On the afternoon of August 17, 1959, near Needles, California, motorists headed east on Route 66 were teased with respite from the searing desert heat by towering thunderheads over the mountains on the far horizon that promised rain. Then, in the blink of an eye the temperature plummeted, near gale force winds whipped the desert sands into a blinding storm, and walls of water more than 15 feet high began rolling down the dry stream beds that stretched like bony fingers from the mountains to the Colorado River Valley.
From Kingman to Essex bridges were swept away, rail lines were ripped from their beds, cars washed from the highway, and motorists were stranded for more than 12 hours. The devastation was staggering; four missing railroad section hands, 500 rescued motorists, several dozen vehicles destroyed, numerous highway and railroad bridges destroyed or damaged.
The research for the current project, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas, has become a myriad of magic windows that look out into a world now vanished. With each new discovery there is the sense that I have been entrusted with the rare threads needed to weave an incredible, majestic, colorful tapestry. But there are so many threads still needed to complete it.
The Whiting brothers kicked off their service station empire with a small facility in 1917 in St. Johns, Arizona. Their first expansion was a station on Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona in early 1927.
From those humble beginnings the Whiting Brothers stations soon became an integral component of the Route 66 roadside from Shamrock, Texas, to Lenwood, California. Then they expanded into motels. When?
Initially, the National Old Trails Highway was to follow the path of the Trail to Sunset from Santa Fe to Yuma mapped by intrepid automotive explorer A.E. Westgard. Imagine if that had come to pass how different Route 66 history might be!
Casting a dark shadow over my research is a near constant glimpses of what made Route 66 obsolete before it was even paved from end to end. The automotive society that spawned it evolved faster than it could be adapted to the ever changing needs and that gave rise to the generic but relatively safe world of the interstate highway.
On March 7, 1935, the Inman family of Shamrock, Texas, was returning home from Alanreed when their car drifted across the line and clipped a west bound truck. In a family of seven there were but three survivors.
On New Years Day, 1962, the Wildenstein family of El Cerrito, California were headed home on Route 66 after a delightful holiday spent with family in Las Vegas, New Mexico when, near Chambers, Arizona, when a truck crossed the center line. In a family of seven there was but one survivor, Warren Lee, age 5.
On April 10, 1930, a bus bound for Denver from Los Angeles, pushing to make up for time lost on muddy sections of Route 66 east of Flagstaff, crossed the tracks at Isletta about a dozen miles south of Albuquerque in the path of Santa Fe train number seven. The initial death toll was 19.
Route 66 was the yellow brick road and a ribbon of asphalt adorned with tragedy. It was the stuff of dreams and fodder for nightmares.
Next weekend we will get back to the book reviews and travel tip feature. Between then and now, we have a few surprises to share.

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