Do you remember that classic moment in cinematic history when Dorothy realized she was no longer in Kansas? Her drab world of black, white, and shades of gray had been replaced by vibrant color and wonders never imagined with only the ruins of her home to serve as a link to that former time and place.
For most of us that moment of realization, that awareness we are living in a world far removed from the one we knew, is seldom experienced with such clarity. It is a process of awakening, a growing unease fueled by the sense that you have walked in during the middle of a French movie with Japanese subtitles and that there will be a test in the morning.
My personal glimpse of mortality in the form of a biopsy confirming cancer a mere two weeks before the death of my mother, which was followed eleven days later by the death of my little sister at age 47, were the catalyst that brought me from that half awake state to full alertness.
The world I was living in, working in, and waking up in every morning was not the pre-generic world of neon lit nights, two lane highways, motels without television, family vacations, and station wagons that I remembered from my youth. Any semblance of the quest for morality, for thrift, for self reliance, and for the value of hard, honest work that permeated the America I knew seems to have evaporated like snow on a warm summers day and become as scarce as shiny new hubcaps for a 1950 Olds.
Was I being maudlin or were these thoughts merely a manifestation of depression? Could it be my hearty optimism was being buried under reality or was the reality shaded by the heavy shadows on the road I was traveling?
Fleeting thoughts of the America that I once knew, and occasional sighs of longing for those halcyon days, began to manifest as a hunger to find traces of that lost civilization. This growing passion was not born of a desire to relive the past, or to be set free from the technological constrictions of the modern era, but to find a mooring, a tether, before setting out into the deeper waters shrouded with the fog of uncertainty that is the future.
I was not looking for the America that made the Green Book for the Negro Motorist a necessity for a large segment of the population but the America that negated its need. I was not seeking the free spirited search for self era of the 1960s but the nation that through its liberty and prosperity made such self focused frivolity possible.
Family legend has it that I was potty trained along U.S. 66. From that point in time to this day, legendary Route 66 has been an integral component in my life.
I learned to drive on an abandoned alignment of that highway in western Arizona. The first time I drove to California on my own was on Route 66. When courting my wife, whose family had a store on Route 66 for two generations, I drove Route 66 from the ranch near Ashfork to Kingman.
My office housed in the last remnants of the Hobb’s Truck Stop fronts Route 66. Often we attend church in Peach Springs on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, which means we must drive Route 66. Three of the books I have written were about Route 66. The current project is a compilation of Route 66 history.
This half century of memories made it impossible to begin my journey of discovery, my odyssey into the past in search of hope for the future, on any other road than legendary Route 66. The obscurity of this highways forgotten cousin, U.S. 6, and the path it follows through the nation’s heartland made it the choice for the voyage home.
Initially I gave thought to making this grand pilgrimage in a 1931 Ford pick up truck. This would provide a link to the world my grandfather knew as I sought remnants from the world I knew.
As the dream drew closer to becoming a reality, practicality began to intervene. A Nash or Hudson built during the late forties or early fifties would better meet the requirements of modern traffic while delivering respectable fuel economy and a car from either manufacturer could serve as the rolling link between past and present.
The search for a suitable vehicle ended abruptly with the discovery of a 1959 Rambler station wagon. This car would combine the benefits of the Nash or Hudson with cargo and camping space.
When I opened the hood of that vintage coral and white road warrior, an epiphany occurred that was almost spiritual in nature. I already owned the perfect vehicle for this adventure.
The engine that had propelled this old wagon was the same as the one under the hood of our Jeep Cherokee. Fuel injection and electronic ignition masked the internal components of the same engines used in the Rambler, the Pacer, and the Gremlin.
Here was the vehicle that perfectly bridged the past and the present. Here was the vehicle that could transport us along the roads washed from modern maps by waves of progress. Here was the practicality of the ancient wagon in a modern package.
The route was set. The vehicle was chosen. Now, all that remains is to make the adventure a reality in my quest for assurance that America is still the shining city on the hill.