THE NEW FACE OF ROUTE 66
As Kia and other companies are rapidly developing vehicles filled with futuristic innovations, including the use of hydrogen instead of gasoline for propulsion, we have informed, intelligent people calling this a case of putting the cart before the horse. The argument is that as we have no ability to refuel these vehicles this futuristic development is a moot point.
It would seem we have forgotten our history. We have forgotten that in the year that Route 66 was first signed, roads were little changed from those that Beale, Sitgreaves, and other adventurers traveled on a century before.
We have forgotten that in spite of these limitations, automotive technology had made quantum leaps spuring the development of supportive infrastructure. Consider this – in 1896 the Barnum & Bailey Circus gave a Duryea Motor Wagon top billing over the albino and the fat lady. Montgomery Ward noted this was something the children should see before the fad passed.
During this same period, an automobile race in Chicago ended badly. The lead driver collapsed from exhaustion after driving twenty-five miles of the fifty mile course, and he was a blacksmith!
Ten years later a Stanley steam powered automobile was driven to a new speed record of 149 miles per hour. Automobiles were being driven from coast to coast. A year after this an epic automotive race traversed the globe testing both man and machine over a course that stretched from New York to Paris through Peking, the wastes of the Gobi Desert, and the wilderness of Siberia.
In 1909 there were less than a half million motor vehicles manufatured in the United States. During the same period more than one million horse drawn vehicles were built.
Twenty years later almost twqo million automobiles were manufactured in a twelve month period. In the same year less than 30,000 horse drawn vehicles were built.
In a mere two decades age old industries such as blacksmiths, livery stables, and harness makers were being swept from the stage. In their place were a staggering array of new enterprises – gas stations, mechanics, wrecking yards, after market parts suppliers, automobile dealerships, and tire companies to name but a few. The very lexicon of the nation was transformed with words like motel and automobile.
Have you ever given thought to the magic behind the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Edison? After years of tedious trial and error his efforts were rewarded with success of a very dubious nature as this was but half the battle.
Of what use was the electric light if there were no stations to generate electricity, no infrastucture to deliver the power, no wiring in houses, and no switches to control its flow? These things existed in minute quantities before the light bulb but it was the creative genius of Thomas Edison to put the cart before the horse and create the demand that built the infrastructure.
Fittingly, Route 66 appears to be a key link between that point in the past where the world stood poised with one foot in the stirrup and the other on the gas pedal, and the world of the future. Case in point is the wide array of plans to utilize the fame of this legendary highway to shine the spot light on technologies of the future.
Treasure the past, embrace the present, and look forward to the future. Isn’t that the message behind the current face of Route 66, the one where old gas stations become gems such as Afton Station and Gary Parita?