It may come as a surprise to learn that it was the bicycle, not the automobile, that spawned the modern highway system that manifested in Route 66, and later, the interstate highway. A good argument could also be made that a key foundational element for the rise of the American automobile industry was the bicycle as many early manufacturers, including the aeronautical pioneering brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, began with the production of these simple two wheeled wonders.
|A 1906 Christie built front-wheel drive racer|
Still, the dramatic evolution of the automobile, as well as supportive infrastructure, quickly outpaced the good roads movement. In 1896 the Barnum & Baily Circus gave a Duryea motor wagon top billing over the albino and fat lady. By 1903 automobiles were being driven from coast to coast on grueling 90 day adventures. In 1906, a steam powered Stanley set a new speed record of nearly 150 miles per hour at Ormond, now Daytona, Beach.
And yet the roads beyond the city limits were little changed from the era of the National Road and the Oregon Trail. It was a time when the world stood with one foot on the throttle and the other in the stirrup
Racers crossing the Gobi Desert were left stranded until camel caravans could provide them with gasoline. On the Senator Highway in Arizona automobiles shared the road with stagecoaches. Photos in the classic work by Emily Post, By Motor To The Golden Gatehttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0786419407&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, published in 1916, capture the surreal image of an automobile obscured in the dust of a passing wagon train. As late as 1919 it took almost two months for a motorized military convoy to traverse the nation.
With the birth of the federal highway system in 1926, the dream inspired by the bicyclist of the 19th century became manifest. And yet it would be 1936 before U.S. 66 was paved in its entirety and 1952 before U.S. 6 was completely paved.
Fast forward ninety years. The glut of automobiles has cities building bicycle paths. Automotive manufacturers are wedding the modern technology of the microprocessor with that made manifest in the Woods Dual Electric, a hybrid built in 1917.
The oil companies that freed us from the restraints imposed by electric cars and the complexities of steam cars (take a look at what Jay Leno goes through to takes his Stanley “steamer” for a drive) are now the villains. Route 66, once deemed antiquated and replaced by the sterility of the interstate, is now the stage of choice for the display of hybrids, CNG cars, and solar cars.
A half century ago, who could have imagined that the past and future would collide on Route 66? Twenty years ago, who could have guessed Route 66 would be the salvation for towns condemned to a slow death resultant of America’s quest for the generic? Five years ago, who could have guessed I would be taking to legendary 66 in a hybrid?
That, however, is possibly, a story for another day not so far in the future.