STOLEN LIQUOR AND FORTY FIVE DOLLARS
Alton Evening Telegraph – dateline – Edwardsville – August 25 – “Stolen early Thursday morning by burglars who broke into a service station adjoining Rut’s Corner tavern at Litchfield, Montgomery County, a 300 pound steel safe was recovered later in the day on a farm east of here … ” It would seem the burglars were rewarded a meager $45.00 for their efforts but as they also stole $700 worth of liquor, I am quite sure they were able to alleviate a bit of their sorrows.
This is a sample of the odd little tid bits uncovered in my quest for information during the research for the forthcoming encyclopedia. More often than not, they had little relevance to the overall project but when viewed in the larger context presented an interesting serious of pictures about life along Route 66 during its “glory days.”
Most were tragic in nature – car wrecks, floods, fires, and the occasional shoot out. Others were quite comedic in nature.
As an example, in the early summer of 1948 a gentleman by the name of Bell, a coroner by trade, was motoring west along the old double six when he suddenly came upon a wreck, a roll over so recent the dust still hung in the air.
As he scrambled to down the embankment he could see legs sticking from the overturned car. As it turned out the battered driver was in surprisingly good condition but had remained in the car in a valiant effort to catch the gas from his full tank in what ever container that could be found.
My goal in the writing of this book was to add depth as well as context to the modern Route 66 experience. I did not intend to further elevate this old highway in continuing rise to stardom.
In retrospect, that has been one of the most challenging aspects of the project. Even though it is just a highway it is not the typical highway. It seems to have a life of its own.
It appeared on the stage of history as part of the newly created U.S. highway system in late 1926. It knitted a series of historic trails and roadways connecting a metropolis on the shores of Lake Michigan with a metropolis on the shores of the Pacific Ocean into a single highway signed with two sixes.
Shortly after its inception, it became the road of desperation for those seeking a new life in the land of perpetual sunshine named California. As a result, it was forever intertwined with the memories, both good as well as bad, of several generations.
The dust of the Great Depression still hung in the air when the clouds of war transformed this highway into a vital artery for the arsenal of democracy. Boys who had never been much further from home than the end of the fence line were now traveling along Route 66 to Kingman and McLean, to Essex and Albuquerque and memories were made for a new generation.
Often overlooked in the Route 66 story is the affect the highway had on Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese peoples during these years. There were POW camps in McLean, Essex, California, and countless other places along the highway. The Santa Anita Race Track in California along Route 66 served as an internment camp for Japanese citizens and Chinese pilots were trained at the Kingman Army Airfield.
The 1950s were a time of prosperity and of optimism. Like a chameleon the old road adapted to the changing times and became a neon lit sideshow with never ending attractions – a string of “Indian” trading posts and reptile ranches, wigwam shaped motels and sombrero topped diners lined the highway from end to end.
By the 1960s the pace of the nation had changed and as the destination became more important than the journey, the neon grew dark and the old road was quickly relegated to the realm of historical footnote like the Santa Fe Trail or the Lincoln Highway. By the early 1980s the individuality of a highway christened the Main Street of America in 1927 had given way to a high speed roadway of generic sterility where it was possible to drive coast to coast and see nothing.
That should have been the end of the story. But at some point along the way this simple highway transcended its original purpose to join the ranks of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill as a larger than life American legend. Now, almost a century later the myth has become the reality and the highway has become America’s longest attraction with travelers from every corner of the earth seeking its charms.
My association with this iconic American highway spans nearly a half century and yet every time I drive it there is a renewed sense of excitement, of eager anticipation, and of invigorating adventure. Judging by the visitors from the Netherlands and Germany, from New York and Australia, from Japan and Florida, that one encounters in small cafes, in museums, and at vintage motels all along this highway, I am not alone in my fascination for this ribbon of cracked and broken asphalt that spans the heartland of the nation, and that links the past with the present and future.
Yes, the old road is alive and well and shows no sign of waning in popularity. I am just glad to have had the opportunity to create a time capsule to preserve its first 85 years of history.