...there used to be a television series called "Route 66"?
It's true! According to Bob Moore in his book, Route 66: Spirit of the Mother Road:
In 1960, actors Martin Milner and George Maharis set out in a brand new Corvette to break ground with an exciting new television series about two young guys, Tod and Buz, traveling the country in search of adventures and life. “route 66” (note that the “r” is always lowercase for the TV show) was the first television series to go on location all across the country, requiring several eighteen wheelers and a crew of fifty, who were constantly creating on-the-spot techniques to make the series come alive. For four years and 116 episodes, “route 66” offered fine dramatic entertainment. In the midst of the third season, George Maharis came down with a severe case of meningitis and was forced to leave the series. He was replaced by Glen Corbett, who took the role of Linc (Lincoln) Case.Although named for the famous highway, only two episodes were actually filmed on Route 66, one in Needles, CA and the other along the pre-1937 route in Santa Fe, NM.
So many people have asked me, "What is Route 66?" Other than being completely astounded that not everyone in the whole world knows (hey, i'm kind of obsessed with history and traveling), I do my best to sum up just what Route 66 is. It was more than a road, it existed more than just for a time. It created an era, it WAS Americana at its best. I thought Jerry McClanahan and Jim Ross said it best in their "Here it Is" Route 66 map series and I want to share it with you. It's a little long but it is the most comprehensive and true coverage of what 66 really was. They explain how the name "66" came to be. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
Route 66. It is a symbol of American ingenuity, spirit, and determination. For millions, it represents a treasure chest of memories, a direct link to the days of 2-lane highways, family vacations, and picnic lunches at roadside tables. It brings up all the images of going somewhere, of souvenir shops, reptile pits, and cozy motor courts; of looking forward to the next stop—a slice of breezy shade, an Orange Crush, a two-cent deposit. Route 66. It’s a winding grade, a rusty steel bridge, and flickering neon at a late-night diner. It is mountains and desert and plains and forest. America’s Mother Road, all of this and more, is today the world’s most famous highway, even though officially it no longer exists. And it all began, simply enough, with the ordinary needs of a growing nation and the vision of one man.
In 1924, Oklahoma Highway Commissioner Cyrus Avery, nationally known among transportation officials, was recruited by the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads to help develop a new system of Interstate highways. Avery accepted, and throughout 1925 worked within an appointed committee to connect hundreds of existing roads in the creation of this nationwide network.
Given broad authority, Avery made sure that one of the chose routes, designed with the backing of officials in Missouri and Illinois, cut directly across his home state as part of a Chicago to Los Angeles thoroughfare. When first presented, this somewhat unconventional routing was not well received, however, and it took months of persuasion by a determined Avery to overcome the opposition. Finally, his overall plan won acceptance, though its approval was followed, almost immediately, with still more disagreement, this time over the proposed numbering assignments.
While US 60 was Avery’s first choice, he was challenged in this selection straightway by the governor of Kentucky, who demanded the more prestigious zero-ending number for a route crossing his state, tentatively designated US 62. As the argument escalated, the governor went a step further, contending that the Kentucky highway, which originated in Newport News, Virginia, should connect with Avery’s route in Springfield, Missouri to create a true, east-west trans-coastal highway, namely US 60. This would break up Avery’s route and leave the stretch connecting Springfield and Chicago demoted to “branch” status, an idea Avery refused to consider. The debate raged well into 1926, when Avery at last realized he must reach a settlement quickly in order to have his highway commissioned before upcoming elections at come could jeopardize his political appointment. In a hasty resolution blessed by good timing, Avery deferred to Kentucky, opting for the number 66, a number his chief engineer, John Page, inadvertently discovered had not been assigned. Avery liked the sound of the double sixes, and agreed it was an acceptable alternative to the unwanted 62. At last, with all parties satisfied, Washington granted final approval, and Route 66, by proclamation of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, was officially designated on November 11, 1926.
To help promote his new highway, Avery organized the US 66 Highway Association shortly after leaving office, and through its efforts, Route 66 was soon entrenched as America’s premier highway. Hard times awaited, however, and during the declared of the Depression and Dust Bowl it became a route of escape, carrying thousands of families westward from the arid lands of Oklahoma and Texas and Arkansas. It was these migrants, seeking salvation from the drought, whose plight was immortalized in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the novel in which he so aptly defined Route 66 as “the mother road, the road of flight.”
The Mother Road. It was a name that fit, and a name that stuck, for it brought up images of shelter and safety and other comforting scenes. It was a name that represented hope.
During World War II, US 66 became a military conduit, a fast-flowing artery of men and munitions and equipment. The continuous convoys kept the highway humming and the merchants busy, though Route 66, a roadway designed for civilian travel, paid the price in wear and tear and eventually weakened under the load. This did not go unnoticed in Washington, where officials were already considering the development of a wider, faster, limited-access highway system, one that could handle the toughest demands. Regrettably, by way’s end the damage was done, and the demise of US 66, though still years away, was now seen as inevitable.
But for the time, a return to peace brought new prosperity and an unprecedented tourist boom to America. Fueled by Bobby Troup’s jazzy hit “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” and a new appreciation for the freedom they had earned, American G.I.s re-entering the mainstream were itchy to travel, and the highway cashed in. As post-war traffic increased, businesses multiplied, and the competition spurred the growth of tourist traps and curio shops and an explosion of neon that soon illuminated the way, splashing every sizable boulevard on Route 66 with pulsing color. Motor courts became “motels,” cafes became “restaurants,” and general stores evolved into “trading posts.” Hundreds of billboards helped spread the word.
It was an era of glitz and hustle and good times, but the end has already been foretold, and by the mid-1950s the Interstates were muscling their way west. Over the next fifteen years Route 66 was fair game; it was ripped up, downgraded, shoved aside, and realigned, and dozens of towns dependent on its traffic were strangulated in the process. By the end of the 1960s, with the damage done, America’s Main Street had essentially ceased to function as a “through” route, through it was not officially decommissioned until after the stubborn citizens of Williams, Arizona, the last town to be bypassed, lost a final legal battle in 1984.
Today, Route 66 is an ill-defined brew of fragments and access roads and local highways. Yet almost all of it remains, to be explored, enjoyed, experienced. And despite some deteriorating roadbed and collapsing ruins, preservationists continue to pursue remedies, and enthusiasts, merchants, associations, and even the bureaucracy that initially laid it to waste are not all working together to reinforce its place in history as “the highway that’s the best.” Route 66, America’s Mother Road, is alive and well.