"Route 66 is a giant chute down which everything loose in this country is sliding into southern California."Frank Lloyd Wright
Searching for hope - The 30's
Depression-era migrants headed west on Route 66 one step ahead of bank foreclosure after dust storms blew their topsoil all the way to Ohio. Their faces -- weathered as barnwood -- look back at us from history books.
They were called Okies, only occasionally with kindness. They followed the Mother Road , searching for hope out the windshield while watching despair grow smaller in the rearview mirror. Passing through New Mexico and Arizona, they found armed guards blocking Route 66 at the California state line, and they were often turned back when they failed to produce $100 as proof that they were not vagrants.
Of course, they were vagrants. But some of us forget that they also were Americans.
Route 66 was a more pleasant thoroughfare for the vacationers who began exploring its reaches when a gallon of gasoline was still less than the speed limit. Driving bullet-nosed Studebakers, they sought out an America where a cave or a rattlesnake ranch was about as much Disney World as one family could handle in a day.
Couch potatoes settled for the fraud of "Route 66," a '60s TV series starring Martin Milner and George Maharis. Their '59 Corvette (General Motors provided a new one with each new season) only rarely explored the real Route 66. Much of the series, in fact, was shot in Florida. The pair simply answered a question posed by TV producer Sterling Silliphant: "Why don't we put together a show about two guys riding around the country in a car?"
Milner later recalled, "The idea was for everybody to rediscover the United States through our
characters' eyes." The "real people" who crossed Milner and Maharis' Route 66 included Alan Alda,
Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Cloris Leachman, Jean Stapleton and Rod Steiger. In 1964, the show
got stuck on empty and was soon cancelled.
Meanwhile, millions of everyday folk continued to discover the old highway, looking for something
over the next hill -- often simply a neon sign signaling "vacancy." Over the years, "progress" had done
to Route 66 what lawnmowers do to garter snakes.
Catching their breath:
Following the original highway's symmetry is tricky. We will try, for the true heart of this nation resides somewhere out there: birthing, marrying, burying and trying to make sense of a world that sometimes seems to have lost its mind. That heart belongs to the real people that actors Milner and Maharis never found. They are talking about the weather again, something over which they have as little control as war. We will be telling their stories, a task that has always brought huge pleasure.
We are heading across Route 66 and listening to the words of Woody Guthrie, the minstrel of hard times, the poet laureate of the Depression's have-nots:
"Lots of folks back East they say,
Leavin' home most everyday,
Hittin' the hard old dusty trail
To the California line.
'Cross the desert sands they roll,
Gettin' outta the old Dust Bowl,
Think they're goin' to a sugar bowl ".
But here's what they find....The Okies found anything but a welcome mat on Route 66. Our luck should be better. "Look'in for a ride, friend? "
“Like the pioneer days, when they outfitted at St. Louis for all points in the West and Southwest, so today people traveling by auto … find themselves coming to St. Louis over the various U.S. roads, and when arriving in St. Louis, by consulting their map, find U.S. 66 is the most direct road to the Pacific coast and likewise to all points in the great Southwest.
I challenge anyone to show a road of equal length that traverses more scenery, more agricultural wealth, and more mineral wealth than does U.S. 66.”
Cyrus Avery (third from left) supported the proposed Ozark Trail highway through Springfield, Missouri; Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Amarillo, Texas, in 1916. Ten years later, he established U.S. 66 along the same route.
The Early Years of Route 66
In the 1930s, drought and falling crop prices drove thousands of rural midwestern families to leave their farms and follow Route 66 to California to find work. James F. and Flossie Haggard left Oklahoma in 1935 after a fire destroyed their barn and its contents. The Haggards and their children, Lillian and James Lowell, made their home near Bakersfield, and James found work with the Santa Fe Railway. Another son, Merle, was born in Bakersfield and began his singing career there. By the 1960s Merle Haggard was a country music legend.
The Haggard family: “Headed west toward California”
(above) The Haggards moved from Oklahoma to California with a 1926 Chevrolet sedan and a cargo trailer.
“We made plans to drive from Rochester, New York, to Hermosa Beach, California.…Mary Jane drove her car, I drove mine. Somewhere in Missouri we... crossed some railroad tracks, and my two front tires blew. We had to spend an extra day for repairs....On the road again, we became aware of a car with four young men doing the same as we. Our rest stops were lots of fun with some boys to talk with. Getting close to Albuquerque, we noticed the reddest soil all around. As we went through Flagstaff the next day, we were treated to a magnificent morning sky.... Thanksgiving Day 1947: the boys headed off to their intended destination, and we girls were welcomed with open arms at my parents’ house in Hermosa Beach.”
—Caroline Millbank Short
Before Route 66 came through, Seligman was a railroad town on the Santa Fe line. Angel Delgadillo Sr. worked for the railroad as a laborer and then a skilled worker. Involved in the great 1922 shopmen’s strike, Delgadillo lost his railroad job and opened his own business. His son Angel followed in his footsteps and also became a barber in the town.
“During the Great Depression, times became tough and my dad’s business was very poor, and we were just about ready to join the Grapes of Wrath people. Our house was boarded up, and my dad and brothers got our Model T Ford ready, they built a trailer to haul all our things. I was just a little bitty guy, and I was real scared about what was going to happen to us. Then my brothers Juan and Joe got jobs playing with bands and traveling up and down Route 66, and we didn’t have to leave after all.” —Angel Delgadillo Jr.
Seligman, Arizona, 1930s
The Delgadillo family: “Playing with bands up and down Route 66”
This automobile is a 1939 Plymouth P-8 Deluxe coupe. It was among the first cars to feature a gearshift lever on the steering column instead of in the traditional location on the floor. The streamlined styling of the 1939 Plymouth is among the best examples of art-deco automotive form and ornamentation. In the late 1920s and 1930s, Chrysler Corporation successfully marketed Plymouth as a low-priced rival to Ford and Chevrolet. Strong sales of the new make constituted a bright spot during the Great Depression. Plymouth stood at number three in production volume by 1931, and output reached a half million cars per year by 1936. Several other auto manufacturers had introduced “companion” marques in the 1920s, but only Plymouth achieved high volume and found a lasting place in the market. Car collector and museum curator Richie Clyne donated this example to the Smithsonian in 2003.
Plymouth business coupe, 1939
Wooden trailer with vinyl exterior fabric, plywood interior, and linoleum floor covering. Original leatherette exterior fabric (linseed or celluloid compound on cotton) deteriorated many years ago. Furnished with sofas, wooden table, sink, pressurized water tank, gas stove, oil heater, bed, closets, and storage compartments. Two-tone brown with black top. 19' 2"L x 7' 0"W x 8' 0" H
Made by Trav-L-Coach Insulated Trailers, Huntington, N.Y.
Route 66 enters it's Heyday: 1940's
In 1946 Bobby Troup, an aspiring songwriter and music arranger, drove from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to advance his career. During the long trip, his wife, Cynthia, suggested that he write a song about highway 66, and she thought of the rhyme “Get your kicks on Route 66.” Bobby wrote the rest of the words and music as they traveled the famous highway. In Los Angeles he performed the song for Nat King Cole, who made it a hit. The Troups’ song became a monument to long-distance car travel, and is the most recorded song in history!
This 1958 photo was taken for the Chicago Transit Authority and illustrates the transportation choices available to Chicago commuters. A bus services the median-strip rapid transit line, while automobile traffic passes by on the new Congress Expressway.
The Interstate Highway System, which began to take shape in the 1930s, was finally funded in 1956 with the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The project called for over 41,000 miles of high-speed, limited access highways. The federal government supported 90% of its funding and each state contributed the remaining 10%. These new highways high-speed limited access highways linked the nations economic and population centers. They changed American landscapes, lives and the way Americans do business.
Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, and control of the Mother Road was handed over to the States thru which it passed.
In 1990, President George H. Bush signed legislation changing its name to "The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways."
The new interstates that were built to connect the larger economic and populations centers by-passed the small towns business centers. Hotels, gas stations and restaurants relocated to the large interchanges.
Route 66... the beginning of the end: 1950's
Above: The Summit Inn, Cajon Pass, California, US Hwy. 66.
Left: After WW II, this young soldier (my father) and his bride (my mom) were on their honeymoon, and saved a few bucks by sleeping in the desert and in state parks enroute to California on Route 66.
Left: This forty foot original section of Route 66 is being removed from the path of the Interstate Highway in Oklahoma.. It was later shipped to the Smithsonian Museum in Washing, D.C., where it remains today as a display for all to see.
Right: Route 66 never "ended", it just sort-of faded away over the years. It's still there, waiting to be re-discovered by each new generation, and will never, ever be forgotten.
< Click to play the Route 66 theme song while you read this page.
Frank and L.E. Phillips were no strangers to hard work. They started prospecting for oil in 1903 and after 81 successive strikes, founded The Phillips Petroleum Company twelve years later. Since then, the company has grown considerably and has expanded its product offerings through its commitment to innovation and meeting customer needs.
Phillips 66® also has a history with US Highway 66. In 1927, on the "Mother Road" during a test drive of a newly developed high-octane gasoline, the vehicle reached a cruising speed of 66 mph. The new fuel was named Phillips 66. Even the logo was inspired by the road signs that dot the length of the historic highway.