The Old Road with many Names

      In reference to discussions regarding what kind of vehicle one would like to take on a Mother Road adventure, I conclude that it really makes no difference unless (and until) you learn  the history of  this highway.

When the Route was commissioned in 1926, the most popular car of thattime, and likely to have traveled on the first segment, was the Model T Ford.  By the time U.S. Highway 66 was completed twelve years later, America had suffered through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, resulting in the greatest population shift ever, and 66 was then known as "the way west", the "Road America took to the American Dream" and after Steinbeck's 1939 novel (The Grapes of Wrath), it was often called "The Mother Road".

In the early 40's, the Route was heavily used by the military to transport weapons and troops, and after the war it finally entered it's "heyday".  People were finally using Highway 66 to take vacations, and the travel and tourist courts became flashy, sometimes funky art- deco places to spend the night. Filling stations were everywhere and the drive-in diners and drive-in theaters were all the rage. Those good times continued through the 1950's, but suddenly ended when the Interstates finally began to replace large portions of the Route, which then
became service roads, city streets, county roads or  secondary state highways. To many, Route 66 was then known as the "Old Road" and the "Forgotten Road", and it's "de-commissioning" became official in 1985.

It didn't take long before certain visionaries and history buffs "adopted" the orphaned highway and began the restoration, preservation and promotional efforts that have continued to grow stronger, and reap more successes every year since.

Today, I personally like to describe this famous and historic road as "Route 66...America's Longest Attraction", and no matter what kind of vehicle you use to travel on it, remember those who also made the trip these past eighty-two years.

"It is said that when you travel this "Old Road", and you find yourself on a lonely, deserted stretch, you should pull-over, get out of your car and sit in the grass. Close your eyes and listen...and in a few moments you will hear the sounds of those model-T's, rickety trucks and sometimes the tears and laughter of those early travelers as they pass-by. You will never forget that sound for the rest of your life."   

Rod Harsh

Are you "promoting" the Mother Road?  September 12, 2009

I often hear others say that driving cross country on Route 66 in the 1950's was not as comfortable and safe as taking the interstate today. While that may be true, it was because those 50's travelers on 66 were likely just as interested in getting to their "destination" as interstate drivers are today. 

Perhaps they, and their kids,  grew up remembering those stops along the way, like the Indian trading posts, the unique eating establishments, the eye-catching Burma-Shave signs and funky attractions, and are today "reliving" those half-century old trips when they re-visit the old road and see those old tourist traps and other Icons being restored. The difference today is that the "journey" is more important than reaching a destination. Pulling onto Route 66 IS the "destination" for many.

I encourage parents to take the extra time to travel with their children on portions of Route 66, and make that trip their "vacation destination" . Besides being an opportunity to teach them American history, everyone will learn lessons about economics, geography, math, human nature and more! Use the movie "CARS" as a teaching tool, and maybe the parents and kids will grow closer, and the headphones and DVD players will be ignored in favor of looking out the window for the next "Cool" place on the map.

Are we "Route-Roadies" doing all we can to attract "new" visitors to the Mother Road?  We, who are grandparents, can easily recall and long for those good old days, but those memories were somewhat "accidental" in nature. 

We can restore and protect what we can, but we need to attract others to take our place, and we need to start with the kids (and their parents). Here are some suggestions to get started:

1. Route 66 Guidebooks, and other printed materials, should include a tutorial for parents on how to make finding icons a "game". The more kids (and the parents) learn about what to look for, the more likely they will consider a Route 66 trip an "Adventure".

2. Offer to speak to your area schools about Route 66. I have done this a few times, and was amazed at the interest and feedback I received. I played clips from "Cars", then explained what the meaning was and the lesson learned. I always leave some handouts for the kids to take home, listing interesting websites to visit, and a note to the parents extrolling the fun to be had by visiting a "Route 66 near you".

3. Many Route 66 businesses offer something for the kids, but most cater to the person with the billfold or the purse. We need to make a fond memory for the kids so THEY will want to come back when they are the parents. I took my daughter to Disney World several times when she was young, and she (and her husband) took their kids, and are going back again this summer. Disney, and other attractions work because they target the KIDS!.

There is no reason why Route 66 should not become "America's Longest Attraction", but this will take action, not words. With the economy in recession, now is a good time to get the word out while gas prices are lower. The message... "Get Your "KIDS" on Route 66!" 

Rod Harsh

(Click photo image for Rod's Bio)
Route 66....another stolen identity!  12/27/09

Finding the "LOST" Mother Road

When Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, the old highway was not crated-up and carried off (although a forty-foot section in Oklahoma was sent to the Smithsonian Museum).  With the stroke of a pen, it simply lost it's official U.S. identity.  It was then be renamed, re-designated, re-numbered and re-signed by the eight states in many different ways.  Enough so it would not be recognized by future generations for what it originally was. History was being re-written and the Mother Road was fast becoming the "Forgotten" road.

For the past 22 years, highway historians and dedicated Route 66 "Roadies" alike have rallied to revive and re-establish this famous highway without much support from state and local governments, and in spite of this "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" mentality, we have proven that Route 66 is coming back strong.  A rice farmer in China would likely recognize the Route 66 shield today.  The Route has become a symbol of the "Real America" to the rest of the world. The people along the Route are like characters from Andy Griffth's Mayberry, friendly and considerate, and possessing grass-root values that seem to be missing elsewhere.  It is this spirit that attracts thousands of international visitors every year.

Having operated a Visitors Center on the Route allowed me to ask questions and receive input, especially regarding signage.  Naturally, the hard-core "roadies" may not need  signs, but most others do...especially those first-timers from overseas who have a difficult time reading maps and guide books that are printed in english, and unfortunately, many maps and guide books contain errors and mis-information,...sometimes leaving-out whole Route 66 communities! It is safe to say that a majority of Route 66 travelers want to see the original, "Historic" 1926 Route, not the alternates that followed in later years, but still today, many are missing their goal.  Directional signage with the Route 66 shield  virtually eliminates this problem.  Then there are the American travelers, many "checking-out" the Route for the first time.  They quickly learn that a good guide book is essential, but signage would also be a big help by encouraging them to explore more of the Route communities. 

Most visitors simply don't have the luxury of finding the Route the hard way.  Being lost, then finding your way, works well only for sinners, not for Route 66 travelers, who find that their journey is taking longer than expected.  Many have a schedule to maintain and a plane to catch at the end of the line.  Some community leaders even believe that "lost" tourists are a good thing, because they may see more of their town.  In fact, for a Route traveler, getting lost is frustrating and time-wasting, so instead of stopping they move on....making up for "lost" time. This problem will be passed along to their friends, who may choose NOT to travel the Route in some areas, fearing that they too will lose their way, and Route businesses will suffer a little more.

According to famous author Michael Wallis, "On Route 66, it's the journey, not the destination that counts", so well planned and placed directional signage will enhance and encourage Route travel, and it should have been in place years ago. Regardless of who takes on the responsibility of designing and placing these signs, it is simply a matter of resolve. 

Naturally, there is a first step, and it starts in each Route 66 community.  If signage is needed, call (or write) your Mayor, City Manager and/or the Route 66 Chamber of Commerceand explain your concerns.  Have them visit the web site and contact their nearest Visitors Center to confirm that a lack of directional signage is a continuing problem for Route 66 travelers. Ask if they would also consider "stenciled" signs on the pavement as well.

The question is "What if they do nothing?  I had a directional sign made by a professional sign company (Sign-A-Rama) to use during presentations to local government and civic club meetings.

The custom-made sign cost me $25., and would cost less if purchased in quantity. The sign is a standard highway-grade aluminum with a vinyl overlay.  It is not reflective as few people drive the route at night.  The price does not include a post, mounting brackets or labor to install.  In some locations, a larger sign may be required to increase visibility.

Consider the sign to be a "temporary" aid to travelers, until better signage comes along.  If the city, county and state politicians, CVB's and Chambers of Commerce fail to recognize the importance of "Heritage Tourism" and the economic benefits that follow, then obtain the permission of the numerous Route 66 businesses (near unmarked turns in your town and county) to have signs placed on their property, (ie. their building, existing sign etc.).  One idea is to have the businesses (or sponsors) pay for the sign and any hardware to mount it.  They will then own that sign,and if and when better signage is provided, they may donate the sign for use elsewhere or sell it on E-Bay and get their money back. You may personally install the sign yourself if needed.  

As the signs begin to go up, send press releases to your local media and request they ask your Chambers, D.O.T.'s and elected officials why private citizens must do this valuable service while they do little or nothing to recognize this most historic old highway at their front door. 

Again, I am referring only to directional signage, not the Historic Byways signs that may by used as directional signs in some states.  The objective here is to first sign the locations where travelers are getting lost most often, and where no signs presently exist. 

We should not have to beg for signs to help others traverse this famous highway.....after all,  Route 66 is the most famous highway in the world !  It was imortalized in the John Steinback novel "The Grapes of Wrath" and later dedicated as "The Will Rogers Memorial Highway".  It was the star of the 60's tv series "Route 66".  Bobby Troop's 1946 song "Route 66" has been recorded by more groups than any other song in history!  Movie stars, average Americans, young soldiers heading to war and the less fortunate searching for a new life traveled on Route 66.  In 1990, the Federal Government passed the Route 66 Study Act, recognizing that Route 66 "has become a symbol of the American people's heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life".   Route 66 has been recently listed on the World Monument's Fund 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered  Sites, and a week later, The National Trust for Historic Preservation collectively named Route 66 motels to it's 20th. annual list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the U.S..  Today, some sections of the famous highway have also been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and more will follow.  

It should be obvious...Route 66 was the road we took to reach the American Dream, yet it's businesses continue to struggle to this day because those who are looking for them get lost or mis-directed, and pass them by.  They still lay out the welcome mat every day, just as past generations did decades ago. Despite the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, recessions, gas shortages, VietNam, and high gas prices...they have been there every day for over 80 years.  They remain  Route 66 survivors and preservers of America's history, and when they ask for a few token signs and some respect from their elected leaders, then they are most entitled, and the Old Road is most deserving.  Let's tell our state and community leaders that NOT signing this famous road is akin to neglecting our heritage while playing a cruel joke on those who wish to travel on it. Tell the story of Route 66 to anyone who will listen.  Our voices are the best tool to use to preserve Route 66.

Route 66 is still there, and it will live on until the last chunk of asphalt and concrete is lost to the ages and the last person on earth forgets about it. 

This essay was written by Rod Harsh, owner of Visit and Director of the Route 66 Chamber of .....Route 66 websites designed to promote historic Route 66 tourism.

Rod has a strong background in the Tourism industry.  While living in Florida, he produced Tourist TV and RV USA TV which aired online and daily on area cable systems.  He also worked closely with the Tourist Development Council and the Northwest Florida Production Services Association, maintained Media Credentials and produced Hurricane documentaries. Born in Joplin, MO., Ron returned to the region in 2006 and opened the first Route 66 Visitors Welcome Center in the western half of Missouri and now operates the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce.

The purpose of this site is to restore the identity of this most  famous of American highways, by the replacement of directional signage that will guide the travelers of today, while encouraging future generations the opportunity to discover the values that built America's Main Street, Route 66.

Survey on 66

During this first year of operation of the Route 66 Chamber of Chamber of Commerce, I believed it was essential that a study be completed to determine the current state of commerce on the Mother Road, so on the first of May my wife and I set out from Amarillo to spend the next three months surveying Route 66 travelers and business owners regarding their recent Mother Road experiences, and how the economy was affecting their businesses.

We managed to travel through the states of Texas (eastern half), Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, stopping at as many Route businesses (attractions, restaurants, gift shops, visitors centers, lodging and local Chambers of Commerce) as possible, to get a feel on this year’s business as compared with last year.

We also spoke to many Route 66 travelers about where they were from and their impressions of cruising the Route this year. 

This was certainly not a scientific or formal survey, but specific questions were asked and responses were noted to determine what similarities and patterns would result.  Therefore, I am presenting the most common responses and observations that I received in the context of this report. There are two main categories,  the most common visitor (local and domestic) comments and also business feedback.

What the Route 66 visitors said:

Q. What are your best impressions of the Route so far?
A. Interesting points of interest.  Friendly and helpful people. Scenery. Good food. Cheap gas.

Q. What problems have you encountered?
A. Getting lost. Lack of directional signage. Road construction. Difficulty in following guide book / map directions. Finding that may “locals” do not know where the Route is located in their own community. Many Route businesses and visitors centers closed when they stopped. Lack of wi-fi and cell phone access.

Q. Why Route 66?
A. The Adventure.  Best way to see the real America.  Best road trip.

Q. Are you purchasing souvenirs along the way?
A. A few. Maybe more later.

Q. Do you stay in local Route 66 motels?
A. Sometimes (domestic travelers), Not enough room (groups).

Q. What part of the Route do you look forward to seeing most?
A. The western states (Texas to California).

Q. Why?
A. Less traffic, better scenery.  Less likely to get lost.

Q. Do you plan to follow the old Route at all times?
A. No (fear of getting lost, time delays due to traffic, road conditions and trip taking longer than expected) most cited.

Q. Will you also use the interstates.
A. Yes (to avoid traffic, to make up for lost time, to avoid “boring” stretches of service roads most cited).

Q. Can you sum-up your trip so far in one word?
A. (most cited): Hectic, challenging, hot, long, frustrating, fun, different.

Interesting comments:

1. “Wish I had done this when I was younger.”
2. “I should have rented a car instead of using my own.”
3. “This will cost me more than I expected.”
4. “Gotta support the oil companies.”
5. “I need a navigator who is not my wife.”
6. “I expected more signs.”
7. "Wish I had more time."

What Route 66 Business owners (and their employees) said:

The most common answers to my questions about their impressions of this year’s travel season indicated the following most common answers…

1. There are about as many travelers as last year but they are spending much less.
2.  Foreigner visitors are poor tippers.
3.  Many stop to snap a photo then drive away without coming inside.
4.  Overseas visitors know more about the history of Route 66 than Americans do.
5.  There seem to be as many travelers heading east as are going west this year.
6.  Except for groups, I can’t tell the Route travelers from local area (and Interstate) travelers.
7.  Local Chamber does not promote Route 66 as it should.

Overall, most agreed that their business is off from last year, and when asked what would help them, most said Route 66 needs more promotion that will attract new travelers.  Most also admitted that they have cut-back on media advertising this year.

My personal overall observations about the state of the Route:  

As much as I would like to brag about how "wonderful" this season has been thus far, I have serious concerns.  I did not see as many travelers on the Route then I expected.  In Illinois, road construction was everywhere on I-55, forcing heavy traffic onto Route 66 and slowing travelers.

Many businesses I stopped at had few-to-no customers.  I saw only a couple of biker groups on 66 during my round trip from Joplin to Chicago and back in July.  Too many guest books had fewer than five entries daily for the past week, and owners admitted that business was “off” or slow.

There were a few “bright” spots though.  The attractions that featured a powerful “gimmick” had good business to report.  Examples included “Pops” and the Red Barn in Arcadia, the murals in Cuba, Mo and the world’s largest rocking chair in Fanning, MO. I noted that travelers would likely stop and get out of their car to take photos of the unusual and historic locations in small towns, and appreciated the placement of numerous Route 66 “points of interest” signs.  

Possible Solutions:
I believe that businesses on Route 66 would see more walk-in traffic, and thus make more money, if they would use more imagination in promoting their location and community to Route 66 travelers.  

Location is critical. I was amazed by the numerous towns I traveled through (on 66) that did not display a single Route 66 sign. If a business does not stand-out, then travelers will likely just pass on by.  Simple things will help get these folks to stop-in.  Signs offering free ice water, free wi-fi and convenient municipal parking for large groups and RV’s is a start. Business owners should promote other nearby businesses when visitors are present.  Form a committee in your community to develop events and activities tied to Route 66 and encourage residents to learn more about their famous higway.  Offer discount coupons for local Route businesses to hand-out to travelers….they may stay a while longer for a meal or perhaps an overnight stay!  Focus on ways to make Route 66 more “visitor-friendly”!  

Finally, encourage visitors preparing for a trip to display the Route 66 emblem on their vehicle and dash using magnetic and/or vinyl signs, and wear a name tag with the Route 66 logo. This will help communities and businesses identify them as valuable "Heritage Tourists" and spark communication with others. (Question: How many times have you sat in a Route 66 restaurant and wondered how many of the other diners are also traveling the Route?)

Today's Route 66 is over two thousand miles long and supports thousands of large and small businesses that need Route 66 commerce to survive. The competition for that traveler’s dollar is becoming a real challenge in today’s stressed economy.  If future promotion and marketing of Route 66 brings more travelers, it will be Route 66 business owners and visitors who will reap the benefits.  In fact, few will invest in the restoration and operation of a Route 66 business if there is no community support, if few travelers stop and if there are additional realignments that may divert traffic from the original route.

The Route 66 Chamber of Commerce is still in the early stages of formation, and there are lofty goals still to be met.  We who love the Mother Road need to band together to benefit all who make a living preserving it’s history, heritage and it's economy. Please share your ideas with us. Thanks.  

Ron Hart - Founder
Route 66 Chamber of Commerce

The “Lost”  Route 66 Alignment in Carthage, MO.
By Rod Harsh-Director, Route 66 Chamber of Commerce

How do you "lose" a part of Route 66 that existed in a community for nearly 77 years?  
That is exactly what has happened in Carthage, Missouri! I was wondering where the first 
alignment had been located between the time the original Spring River bridge was 
torn down in early 1930’s, and the final alternate that had been established in 1953.….
leaving a twenty-year gap.

In researching the Route in Carthage, MO., I ran across a brochure for the Carthage Chamber 
that shows an un-signed alignment of 66 that I had never seen on some maps or guidebooks 
before.  I did a follow-up on the Route's path in Carthage with Steve Weldon (Jasper County 
Records Office) and Michelle Hansford (Powers Museum) and got some solid information.  
After a week of additional research,  I believe the true paths of the Mother Road through Carthage have now been determined, and hopefully changes to maps and guidebooks books will be made, and appropriate signage put-up.  This is important for all of us Roadies and Route travelers who seek-out and explore every inch of the Route to discover, preserve and promote this famous and historic highway.

Martin Van Gilder of KDMO radio fame, and a local Carthage historian, describes much of the early days of the Route in Carthage and wrote "Passing farms by the score, Route 66 approaches Carthage from the east along Spring River.  It enters the town on River Street, goes west on Central Street and then south on Garrison Street before heading west out of town on Oak Street."

At the Powers Museum, I was given a city map circa 1929-1931 which shows the original path from the park.  This also confirms that the "V" Hwy. route to Hwy 71 was the first alternate of 66 as shown in the Carthage History brochure.  It seems that it's path was always a “short-cut” connecting 66 to the limestone quarry's near the north end of Main Street, which was also the original Jefferson Highway route. It also appears that by the early 1930's, frequent river flooding of 66 and increasing traffic convinced the Feds that the Route had out-grown it’s original path into Carthage, so the first Alternate of 66 was officially assigned to follow the State "V" highway path from it’s Spring River route.  This allowed travelers to enter Carthage on North Garrison over the three recently completed Highway 71 concrete bridges that had been built by the WPA in 1928.  The Carthage brochure refers to this First Alternate as "Old Rt. 66".  So far, no documentation has been found that shows the exact official date of this first assignment.

There were many businesses that sprang-up along this alignment including filling stations, motels, stores, a John Deere dealership and several Mom & Pop restaurants, and many of these businesses remain unseen by Route 66 travelers who follow the Final alignment east on Central from, and to, Garrison Street. Here, travelers can take an interesting  side trip on Central East to River Street, then south a few blocks to a former 1920’s era Route 66 Tourist Camp (and Civil War site) named Carter Park. 

About twenty years later in 1953, according to the brochure’s map, the "revised" second, and final Alternate of Route 66 was assigned. The Route would now follow a new “raised” road section that replaced about two miles of the old Route just East of Carthage.  Since Route 66 was still a  commissioned Federal Highway at that time, it was likely years later before that “new” road extension would also be designated MO. State Hwy. 96, but the exact dates of this have also not been determined.

On the West side of Carthage, other maps show that the Route always followed Garrison south to Oak Street and then west on to Carterville.  Oak Street was chosen for 66 as it had existed since before the Civil War. The first alternate to west Oak Street, called "Old 66 Blvd",  bypassed railroad viaduct construction on Oak St. in the  late 30's.  Sometime in the 1950's,  Route 66 was signed to follow Central Blvd. westward through town past Garrison to Baker St, then south to Oak, then west again, although this was not an official alternate and was just a local means to handle traffic volume on Oak Street.  

The more recent construction of  four-lane highways 71 (north-south) and 171 (east-west), after the Route was de-commissioned,  created two more changes. First was the closing of Oak Street to build a Hwy. 71 overpass. This diverted  westbound traffic onto Baker from Oak, then to Central, then east to a connection back to Oak St. using the temporary "Old 66 Blvd" extension which still remains. 

It seems ironic today, that the “V” highway First Alternate Route 66 of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s may be once again pressed into service as the best way to detour around the possible 1953 Spring River bridge demolition this summer.

In summary, the First Alternate of U.S. Highway 66 in East Carthage was really never “lost”, it was simply “miss-placed”……and perhaps forgotten about. The Route 66 Chamber of Commerce will therefore begin working with local Carthage businesses along the Mother Road, and community leaders to plan ways to keep Route 66 visitors on the famous highway all the way through Carthage while the final alternate is closed for bridge replacement.  Using the First Alternate route will accomplish this, and when properly signed, should improve awareness of the rich Route 66 history this community shares with it’s visitors.  
Note: To see maps of this Alternate Route, (Click Here)

 30's era filling station on the first alternate