traditionally a region of uninterrupted vistas and sparsely populated states, became
decidedly urban. The 1980 census showed that 78% of all westerners lived in metropolitan areas (defined as
major cities with populations in excess of 50,000 inhabitants). While this demographic transition from
snowbelt to sunbelt was in evidence as early as 1920, the decades from 1930 to 1980 clearly marked a
high point in the migration of thousands of Americans.
Not since the great Oregon migrations and California gold rush of the 1840s had the nation witnessed such
a dramatic shift in population from east to west. When contrasted with demographic figures for the 1940s
and 1950s, however, the westward movement of the previous century pales in comparison. The most
obvious consequence of this major population influx to the West Coast was the increase in metropolitan
areas in the region, which clearly outpaced the remainder of the United States. The West by 1980 added
39,121,000 metropolitan residents, or 1.4 times its entire regional population in 1940. During the decades
1940 to 1980 the average size of western metropolitan areas increased more rapidly than those in either the
East or the South. Moreover, while the western metropolis was substantially smaller than its eastern
counterparts in 1940, it was effectively equal in size by 1980. Whereas the metropolitan West accounted for
merely 9% of the nation's residents in 1940, it harbored 23% just four decades later. In fact, 14 of the 20
American metropolitan areas with the largest population increases since 1980 were west of the Mississippi
The urbanization of the 20th century West resulted in no small measure from America's love affair with the
automobile and the longstanding belief of millions of enthusiastic motorists that the federal government
should underwrite the cost of a comprehensive network of all-weather, cross-country highways. U.S.
Highway 66 was one of only a handful of east-west corridors to appear early in the 20th century as a result
of federal and state partnerships. Still, the genesis of one of America's most popular modern highways is
rooted in the mid 1800s. Like the primitive trails that tenuously linked the vast open spaces of the west to the
population centers of the East and Midwest, U.S. Highway 66 evolved from a government-sponsored wagon
road program initiated just before the Civil War. In the 1900s America's infatuation with personal mobility
brought forward the notion of an all-weather, surfaced highway connecting Chicago to Los Angeles.
Proponents joined a populist-based national cause known as the "Good Roads Movement."
One response to the public outcry for an ocean-to-ocean highway was U.S. Highway 66. What sets Route
66 apart from the other roads that were absorbed into the body of national highways is (1) it was America's
first continuously paved link between Los Angeles and Chicago, gateway to the industrialized Northeast, and
(2) it (along with the segments of interstate highway that replaced it) remains the shortest all-weather route
between these two cities. To the average motorist the importance of Route 66 was that it reduced crosscountry
travel between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast by at least two hundred miles.
Beginning at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Route 66 wound 2,400
miles across America to Santa Monica, California. Its oiled surface etched a trail across the landscape by
way of St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, San Bernadino, and Pasadena. Its
broad, sweeping arch connected Illinois with Missouri, then sliced through the agricultural Midwest, rolled
across the Great Plains, and crossed the desert Southwest.
To many Americans, Route 66 represents more than just an official highway. According to cultural
geographer Arthur Krim, it (Route 66) was the symbolic river of America moving west in the auto age of the
twentieth century. For others, the well traveled public road was a commercial lifeline. From its inception in
1926, U.S. Highway 66 was designed to connect rural communities to their respective metropolitan capitals.
In so doing, gas stations, motels, "Mom and Pop" restaurants, and grocery stores were built in the hope of
servicing an increasingly mobile public. When bypasses and interstate freeways were introduced in the
1960s to increase speed and reduce travel time, the economic base stimulated by the appearance of Route
66 began to erode.
Route 66 is an excellent physical illustration of the method by which the nation's highways evolved. There
was a strong government commitment to serve its citizens, who were becoming more dependent on
highways for their livelihoods. Although it is only one of several notable highways in America, Route 66 is
revered by hundreds of thousands of motorists as the model of the modern American highway and the
emerging automobile culture it serviced.
U.S. Highway 66 had its origin in the wake of the nation's first trans-Mississippi migration. In 1853 Congress
commissioned Captain Amiel Weeks Whipple of the Army Topographical Corps to conduct a survey for a
proposed transcontinental railroad. Congress opted against the railroad and instead subsidized a network of
wagon roads intended to improve military and civilian communications throughout the western frontier. In
1857 Congress commissioned Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale to chart a wagon road following the 35th
parallel from Fort Defiance (near the New Mexico/Arizona border) to the Colorado River. Beal's Road, as the
route came to be identified, established a vital military transportation and communication link between Fort
Smith near the Arkansas River and the westernmost reaches of the Southwest. In underwriting the $200,000
expense to establish what Lt. Beale felt certain would become "the great emigrant road to California," the
federal government provided the impetus for the creation of the transcontinental railroad.
Beal's Road was the frontier antecedent of Route 66. Interest in the route resurfaced under the National old
Trails Road Movement when motorists began to discuss the need for an ocean-to-ocean thoroughfare in the
first decades of this century. Promoters hoped to capitalize on the national appeal of the Panama-Pacific
Expositions, scheduled to open in San Diego and San Francisco in 1915, as justification for federal
subsidies of a continuously paved transcontinental highway. The National Old Trails Road, as conceived in
1912, originated on the East Coast with branches to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and terminated on the
West Coast at San Diego. The road's promotional arm, the National Old Trails Road Association, supported
two ideas during its lifetime (1) it promoted improvement of the proposed ocean-to-ocean corridor as it
retraced the nation's historic trails, and (2) the association championed good roads in America by advocating
direct federal involvement in road construction in lieu of federal aid to state agencies. This concept was
eventually incorporated into federal highway policy in 1916 and continues today.
The first leg of the ocean-to-ocean highway proposed by the National Old Trails Association in 1912
originated in Washington, D.C., and traced the Cumberland Road, a well-established historic avenue, to St.
Louis. From Missouri, the highway followed the Santa Fe Trail to Albuquerque and Santa Fe before taking a
more southerly course through Arizona to Flagstaff, gateway to the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff's pioneer
lumberman Matthew J. Riordan detailed the final leg of the route, which most closely approximates the 1927
orientation of U.S. Highway 66. Christened the "Grand Canyon Route," the road was eventually constructed
from Williams to Ashfork and Seligman in Yavapai County to Topock on the Colorado River, where
automobiles could be loaded on railway flatcars and transported across an expansion bridge built by the
Santa Fe Railroad to Needles, California. From this desert community, the road proceeded 164 miles across
the Mojave to Barstow and the desert communities of Bakersfield and San Bernadino to San Diego.
The official origin of Route 66 was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921. A road assessment taken a decade
earlier estimated the total mileage of rural roads in America at approximately 2.5 million miles, 10.5% of
which were listed as surfaced. Of those 257,291 miles only 32,180 were paved with bituminous material,
brick, or concrete. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921, successor to the earlier highway appropriations
legislation of 1916, was designed to create a coherent highway network by requiring that federal aid be
concentrated upon such projects as will expedite the completion of an adequate and connected system of
highways, interstate in character. To that end, a minimum of 60% of federal funds would be spent on what
was designated the primary or interstate network.
It can be argued that the miracle of the 20th century was not the automobile, but the construction of the vast
network of highways that gave motorists someplace to go. In the case of Route 66, the two technological
achievements were together from the outset. The Lincoln Highway, established to facilitate travel across the
3,000-mile stretch of mountains and prairies between New York and San Francisco, predated Route 66 by
more than a decade. Nevertheless, from 1912 until the end of the First World War, cross-country travel
along the Lincoln Highway was largely limited to the wealthy few who could afford an automobile and dared
to challenge the uneven, ill-defined course of the road.
Route 66 was the result of America's infatuation with rapid mobility, mass transportation, and technological
change. Historian Richard Davies wrote, the automobile constituted a personalized urban mass transit
system, allowing the owner to travel whenever or wherever he desired." Moreover, it provided a personal
means of escape from the congestion of metropolitan America. One significant effect of the increased use of
the automobile, according to Davies, was to reduce cross-country travel from an adventure of the affluent
and stout hearted to a relatively inexpensive and common occurrence.
The 1920s were the first boom years for the automobile. In 1910, two years before the authorization of the
Lincoln Highway, there were 180,000 registered automobiles in the United States a ratio of about one for
every 5,000 citizens. During the subsequent decade more than 17 million cars, trucks, and buses were
added to America's motor fleet. (This figure increased 6.5 times to 112 million in 1970s. Not surprisingly,
Americans demanded improved highways to meet the growing number of vehicles on America's roadways. It
was the federal government's early response to these demands that first breathed life into Route 66.
Although entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri,
deserve most of the credit for promoting the idea of an interregional link between Chicago and Los Angeles,
their lobbying efforts were not realized until their dreams merged with the national program of highway and
road development. While legislation for public highways first appeared in 1916, with revisions in 1921, it was
not until Congress enacted an even more comprehensive version of the act in 1925 that the government
executed its plan for national highway construction. Oficially, the numerical designation 66 was assigned to
the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route in the summer of 1926. With that designation came its acknowledgement
as one of the nation's principal east-west arteries. For the most part, U.S. 66 was just an assignment of a
number to an already existing network of state-managed roads, most of which were in poor condition.
From the outset, public road planners intended U.S. 66 to connect the main streets of rural and urban
communities along its course for the most practical of reasons: most small towns had no prior access to a
major national thoroughfare. Before 1926, for example, Cyrus Avery's hometown of Tulsa, and most of what
was once called "Indian Territory" before Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, claimed few improved
roads. In those days it took six hours to drive the 103 miles of uneven dirt roads to Oklahoma City. The
same was true of New Mexico and Arizona, which were both admitted to the union in 1912, scarcely
fourteen years before construction of Route 66. Use of the new road in these remote desert states was
sporadic. In 1925 New Mexico's Ofhce of the State Engineer reported an average daily use of only 207 cars
between Albuquerque and Gallup. Although Arizona reported a slightly higher daily count of 338 cars, road
conditions left much to be desired. The section between Ashfork and Seligman was described in the
summer of 1925 as "Unimproved except in the way of removing boulders from the road that might menace a
low- clearance car . . . it is a twenty-mile (per hour) road." Despite these obvious short-comings, the
extension of U.S. Highway 66 into these desolate western territories helped facilitate their transition from
territory to statehood by offering greater access to prospective residents and travelers.
FORMATIVE YEARS: 1926 - 1932
Route 66 was a highway spawned by the demands of a rapidly changing America. Contrasted with the
Lincoln, the Dixie, and other highways of its day, Route 66 did not follow a traditionally linear course. Its
diagonal course linked hundreds of predominantly rural communities in Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas to
Chicago; thus enabling farmers to transport grain and produce for redistribution. The diagonal configuration
of Route 66 was particularly significant to the trucking industry, which by 1930 had come to rival the railroad
for preeminence in the American shipping industry. The abbreviated route between Chicago and the Pacific
coast traversed essentially flat prairie lands and enjoyed a more temperate climate than northern highways,
which made it especially appealing to truckers. The Illinois Motor Vehicles Division reported that between
Chicago and St. Louis trucks increased from approximately 1,500 per day in 1931 to 7,500 per day a decade
later, 25% of which were "large tractor-truck, semi-trailer outfits." It was the intent of highway designers to
make Route 66 "modern" in every sense of the term. State engineers worked to reduce the number of
curves, widen lanes, and ensure all-weather capability. Until 1933 the responsibility to improve existing
highways fell almost exclusively to the individual states. The more assertive and financially prepared states
met the challenge. Initial improvements cost state agencies an estimated $22,000 per mile. In 1929 Illinois
boasted approximately 7,500 miles of paved roads, including all of its portion of U.S. Highway 66. A Texaco
road report published that same year noted the route fully concreted in Kansas, 66% paved in Missouri, and
25% improved in Oklahoma. In contrast, the 1,2OO-mile western stretch (with the exception of California's
metropolitan areas) never saw a cement mixer. Until the height of the Great Depression, Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona, and the desert communities of southeast California collectively totaled only 64.1 miles of
surfaced highway along Route 66.
DEPRESSION AND THE WAR: 1933 - 1945
Washington's increased level of commitment began with the Great Depression and the national appeal for
emergency federal relief measures. In his famous social commentary, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
proclaimed U.S. Highway 66 the "Mother Road." Steinbeck's classic 1939 novel, combined with the 1940
film recreation of the epic odyssey, served to immortalize Route 66 in the American consciousness. An
estimated 210,000 people migrated to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl. Certainly in the
minds of those who endured that particularly painful experience, and in the view of generations of children to
whom they recounted their story, Route 66 symbolized the "road to opportunity."
Contemporary writers have reexamined the Great Depression years and found that thousands of
disillusioned immigrants returned home within months after reaching the Golden State. Of the more than
200,000 refugees who journeyed west to California beginning in the early 1930s "less than 16,000 people
from the Dust Bowl proper ended up in California." Despite popular perceptions promoted in Steinbeck's
novel, James Gregory argues convincingly that barely 8% of the "dust bowlers" who set out for California
remained there (Gregory 1989). In fact, California's total demographic growth between 1930 and 1940
reflected scarcely more than a 22% increase (compared to a 53% growth rate in the following decade).
While the importance of Route 66 to emigrating "Dust Bowlers" during the depression years has been widely
publicized. less is known about the importance of the highway to those who opted to eke out their living
within the devastated economies of Kansas, Oklahoma, West Texas, and New Mexico. During this time,
U.S. Highway 66 and other major roads in America were integrally linked to President Roosevelt's
revolutionary New Deal program for work relief and economic recovery. Road improvements and
maintenance work was a central feature of the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works
Project Administration (WPA) programs. Erom 1933 to 1938 thousands of unemployed male youths from
virtually every state were put to work as laborers on road gangs. As a result of this monumental effort, the
Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway was reported as "continuously paved" in 1938. In the final analysis, Route
66 affected more Americans on federal work relief than people who used it during the famous exodus to
Completion of the highway's all-weather capability on the eve of World War II was particularly significant to
the nation's war effort. The experience of a young Army captain, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who found his
command bogged down in spring mud near Ft. Riley, Kansas, while on a coast-to-coast maneuver, left an
indelible impression. The War Department needed improved highways for rapid mobilization during wartime
and to promote national defense during peacetime. At the outset of American involvement in World war II,
the war Department singled out the West as ideal for military training bases in part because of its geographic
isolation and especially because it offered consistently dry weather for air and field maneuvers. In keeping
with this policy, over $230 million was invested in new military bases in Arizona alone. Several military
installations Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, Ft. Wingate Ordnance Depot in New Mexico, Navajo Ordnance
Depot in Arizona, and Edwards Air Force Base in California were established on or near Route 66.
America's mobilization for war after Pearl Harbor underscored the necessity for a systematic network of
roads and highways. The War Department's expropriation of the nation's railways left a transportation
vacuum in the West that only the trucking industry could fill. Automobile manufacturers suffered critical
shortages of steel, glass, and rubber during the war years, and plants in Detroit converted to the production
of tanks, aircraft engines, ordnance, and troop transports. According to one government source, the number
of new cars produced dropped from 3.7 million in 1941 to 610 in 1943, all of which were rationed.
At the same time trucks capable of hauling loads in excess of 30,000 pounds were produced in sufficient
quantity to keep pace with wartime demands. Studies by the Public Roads Administration (PRA) during 1941
to 1943 showed that at least 50% of all defense-related material destined for America's war production
plants was transported and delivered by truck rather than by rail. As the shortest corridor between the west
coast and the industrial heartland beyond Chicago, it was not uncommon to see mile-long convoys moving
troops and supplies from one military reservation to another along U.S. Highway 66.
Route 66 helped to facilitate the single greatest wartime manpower mobilization in the history of the nation.
Between 1941 and 1945 the government invested approximately $70 billion in capital projects throughout
California, a large portion of which were in the Los Angeles-San Diego area. This enormous capital outlay
served to underwrite entirely new industries that created thousands of civilian jobs. By 1942, however,
available local labor in most areas of the Pacific Coast had been exhausted, which sent war contractors on a
frantic search for skilled and unskilled workers from across the United States. Under the provisions of the
West Coast Manpower Plan, initiated in September 1943, contractors prepared to offer jobs to 500,000 men
and women to meet the production demands of global war. In February 1942 PRA Commissioner Thomas
MacDonald announced that only a small fraction of the 10 million workers required to man the defense
plants could possibly be accommodated by the existing rail and bus transit facilities. The rest would have to
move in private automobiles.
They moved in unprecedented numbers. The net result of this mass migration was the loss of more than 1
million people from the metropolitan northeast between 1940 and 1943. Three Pacific Coast states
California, Oregon, and Washington increased 38.9% in population (measured against a national average of
POSTWAR YEARS: 1945 - 1960
The social dislocation and uprooting of millions of Americans that began during the Great Depression and
continued through World War II did not abate with the surrender of Germany and Japan. After the war
Americans were more mobile than ever before. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen who received
military training in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas abandoned the harsh winters of
Chicago, New York City, and Boston for the "barbecue culture" of the Southwest and the West. Again, for
many, Route 66 facilitated their relocation.
One such emigrant was Robert William Troup, Jr., of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Bobby Troup, former pianist
with the Tommy Dorsey band and ex-Marine captain, penned a lyrical road map of the now famous crosscountry
road in which the words, "get your kicks on Route 66" became a catch phrase for countless
motorists who moved back and forth between Chicago and the Pacific Coast. One scholar likened the
popular recording released in 1946 by Nat King Cole one week after Troup's arrival in Los Angeles to "a
cartographic ballad." No doubt Bobby Troup's musical rendition provided a convenient mental road map for
those who followed him west.
It was during the postwar decades that the population shift from "snowbelt" to "sunbelt" reached its zenith.
Census figures for these years revealed population growth along Route 66 ranged from 40% in New Mexico
to 74% in Arizona. Because of the great influx of people during the war years. California claimed over half of
the total population of the West between 1950 and 1980. The Golden State attracted over 3 million new
residents in the 1960s and an additional 2 million in the 1970s. Based on the census for 1980, "California
displayed the most rapid and sizable population development in the industrialized world in the forty years
following World War II." Los Angeles and San Diego rivaled New York and Philadelphia as America's most
rapidly growing cities.
The demographic disruption that began in the 1930s stimulated opportunities for roadside commerce. Store
owners, motel managers, and gas station attendants recognized early on that even the poorest travelers
required food, automobile maintenance, and adequate lodging. Just as New Deal work relief programs
provided employment with the construction and the maintenance of Route 66, the appearance of countless
tourist courts. garages, and diners promised sustained economic growth after the road's completion. If
military use of the highway during wartime ensured the early success of roadside businesses, the demands
of the new tourism industry in the postwar decades gave rise to modern facilities that guaranteed long-term
The evolution of these facilities is well represented in the roadside architecture along U.S. Highway 66. For
example, most Americans who drove the route did not stay in hotels; they preferred the accommodations
that emerged from automobile travel motels. Motels evolved from earlier features of the American roadside
such as the auto camp and the tourist home. The auto camp developed as townspeople along Route 66
roped off spaces in which travelers could camp for the night. Camp supervisors some of whom were
employed by the various states provided water, fuel wood, privies or flush toilets, showers, and laundry
facilities free of charge. Camp Joy near Lebanon, Missouri, and Red Arrow Campground in Thoreau, New
Mexico, are examples of auto camps that have survived to the present day. The successor to the auto camp
was the tourist home, which provided many of the same amenities but with the added feature of indoor
lodging in the event of inclement weather.
The natural outgrowth of the auto camp and tourist home was the cabin camp (sometimes called cottages)
that offered minimal comfort at affordable prices. Many of these cottages are still in operation; among the
better known examples is John's Modern Cabins in Arlington, Missouri. Eventually, auto camps and cabin
camps gave way to motor courts in which all of the rooms were under a single roof. Motor courts offered
additional amenities such as adjoining restaurants, souvenir shops and swimming pools. An estimated
30,000 motor courts/motels were in operation along the nation's many highways in 1948. Among the more
famous still associated with Route 66 are the El Vado and Zia Motor Lodge in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
and the Coral Court in St. Louis, Missouri.
In the early years of Route 66, service station prototypes were developed regionally through
experimentation, and then were adopted universally across the country. Buildings were distinctive as gas
stations, yet clearly associated with a particular petroleum company. Most evolved from the simplest filling
station concept a house with one or two service pumps in front and then became more elaborate, with
service bays and tire outlets. Among the most outstanding examples of the evolution of gas stations along
Route 66 are Soulsby's Shell Station in Mount Olive, lllinois; Bob Audette's gas station complex in Barton,
New Mexico; and the Tower Fina Station in Shamrock, Texas.
Route 66 and many points of interest along the way were familiar landmarks by the time a new generation of
postwar motorists hit the road in the 1960s. Many drew upon memories from excursions with their parents.
World War II transformed the American public from a predominantly agricultural-industrial laboring class to
an urban-technological society with increasing leisure and recreational time. The American tourists'
fondness for automobile travel and their enjoyment of sightseeing made them ideal targets for the service
industries that cropped up along U.S. Highway 66. There was a growing fascination with American Indian
cultures, which became increasingly commercialized as public highways penetrated once inaccessible
reservations. This, coupled with the scenic, geologic, prehistoric, and historic wonders protected by the
national park system, lured countless sightseers. To the average motorist, a trip down Route 66 was an
adventure through mainstream America accentuated by quaint Mom-and-Pop motels, all- night diners,
garish Indian curio shops, and far-too-infrequent restroom facilities.
DEMISE OF INTEREST
Excessive truck use during World War II and the comeback of the automobile industry immediately following
the war brought great pressure to bear on America's highways. Automobile production jumped from just over
65,000 cars in 1945 to 3.9 million in 1948. Meanwhile, the national highway system had deteriorated to an
appalling condition. Virtually all roads were functionally obsolete because of narrow pavements and
antiquated structural features that reduced carrying capacity.
Emergency road building measures developed during wartime left bridges and culverts woefully inadequate
for postwar needs. During the 1940s most bridges in Illinois and Missouri used wood as a substitute for
steel. Steel reinforcements were virtually nonexistent in concrete pavement, and sporadic maintenance left
U.S. 66 and other highways riddled with potholes and gaping fissures.
The need for a modern system of national highways, while painfully obvious, was not a novel idea. In
February 1941 Thomas MacDonald, director of the Public Roads Administration, told of the urgency for
improved highways across the country in his report, "Highway For the National Defense." MacDonald
estimated that 78,000 miles of roads and highways vital to the war effort needed improvements. The director
estimared the cost for maintenance and repair to be $458 million. In anticipation of postwar traffic needs,
MacDonald proposed a transcontinental expressway not to exceed 40,000 miles, designed to connect all
of the major metropolitan centers in the United States. The Interregional Highway Committee, President
Roosevelt's advisory group on national defense highways, adopted the so-called MacDonald Plan with the
recommendation that $500 million be allocated over three years to implement the interstate highway
system. National defense priorities during the war, however, tabled MacDonald's proposal until the surrender
of Germany and Japan. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 incorporated both civilian and military highway
needs into a single piece of legislation. In essence, the act became the legal embodiment of the MacDonald
Plan. The act preserved the idea of a 40,000-mile national system of interstate highways, but Congress
failed to appropriate funds specifically designated for its construction. Not until the 1950s, and the War
Department's prediction that the Korean Conflict was merely a prelude to a more widespread involvement in
Asia, did the dream of an interstate system of expressways linking all regions of the United States become
Ironically, the public lobby for rapid mobility and improved highways that gained Route 66 its enormous
popularity in earlier decades also signaled its demise beginning in the mid-1950s. Mass federal sponsorship
for an interstate system of divided highways markedly increased with Dwight D. Eisenhower's second term
in the White House. General Eisenhower had returned from Germany very impressed by the strategic value
of Hitler's Autobahn. "During World War II," he recalled later, "I saw the superlative system of German
national highways crossing that country and offering the possibility, often lacking in the United States, to
drive with speed and safety at the same time." Heightened global tension hastened by the Cold War affirmed
Eisenhower's resolve to improve the defense capabilities of the nation's highways.
The congressional response to the president's commitment was the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act
of 1956, which provided a comprehensive financial umbrella to underwrite the cost of the national interstate
and defense highway system. In accordance with the terms of the legislation. the major segment of U.S. 66
running west from Oklahoma City, the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, northern Arizona, to Barstow,
California, would be replaced by Interstate 40. By 1960 each of the states along original U.S. 66 expended
from $14 million to $20 million to construct their portions of the interstate, which was designed to
accommodate 1975 traffic projections. The 1960s were perhaps the period of the most comprehensive
federal-state expenditures for the new interstate system.
By 1970 the remaining segments of original Route 66 were replaced by two, equally modern four-lane
highways Interstate 55 between Chicago and St. Louis and Interstate 44, which absorbed the old diagonal
section from St. Louis to Oklahoma City. On June 26, 1979, the American Association of State Highways
and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) accepted the recommendation to eliminate the designation of Route
66. The committee noted that "U.S. 66 markings no longer served as a through-state guide to tourists, but in
fact generated confusion because the route coin- cided with interstate designations over much of its length."
Many of the states along the route pledged to preserve some symbol of the historic highway with signs
reading "OId U.S. 66."
In many respects the physical remains of Route 66 mirror the evolution of highway development in the
United States from a rudimentary hodge-podge of state and county roads to a federally subsidized complex
of uniform, well-designed interstate expressways. Various alignments, many of which are still detectable,
illustrate the evolution of road engineering from coexistence with the surrounding landscape to domination of
it. One outstanding example of the highway in its early form is the 3.5 mile section near Miami, Oklahoma,
estimated to have been constructed between 1919 and 1924. While many of the original segments of Route
66 have been either abandoned or modified for secondary use, modern improvements such as widened
shoulders, adequate swales, gentler curves, resurfaced pavement, and brightly painted safety stripes cannot
keep the highway from becoming obsolete.
Route 66 symbolized the renewed spirit of optimism that pervaded the country after economic catastrophe
and global war. U.S. Highway 66 linked a remote and under-populated region with two vital 20th-century
cities Chicago and Los Angeles. In doing so it etched an imprint on America that bridged a once inhospitable
frontier beginning a transformation into an urban oasis. The automobile equipped with all of the modern
conveniences of air- conditioning and stereophonic sound provided relative comfort to millions of Americans
seeking greater social and economic mobility.
The outdated poorly maintained vestiges of U.S. Highway 66 succumbed to the interstate system in October
1984 when the final section of the original road was replaced by Interstate 40 at Williams Arizona. As the
highway nears its 70th birthday in 1996, its contribution to the region as well as the nation must be evaluated
in the broader context of American social and cultural history. The appearance of U.S. Highway 66 on the
American scene coincided with unparalleled economic strife and global instability that hastened the most
comprehensive westward movement in United States history. Like the early trails of the late 19th century.
Route 66 helped to spirit a second and perhaps more permanent mass relocation of Americans. One
indisputable result of its construction was the transformation of the far west from a rural frontier to a
The Visitor Experience: Cruisin' Route 66
Route 66 is many things to many people. Each individual tends to experience the road differently. There is a
spirit, a feeling, that resides along this highway. The spirit of Route 66 lives in the people and their stories,
the views and structures, and travelers' perceptions of them along the route. To gain an understanding of
Route 66 and the spirit of Route 66, there is no substitute for driving the highway.
When Route 66 was decommissioned and its signs were removed, the ability of drivers to easily find Route
66 was lost. To help people locate the road, several states have installed Historic Route 66 signs along
portions of the road. These signs do not typically appear on interstate highway exits, do not usually give
directions, and are often stolen for souvenirs. Finding Route 66 can be an adventure and a challenge
requiring a good sense of direction, several maps and guidebooks, a navigator, and patience to decipher the
highway's various alignments. Recently published guides to the highway and publications by state Route 66 associations are available.When travelling the highway make sure to have good Third Party Car Insurance to
ensure Experiencing the highway is a great way to explore with loved ones and feel like you are a part of history.
The experience of Route 66 is formed by the travelers and the people, sights, sounds, and tastes they
encounter. The surroundings are constantly changing, and there is a sense of mystery about what lies
around the bend. Regional differences in rural landscapes and natural features figure prominently in the
experience, as do small towns and cities. However, the Route 66 experience lies less in the individual
scenes than in their association with the road. The following is only one of many possible experiences and
interpretations of the people, places, and vistas that can be found driving Route 66.
Starting at the interstate off-ramp, Route 66 transports drivers into the countryside, where they slow down
and become aware of the road's texture and rhythm. The scenery comes into focus the shape of the land,
the plants, the farms, the industry, the communities, the people, the life. The road follows the natural
topography of the land, which makes the horizon appear closer and more intimate. Distance is measured by
the number of towns, sights, and people encountered. The driver is both spectator and participant, ready for
Driving through the woodlands of Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas is like driving through a continuous rural
community, punctuated periodically by small towns. Travelers can almost always see houses and barns.
Settlements, towns, and cities blend into one another across wooded and gently rolling hills and valleys. In
rural areas there is a feeling of being surrounded by lush green foliage. Creek and river crossings are
commonplace, and many noteworthy bridges are still in use. Along the road, in various states of repair and
operation, are reminders of the route in its heyday the Coral Court, Chicken Basket, Dixie Truckers Home,
Cozy Dog Drive Inn, Park In Theater, Abbylee Court, Tri-County Truck Stop, and Funk's Grove, to name a
Cultivated fields and pastures, occasionally separated by hedgerows, line many of the rural road sections for
as far as the eye can see. The road, field, and sky meet at the horizon, bounded by an endless stream of
telephone poles. There are few surprises here. Grain elevators loom in the distance, and roads are flat and
straight. Everything seems to conform to the straight, the square, and the parallel.
Competition for motorists' attention along Route 66 brought billboards and flashing neon signs that displayed
messages in huge, gaudy letters, often outshining the actual attraction. Images of folksy hillbillies,
lumberjacks, rustic architecture, and down-home cooking were immortalized. Meramec Caverns, a
genuine attraction, advertised throughout the region on rooftops and barns. Over time, the painted
advertisements themselves became regional landmarks.
Route 66 can be hard to follow through Chicago and St. Louis. Surrounded now by development, office
parks, and malls, these remnants, like the Del Rhea Chicken Basket and Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard,
seem disconnected, yet continue to thrive. Others have gone the way of the Coral Court, now closed despite
its being on the National Register of Historic Places.
Heading west through Oklahoma, Texas, and eastern New Mexico there is an obvious transition between
Midwest and West, between land that is arable, lush, and green and land that is grazed and sparsely
vegetated. Forests are left behind and trees grow only here and there. Oil pumps bow with hypnotic
regularity, silently counting underground wealth. Cattle chutes and holding pens are next to the railroad
tracks that serve them. Hazy, obstructed views give way to a sky so expansive it seems to level everything
beneath it. Even the arc of Route 66 flattens out into a straight line.
Towns are often separated by miles of fields and fenced rangeland. Solid brick and stone storefronts face
each other across the highway that is their main street. While a depressed economy has inadvertently saved
many of the important structures along the road from demolition, some are now boarded up, giving main
streets a deserted feeling. Oriented to the highway, they await better times.
Cowboys and Indians, steak and potatoes, oil and Cadillacs, and Will Rogers are all frequently seen on
signs, place mats, and postcards promoting the region. Some roadside entrepreneurs have gone to such
extremes that their advertisements are the primary appeal not their product or attraction. Billboards
announced rattlesnake pits in the 1940s and 50s, but seeking their ruins today can be an adventure.
Today, such handmade wonders as the Blue Whale and Galloway's Totem Poles can be considered
monuments to tourist attraction. They also represent automobile-scale folk art and reflect the ingenuity and
imagination of their makers. Local efforts have been made to maintain some of these, and despite being
closed and/or fenced off, Route 66 buffs continue to pay their respects.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Amarillo, a few early art deco buildings stand amid glass and chrome
skyscrapers. These cities held some of the last portions of Route 66 to be bypassed by the interstates, and
some businesses maintain an association with the road even though the surrounding neighborhoods may
In western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, Route 66 dips, curves, and winds across arid rangeland,
American Indian reservations, and national forests to the edge of the Mojave Desert. Much of the rural
landscape has been grazed by cattle, sheep, and horses for centuries. Average annual rainfall is under 20
inches. Livestock grazing is the predominant land use. Barbed wire fences are everywhere. Windmills mark
stock tanks where livestock and wildlife come to drink. These, along with railroad tracks and telephone
poles, are often the only reminders of human habitation. This is a land where distant mesas and mountains
can appear nearby in the clear, dry air. Locations for towns were determined by topography and availability
of water and are usually separated by many miles.
Once beyond the large towns or cities, there are few signs, few fences and paved roads, and fewer
delineations of private property. Some new tourist attractions such as the Route 66 Diner in Albuquerque
and tribally owned bingo parlors and discount centers are beginning to appear. Most towns have a distinct
downtown or business district, but interstate-era strip development has grown up around them.
The expansive views and unusual land formations coupled with the cultural diversity of the area give this
region its reputation for mystery and magic. Businesses along Route 66 have exploited that allure and
attempted to make it more appealing to the public. Trading posts, even those located on reservation
land, cater to tourists. Cow skulls, silhouettes of howling coyotes, wooden Indians, tepees and rubber
tomahawks, and cactus jelly have come to represent the southwest region to travelers. Rock shops sell
Apache tears, petrified wood, and desert roses. Today, nostalgia for these regional souvenirs is a large part
of the appeal of the roadside attractions.
Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Gallup, and Flagstaff are national centers for American Indian trade and exhibitions.
Evidence of both American Indian and Spanish roots is everywhere, from the names and faces to the
architecture and food. Route 66 is the main drag through them all, and many well-known traders, galleries,
restaurants, and museums remain side-by-side with the railroads and reservations.
The Mojave Desert dominates the western Arizona and eastern California section of Route 66. To Dust Bowl
and Depression-era travelers, this section of Route 66 must have seemed a cruel joke, a final test of their
determination to reach California. Cars no longer have to be towed or driven backwards up Sitgreaves
Pass between Seligman and Kingman, but this legendary piece of highway that twists and turns across
rangeland and desert, past ruined mines and tourist camps, is still daunting. Likewise, driving the 150 or so
miles of Mojave Desert from Needles to Barstow gives a real sense of its size and of the fear that crossing it
inspired. Services are scanty. Though the road can seem endless with little respite from extremes of heat
and cold, its function as a connector and an economic lifeline continues. For most of this stretch, the road is
a well preserved two-lane, and the impact of the interstates can be forgotten. The silent desert feels eternal
and the views of canyons, buttes, and snow- capped mountains are unspoiled.
From Seligman to Barstow, settlements and towns often shimmer in heat waves radiating from hot
pavement. Route 66 frequently follows the railroad that was this area's first lifeline. Seligman has always
been proud of Route 66 and is a headquarters for road buffs.
Much of Route 66 in downtown Kingman is part of a commercial historic district. In Oatman attractions as
dissimilar as tame burros and the honeymoon hotel room of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard lure tourists to
stop and walk the streets of this picturesque western ghost town. Between Needles and Barstow stone
graffiti is scrawled between the highway and the railroad. Rusted shells of automobiles, shacks, and
abandoned gas stations are scattered along the road. A here today, gone tomorrow feeling lingers in the dry
air. Once over Cajon Pass, Route 66 winds through the arid mountain landscape next to barricaded and
overgrown sections of an older alignment. Along the way to San Bernardino, a few dilapidated tourist cabins,
garages and cafes are slowly turning to dust.
The advertising images popular in this region include bleached bones, vultures, rattlesnakes, cactus, palm
trees, burros and gold prospectors. Promotional strategies swing from the understated to the miraculous.
The role of the desert as a place to test religious faith also appears. Biblical quotes and beliefs in eternity,
peace, and love are expressed on hand-lettered signs and menus, in roadside graffiti, and on murals.
The last leg of Route 66 to the Pacific coast has undergone the most change. Once famous for its wide
boulevards and manicured landscapes, Los Angeles has now become a megalopolis laced with freeways
and parking lots. Drive-ins, shopping malls, and housing developments have largely replaced the vineyards
and orange groves that once separated these communities. Still, an occasional 1940s or 50s drive-in
theater, motor court, or service station provides a brief look into the past.
One important element of Route 66 is the people who live and work along the highway. These people have
faced the challenges of everyday life along the road and have enriched the experiences of travelers who
stopped for gas, food, or lodging. They offer Route 66 memorabilia, the latest version of a green chili
burger, or a room for the night. In addition, they may tell stories of the last Route 66 association cruise that
came through or when the next one is due: they may tell what Route 66 has meant to their town or area;
they may talk about Mickey Mantle, Will Rogers, Garth Brooks, or some other well-known person who
came from a town along Route 66; they may recommend sights or attractions; they will probably remark on
how things used to be and how they are now: and they may joke about getting your kicks on Route 66.
Much of the current formal interpretation of Route 66 heritage focuses on the automobile touring experience
of the 1950s and 1960s. Local and regional history organizations have produced exhibits in their museums
that display road-related artifacts and depict this era. Various Route 66 organizations sponsor automobile
caravan tours or "cruises." Tour companies have offered organized bus tours of Route 66, and bicycle tours
are becoming popular.
The highway can tell many more stories than those of the 1950s and 1960s. Route 66 has an infinite
number of insights into the history, people, and places along its course. The stories of this road range from
the science and technology of road building to personal remembrances of individuals who have traveled the
highway. Properly preserved, presented, and integrated, Route 66 and its resources could bring these
stories to life.
The highway continues to evolve and impact the people and places it touches, so some stories have yet to
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