What would have happened if the original alignment of Route 66 had its eastern terminus at Grant Park in Chicago but the western terminus was in Yuma, Arizona? What would have happened if I-40 had been routed west, over Coyote Pass, across the Sacramento Valley, over Union Pass, crossed the Colorado River near Davis Dam and ended in a junction with I-15 near the California/Nevada state line?
|Kingman Army Airfield memorial.|
As I learned during the research phase of Ghost Towns of Route 66, and the Route 66 Encyclopedia & Atlas, these little bits of alternate history almost became a reality. I also learned that an increase in knowledge about Route 66 and its predecessors leads to the realization about how little I actually knew
Initially the National Old Trails Highway utilized segments of the older Trail to Sunset (with its terminus at Grant Park in Chicago) and the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. In fact, for a brief period in 1912 the two organizations joined forces and linked the highways in promotion and development.
Even when a contingent of business promoters from Kingman and Needles, later joined by a group from Barstow and Flagstaff, (with what I suspect as financial backing from the railroad) made the presentation at the National Old Trails Highway convention in 1913 that resulted in realignment across northern Arizona, it was not along the course of what became Route 66. Initially the National Old Trails Highway continued on a southerly course from Albuquerque to Socorro before turning west and entering Arizona near Springerville. Hence the Madonna of the Trail commemorative statue in that city.
At some point in mid to late 1914, realignment resulted in it roughly following the future course of Route 66 west from Albuquerque. The primary deviation was that road went from Gallup to Window Rock before turning southwest into Arizona.
Alternate histories always add a touch of flavor and mystery to evaluating the past it relates to the present and future. The I-40 alignment proposed for the bypass of Yucca, Needles, and everything between there and Barstow was deemed the most cost effective and the most direct. Large degrees were surveyed. Why then did it make the big loop through Needles before striking across the desert?
Since before the construction of the Appian Way, politics and favoritism have trumped almost all other considerations in the arena of road construction. How many communities were economically devastated when I-40 replaced Route 66 and they were severed from the commerce vital to their survival much like the mythical Radiator Springs? Why was Needles spared but Baxter Springs and Galena in Kansas were left to wither and die?
On occasion, these little jaunts into alternative history provide ample reason for a smile or two. They also provide an illustrated lesson in regard the assumption that the experts are always right.
The reasons behind approval of the Kingman Army Airfield site were the same ones that kept the airfield in Las Vegas alive when the plug was pulled in Kingman. See, after World War II informed opinion said that projected growth in Kingman would quickly negate the airfields feasibility while anemic grow in Las Vegas would allow for the airfield there to remain as an isolated desert base for years to come.
If there is a moral to be found in this story it is a simple one. History is never boring, alternative history is like finding pieces to the puzzle you thought was complete.