New Year’s Day I skipped the Rose Parade and the football game to visit the Gene Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park. Entry was free that particular day, but that wasn’t my motivation. Rather, I wanted to catch the Route 66 Exhibit before it moved on just a few days later.
I remember driving in our dark green Oldsmobile on Route 66, the Mother Road, when I was young, my mom and dad sitting up front, my brother and me in the back seat, no seat belts holding us safely in place, just luck of the road. Without air conditioning, being on a long trip in a car across the desert was a test of endurance, even for those not getting out of the dust bowl, although in no comparison to their ordeals. I recall dad having a canvas water bag strung over the front of the radiator, in case it boiled over. And, I can distinctly remember my brother and me sucking on ice cubes we’d get at rare stops along the way. They wouldn’t last long, but the wet towel they’d been wrapped in, held against our faces, would then become our air conditioning. Those were long, long trips. We’d play the license plate game, the what color car’s coming next game, join in sing-alongs led by mom, look for the next Burma Shave signs alongside the road, we’d poke and annoy each other until dad would yell at us to settle down…. great memories. You bet I wanted to catch the Route 66 Exhibit before it left town!
One particularly interesting fact I learned from the exhibit, the Disney Pixar cartoon called “Cars” was based on the Route 66 story. I’ve never seen the film, but have been on the ride at Disney’s California Adventure theme park (next to Disneyland). In fact, it’s one of my favorite rides and areas of the park. I hope to find the DVD so I can watch it.
I requested permission to take these Route 66 Exhibit photos, and thank the kindly guard who said yes. It was a fantastic, interesting exhibit, and these pictures just barely scratch the surface.
As the song by Bobby Troup goes:
“If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, the highway that’s the best.
Get your kicks on Route 66!”
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 Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” 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.