Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Early days and Hard Times in the 1920's and 1930's/Route 66 An Overview of the Mother Road Part 1

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Lets talk about the highway itself. From Wikipedia:

Map of Route 66
Image from Wikipedia.
"U.S. Route 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926—with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in America, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Los Angeles, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both a hit song and the Route 66 television show in the 1960s.
Route 66 served as a major path for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed.People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.

Route 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime, and it was officially removed from the United States Highway System on June 27, 1985 after it had been replaced in its entirety by the Interstate Highway System. Portions of the road that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been designated a National Scenic Byway of the name "Historic Route 66", which is returning to some maps. Several states have adopted significant bypassed sections of the former US 66 into the state road network as State Route 66."

The Grapres Of Wrath book cover
Image from Wikipedia.
I have long had a passion for armchair travel. One of my favorite pastimes is reading travel books. I love stories of epic journeys and the road trip across America is a classic of the genre. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck is one such book. In it, The Joad Family of Oklahoma lose their Oklahoma farm during the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930's. Rumors of opportunities led them, like so many people in real life, to take to Route 66 and head to California. Thus began the era where Route 66 became one of the most famous highways in both literal importance and mythic stature. The book was a huge best seller and was eventually followed by a now classic film starring Henry Fonda:



Migrany Mother By Dorothe Lange
Image from Wikipedia.
The vast majority of of families that fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930's continued the American tradition of westward expansion by loading up the family farm truck with as many of their personal items as they could fit along with all the members of the family. It was a desperate exodus and the poverty caused by several years of crop failures had many of these folks literal on the brink of starvation. Being early in the days of the federal highway system, services could be sparse in many areas, so space would have to be reserved for traveling supplies and what food they had, which was almost always in short supply. Also, the vehicles they were driving were often old and worn Model T trucks. So mechanical suppiles might be needed to keep the rig moving. At the least you would need some extra fuel and water, especially water. Route 66 crosses the Southwestern US which contain some large and quite extreme deserts. So we are looking at a situation where there are few services, old vehicles, hot weather, hungry people, and desperation. The journey would become the stuff of family histories as the highway that some were calling the "Mother Road" began to grow into its legendary status. Like Steinbeck's fictional account, the Ken Burn's documentary on the Dust Bowl did a great job of explaining how the trip went for so many.


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