Friday, October 13, 2017

The Hawthornes Travel On Route 66.

The Hawthornes are on their third cross-country trip.
This time, we're heading west on the iconic Route 66,
immortalized as the "Mother Road,"
by John Steinbeck in his 1939 classic, The Grapes of Wrath.
After traveling through Tennessee and Arkansas, 
we picked up 66 in Oklahoma.

Route 66 runs from Chicago to Los Angeles.
About 2400 miles of roads. 
It was the road from the Dust Bowl to California -
the "Road to Opportunity."
It is also known as the Main Street of America
and the Will Rogers Highway,
and was one of the original highways within the US Highway System
when Congress enacted a plan in 1926 for a national highway construction.
Route 66 was designed as a diagonal route across country and
connected the main streets of rural and urban communities,
enabling the transport of grain and produce for distribution.
It was particularly advantageous to the trucking industry,
which, by the 1930s, was rivaling the railroad
for preeminence in America's shipping industry.

By 1938, the Chicago to Los Angeles highway was
reported as continuously paved,
after employing thousands of young men 
from virtually every state
who were put to work on road gangs from 1933 to 1938. 

With World War II and war-related industries in California,
Route 66 proved to be invaluable
for moving military equipment and transporting troops.

In the 1950s, it became the main highway for
vacationers on their way to LA.
This dramatic increase in tourism created
all sorts of roadside attractions -
teepee-shaped lodgings, the quintessential American diners,
 Indian souvenir shops, motels, and filling stations.

This is the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum opened
on September 23, 1995.  The museum is
operated by the Oklahoma Historical
 Society and focuses on the history of Route 66.
 The redevelopment of the museum was
funded with federal, state, and private
funds, with the citizens of Clinton,
Oklahoma, contributing over $200,000.
Will Rogers and Route 66 are symbols 
of American optimism. They have become  
internationally known, sharing Oklahoma 
with the world.

"We are here just for a spell and then
pass on...  So get a few laughs and do
the best you can.  Live your life so
that whenever you lose, you are ahead."
        Will Rogers


Route 66 Creation

The United States needed more and better roads to get crops to market, move natural resources to factories, and distribute consumer goods to people.  The National Good Roads association was formed in 1893.  The primary purpose of the association was to foster good road construction and maintenance in order to increase commercial enterprise.

The US government passed the Federal Aid Highway act in 1921 that initiated the intense development of a national highway system, providing 50-50 matching federal funds for state highway construction.  By the end of 1921, more than $75 million in highway monies had been given to the states.  There were 250 trails and highways used in the national highway system with at least 18 used in the formation of Route 66.  Of the 2448 miles, 800 were already paved - leaving only 1648 miles graded with dirt or gravel, covered with  asphalt or simply covered by planks.  It would take until 1937 to pave the entire Route 66.
The Fillin' Station
On a road that stretched for over two thousand miles, gas stations became a necessity.  Before the establishment of dedicated gasoline stations, fuel was purchased at liveries, repair shops, or general stores.  The drivers poured gas into buckets, and then funneled it into their gas tanks. By the 1920s, with the growing popularity of the automobile, filling stations became the lifeline of Route 66.  One could not travel along Route 66 without stopping at a filling station approximately every seventy miles because cars had smaller gas tanks.

Between 1920 and 1930, the number of gas stations in the United States increased from approximately 15,000 to approximately 124,000.  Owned by people of small towns, the stations evolved from the simplest concept, a house (or shack) with one or two service pumps in front, to a more elaborate model with service bays and tire outlets, selling a particular brand of gasoline.

The Dust Bowl
From 1931 to 1940, the southern Great Plains experienced an extended period of drought.  The area, including portions of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Colorado, became known as the Dust Bowl.  The lack of rain made it virtually impossible to raise crops or livestock.  The dry conditions and loose soil created huge dust storms that swirled loose dirt into the air, at times darkening the daytime sky.  The dust blizzards covered roads and fields with loose dirt, filled homes with dust, and threatened the health of humans and animals alike.  In the face of theses insurmountable odds, many chose to leave the area and set out for California, where reports painted a picture of perfect climate and unlimited jobs.  During this time, Oklahoma's population declined by 60,000 people.  

These immigrants, known as Okies, streamed west along Route 66.  The highway became a symbol of both technological change and the path to new opportunity.

"The Migrant Road"
By John Steinbeck in
The Grapes of Wrath

"Highway 66 is the main migrant road.  It is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there.  From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks  and the rutted country roads.  66 is the mother road, the road of flight.

The New Deal

Life along Route 66 in the 1930s was a study in contrasts.  The road was crowded with down-and-out migrants looking for work and a better future, but there were also more economically stable drivers who continued to demand improvements in the road system.

As economic activity continued, progress in building Route 66 kept pace.  Taking up the slack in lost gasoline tax revenues were federal make-work projects, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA).  In 1933, the National Industrial Recovery Act provided $9.2 million for road work in Oklahoma; four years later, the WPA alone was pumping another $4 million a year into Oklahoma's road projects.  With this infusion of resources, the last dirt road stretches of Route 66 in Oklahoma were paved in 1937.

Death on the Road:
The Reason for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol

The improvement of roads such as Route 66 also had a dark side - the rising death rate caused by automobile accidents.  The speed of the automobile on paved surfaces, especially when combined with the new high-powered V-8 engines, was a major cause of accidents.  Traffic deaths began to increase annually.  In 1920, there were 100 deaths on Oklahoma roads; by 1930, that numberro se to 400.  By 1936, 684 deaths due to automobile accidents were recorded.  It was clear that something had to be done.

The state legislature responded by creating the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in 1937.  Troopers,a rmed with black and white Ford cruisers and more nimble Indian motorcycles, were to patrol the highways, enforcing new speed limits and implementing a new innovation - the driver license.

"Leave the Driving To Us"

The bus industry, born in the early 1920s, boomed during the 1930s and 1940s.  Like truck lines, bus lines had to get permits from the State Corporation Commission to operate over fixed routes.  Bus stops were located at gas stations, hotels, grocery stores, and restaurants.  The bus driver stopped if a flag was hanging outside.   The flag was later replaced by a light.

Bus traffic increased dramatically during World War II and peaked after the war.  In 1944, Oklahoma was served by 31 bus companies, with the heaviest traffic located along Route 66.  Several towns on the Mother Road, such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa, had as many as eight different bus companies serving their area, while other towns such as Claremore, Chandler, El Reno,and Clinton had at least 4b us lines with scheduled routes.

King of the Road

One of the earliest arguments for new and better roads such as Route 66 was commerce, and it did not take long for truckers to take advantage of new opportunities.  With the inability of the railroad system to handle the growing volume of traffic during World War II, over-the-road trucking traffic increased.  Paved roads opened small towns and rural consumers to efficient and low-cost truck delivery.

Of the 25,000 trucks registered in Oklahoma in 1926, most used the paved highways and competed directly with the railroads.  Responding to complaints from railroad companies, the state legislature passed a regulatory law in 1929 that set truck rates and routes.

Mobilizing on Route 66

World War II brought major changes to the people who lived and traveled along Route 66.  Gasoline
rationing limited tourist traffic, and the rationing of food left restaurants with little to enticeth e palates of those few who could still travel.  It proved to be hard times for travel-related businesses which had boomed during the previous decade.

While some businesses were hurt by the war, others struggled to keep up with increased demand brought about by the needs of mobilization.  Route 66 became a major artery over which thousands of soldiers and millions of tons of military material were transported.  Many trucking companies expanded or worked long hours to haul an escalating volume of military goods.

Access to a major transcontinental highway also spurred the establishment of defense plants and military facilities along Route 66.  Oklahoma towns with major defense plants included Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Clinton.

The Parking Meter

With the increase in traffic generated by Route 66, business began to develop along Main Street and the need for parking became an issue.  In order to control parking and to encourage turnover of users, a method or device had to be created to curb the problem.

Two professors of engineering from Oklahoma State University devised the parking meter as a viable solution to the increasing need for Main Street parking control.  The first of their meters was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935.

Ironically, patrolling the meters became another hot topic for the towns along Route 66.  Because it was relatively easy to abuse a parking meter system, many towns established patrolling meter persons.

Hitching a Ride
During World War II, hitchhiking came into its own.  As the demand for public transportation exceeded availability, hitchhiking often became the only means for a serviceman to visit home before shipping out.

For the traveling public, it was considered almost a patriotic duty to give a ride to a man in uniform.  In some instances, hitchhiking received official sanction when insurance companies waived policy restrictions so that truck drivers might carry soldiers and sailors thumbing their way across the country.

The End of an Era:
Eisenhower's Interstate Plan

Dwight D. Eisenhower, future president of the United States, was not impressed with the efficiency of Route 66.  While he was leading Allied troops into Germany during World War II, Eisenhower became enamored with the German Autobahn highway network, reinforcing his belief that America needed a better and more efficient road system.

The Dwight d. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (commonly known as the Interstate Highway System) is a network of limited-access roads including freeways, highways, and expressways forming part of the National Highway System of the United States of America.  Construction was authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the original portion was completed by 1991.  The network as since been extended and as of 2006 it had a total length of 46,876 miles.

Route 66:  Avery's Road
 While overseeing the national system, Cyrus Avery, the first chairman of the State Highway Association of State Highway Officials; Frank Sheets (chief engineer of the Illinois Highway Department); and B.H. Piepmeier (chief engineer for the Missouri Highway Department), created a road of their own.  It would begin in Chicago, historical gatetway to the West, travel through St. Louis, Missouri, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Amarillo, Texas, Tucumcari and Gallup, New Mexico, Holbrook and Flagstaff, Arizona, and finally to Barstow and Los Angeles, California.  The first description of what became Route 66, covering roughly 2400 miles, was submitted to the national board on October 30, 1925.

In November 1926, the route was accepted and given the number 66.  Avery helped organize the Route 66 Highway Association in 1927 to expedite the construction.  He nicknamed Route 66 The Main Street of America.  As district manager of the Works Progress Administration, he committed the resources of the federal government to completing the paving.

Automobile Age
The 1920s was truly the automobile age.  Car manufacturers rushed to meet a growing demand.  Henry Ford introduced a less elaborate and cheaper Model T in 1916.  In Oklahoma, the number of registered automobiles rose from 9000 in 1914 to 144,500 in 1920 and to 576,046 in 1930.  As the number of automobiles rose, so did the demand for more and better roads.

As public opinion rose in support of the National Good Roads Association, Oklahoma Governor Martin Trapp and the Oklahoma Legislature set out to address road problems in 1923.  The creation of the State Highway Commission gave the authority to build and maintain a state highway system without county interference.  A bill was passed allowing the levy of a 2.5 cent per gallon gasoline tax.  The revenue from this tax was ear-marked for highway construction and maintenance.

Sleeping on the Road
 Route 66 was affected by the expanding economy and middle-class vacationers.  This led to weveral changes - the most dramatic was the expansion of the variety of overnight accommodations.  In the 1920s, local merchants had set aside campsites near downtown business districts to keep potential customers nearby.  Entrepreneurs quickly developed additional camp areas with services, on the edges of towns.  Campsite cabins were soon equipped with cots, chairs, and camp stoves, costing from 50 cents to 74 cents per night.  By 1926, most cabins included a bed, table, benches, and water pitcher.

The limited access highway system, which started in the 1950s, promoted the growth of large facilities which were constructed by hotel industry leaders such as Hilton or Sheraton.  New companies such as Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn, and Marriott emerged with the capital and marketing to take advantage of the new opportunities.  Many independents, expanding with the growing market, affiliated themselves with national marketing associations such as Best Western.

Peace and Love on Route 66
 For hippies westbound on Route 66, likely destinations were Colorado or New Mexico, where many communes welcomed people looking for an alternative way of life.  Others rolled farther west to Los Angeles and the Sunset Strip or to San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury district.  Some were eastbound, heading for the Ozarks or all the way to Chicago's Old Town District.

A common sight on Route 66 was VW Microbus or hippie van painted in psychedelic colors with the driver flashing the peace sign.  Many in the movement hitchhiked with a guitar and an old army duffel bag for luggage.  Microbuses, vans, and other assorted vehicles were often used for camping or living accommodations.  Some hippies sold love beads, macramé or leather goods on the road.  Being "on the road" was a significant part of the era with Route 66 as the main east-west corridot.

Are We There Yet?
The booming post-war economy brought increased affluence to the average family.  Sightseeing by automobile became the standard way to see many parts of the United States.  There were the old standbys to visit, such as the Grand Canyon, and the new attractions, such as Disneyland and KnottsBerry Farm.

With all the choices and 28 cent per gallon gasoline, motoring sightseers tended to quicken their pace in an attempt to visit as many places as possible in as little time as possible.  The standard 10 day or 2 week vacation further encouraged rushed schedules and less interest in experiencing the subtleties of individual attractions.

In a time before all automobiles were equipped with the modern bells and whistles, families used outside source amenities.  Window air conditioners and heaters, 8-track tape decks, and generic maps were commonly seen in the vehicles.  In response to the increase in family trips, travel games, and novelties flooded the market during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Drive-In Theater
The drive-in theater was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead Jr.  Experimenting in his own driveway in Camden, New Jersey, he mounted a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, projected onto a screen he had nailed to trees in his backyard, and used a radio placed behind the screen for sound.  He opened the first commercial drive-in in 1933 with a 30 x 40 foot screen, accommodating 400 cars.  Sound was provided by three main speakers mounted next to the screen.

While Hollingshead's drive-in theater only lasted three years, the idea caught on in other locations around the country.  As their popularity grew, drive-in theaters began to add other attractions, such as miniature golf courses, boat rides, and concessions.  Sound projection continued to improve,wi th individual volume-controlled speakers that hung on the car windows in the 1950s and FM radio stations in the 1970s.

The Road Lives On
The official end of Route 66 as a national highway does not mean that Route 66 no longer exists.  There are still vast stretches of the old two-lane road open to traffic, allowing travelers to leave the fast lane and explore the real America.  And there are still a few of the old familiar landmarks and many familiar faces of the people who work and travel along Route 66.

Route 66 lives in another way as well - in the minds and hearts of people around the world. To people outside of the United States, Route 66 is a popular destination, a place where they hope to find the enduring spirit of America.  To most Americans, the Road is a reflection of days gone by, a simper time when they cruised toward the setting sun with the entire family, looking for adventure.

Promotion and Preservation of Route 66
The promotion of US Route 66 started before its creation and continued for most of its duration.  Initially, promotion efforts focused on the primary task of getting the route built, then it switched to safety, direct routing, and of course, commerce and business along the route.  Since its decommissioning in 1985, interested groups and individuals have worked to preserve Route 66.

In addition to the National Route 66 Federation, there are Route 66 associations in all Route 66 states plus associations across the globe that seek to continue promotion and preservation efforts.  This renewed effort is supported by state departments of transportation, which marked the route as an historic highway in every state.  Current promotion efforts focus upon the cultural and historical significance as well as its effect upon the people of the route.

Enjoy more of Route 66.

Sights from McLean, Texas,
where I had a terrific steak at Red River Steakhouse.

The leaning water tower in Groom, Texas.
An OCD Mr. Hawthorne had to be restrained.

Cadillac Ranch.
Amarillo, Texas.
Nothing but a big mud hole with trash
and discarded spray paint cans.

No comments: