Route 66: Part I
by Lynn Wienck, The Chisholm Trail Bookstore
The search for history is best started in your own back yard. With that in mind, I picked up and read two books regarding local road lore. These two volumes covered the first road to traverse the United States: U.S. Route 66, now legend, memory, and just a shade of larger-than-life myth.
Searching for 66 by Tom Teague (1991) is a first-person recounting of a 1986 trek to discover the mother road – the road that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, and covered 2,400 miles. The book is comfortable, personable, and informative; it mixes history, folklore, biography, interviews, personal impressions, and autobiography. The book is one fellow’s discovery. The road has personality, the book has personality, and the road is still there. Believe it.
Michael Wallis in Route 66: The Mother Road (1990) focuses on the visual and the history: more fact, less impression, and numerous photographs. The road and it’s retro-scenery sideshows are photogenic, remarkably photogenic. State-by-state, town-by-town, the highlights are covered in detail and in color.
From 1926 to 1984, inception to close, the route traversed through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The road was the brainchild of Cy Avery, who was a transplant from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma and had a vision for an interstate road system. This road went through many small towns and thereby encouraged roadside commerce and tourism – a lot of flavor, much of it unusual or just flat-out bizarre.
Bobby Troup wrote a song about the road. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the road. There was a television show about the road. John Steinbeck wrote the Grapes of Wrath recounting the trek from Oklahoma to California during the depression, Dust Bowl years. Hence, the road is literature and music, too.
The road is not all memory. The Cadillac Ranch which consists of ten Cadillacs buried face-down in the dirt, is still somewhere outside Amarillo, Texas. The place is a Rand-McNally Road Atlas landmark. I checked; it’s on the map. On. The. Map. Incredible. What are future civilizations going to make of ten Caddies, some with fins, half-buried in the middle-of-nowhere, hot, dry, flat Texas dirt?
It was time to check out the Mother Road. Really. Roll down the highway and spit the bugs out from between the teeth. Yes, indeed, books lead to great adventures. Books are exciting. They are more exciting when put into practice.