The old highway is 2,448 miles long and runs through eight states, including Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica, California, near Los Angeles. The highway was mentioned in the novel “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1939 and is referred to as the “Mother Road.” It was also the subject of a popular hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” in 1946 and a popular television series in 1960 called “Route 66” and it was also the inspiration for the Disney movie, “Cars.”
The first time I traveled on Route 66 was in 1959 when I attended school and took a Greyhound bus from San Bernardino, California to St. Louis, Missouri. I spent the night in a sleazy hotel near the bus station and boarded another Greyhound the next morning that took a different highway to my destination in southern Indiana. But more recently, my two daughters and Pat and I attended a vintage camper trailer rally in Lake Havasu City, Arizona and went out of our way to take part of the old historic Route 66 highway in Arizona from Oatman to Kingman and from Ash Fork to Flagstaff through Seligman. The old route to Oatman is steep and full of hairpin turns and was known as “Bloody 66” in the old days, but it is a beautiful drive.
Oatman is a village in Mohave County that was once a thriving gold mining camp that has turned into a tourist destination with wild burros roaming the streets looking for a handout. They are descendants from burros that were left there by the miners when Oatman became a ghost town. Several years ago, Castle Valley’s Ed Derderian was visiting the town and bought a couple of his favorite pastries at one of the tourist spots. As he was returning to his car, one of the burros grabbed the bag full of goodies spilling the contents all over the street. Ed stood speechless as the donkey enjoyed the pastries.
There were many thriving business along “America’s Main Street” during its heyday but as sections of the road were realigned and integrated into the new interstate highway system, most of the mom and pop businesses closed. Today some of the old gas stations have been converted into gift shops where you can buy all sorts of Route 66 memorabilia and other treasures. The road was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985 and was taken off of the maps. But thankfully half of the states that the road passed through, including Arizona, have it designated a National Scenic Byway of the name “Historic Route 66,” returning the name to some maps.
While traveling on Route 66 west of Seligman, Arizona I noticed along a long stretch of the road another iconic symbol of Americana that has since gone by the wayside. They usually contained a clever and humorous verse in about four signs followed by the fifth sign that said “Burma Shave.” The idea of using consecutive road signs to advertise the shaving product was conceived in 1925 by Allan Odell.
I remember one set of signs in front of my childhood home in Escondido, California on Highway 76 that went to the desert cities to the east. It read: “Substitutes can.” “Let you down.” “Faster than.” “A Strapless gown.” “Burma Shave.” I don’t know why I remember that verse except for maybe the visual image in my mind of the strapless gown going down.
Along that stretch out of Seligman were four sets of signs that were obviously reproductions of the originals but still very much like the originals and every bit as enjoyable to read as we drove past them. One of the two that I remember is: “You can drive.” “A mile per minute.” “But there is no.” “Future in it.” The other that I remember reading is: “If daisies are your.” “Favorite flower.” “Keep pushing up.” “Those miles per hour.”
I would love to travel the entire Route 66 and visit those well-known sites that are still open to travelers. There used to be a chain of Wigwam Motels that were historical landmarks, which featured individual rooms shaped like tipis in the 1930s and 1940s. There are two in Arizona and one in California that are still in existence and both are on the historic Route 66. I would like to visit those motels and some of the old gas stations, restaurants and other landmarks that are still surviving. But I’m getting to be as old as those landmarks so we better make plans soon.