"Get Your Kicks on Route 66" was a jazz song that my Dad would play and I would listen to when I was growing up. My parents took Route 66 on their honeymoon in 1960, travelling from Toronto to Los Angeles. It was the main east-west corridor for decades. Here is its story.
On November 11, 1926, Route 66 first opened to traffic. At 2448 miles long, it ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. An early foot race was held in 1928 called the "Bunion Derby" where participants had to run over Route 66's gravel and dirt surface from Los Angeles to New York City. Oklahoma Cherokee Andy Payne won the race and took home the $25,000 prize.
In 1932, signs advertised Route 66 as a the way to get to the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
Okies piled into their Model T's in the 1930's to roll over a dusty Route 66 to California to escape their plight. Grapes of Wrath author John Steinbeck called the highway "the mother road".
As the highway grew busier, more and more "mom and pop" businesses sprouted along its sides: service stations, teepee-shaped motels, frozen custard stands, Indian curio shops and reptile farms.
By 1938, Route 66 became the first highway to be completely paved. While the highway was now safer to travel, it still remained dangerous in sections with hairpin turns like the Black Mountains, where people referred to the road as "Bloody 66".
The Forties brought military vehicles to "the Main Street of America". Military industries filled the road with traffic. Manahattan Project worker Richard Feynman used to travel frequently from Los Alamos to ALbuquerque to visit his tuberculosis afflicted wife, a 100 mile trip.
The Fifties brought vacationers to Route 66, intent on getting a peak at the Painted Desert, the nearby Grand Canyon and the Meteor Crater.
Route 66 can also claim to be the birthplace of fast food: Red Giant's Hamburg Stand was located in Springfield Missouri while the first McDonald's was located in San Bernardino, California.
As one person labelled the route, it was a "microcosm of American culture". Sadly, the route was closed in 1985, having been bypassed by the American Interstate Highway System. But it would not be forgotten. Movies like "Cars", in which John Meyer sings a remake of "Get Your Kicks on Route 66", have kept the highway's memory alive.
Note: Today, you can visit "Historic Route 66", sections of the old highway which remain preserved.