Whether you say, US Highway 66, America’s Main Street, Will Rogers Highway or The Mother Road, “Route 66“, is a section of road that’s been called many things (some of them not printable). For students of history, it conjures images of dustbowls, desperate times, and the Jodes, puttering along in their overstuffed truck, headed for the California promised land. For others, classic art deco design, Burma shave signs and motor courts come to mind.
Born in the roaring ’20’s this highway became a symbol of hope during the Great Depression as motorists chased their dreams westward for a better life. Those hard times forever changed a whole generation. The late 1940’s, however, brought a fresh era of consumers who, while enjoying the peacetime plenty that followed World War II, spread a new wave of prosperity as they explored the wonders of our vast country via the Mother Road. They remembered how bad it had been and appreciated how good it had become. Returning soldiers had seen the world, now they rushed to see America!
Most children of the 60’s, remember the CBS TV show, “Route 66,” which ran for a few years in the early part of that decade. That show, with it’s iconic Corvette, helped keep alive the excitement and romance of following that highway far beyond its short run. It revived that feeling of hope, adventure and freedom. In reality, by the time the interstate highway system neared completion in the late 70’s, much of the old road, thousands of small businesses and their poor owners had been bypassed. Their prosperity vanished, literally, overnight.
It seemed that only one man had the passion to do anything about it. So, Angel Delgadio, a simple barber from Seligman, along with his wife, Vilma, packed their car and drove from town to town along the Arizona route, trying to convince anyone who would listen that times could be good again, if only they’d band together and create a new reason for folks to travel. Talk about a great example of what just one man can do. He, alone, sparked the revitalization of old Route 66 through Arizona, and the rest of the country slowly followed. (We’ll write more about Angel and his haircuts later). Even the Smithsonian recognizes his contribution.
Today, much of the interest in America’s Main Street comes from Europe, generated, partly, by reruns of Route 66. “It’s the ultimate American experience,” one German gentleman told us when we met him in Seligman. Busloads of Europeans regularly visit the shops there and all along the route. We heard as much French, German and Japanese spoken along that stretch as we heard English.
We first explored the western end of the Arizona road when I wrote a cover article for Arizona Highways (July, 2000) dedicated to the portion from Flagstaff and west to the California border (see www.azbiways.com). Still fascinated with the people and the road’s historical significance 15 years later, we decided to reprise the Arizona portion once again, update what’s still there and what’s gone. A few months later, we explored into California, and now, finally, we’re completing the whole highway.
Because we live in Arizona, it’s easier for us to begin at the “end,” in Santa Monica, California, and travel to the beginning of it all – Chicago, Illinois. Check back often, follow us across the country, and we’ll keep you up to date on our travels. Share our story with your friends and family through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest and Google and, perhaps, tell us about your experiences along the way.
See you on the Road!