In the era of Route 66 renaissance a small pocket guide written in 1946, and reprinted a decade or so ago, has developed a cult following. In A Guide Book to Highway 66, Jack Rittenhouse created “A mile by mile complete handbook on how to get the most fun from your trip.” The small pocket guide included, “Full data on towns, hisotric spots & highway fact, roads, hills, and garages.”
In retrospect it is a rather amazing little guide book. It is easy, in every sense of the word, a time capsule. In the 1989 reprint, Rittenhouse noted that, “…so I drove from dawn to dusk at 35 miles an hour. There were no tape recorders then, so I scrawled notes on a big yellow pad on the seat beside me. Each night I dug out my portable manual typewriter and typed my notes.”
That in itself makes the little guide book quite amazing. After all he was driving, and his was taking copious notes. In the section on New Mexico, “66 mi. (184 mi) Chief’s Rancho Cafe here, with gas, groceries, curious, and cafe.”
In a section about Arizona, “For eastbound cars which cannot make the Gold Hill grade, a filling station in Goldroad offers a tow truck which will haul your car to the summit. At last inquiry their charge was $3.50.”
But there is a back story that makes the Rittenhouse guide book even more fascinating. His choice of vehicle for the trip was a diminutive 1200-pound, 22-horsepower 1939 American Bantam coupe! These little cars well quite fuel frugal. Some professional drivers tested the cars and often averaged 45 miles per gallon.
There is something infectious about Route 66. And it has, for lack of a better word, magic. Fascination with the road trancends language, culture and it even bridges generations. And even in this toxic climate created by self serviving politician’s people find commonalities in a Route 66 adventure.
A few days ago I enjoyed dinner and thought provoking conversation with a charming young couple from Michigan. We had met several years ago while they were traveling Route 66.
Probably about thirty years my junior, their passion for the double six is rooted in the people that you meet when traveling this storied old highway, and the guidebook by Rittenhouse. They have traveled the road several times, and with each trip they deciper the guide and catalog the sites of former buisnesses. In the process they have become historians and researchers, and experts on Route 66 in the immediate post war era.
Rivers of ink have flowed across paper as people extol the highways virtues, the adventures of a road trip on iconic Route 66 and its allure. But none can adequately explain the roads appeal.
Officially the road no longer exists. It hasn’t since 1985 when it was decertified and removed from the roster of US highways. And you have to be about sixty five years older or older to remember traveling the pre-interstate version of U.S. 66.
And yet it has come to be viewed as the quintessential America highway by a passionate legion of international enthusiasts. As interest in the highway builds in the years leading to its centennial in 2026, one can only imagine that Route 66 will enjoy unprecedented popularity.
As to Rittenhouse and his Bantam, in the era of Route 66 reniassance I am rather surprised that no one has attemtped to recreate the trip in one of these little cars. After all, this is the road of dreams. Over the course of the past few years I have met people traveling the road in a 1930s Chrysler Airflow that are celebrating a 60th anniversary. I have met WWII vets riding an ancient Harely with their oxygen equipment in the sidecar.
I have met people driving Fiat Pandas, rollerblading the highway from end to end, walking it from Chicago to Santa Monica, and others that made the trip on a bicycle. There was even a French mime that had ambitious plans of setting a stilt walking record by following the double six from Chicago to Santa Monica.
What does the future hold for Route 66? Well, as long as there are dreamers and visionaries, adventurers and road trip obsessed travelers Route 66 will live on. And so I am rather excited about the fast approaching centennial.