For more than five years, I have delved deep into the history of Route 66 obscured by restored neon, erased by the societal evolution that gave rise to that highway, or buried by the sands of time. Hour upon hour was spent gleaning little snippets (“Following Thursday’s fire at the Square Deal Garage and Café …” – Saturday, December 10, 1927 – Winslow Daily Mail) from old newspapers in an effort to create a complete picture.
Old telephone books and AAA guides, vintage atlas’s and maps, travel guides written eighty or ninety years ago and diaries from the same period over flow from my file cabinets, rise to staggering heights from the floor, and bury the desk in piles that threaten to topple into my increasingly constricted work space.
My dearest friend and I have traveled thousands of miles along this storied old highway in all seasons. We made our way to the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post on a late spring day when the desert winds were gusting to more than forty miles per hour and the blowing sands forced the closure of I-40 from Winslow to Flagstaff.
On our October excursion to Chicagoto gather photographs for the Route 66 encyclopedia stunning fall colors and delightful temperatures graced every mile. An excursion in December provided us with the opportunity to capture images of Seligman in the midst of a beautiful snowfall, and a chance to try out the four-wheel drive on our stalwart travel companion, a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, on the grades west of the Crookton Road exit.
We savored a warm winter’s day on our New Years Day adventure along Route 66 to Amboy Crater. We sought shelter in an empty garage in Texola as a misty late fall rain cloaked the empty streets and ruins with a ghostly fog.
On a warm summers morning we stopped to watch deer amble through the dry grass along Route 66 between San Jon and Endee. From the summit of Sitgreaves Passin the Black Mountains of Arizona, we watched a herd of bighorn sheep on the ridgeline silhouetted against deep blue desert skies.
Along the way, we met some of the most fascinating and delightful people, the folks who are the essence, the very lifeblood of legendary Route 66. There was a pleasant summers evening in Tucumcari at the Motel Safari where we shared cool beer and road stories with Richard Talley, Tom Dion, Rick Zimmerman, and Greg Hasman.
It was an unseasonably warm October evening on the deck at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri when we shared a meal and delightful conversation with Jane Reed, Connie and Riva Echols, Joe Sonderman, Dean Kennedy, and Rich Dinkella. On a summer evening we enjoyed the hospitality of “Croc” Lile and his wife at a barbecue where we met Kristi Anne Butel, the wife of Dale Butel, and enjoyed an incredible evening with Jerry McClanahan, Jim Ross, John and Judy Springs, a contingent of Route 66 enthusiasts from New Zealand, Australia, and assorted fans of that legendary highway.
The first fruits from this delightful voyage into the mists of time, and along the magic carpet of asphalt that is Route 66, manifested as Ghost Towns of Route 66. As it turned out, this was merely the foundation for the current endeavor.
With the exception of the final perusal to ensure captions match the photos and the search for typos that will come with completion of the galley proof (a rough mock up of the completed project), the Route 66 Encyclopedia & Atlas is finished. You may have heard a very deep, very long sigh of relief.
When the idea for this book was initially proposed, I deferred my decision for a week or so to mediate on the magnitude of the project as well as the responsibility to the Route 66 community that would accompany acceptance. As corny or sanctimonious as it may seem, I felt that this was more than an opportunity to write another book, it represented an almost sacred honor and that is not something I take lightly.
To a degree, these feelings were present when the publisher proposed Ghost Towns of Route 66. However, for that book I was only shining the light on communities where the resurgent interest in Route 66 came to late.
To write an encyclopedia, to chronicle the history of this highway and the people that wrote that history, was more than a massive undertaking with a finite deadline. This project carried with it the responsibility of carefully a time capsule for preserving and presenting the history of a treasured American icon.
From its inception, I knew it would be an impossibility to complete any aspect of this project without assistance. So, I turned to the experts, people like Jim Ross, Jerry McClanahan, Joe Sonderman, Michael Wallis, Scott Piotrowski, Steve Rider, Mike Ward, John Weiss andDave Clark.
I bought their books, pestered them with emails, phone calls and letters, delved deep into their personal collections, and on occasion, sat with them to discuss details. Therefore, even though my name is on the cover, I merely did the research, compiled the notes, and made an effort to present the material in a coherent manner.
Likewise with the illustrations, many of which are never before published images. Many are manifestations of the generosity of Route 66 collectors. Others are courtesy of museums and historic societies that saw this as an opportunity to preserve the rich heritage of Route 66 for future generations, and to ignite an interest in the highway in a generation to young to remember the era of the station wagon, the family vacation, and the great American road trip.
These are all reasons why I feel it would be pure, unadulterated vanity to claim this as my book. The Route 66 community, past and present wrote the Route 66 Encyclopedia & Atlas.
It is also the reason I feel compelled to utilize the book as a foundational element for the creation of an educational program to ensure the magic of the old highway signed with two sixes never wanes. That, however, is a job for another day.
First, there is the small matter of a celebratory dinner with my partner, my agent, accountant, computer guru, consultant, and navigator, president of my fan club, my traveling companion, fellow photographer, and therapist better known as my dearest friend.