February 2007 Linn County Leader Column – “Glimpses of the Past, Part I”

It was almost 35 years ago when my family packed up their belongings and made the long trek from the burgeoning confines of California to quaint northern Missouri, most if it via that road that everyone still talks about but hardly anyone traverses—Route 66.

Even as a kid, there was that sort of “magical” quality in driving down a highway that was made famous in a CBS television series, and to be able to experience the many fascinating adventures along the way—The Cadillac Ranch in Texas; the Painted Desert and WigWam Motel in Arizona; the Grand Canyon; TeePee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico; Meteor Crater…these were but a few hundred spots where one could stop and take pictures and ask the locals about the colorful history of each attraction.

“Get your kicks on Route 66.” You could indeed! And if I could pick a highlight of my younger days, that one relocation trip would rank up in my top five.

Sadly, Route 66 is no longer the main tourist roadway, having been officially decommissioned by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 1985. The advent of interstates with their straighter paths and higher speeds made the demise of 66 come all too soon. It exists today as I-40 in many parts, with bypasses around many of the major metro areas. Other sections of old U.S. 66 are crumbling, abandoned and/or barricaded off; stark reminders of a world that has nonchalantly passed by that old highway.

I’m writing about this subject because I plan on taking my family along much of the same route (or as much as is still open anyway) during our vacation this year. We’ll venture as far west as Arizona to see family members and pick up our two nieces who will spend the summer with us, and then it’s back to Missouri via another route, as we travel through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and perhaps up as far north as Wyoming. All in all, we want to see much of our nation’s countryside that has often been neglected by newer generations. Generations of “have it your way” and “fast! no waiting!” people.

Between now and then, I plan on doing a lot of research and study on Route 66, and the rich and diverse history of this highway during its heyday. And the plan is to also take our digital camera, and a camcorder, to document the sights and sounds of this lost, but not forgotten, roadway. We know that there will be many stories to tell!

On this note, Jeannie and I were recently able to watch the Pixar movie “Cars”; it told of a similar story about a once-thriving town called Radiator Springs on Route 66 that was bypassed by traffic (and the outside world) once Interstate 40 opened. The town, like many others on this fabled route, never recovered, and dwindled away to a shell of its former self. Radiator Springs is partially based on Amboy, California, which became a ghost town shortly after the opening of the interstate.

How many other small cities met this same fate? It’s not known for sure, but chances are that people who relied on Route 66 tourists and commuters for their livelihood didn’t stay in business long. And, like the town of Radiator Springs, those communities went by the wayside.

As we journey along old Route 66 this early summer, I’m sure that my thoughts will not only be on that movie, but on the shattered lives and dreams of those towns that once were the shining stars on “America’s Highway”. I’ll think of the numerous businesses that never saw the end results of hard planning and labor by their owners; I’ll take pictures of faded, rust-pitted signs that once glowed their neon splendor into the night, beckoning wayward travelers on; most of all, I’ll think back on those days when a family could take a two-lane blacktop jaunt and see, smell, taste and hear a bit of what made Route 66 earn the nickname of “The Mother Road”.

Our trip back in time begins in 4 months!

Maps of old Route 66 are available online for a minimal cost; the Davis family will be using these guides along the way. Any questions or comments can be directed to Richard’s blog at https://sliceofhome.wordpress.com. His column appears monthly in the Linn County Leader.

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