Those of a certain age will remember the music and words “get your kicks on Route 66.” The rest can go to Hulu to see Route 66, the iconic television show with 116 episodes between 1960 and 1964 or catch the music on YouTube.
The televison show’s name was inspired by a highway established in 1926 from Chicago to Santa Monica. Called variously “The Will Rogers Highway,” “America’s Main Street” or “The Mother Road,” the route had alterations over the years but ran just under 2500 miles.
It was the way west for thousands of migrants fleeing the “dust bowl” and the Great Depression in the 1930s. It wasn’t fully paved until 1938. During World War II, workers migrated along it to war-industry jobs in California. A portion near Fort Leonard Wood (see his picture at Ft. Bowie) was up-graded to four lanes.
The 1950s saw a sharp increase in tourists along the road and the construction of gas stations, motels and restaurants.
Now most of the old road is gone, replaced by Interstate highways. It was officially removed from the U.S. highway system in 1987.
Businesses thrived along the road and fought a failing battle to keep it. Now, new businesses attract tourists to those portions still in existence, and towns often mark the streets over which it ran.
Filmed in 25 states and Canada, the TV show Route 66 rarely ever actually showed a scene on Route 66. Nonetheless, I drove the portion from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles in 1964.
We did not intend to see old Route 66 this spring, but our meandering ways took us over portions anyway.
Going to Joshua Tree National Park, we encountered a desolate section north of Twentynine Palms, California. A berm along the road is decorated with names and initials, evidence the road still gets some traffic. A sign told us we were at one of the original rest stops, but little remained. The same sign said General Patton trained his tank corps there.
Later, heading north to Kingman, we passed through Oatman and over the Black Mountains, one of the most rugged stretches where travelers in the 1920s hired ranchers to pull their Model Ts over the unpaved passes.
On a stretch from Kingman to Williams, some modern benefactor has put up new “Burma Shave” signs. The advertising signs created by Allan Odell were on American highways from 1925 to 1963. Here are a few from that Route 66 section.
“Slow down, Pa — Sakes Alive — Ma missed — Signs 4 & 5 — Burma Shave”
“If you don’t know — whose signs — these are — you haven’t — driven far — Burma Shave”
“30 days — has September — and the — speed offender — Burma Shave”
Williams, Arizona proudly declares itself the last piece of Route 66 before the Interstate was completed but Gallup, New Mexico is also full of Route 66 signs.
One can still trace out much of the old route, and there are guide books to help — perhaps we will do it on another trip.
Click on photos to enlarge.