If there has ever been a historic road in America it is surly Route 66. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, in 1857 a Navel officer in service for the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, had orders from the War Department to build a government-funded wagon road along the 35th Parallel. This lead to the feasibility of using camels as pack animals in the Southwestern desert which in turn became part of U.S. Route 66.
Most of the credit for this regional highway crossing the country from Chicago to Los Angeles a total of 2448 miles, goes to Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri. Delegates from Kentucky wanted a Virginia Beach–Los Angeles highway to be U.S. 60 and U.S. 62 between Chicago and Springfield, Missouri. Arguments continued and the final results was to have US 60 run between Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Springfield, Missouri, and the Chicago–L.A. route be U.S. 62. In 1926 Missouri had the route labeled in their state map as U.S. Route 60. It wasn’t until next year that Cyrus Avery settled on “66” because he thought the double-digit number would be easy to remember as well as pleasant to say and hear.
Get Your Kicks Route 66
Avery along with Woodruff organized the U.S. Highway 66 Association in 1927. Its purpose was to get U.S. Highway 66 paved from end to end and to promote tourism on the highway, this wasn’t completed until 1938. In 1928, the association made its first attempt at publicity, the “Bunion Derby”, a footrace from Los Angeles to New York City, of which the path from Los Angeles to Chicago would be on Route 66.
Several dignitaries, including Will Rogers, (where the name Will Rogers Highway came from) greeted the runners at certain points on the route. The race ended in Madison Square Garden, where the $25,000 first prize was awarded to Andy Hartley Payne, a Cherokee runner from Oklahoma. In 1970 U.S. the Highway 66 Association changed its name to the Main Street of America Association (Main Street America). The association published its last brochure in 1974, the association went on to serve as a voice for businesses along the highway until it disbanded in 1976. Another name for Route 66 was the Mother Road which came from Missouri.
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From the Dust Bowl in the 1930s farming families and others headed out west to California in search for employment in agriculture. It was this migration to the west that lead to the Mom and Pop shops along its route that helped these small communities to thrive from migrating travelers. Along with this came the many restaurants, Motels and souvenir shops.
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Several places were dangerous, more than one part of the highway was nicknamed “Bloody 66” and gradually work was done to realign these segments to remove dangerous curves. However, one section just outside Oatman, Arizona (through the Black Mountains) was fraught with hairpin turns and was the steepest along the entire route, so much so that some early travelers, too frightened at the prospect of driving such a potentially dangerous road, hired locals to navigate the winding grade.
During World War II, more migration west occurred because of war-related industries in California. Route 66, already popular and fully paved, became one of the main routes and also served for moving military equipment. Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri was located near the highway, which was locally upgraded quickly to a divided highway to help with military traffic. When Richard Feynman was working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, he used to travel nearly 100 miles to visit his wife, who was dying of tuberculosis, in a sanatorium located on Route 66 in Albuquerque.
In the 1950s, Route 66 became the main highway for vacationers heading to Los Angeles. The road passed through the Painted Desert and near the Grand Canyon. Meteor Crater in Arizona was another popular stop. This sharp increase in tourism in turn gave rise to a burgeoning trade in all manner of roadside attractions, including teepee-shaped motels, frozen custard stands, Indian curio shops, and reptile farms. Meramec Caverns near St. Louis began advertising on barns, billing itself as the “Jesse James hideout”. The Big Texan advertised a free 72 ounce steak dinner to anyone who could consume the entire meal in one hour. It also marked the birth of the fast-food industry, Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri, site of the first drive-through restaurant, and the first McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California. Changes like these to the landscape further cemented 66’s reputation as a near-perfect microcosm of the culture of America, now linked by the automobile.
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Skinwalker Route 66
So from this great stretch of highway (The Mother Road) the traveler was introduced for the first time to other cultures that rested in America. The Plain states to the mountains into the Painted Desert a stop at the Grand Canyon and spill you off into the Pacific Ocean in California. Wow the things you saw and the people you met truly makes this the most Historic Highway in America. You might have never seen an American Indian before, a Tee Pee, Cowboy, Buffalo, Cave, Rattle Snake and you were welcomed as you watch a dance of the Skin Walker. You the traveler was left with a memory and understanding that every mile changed with the horizon and what was at the next stop?
In some Native American legends, a skin-walker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into any animal he or she desires, though they first must be wearing a pelt of the animal, to be able to transform. Running down Route 66 is the pelt of this animal, you might not be wearing it but driving it will surly transform you.
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