USA: Route 66 Chicago to Texas RV Trip (Part 1)It was a cold April day, the sort of morning that even a swig of moonshine wouldn’t have helped warm up our hearts as we headed away from Chicago’s lakefront on a small section of old Route 66, what Americans fondly call, “The Mother Road,” or as it’s also colloquially known, “The Main Street of America.”
AUTHOR and PHOTOGRAPHER: © Shane Boocock 2014
It was a cold April day, the sort of morning that even a swig of moonshine wouldn’t have helped warm up our hearts as we headed away from Chicago’s lakefront on a small section of old Route 66, what Americans fondly call, “The Mother Road,” or as it’s also colloquially known, “The Main Street of America.”
The transcontinental road known as Route 66 was initially established on November 11th, 1926 with road signs following a year later. Originally, Route 66 began on Jackson Blvd. at Michigan Ave in Chicago, Illinois, dissecting Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at the city pier in Santa Monica, California covering a total of 2,448 mud and muck miles (3,940 km).
The origins of Route 66 go back to 1857, when the U.S. War Department ordered Lt. Edward F. Beale, a Naval officer in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to build a government-funded wagon road along the 35th Parallel. Parts of his route were later renamed as auto trails and marked out by private organizations. Three of those roads were eventually merged to form Route 66. ‘The Lone Star Route’ passed through St. Louis on its way from Chicago to Cameron, Louisiana. ‘The National Old Trails Route’ was from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and finally they integrated parts of the ‘Ozark Trail Route’ that ended just south of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Eventually a shorter route was taken following the ‘Postal Highway’ between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas.
The road was eventually made famous by, Get Your Kicks on Route 66," often simplified as just "Route 66", a popular rhythm and blues song composed in 1946 by songwriter Bobby Troup. It was first recorded in the same year by Nat King Cole, and was subsequently covered by many artists including Chuck Berry in 1961 and the Rolling Stones in 1964.
If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
It winds from Chicago to LA,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
Now you go through Saint Looey
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.
Won't you get hip to this timely tip:
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
To be honest, much of Route 66 was forgotten once the start of Interstate 40 opened in the spring of 1973 . . . almost overnight many businesses were doomed. Within days, town’s along the route were condemned to die as what had been a steady stream of vehicles passing along Main Street had trickled down to one or two cars. On June 27th, 1985 it was officially removed from the US Highway system. Yet today, by meandering along some of the old stretches of the highway you can rediscover what it must have been like some 80 odd nostalgic years ago.
After our first 200 miles (320 km) we arrived in Springfield, the capital of Illinois in the heart of Abraham Lincoln country. Visitors can tour the 16th President of United States of America’s home, law offices, and the Old State Capitol where he served in the legislature. Then for the really serious Lincoln buffs, there’s a visit to the Lincoln Library and the Lincoln Museum as well as Lincoln’s Tomb. In town you’ll also find, gift shops, a museum and an original Route 66 drive-in diner. In Springfield we were literally just, ’24 Hours from Tulsa,’ another Route 66 town in the song Gene Pitney later made famous.
The next day Route 66 passed through the small town of Joplin, in the far southwest corner of Missouri before the road winds it’s way into Kansas. Joplin is probably best remembered as the place where Bonnie and Clyde, she with pistol and cigar depicted in old faded photographs, left behind when they hurriedly had to get out of town. Following in their tyre tracks we steered our RV across the state line into Kansas for all of 16 miles (25 km) before emerging in Oklahoma.
Once into Oklahoma we journeyed further west staring out at russet-coloured hills, stark plains, grasslands, leafless woods, wide rivers and small towns all connected by a thin ribbon of concrete. In the small Route 66 town of Chandler, Oklahoma we managed to squeeze our 37-foot (11.2 m) El Monte RV onto the forecourt of an old Phillips 66 service station, and didn’t we wish the gas prices were the same as in the 1930s. Today the average price is about US $3.50 a gallon, yet between 1932 and 1934 gasoline was only 0.10 cents a gallon.
In a buffeting wind that felt like it could flatten half of Oklahoma’s oil derricks, we pointed our rig towards the Texas Panhandle. However just outside Oklahoma City our awning above the slide-out lounge was sucked open by a dangerous gust of wind and became tangled into it’s spring-loaded roll. At 60 miles an hour the awning bashed and banged against the side panels sounding like of a tornado in full motion. At a ‘Love’s Truck Stop’ a mechanic named Jeff fixed our awning and wouldn’t accept any payment – such is the kindness of people living close to Route 66.
The Dust Bowl of the 1930s saw many farming families (mainly from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas) heading west for agricultural jobs in California. Route 66 passed through numerous small towns, and with the growing traffic on the highway, helped create the rise of small mom-and-pop businesses in gasoline service stations, motor courts and local cafes – for neon sign makers – it was heaven sent.
Much of the early highway, like all the other early highways, was gravel or graded dirt. Due to the efforts of the U.S. Highway 66 Association, Route 66 became the first US highway to be completely paved in 1938.
By 6 pm we had checked into the Cadillac RV Park in Amarillo, Texas, about a mile (1.6 km) from the famous Cadillac Cars buried nose down in the ground. The original ten graffiti covered Cadillacs buried in the dirt were moved to the present site many years ago and they attract hundreds of by-passers daily, picture takers as well as hunters and gatherers still looking for souvenirs.
About 30 minutes south of Amarillo, is the hardly-ever-mentioned Palo Duro Canyon, a place you can drive right into. Its distinction being that it is the second largest canyon in the USA after the Grand Canyon. This is a great place to wander trails along the caprock escarpment where early Spanish explorers, Comanche, Apache and buffalo hunters once roamed. There are camping facilities at Palo Duro Canyon State Park as well as outdoor activities such as horseback riding, hiking, nature study, bird watching, mountain biking and scenic drives.
The next morning we reached what is deemed to be the halfway point of Route 66. The Midpoint Café is a restaurant, souvenir and small antique shop in Adrian, Texas about 45 miles west of Amarillo. It bills itself as geographically the midway point between Chicago and Los Angeles. Signage in Adrian proudly declares the 1,139-mile (1,832 km) distance to each ‘original US 66 end point’ and the café's slogan is "When you're here, you're halfway there." The café, now known as the Adrian Cafe, was built in 1928 and expanded in 1947, operated 24 hours a day during the road's heyday and is one of the oldest continuously operated Route 66 cafés.
The romantic fascination with Route 66 is what attracts travellers and families year on year from all over the world in cars, RVs and on Harley Davidson motorbikes, in fact a whole new generation of people craving the nostalgia associated with the best-known highway in America. The Mother Road today is more than just a forgotten highway . . . it’s the real Main Street of America.
Part 2 of Route 66 will be in featured in issue 32.
On the road tips:
Before leaving every morning it’s worth remembering a few RV rules that will help in retaining your damage waiver bond:
* Always wind down your roof airlock covers
* Lock all external storage bins as they are apt to pop open at 70 miles an hour.
* Set your mirrors and watch for any low campground poles that have a nasty habit of jumping out on your rear end when you are cornering
* Turn off your water heater as you won’t be needing it until your next campsite
* Always have somebody watch you reverse and even better advice is to try and pull through a site or parking lot.
* In buffeting winds pull over into a rest area especially if it is side on crosswinds as this can damage your awnings!
State and City Websites:
P: +1 573-751-4133
P: +1 405-230-8420
P: +1 312-744-2400
P: +1 217 789 2360
P: +1 800 692 1338
Palo Duro Canyon
P: +1 (512) 389-8900
El Monte RV is privately owned offering RV rentals from different city locations across the United States. They feature the largest number of RV models in the motorhome industry. El Monte RV can be contacted at www.elmonterv.com
Shane Boocock flew courtesy of award winning Air Tahiti Nui, the international flag-carrier of Tahiti and her islands in the latest-generation Airbus A340-300 aircraft direct from Auckland to Tahiti and on to Los Angeles: W: www.airtahitinui.co.m
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