Route 66

I think the odds that I will do a Route 66 road trip are getting rather slim. It’s not just that I’m getting up there in years, but the road hasn’t aged well.

Route 66 is one highway that even Americans who live nowhere near it still know about it. I have read that it is also one of the few American highways that non-Americans know.

It was originally commissioned in 1926. This 2,448-mile road from Chicago to Santa Monica was a big deal into the 1950s. But it lost some fame because of the newer Interstate Highway System. Still, it remains a road in our imagination, especially in the romantic notion of getting out on the highway and just driving and exploring.

U.S. Route 66 or U.S. Highway 66 or US 66 or just Route 66, is also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road. It was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. There are eight Route 66 states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the migrants feed from tributaries onto Route 66 on their way to California.

I am pretty sure my interest in Route 66 began in Fall 1960 when the Route 66 American television drama premiered on CBS. It ran until March 20, 1964, for a total of 116 episodes.  Route 66 had its setting change from week to week, with each episode being shot on location.

The show followed two young men on the road in a Chevrolet Corvette convertible. That car was a big part of my attraction to the show. I had to look up the show to remember the characters and actors. Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) was a recent college graduate searching for – something. His traveling partner was Buz Murdock (George Maharis). That character left midway through the third season and then Tod met a recently discharged Vietnam veteran named Lincoln Case, played by Glenn Corbett, who decided to follow Tod on his travels and stayed with him until the final episode.

The theme to the show was a hit on the radio, but a more popular record was “Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” which was composed in 1946 by American songwriter Bobby Troup. The twelve-bar blues arrangement and lyrics that follow the path of Route 66 was recorded by many other artists from Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters in 1946 to the rock versions I grew up with by Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones.

Why did it become America’s most famous road?

Route 66 had a pretty active midcentury “motel culture” so it really was a great road for a road trip. It was replaced by other roads including Interstate 40 that spans the continent and at times follows Route 66. US 66 was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985 because it had been replaced in its entirety by segments of the Interstate Highway System.

historic rt 66There are portions of the road (through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona) that are designated a National Scenic Byway under the name “Historic Route 66.” Other states have adopted bypassed sections of 66 into their state road networks, so you might see signs for a State Route 66.

Route 66 Association is the generic name of the non-profit associations established for preservation, restoration and promotion of the historic Route 66. These associations exist in all 8 Route 66 states.

“Route 66 has been in the shadows twice as long as it was in the spotlight, but there’s still this energy around it.” In the video, Phil Edwards does the road trip that I may never do along what Steinbeck called “the mother road, the road of flight.”

The pilot episode of the Route 66 TV show. It opens with the Nelson Riddle “Route 66 Theme” instrumental which was only the fourth television theme to make Billboard magazine’s top 30. It followed Ray Anthony’s “Dragnet Theme” (1953) and his version of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” (1959) and Mancini’s “Mr. Lucky Theme” (1960).

The soundtrack for this post is the Rolling Stones getting their kicks on Route 66.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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