Route 66 - A Brief History
Nearly everybody has heard of Route 66. Some remember driving on it as kids, others refer to it in reference to motion pictures, while others think of it as the ultimate car trip. As Mustang nuts, we're sure some of you fall into the last category if not the first and second as well. However, a Route 66 pilgrimage isn't always that simple. For starters, the road was decommissioned in 1984, so it's no longer complete and you won't often find it on state maps, or even on many GPS systems like our trusty companion. Secondly, it runs a heck of a long way - a total of 2,448 miles, so figure in a good deal of time to do the trip 'properly.' Thirdly, you'll also want to figure the best time of year in which to do it. For some folks, the high summer will be too hot, especially in the Western Arizona/Eastern California sections, while doing it in the dead of winter, might make things a bit hairy on the Chicago to Oklahoma City portion, especially if you want to drive it in a Detroit muscle machine of sorts, which we believe is the only way to travel.
The stories about Route 66 are legendary. Novelist John Steinbeck referred to it as 'The Mother Road' in his 1939 work The Grapes of Wrath. Perhaps symbolizing the image of a better life out west, it was the route thousands of people took from parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas in the 1930s as the dust bowl literally wiped out everything they had. Some made it, a lot didn't, but the image of that 'moving' West was forever etched in the public consciousness. Route 66 was fully paved by the late 1930s and gained prominence in World War II as a major artery for shipping military equipment and supplies from the factories out east to the training bases located in the western regions. In 1946, a former US Marine Captain and jazz musician, Bobby Troupe, wrote 'Get Your Kicks on Route 66' which, sung by Nat King Cole, became the anthem for a journey on the Mother Road and in many respects remains so today (having been covered by a number of other music artists).
Route 66 reached its zenith in the early to mid-1950s, as the postwar boom along with a mushrooming in vehicle ownership and car trips, made on-the-road vacations the thing to do for many families. Roadside businesses that had made steady incomes during the War years, now catered to a civilian population with money to spend. Motor Courts, drive-in theaters, diners, restaurants, auto camps and unique roadside attractions all sprouted up along Route 66, bringing prosperity to many small and medium sized towns that flanked this stretch of black top. However, Route 66 ultimately became a victim of its own success. As the need and desire to travel great distances in a shorter time span became more of a priority, along with an ever growing number of vehicles on the roads, increasing calls were met for a more efficient system of main road arteries across America. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, after having witnessed Germany's Autobahn system as a General during World War II, felt the homeland needed a similar kind of high-speed expressway system. The first section of Route 66 to be bypassed happened in 1953, with the opening of the Turner Turnpike that connected the cities of Tulsa and Oklahoma City. In 1956, Eisenhower signed into law the Interstate Highway Act, which signalled the death knell for 66 as a major thoroughfare. Gradually, more and more bypasses sprung up, diverting traffic away from the towns that had foistered their living providing travellers with roadside services. As a result, many communities started to wither and die. The last remaining sections of 66 to survive were portions that went through Tucumcari, New Mexico and Williams, Arizona.
These were finally decommissioned in 1981 and 1984 respectively and with them, Route 66 became largely forgotten. Today, almost a quarter of a century later, preservation efforts have been made to bring at least some sections back to life. Historic Route 66 Associations have been formed and several stretches have been renamed National Scenic Byways. A growing number of roadside buildings have been or are being restored and historic markers now pepper the route. As a result, Route 66 is starting to reappear on maps once more.
The idea for a Modified Mustangs pilgrimage on the Mother Road originally came about after after the 2006 SEMA Show when driving a brand-X rental sled, we picked up a section of the road from Barstow to Victorville in California. The sun was setting and from the atmosphere driving along, one could almost imagine stepping through time
That's when it happened. We figured we should do the entire route, but with a couple of twists. Everybody seems to drive from East to West, so we figured we'd do the opposite, start in LA and drive to Chicago. Secondly, we needed a suitable vehicle to do it in - a Mustang of course, but something special. Thirdly, we needed to pick a date (April 28th was ultimately selected) and finally we wanted to throw together a couple of little shindigs along the way. Roush Performance was gracious enough to actually build us a car for the trip, an arrest-me-red 2007 427 R coupe and had it shipped to one of their dealers in SoCal. Tech Editor Don Roy and myself flew out to the West Coast, picked up the car and got set to embark upon our little adventure.
Kick Off Party
We decided to name our expedition the 'Route 66 In Reverse Tour' and kicked it off with a cruise-in at Galpin Auto Sports in North Hills, CA. The Galpin crew were gracious enough to clear out their front lot and set up a display in the work area with some of their latest offerings. A fully catered buffet was provided and Sales Manager Steve Carpenter gave us an exclusive tour of the facilities, including the amazing showroom where one of the most prolific collections of Ford and custom vehicles can be seen in one place, plus the Pimp My Ride set - the series is filmed on location at the GAS facilities. A number of folks made the trip out to our little gathering, like the crew from Turbonetics, including CEO Joe Hige, as well as Magnaflow's Tanya Jacquot and Borla's Chris Kauffman. A whole slew of the Stangpede drove their Ponies up from San Diego and everybody found time to look at each other's cars, grab a bite and share stories - some even went for test drives. As if to signify the start of our trip, MM gave away a whole slew of Route 66 in Reverse t-shirts, which the folks at Custom Ts in Maryland had worked like mad to get ready in time for the event. If you've never been to Galpin Auto Sports, we recommend a visit. For Mustang and Ford nuts, it's like being a kid in a giant candy store.
So with the party over, the trip began in earnest on a Monday morning. Although the western portion of Route 66 actually terminates at the old US 101, now Olympic Blvd, for many folks, the symbol of journey's end is the Santa Monica Pier (there's even a Route 66 plaque there), so that's where we began. Having dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean for some daft reason, (it was freezing, even for the likes of me), we saddled up and headed east. For our trip and with the clock ticking, we elected to try and get out of the horrendous LA traffic as soon as possible. We drove the 427R to the junction of Olympic and Lincoln in Santa Monica where the road 'begins' but then decided to jump on Interstate 10, then grab I-15 in downtown Los Angeles, which more or less follows the original route out toward San Bernadino. One detour you should make if you can is in Rialto, site of one of the two remaining Wigwam motels on old Route 66.
On the freeway we got thumbs up from passers by and a few honkin' horns as folks checked out the retina-scorching Roush. Just north of San B, we picked up our first section of the original Route 66 and tracked North toward Victorville. It had taken us an hour and a half to reach this point, but we could already see the change in the landscape around us. Santa Monica had been temperate and breezy, here we were skirting the edge of the Mojave desert. With the vast conurbations of the LA basin behind us, we started to see artifacts of a time gone by. The pace was a refreshing change from the bustle of freeway traffic. Amid the houses and small businesses we caught a glance of some derelict lodging cabins and what looked like a restaurant sign. At this point we were entering the Cajon pass. A Route 66 landmark, the Summit Inn Cafe can be found at the top of the pass. It's been in business since 1952. On toward Victorville and despite the construction just east of downtown, we found decently marked signage marking Route 66 and Main Street. Named after a construction superintendent for the California Railroad, James Victor, this town serves as a regional hub and quite a prosperous one at that. Icons of the past include the Red Rooster Cafe, which houses the California Route 66 museum and if you've got time, the Green Tree Inn and Corral Motel are worth a look. Join us next month as we reach Barstow and head out into the wilds of the Mojave.