I recently spent most of a day driving along “The Mother Road.” That’ s what they call Route 66, a now defunct highway that is a legend of Americana.
Route 66 was created in 1926 as a direct route from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was heavily used until the interstates became the faster, more popular way to get across the country. But people who loved the Road still used it until 1985 when the last section was decommissioned by the government. It now is mainly a historical by-way that is not an actual numbered highway. To drive the whole way you must use roads built later that run alongside the original road, now badly dilapidated and overgrown. Also many sections are gone entirely and you need to go onto parts of the interstates that replaced it.
I went to a museum in Pontiac, IL that has several rooms full of information. Exhibits contain items that come from places along the route, including Steak and Shake which began as a Route 66 roadside diner.
There are many people that are associated with Route 66. One guy, Bob Waldmire, was known as an advocate for the road. Bob actually grew up living on the route. His parents owned a diner in Springfield, IL. (Side fact: his father is credited as inventing corn dogs.) He watched the cars going off to faraway places and decided he wanted the adventure, too. He traveled it for 20 years, working as an artist. Many route maps are illustrated by him. He drove a VW bus made into a camper van and was considered an old hippie. (yes, there are others besides me LOL)
Bob was the inspiration for the character “Fillmore”, the VW van, in the Pixar movie CARS. You do know that movie is about Route 66 and how the small towns were bypassed by the interstates, right?
I also learned about “walldogs.” These are the people who paint the giant advertisements on the sides of buildings. They worked along Route 66 a lot and, of course, all over the country. This is a fascinating subject that I am thinking about incorporating into the novel I’m writing. Being a walldog is an ideal job for one of the characters. More details will follow in a few days on my writing blog.
Interestingly, there was nothing at this museum about the TV show, “Route 66, that was popular in the 1960’s. I thought it might be mentioned, but I guess they wanted only factual information. There are other museum along the road and maybe they have something on the show.
All in all, I drove about 80 miles north from Genoa, IL to Joliet. Route 66 actually begins/ends in Chicago, but I didn’t feel like driving in the city. I really want to drive the whole route, but for now, parts of it is all I can manage. But someday…