Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rt. 66 Realities

Outside of St. Louis in Missouri, the road signs smooth out. Also, you can count on Rt. 66 being the service road through the state. There are times when you get bounced back to the interstate, but when you are on 66 it is largely rewarding. You do drive down Main Street USA.
That was the point in 1926 when the highway was approved and work started. The roads west of the Mississippi were dirt with some paved around the cities and towns. The idea was to link the paved roads and allow for better commerce between Chicago and St. Louis. This would spread to other states allowing a link from the heartland to the coast. The southerly route was chosen because of its better climate and easier road maintenance. This was impressive to Army Officer Dwight Eisenhower who was involved with a convoy from D.C. to California which took months because of bad roads. The rest of 66's importance and lore came around because of the migration caused by the Dust Bowl, the World War, and the return of the GI's with their access to cars and a desire to see the nation.

In 1956, that same Eisenhower signed into law the Federal Interstate Highways Act and gave us the road system we know now. It is beautiful, but it meant slow death for many of the communities along 66. In Missouri, the roadway has been covered over and used for the interstate. The towns affected have dealt with the loss or slowly become ghost towns. The businesses that once flourished are closed with the buildings collapsing and overgrown. Not all, but alot. Some of the building are now Adult entertainment business. The multitude of gas stations are largely closed. They were too small for today's trucks. They have become abandoned or are Rt. 66 info stops.

You can still find some of the attractions off 66 in operation. If they were successful during 66's heyday, then they might still be around. Once such attraction is the caverns at Springfield Missouri, in a word fantastic. The Fantastic Caverns are the only caverns in the US where you can drive through it. It is worth the trip. It was 100 degrees out and we went 126 feet down into the 60 degrees of cool. The rooms are so big, that you could hold a concert in them and they did in the 1960's for Ozark Country radio.

As Rt. 66 in Missouri came to an end, we got to see more of the original Route 66 roadway. There are places where you can stop and see the poured concrete roadway bed that was never asphalted over. It was poured and hand floated and brushed by armies of men who camped out to get the work done. There no hotels or service stations or very, very few and everything had to be brought in. The bridges were also very narrow. There were no shoulders anywhere and in some parts only room for one vehicle at a time. This was tough driving conditions. In some of the museums along the way, they write about the trucking companies who drove in teams. Each driver would have section of the road like the pony express.

At Gay Parita Missouri, station owner Gary was a wealth of information about the old roadway and all the turns that I was about to drive. His garage was built in 1927 and station in 1930. Around him are some of the many buildings that housed business, that are now closed and overgrown. I am told it will get worse before it gets better.

1 comment:

maryafrederick said...

WOW! I just read several of the days and amazed. Your young neice is not as good at remembering history. Thank goodness I have you to teach. Much love, continue safely, Mary Alana