The Mother Road is the Mother Lode for American Culture
~ ZZ Troutski
There are millions of them; highways and byways, back roads, mountain passes – you name it, there are a gazillion routes in America to choose from for the avid motorcyclist, driver, biker and born-to-be traveler. But when it comes right down to it, no matter how many scenic roads exist, there will never be anything as historically significant or downright exciting as the Mother Road – Route 66.
Although called Will Rogers Highway by some, the name Route 66 is the one that all people recognize. This is literally the ‘Main Street of America,’ and has the most fascinating history of any highway or byway in the world.
Route 66 is one of the original highways established in the U.S. Highway System. It was back in November of 1926 that ‘66’ came to life, and almost immediately took its place as one of the most famous and infamous roads in America. Originally running from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before heading into California and calling it a day, Route 66 ran a total of 2,448 miles.
Although many know Route 66 because of popular song and the T.V. series from the 1960s, the history goes much deeper. This was ‘the’ road for those who had to head west during the mighty Dust Bowl of the 1930s. This one road is responsible for establishing and maintaining the economic health and wealth of communities throughout this country where the road passed through. Prosperity for these unknown towns increased with the route’s popularity, which grew year after year.
But Route 66 helped the people as much as the people helped the road. After all, they were the ones who fought to keep Route 66 intact when the Interstate Highway System came into being. These are the people who paid to improve the road over its long lifetime, yet it was officially removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985.
But the death of Route 66 has not occurred, no matter how many new roads have bypassed it along the way. In fact, there are sections of the original road that have gained the designation of National Scenic Byway, Historic Route 66 – which is making a comeback on American road maps.
When it comes to the official beginning of Route 66, Springfield Missouri is its true home. In fact, sections of the Mother Road can still be driven on in downtown Springfield.
The U.S. Highway 66 Association was built in order to promote travel along the highway. And it was in 1928 that this same group brought the publicity of Route 66 to the masses. A footrace called the Bunion Derby was going to be held where runners went from L.A. to NYC. The part of the path that they raced from L.A. to Chicago was on Route 66. During the Derby, Will Rogers actually met the runners at certain points just to say hello and give them support.
The popular ‘Saturday Evening Post’ ran an ad in 1932 telling people who were coming to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles to take Route 66 as their choice of travel. The Association grew and grew over time and was hugely responsible for all the amazing publicity and commerce for businesses in each and every town that hosted Route 66.
The Mother Road also had a huge hand in helping people during the Depression. Small towns continued to grow because of the increasing traffic. Small business, restaurants, gas stations – everything was used and much-needed by the drivers on Route 66. And some of these towns even have small museums and restored businesses that can be stopped at and toured, honoring the Route 66 history.
And for horror fans or lovers of danger, the road did have a few sections that were referred to as “Bloody 66” because of the hairpin turns and dangerous curves that could be found throughout the Black Mountains.
From the National Register of Historic Places to teepee-style hotels to links with WWII and even the ‘secret tests’ and The Manhattan Project that occurred in New Mexico – Route 66 offers a thrilling history and is still the best road to take in order to observe the true American culture. Let’s ride!