Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

August 4, 2013

“ROUTE 66 – THE MOTHER ROAD” BY: NEAL MURPHY

Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:52 am

 

U. S. Highway Route 66 was one of the original highways within the U. S. Highway System.  It was officially established on November 11, 1926.  This famous highway ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and ending at Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles.  The road became even more notable from the television hit show “Route 66” in the 1960s.

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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.  Many mom & pop businesses prospered along the route, including service stations, cafes, and motor courts.

At the time I did not realize that Route 66 was such a famous road, but at the age of ten I traveled from East Texas to San Diego, California with my parents in a 1941 Chevrolet on this highway.  My brother, Richard, graduated from high school in 1945 and immediately joined the Navy.  He was shipped out to San Diego to the naval station there for his two-year stint.  Richard found himself quite ill in the base hospital, and after a call from his commander, my parents felt it necessary to make a hasty trip to California to visit him.  I had never been out of the state at this time, but that was about to change.

Dad drove from East Texas to Amarillo where he connected with Route 66 and headed west.  It was summer and the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees.  Since air conditioning for automobiles had not yet been invented, we traveled mostly at night in an attempt to keep cool.

As we reached the New Mexico line, we were stopped, our brakes inspected, and then ordered to purchase two canvas water bags, fill them with water, and hang them on the front bumper of the car.  Our adventure had begun.

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I had never seen sagebrush or a large cactus plant, or as much sand as in New Mexico.  Crossing into Arizona, our car was searched for contraband, that is, any fruit or vegetables.  These items had to be destroyed.  The car trunk was also searched, for what reason I never knew.

Driving through the mountains was an adventure.  On the up grade I noted several places to pull off the road and add water to the radiator.  The engines of that day tended to overheat, thus the water was a necessity for travelers.  On the down grade cars were stopped at various stations, and their brakes were checked to make sure they were not overheated.  If they were too hot, the car was parked until cooling took place.

The road passed through the Painted Desert and near the Grand Canyon. It also neared Meteor Crater in Arizona, but we did not stop to explore.  One night while driving in the mountains outside Tucson the generator on our Chevrolet stopped working.  There was no place to pull off the narrow mountain road, so Dad kept driving and praying that the battery would last just a little longer.  We could see the lights of the city in the distance.  Driving into Tucson Dad stopped at the first motel that we saw, the Owl Motel, to rest and get the car repaired.  I recall the motel quite well as the owner had a large owl in a bird-cage in the office.  I was very interested in this wise old bird as I had never seen one before.  In checking the internet I find that this motel is still in business, though renamed the Owl Lodge at some point.

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After several days of driving on the famous highway, we finally arrived at the base hospital.  I was not allowed to visit my brother because I was under the age of twelve, a common rule in those days, so I had to sit in the waiting room thoroughly disgusted.

I noted that there were many Phillips 66 gas stations along Route 66, and there is a good reason.  Phillips Petroleum Company was incorporated on June 13, 1917 by brothers L. E. and Frank Phillips of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  In 1927, Phillips started up its first petroleum refinery in Borger, Texas designed to produce gasoline as an automobile fuel.  On a trip to Oklahoma City the brothers were thinking of names for their new company when Frank noticed that their car was going quite fast. He commented to L.E. “I bet we are going 60 miles per hour.”  L.E. responded, “We are doing 66 miles per hour, brother”.   Then it dawned on them – they were driving 66 miles an hour on route 66 – hence the new name “Phillips 66 Petroleum Company” was adopted in 1930, influenced by the famous highway.

Route 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime.  It was officially removed from the U. S. Highway System on June 27, 1985 after it had been replaced in its entirety by the new Interstate Highway 40.  As a result, most of the small businesses along the old route 66 have closed down, though many sections of the road have been preserved and are still in use as state highways or incorporated into city streets.

If I had a “bucket list” of things to do, on it would be taking another trip out west driving on as much of Route 66 as possible thereby retracing my journey so many years ago.

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