BY POPULAR REQUEST – Part Two

As noted in yesterday’s post, the questions most asked at appearances pertain to my association with Route 66. So, in part one I wrote the introduction for what has been more than a half century association with America’s most storied highway. 
We pick up the story in the closing years of the tumultuous 1960s. These were the years that my roots were firmly planted in Route 66.
Life along that then empty segment of old US 66 in the shadow of the Black Mountains, especially for a kid with an active imagination and inquisitive mind, was almost magical. There were camp outs with friends among the ruins of Kings Dairy below Cool Springs, hair raising bicycle rides down the eastern slope of Sitgreaves Pass, and stories told by old timers such as Ed Edgerton of Ed’s Camp, and Tommy Thomas, a grizzled old man of indeterminate age. 
Fig Springs Station was a memory with only a concrete slab, and a miniature version built a s playhouse that served as a haven for snakes, to offer mute testimony of its existence. Before the crushers were brought in there was a vast junk yard near the Sacramento Wash that provided us with a wide array of places to play (and to cause mom endless worry as this was a haven for snakes). It was here that my passion for the intricate dashboard styling of cars produced in the 1930s and 1940s began. 
All of the kids living along Oatman rode began driving long before being old enough to get a drivers license. Hauling water was simply one of the chores and exploration of the desert, and learning the intricacies of navigating a sand wash, was one of the perks for such a rough and isolated existence. 
Shortly after the dawn of the new decade we moved back to Michigan after a brief stay in Silver City, New Mexico. It was there that a dawning realization of my passion for the desert southwest soon became an all consuming hunger. Few things attest to this more than the fact I never attended graduation and instead had my diplomas (in addition to high school I graduated from a trade school) forwarded to Arizona in premature anticipation of the return to my adopted homeland. 
The interstate highway was on the fast track to relegating old Route 66 to the ash heap of history at that time but in many places it was still very much alive. Still, with the exception of a trucker looking to beat a scale or toll road, someone with a battered old car that preferred to avoid the high speed race track of the four-lane, lost souls in search of long lost youth and associated memories, or the wrong turn Harry, legendary Route 66 was empty road in many places. 
In the late 1970s, and the early 1980s, I was one of each of these at least once. In hauling loads to Oklahoma City, I often took the old road when possible to alleviate the tedium. During the John Wayne period my old pick up trucks that were manufactured years before my arrival in this world weren’t any more suited to the modern era than I was. 
My now legendary desert excursions often began with a drive on Route 66. And, some thirty plus years ago when my dearest friend (whose family once owned an auto court and store on Route 66) and I began dating, it was old Route 66 that I followed from Ash Fork to Kingman in my old 1946 GMC. 
In the years between then and now that old highway has continued to be the thread that ties it all together. Our honeymoon, my first tentative steps as a preacher in Peach Springs, my office today (the last vestige of the Hobb’s Truck Stop), teaching my son to drive on the old road where I learned, and so much more. 
Now it is books and articles, speaking engagements and vacations. And these have allowed me the luxury of sharing the wonders of Route 66 with an international audience. 
There you have it, the short version of a long story. Every fan of the double six has his own story about what the road means to them. For me it is the stage where my life plays out and a tangible link to the American century. 





BY POPULAR REQUEST – Part One

I have shared the story of my Route 66 association in bits and pieces here on the blog, in my writings, and in speaking engagements. By popular demand I present the condensed version of how this old road came to be a centerpiece in my life.
The first trip west from Virginia took place in 1959. Grainy old family movies show the family (mother, dad, and my older sister) in Bluff, Utah, and a few places in Arizona and New Mexico. This adventure in my dads rusty yellow Ford convertible would mark my first encounter with Route 66.
In 1962 we moved to Michigan and for the next four years the summer vacations were spent visiting family in north Alabama and Tennessee with occasional side trips to places such as Meramec Caverns in Missouri or to look at property such as a motel along the Buffalo River since my dad was making plans for a new life beyond the Coast Guard. These trips would occasionally include a foray on Route 66.
In the summer of 1966, US 66 became the stage upon which a great deal of my life has played out. This adventure began after my dad gave up on the motel ownership idea and instead had decided to cast his future, and ours, on the toss of a dart, literally.
At some point a decision had been made that after years spent in the service of the Navy and Coast Guard, a drier climate would be required for a fresh start. So he folded a map in a manner that obscured both coasts, tacked it to the shed wall, and tossed a dart. Yucca in Arizona was the nearest point on the map to the dart.
So, sight unseen, he purchased some land in what promoters claimed was an up and coming development in the Sacramento Valley between Yucca and the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66. It would be 1971 before my dad located the property and on that particular adventure we managed to get the car stuck in sand washes twice.
As the original game plan had been to move the house trailer purchased a few years before, the mode of transport to our new home in sunny Arizona was a battered and rusty Chevrolet COE tractor of the Advance Design series (1948-1954). As a sister had been added since our western adventure of 1959, this was truly a memorable trip. Think Grapes of Wrath but with a thin veneer of modern such as an occasional stay in a motel.
Our first home in Kingman was a small place on Lynette Drive on the outskirts of town near Fort Beale. Here I first encountered the critters that called the desert home, and that freaked my mom out – snakes, desert tortoise, scorpions, lizards, and coyotes. It was here that I first began to wonder if this was the place we warned about in Sunday school.
By the end of summer we were living on Maple Street, just a few blocks north of Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66). Then my dad found an unfinished “model home” right on Oatman Road (Route 66) about fifteen miles west of Kingman right in the middle of the high ground between the two largest washes in the valley. Now, I knew that this was the place I was warned about in Sunday school!
The summers of 1967 and 1968 were truly life changing. I rode the wheels off a bicycle received for my birthday, and spent a lot of time patching tubes with dads assistance. Ed Edgerton began stopping by the house on a regular basis and on occasion he would give me a ride to Ed’s Camp so I could ride my bicycle back down the hill.
The colorful neighbors sparked a life long fascination with characters, the folks that live life on their terms and in so doing keep us from getting caught in a rut. I suppose, in all honesty, I have become one of those colorful neighbors, not the ones who liked to drive around naked but the ones who found simple pleasures in the desert, in a reliable old truck, a good dog, and the silence only found in the vast empty lands of the southwest.
In the years that followed I learned to drive on that old broken asphalt. As we traveled between Alabama, Tennessee, and Michigan on our summer adventures, Route 66 became a familiar friend. These were the years when fond memories and Route 66 became intertwined.
To be continued –