My family’s many summer sojourns down “The Main Street of America” during
the Sixties etched an indelible
succession of stunning roadside visuals into eager eyes. Route 66 fueled a backseat fantasy of the majestic and
mysterious west, a wonderland of mountains and mesas, Cowboys and Indians, neon signs and gaudy billboards.
These rapid-fire visuals, framed through the family Ford’s bug streaked windshield, became the strong
recollections of a boy’s wistful yearnings as the roadside marvels blurred by, just out of reach.
Even then progress was intruding upon fantasy, through the cause of
progress and the rubber stamp of expediency.
Each summer found another town bypassed by the interstate, another stretch of two-lane abandoned, another
roadside attraction shuttered. After a lengthy decline, the last section of old 66 became obsolete in 1984, the
shields came down, and Route 66, famed in song and story, was eulogized in numerous publications, seemingly
destined to be just another cast-off travel corridor, the “Oregon Trail” of its time.
The death notices were premature. Route 66 had struck such a chord
with “roadies” that we refused to give it up so
easily. Associations began springing up in the late Eighties to promote and preserve the memories of our favorite
highway, while authors like Michael Wallis helped popularize ol’ Mother Road.
Those nostalgic visions of roadside wonders kept simmering in my subconscious
through my high school and
college years, sometimes emerging as sketches of Stuckey’s signs and old cafes. My Dad and I made a special
Route 66 trip back out to California in 1981; this time I made him stop at everything. Tantalizing glimpses of
older pavement led me to research old highway maps for the early routes. 1983 brought several excursions,
including a journey of exploration from Oklahoma City to Santa Monica and back that consumed 14 days and
about 36 rolls of film. 1986 found me tracing the old routes during an eight-day trip to Chicago. Frequent Route
66 pilgrimages followed, each bringing some forgotten aspect of the road to light, each increasing my desire to see
Today, things are brighter along old 66. “Historic 66” signs are
now up in many places to guide the traveler, old
businesses are being rehabilitated, and tourists are hitting the off-ramps to find and drive the old route, infusing it
with new life.
My desire to discover as much of the old alignments of Hwy 66 as possible
has led to collaboration with fellow
road historian Jim Ross on a set of Route 66 cruising maps, a video exploring mysterious “lost” sections of the
early incarnation, and a three-part series of articles detailing the surprising quantity of Route 66 remnants along
the pre-1937 route through Santa Fe. I have also enjoyed exposing the almost mythological stretches of The
Jericho Gap, and other little known sections in New Mexico and Arizona. To me, Route 66 is a fascinating puzzle,
an archeological dig of over 2448 miles through 7 decades of roadside Americana.
Preserving and restoring Route 66 scenes through my artwork is one way
I can contribute to this commemoration
and celebration of our highway heritage. The special visual “fix” I acquired as a child still haunts me, but Route
66 is now much more than just the “vacation road” to me, as I have learned of the other roles this highway has
played in our county’s development. My works may reflect the lean times of the Dustbowl days, as well as the
triumphs of tourism. I frequently feature old cars in my scenes. The ‘66 culture was primarily a car culture, its
resources (indeed its very pavement) dedicated to expediting the progress of the auto and its occupants, while
providing a livelihood for those trying to make a living along its flanks.
I feel a kinship with those roadside entrepreneurs who staked their
lives on two lanes of pavement and a steady
stream of traffic. Behind the brightly lit facades are the people and their stories. They make their presence known
in my artwork, sometimes in a subliminal shape glimpsed through a window, other times posing proudly along the
road. I have visited with many of these business people through the years; we share a dependency on the old
highway and a love for simpler times not too far past.