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Route 66

After 59 years, the iconic Route 66 entered the realm of history on June 27th 1985, when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertified the road and voted to remove all its highway signs.

In the early twentieth century the introduction of the automobile had changed the face of America forever. The arrival of Ford’s Model T in 1908 had a dramatic effect on the American populace, as automobiles became accessible to everyone. Americans began to travel. No longer were they confined to the short distances that a horse could travel in a day. Journeys that would take many days on horseback or wagon now took a few hours. The government knew that something would have to be done about the poor road system in America and made a concerted effort to bring the various frontier trails, railroad routes and passes together. In 1921, an amendment to the Federal Aid Road Act was passed, requiring states to designate all primary roads to be included in a state highway system and on November 11, 1926 a bill was signed in Washington creating the American Highway System. Route 66 (along with the rest of the early two-lane roads) became a reality and it became the twentieth century version of the Oregon Trail, the golden road to the promised land and one that became, for many Americans, a symbol of their pioneering spirit.

Measuring some 2,200 miles in its heyday, Route 66 stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, passing through eight states in total. Often called the "Main Street of America", Route 66 became a pop culture mainstay over the years, inspiring its own song written in 1947 by Bobby Troup. ‘Route 66’ was later recorded by artists as varied as Nat "King" Cole, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones as well as inspiring a 1960s television series of the same name. More recently, the historic highway featured prominently in the hit animated Pixar film "Cars".

Rarely has a mere road inspired as much as Route 66 – can you imagine a song about the M62? John Steinbeck called it the Mother Road, and indeed it was. Route 66 has held a special place in the American consciousness from its beginning. The road is uniquely American. There are a thousand stories of hope, heartbreak, love, hate, starting over, and new dreams all found along the next bend of the highway. No other culture has had the same type of love affair with the automobile, and few have had the wide-open spaces offered by the American West. With Route 66 (as with so many things in life) whilst the destination is important, nothing beats the journey.

Ray Henshaw