Route 66

by Arnold Nelson

      Route 66 has many names it was called The Main Street of America The Mother Road and eventually The Will Rogers Highway. It was established on November 11, 1926 it ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was 2448 miles long and originally it ran through 8 states. Later they rerouted it so it no longer ran through Kansas. It was a major path during the dust storms of the 30s for people heading west to California seeking a new life.

     It actually got it's start in 1857 when the Army ordered Lt. Edward Beale to blaze a road from Texas to California along the 35th parallel. They also ordered him to use camels. They wanted Beale to test camels in the Southwest desert. The camels worked good. The problem was the horses did not like them and refused to be anywhere near the camels, so the camel idea was abandoned.

     The camels were sold to anybody that wanted to buy them, some escaped, wild camels were seen in the Southwest United States up until the early part of the 20th century. There were some sold to Canadians and brought to Canada, some of them escaped too and were seen in Canada about as long as they were seen in the US.

    When Route 66 was laid out they laid it out using existing cities and towns. They graded connecting roads wherever necessary. This was a big boom to the small towns because this was their only connection to the outside world. When Route 66 was first opened much of the road was unpaved. It wasn't until 1938 that they finished paving Route 66. Route 66 became the first highway to be completely paid.

     There was some controversy over the number of the highway when they originally laid it out they wanted to call it Route 60 but Kentucky wanted to use Route 60 for a road going from Kentucky to Virginia Beach. They won and they got Route 60. Route 62 was suggested but it was turned down because it was decided route 66 was easier to remember and easy to say. So Route 66 was born.

     Parts of Route 66 were so bad they got the nickname Blood Alley. One area in particular between Kingman, Arizona and Oatman, Arizona was so bad a lot of the drivers refused to drive it, so they pay local drivers to drive their vehicles over the mountain.

     Through the years route 66 made changes shorting it in some areas and avoided some of those real bad areas. It also took out the section going through Kansas. They made a better road between Kingman, Arizona and Needles, California by passing Oatman and that very treacherous section of road. This nearly killed Oatman but they survived because they became a tourist trap. People came to see the donkeys roamed all over the town. You can still go to Oatman today and see the donkeys. Most of the old buildings are still there.

    In the 1950s Pres. Eisenhower signed into law the interstate highway bill and freeways start popping up all over the country. They used part of Route 66 for Interstate 40 but the rest of it soon started to decay. People started banding together to save what was left of the Mother Road. And today there are still many sections of the original Route 66 you can drive on, including that very bad section between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona. In some of the cities and towns it was renamed Interstate 40 business and ran right through the center of the cities and towns.

      Some of the towns died when Interstate 40 bypassed them because they lost all their tourist dollars. Some sections of Route 66 were listed on the national register of historical places. The old Route 66 signs kept disappearing so finally they painted Route 66 on the roads in some places. One of the biggest sections of Route 66 that is left runs from Seligman, Arizona to Needles, California

    Every year people gather at Seligman and take a drive from Seligman to Needles, California. They take two days for their drive and spend a night in Oatman Arizona. They take the drive in vintage automobiles and motorcycles.

     One of the reasons Route 66 was so popular was because it ran through or close by a lot of the major tourist attractions of the Southwest. These included, the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon Caverns, Meteor Crater and Meramec Caverns near St. Louis Mo.

    In 1946 there was even a song written about Route 66. A man named Bobby Troup wrote it and when he wrote it he was having trouble with the lyrics so finally he just started naming the locations along Route 66. This was the same Bobby Troup who appeared on the Emergency TV series years later as Dr. Early.

    From 1960 to 1964 there was a series on TV called Route 66 about two men who toured the country and tried to help other people. You would think by the name they would have stayed along Route 66, but they didn't, it's shows were filmed all over the United States and there were two episodes filmed up in Canada. They always say Route 66 ended in Los Angeles but actually it ended in Santa Monica at the Pacific Ocean. Route 66 enjoyed the status no other highway ever enjoyed it was worshiped and loved and sometimes even hated by the people that drove it. It was responsible for getting millions of people across the United States. It will probably always be respected and loved for being the first highway across the United States.

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