From its inception dreamers, entrepreneurs, gypsies, con artists,
and visionaries were attracted to Route 66 resultant of the near constant hype and publicity. It was the highway of dream for travelers as well as for those looking for a way to make a dollar. It was the road of boundless opportunity, and, for a few, a highway paved with gold.
Ed Edgerton came from Michigan shortly after WWI. A doctor recommended suggestion that he find a drier climate and the lure of riches in the gold mining boom town of Oatman prompted his westward migration.
Edgerton found gold in the Black Mountains but it was in the pockets of travelers. Since at least 1776, travelers of European origin had camped at Little Meadows but only Edgerton had the foresight to transform the desert oasis into a lucrative but primitive business empire. He began by selling gasoline siphoned from a drum mounted on a wooden platform. In time this evolved into a two pump service station, and Ed’s Camp offered travelers amenities such as a cot on a screened porch, a couple of rustic cabins, an equally rustic cafe, and a rock shop.
Unlike Ed’s camp that withered on the vine with the bypass of Route 66 through the Black Mountains in 1952, Ray Cline’s little roadside empire thrived and grew. In fact, today it is more popular and profitable than at any time in its history.
Initially Cline’s enterprise consisted of a little service station at the junction of New Mexico Route 6, the Santa Fe bypass, and New Mexico Route 2. It was not an overly profitable business but Cline earned a respectable living from the station. Then in 1937, a major highway project was completed and U.S. 66, legendary Route 66 was realigned to run straight from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque.
Seeing the opportunity, Cline relocated to the junction of U.S. 66 and U.S. 285 west of Santa Rosa, its current location. Profits climbed steadily but services remained rudimentary until the post WWII tourism boom. By the mid 1950’s, the complex included a service station and truck stop, restaurant, motel, and garage. Lynn and Helen Smith who had acquired the property from Cline successfully petitioned Rand McNally to include Cline’s Corner on maps as well as in atlases. The replacement of Route 66 by I-40, unlike with many roadside business, created a boom rather than a bust.
Route 66 is, and always has been unique. While business along most two lane highways in America have slowly given way to changing times and the rise of the generic franchise motels and restaurants, on Route 66 there was a slump followed by a renaissance. Simply look at Tucumcari wit the Blue Swallow Motel, Motel Safari, and Roadrunner Lodge. Look at the popularity of the Ariston Cafe, Clanton’s Cafe, or the Palm Grill Cafe.
For those who prefer to write about the history, and that have a talent for telling people where to go, Route 66 has proven to be the highway of dreams. With few exceptions, however, those who choose to follow this path to fame and fortune on this storied old highway are just as likely to find poverty and obscurity outside of the Route 66 community. Still, the allure of being associated with such a magical old road through the writing of books or photography leads people to try, try, and try again. They make valiant attempts to build on the success of authors such as Michael Wallace, and like the prospectors of old, can’t help but feel that the big strike lies just over the hill, or with the publication of the next book.
When it comes to Route 66, however, success is a relative term. In the international Route 66 community where everyone is family, no one is obscure and everyone prospers. Likewise, the celebrities and the successful are always available to sit and talk over pie and coffee, to provide assistance, and to just simply enjoy the telling of tall tales about discovery and adventure.
So, with spring flowers blooming and the open road calling, perhaps its time to plan a Route 66 adventure or two. Fame and fortune await you in the friendships you make along the way, and the memories you make, but don’t forget to tip the story teller, the waitress, or guitar player.