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Route 66

Oklahoma
Route 66

Route 66

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Oklahoma and Route 66 go hand in hand. Almost as if Route 66 had been designed for Oklahoma alone. In a sense it was too...

Cyrus Avery

Oklahoma was home to Cyrus Avery. Cyrus Avery fought long and hard to have the new east – west road pass through his home state rather than farther north along the old Santa Fe Trail. In the days before Route 66 poor roads, impassable in inclement weather, and no real highway system made travel out of reach to all but the most adventurous spirits. By the 1920s the public was confused and disgusted. The cry for a standardized National Highway System was louder than ever before. The government knew that something would have to be done about the poor road system in America. There was much work to be done before this highway system could be put in place however. Men of vision would be needed to bring this work to a reality. In 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials asked the Secretary of Agriculture, William Jardine, for federal supervision of the nation’s highways. Jardine responded by forming the Joint Board of Interstate Highways. An Oklahoma businessman, Cyrus Avery, was appointed as a consulting highway specialist.
    
Avery and his board examined roads across the country to come up with a list of important interstate routes. He became one of the strongest supporters of the Chicago to Los Angeles route, a route that he wanted to pass through his home state of Oklahoma. There were more than 250 transcontinental roads already in place, sponsored by more than 100 private automobile organizations. These private organizations lobbied Avery intensely to have their specific highways chosen as part of the national system. Avery chose a route that, in the West, followed much of the National Old Trails Road, which happened to cross through the middle of Oklahoma. Avery knew that a major highway through Oklahoma would boost that state’s economy so he relentlessly pushed for an alternate route. He was successful in his bid to have the new route pass through his home state. This route was designated U.S. Highway 66 November 11, 1926. Today, many consider Cyrus Avery to be the Father of Route 66, "America’s Mother Road."
Oklahoma was home to Will Rogers, America’s famous humorist too. In fact Route 66 was named the Will Rogers Highway during its golden age.

Andy Payne, another native son was the winner of the famous Bunion Derby, a transcontinental footrace held in 1928 to bring attention to the then new highway, Route 66.

 

Will Roger's Monument

Woody Gutherie, America’s famous hobo and songwriter hailed from the land of rolling hills and oil wells as well. Woody Guthrie is perhaps best known for his song "This Land is Your Land," the common man’s National Anthem. The plight of the wandering man looking for a better life in California during the years of the dust bowl and great depression was set to music in Woodie Guthrie’s lonesome, sad song, "Highway 66 Blues." In this song, Woodie Guthrie reflected the mythic proportions Highway 66 had already attained:

Woodie Guthrie

"Been on this road for a mighty long time,
Ten million men like me,
You drive us from you’ town.
We ramble around.
And got them 66 Highway Blues"

The plight of the Oakies became a part of the Route 66 story, the legend of the road. In 1934, Los Angeles police stationed themselves at the Arizona border in order to check the wave of dust bowlers. The police held all immigrants at the state line, allowing only a few across at a time and turning many back. This checkpoint didn’t last, however, and emigration on Route 66 continued through the 1930s. By 1939, the migration had reached epic proportions, and Californians reacted with fear and anger. One California grower put it in the following way: "This isn’t a migration—its and invasion! They’re worse than a plague of locusts!"

 

One of the most haunting images to come out of the dark days of the dust bowl and great depression is this photograph by Dorthea Lange. She was commissioned by the Farm Security Administratrion to chronicle the plight of the displaced farmers during the dust bowl. Dorthea found this migrant mother on the road in 1936. The mother's eyes tell the viewer all he/she needs to know. The expression of fear and and hoplessness are reflected in her eyes as she appears to be looking down the road to a very uncertain future. This photograph became an American icon of the dust bowl days and brought an awareness of the struggles of the "Okies" by putting a human face on this tragedy. But sometimes things work out and this story has a happy ending. More than a decade after this photograph was taken our migrant mother was found living comfortably in California, the dust bowl but a bitter memory. Life had changed for her and her family and the move to California had been an economic boon. For many other "Okies" though the story ended quite differently. An estimated 210,000 emigrants came to California during the dust bowl, many of whom were forced to return home after failing to locate employment in the Golden State. Only approximately 16,000 remained.

Dorthea Lange's Migrant Mother 1936

   
It was during this time that John Steinbeck wrote of the plight of the displaced Oklahomans in his book, "The Grapes of Wrath." The Dust Bowl of the 1930s had hit Oklahoma hard. Steinbeck's fictional family, the Joads, left their dried out sand blasted farm in Oklahoma to seek a better life in California. The road of their flight was Route 66, the Mother Road. Yes indeed, Oklahoma and Route 66 go hand in hand.

 

Oklahoma! Here’s a state with a rich Route 66 heritage. The many small towns along old Route 66 speak of another time in American history. All along the way the modern traveler can see relics of the Mother road. Old motor courts, gas stations and tourist stops line the celebrated highway. There’s a lot of history to uncover here in Oklahoma if one takes the time to travel the old Mother Road down the less traveled path to discovery.
     

Catoosa's Blue Whale

In 1946 Jack Rittenhouse described Oklahoma as having generally good roads with wide grassy shoulders, low hills with an almost flat countryside filled with patches of woods. In Oklahoma, Route 66 seems one with the land, its ribbon of pavement snakes along the contours of the land, not carving up the countryside but blending with it as it passes through. The small towns along Route 66 provide a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, all uniquely American.
These many towns along the route became dependent on the flow of a nation on the move. Their economies catered to the transcontinental traveler; the life of these towns was interwoven and with the life of Route 66. With the coming of the Interstate some of them faded to just a ghost of their former glory. Thankfully there is a resurgence of interest in old Route 66 and many of these small towns, precious slices of Americana, may live again.

Lucille's in Hydro, Oklahoma

Photo courtesy Laurel Kane PostCards From The Road

Detailed Vintage Oklahoma Route 66 Maps:

[1955 Eastern Oklahoma] (Shows new turnpike)   [1955 Western Oklahoma]

 

Click on an area or city of Route 66 on the map below to take a cyber tour of that section of the  Mother Road

Travel Cyber Route 66 in Oklahoma

Go West on Route 66

NAVIGATION NOTE: Buckle up and hold on to your mouse! These pages are arranged like the map above, from the western state border to the eastern state border. I have set up this site as if you were traveling from EAST to WEST, much like the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. You can click on the Route 66 shields to "travel" the Mother Road in either direction though. Or you can select any shield below to take you to that specific state.

Go East on Route 66

Texola, Oklahoma

Miami, Oklahoma

 

Select the Route 66 State to Visit

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