24 October 2012
Ms. Kara McKeever
Where Has Route 66 Gone?
Deep within the Great American Songbook is the song “Get Your Kicks (On Route 66).” It is an upbeat song, with a blues or jazz feel, played since its creation in 1946. First performed by Bobby Troup, it was rerecorded almost immediately by Nat King Cole. In her informative site Route 66: The Main Stream of America, Tiffany Camey states “this song’s catchy lyrics, and quick beat reflected the spirit of the Baby Booming era after World War II.” The road stretches from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California: 2,451 miles total. The historic road was decommissioned in 1985 after years of decline at the hands of the Interstate Highway System (IHS). This United States Route however, is not the only sufferer of the IHS. The out-of-the-way towns that the Routes were built to service have also fallen into disrepair, unless they have grown to encompass a nearby Interstate. The Interstate Highway System has thus caused rural America to decline in favor of densely populated metropolises, killing authentic pioneer spirit these rustic towns embodied. These cities and townships located along U.S. Routes such as 12, 24, and 40 have almost disappeared, despite some being founded over 150 years ago. If these towns are lost, the history of pioneers moving through the new West, attempting to tame the land, crafting settlements through rugged landscapes with an unforgiving climate would be lost with them. The history of the land would be strip-mined. The aforementioned historic Routes were provisioned under President Wilson’s Federal Road Act of 1916. Early as this seems, Henry Ford’s Model T had been available since 1909. In seven years of driving on a national level, Ford’s Model T, designed specifically for “washboard” and dirt roads, had left what roads had existed in serious disrepair especially after heavy rainfall (Frontenac, Weingroff). So, the federal government saw fit to set aside money to build proper roadways. By 1920, three million miles of roadway stretched across the country, but only 360,000 were suitable for automobiles (Camey). Thus, in 1921, the U.S. passed the Federal Highway Act, with Cyrus Avery elected president of the Associated Highways Association of America. Avery would go on to be known as the “Father of Route 66.” His presidency over the AHAA was compounded with becoming Oklahoma’s state highway commissioner, as well as the commissioner of every other large highway committee or association. By 1925, Avery road selection for the national highway network had begun with a simple mission: “to make traveling easier.” Making travel easier would be a nationwide issue until the Great Depression, when almost no one could afford to travel. But in the 1920s, highway commissioners used a simple system for naming existing and future roads, which can still be used today to identify direction and importance: Roads with even numbers run East-West, odd numbers go North-South, shield signs indicate interstates, main highways are numbered under 100, and most prominent roads end with a zero – any number of these features can be seen on an I-70 sign. Currently, a colored shield indicates an Interstate Highway, while a black and white shield points to interstate routes. On November 11, 1926, officials met in North Carolina to sign off on the routes in all 48 existing states. By this time 800 of Route 66’s approximately 2400 miles had already been paved, but would not be entirely finished until 1937 (Camey). This made no difference to Americans wanting to move westward. Route 66 may only have had its foundation laid in some parts, but the price of Ford’s Model T dropped to $290 (Vaughan), which is around $3,800 according to the US Inflation Calculator. One year after Route 66 had finished paving, President Roosevelt passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1938, resulted in the creation of Toll Roads and Free Roads (Weingroff). While not...
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