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Traveling Route 66 exhibit planned for Europe August 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Highways, History.
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Three men are planning an unprecedented traveling Route 66 exhibit that will be taken around Europe — which is a hotbed of enthusiasm for the Mother Road.

The men planning the exhibit are Jim Farber, who helped shepherd the current “Route 66: The Road and the Romance” exhibit at the Autry National Museum at Los Angeles; Stephen White, who has curated several international photo exhibitions; and Jonathan Spaulding, who recently oversaw the design and collection for the Brisco Museum in San Antonio.

Farber said in an email the exhibit is in its “very preliminary” stages of planning, but he remained confident it will happen. No timetable was given.

Here is the news release for the planned exhibit:

Every year thousands of Europeans, and visitors from nations around the globe, visit the United States in order to experience a journey along America’s most famous highway, Route 66 — the historic Mother Road, the Main Street of America. Yet there has never been a major international museum exhibition devoted to the rich cultural history of this iconic highway and the role it has played in inspiring some of the world’s greatest literature, painting, photography and popular culture, as well as the pioneering architecture of the gasoline station, the motor court and the neon sign. “Route 66: Song of the Open Road” is a proposal designed to bring that experience to a global audience for the first time in all its unique dimensions.

Among the expected contributors to an international touring exhibition are the famous artist, Ed Ruscha, Pixar, producers of the animated feature, “Cars,” Google, and the Route 66 Alliance, as well as a number of important collectors and institutions with holdings of Route 66 material. A checklist is in preparation. While much of the emphasis will be on the art inspired by the highway, there will also be a selection of artifacts that will create a balance between culture and aesthetics.

Design strategies may create sensory environments that bring the experience of the road to life. Paintings, photographs, music, film, literary manuscripts, clothing, and ephemera will mingle with large-scale elements such as neon signs, classic cars, and gas pumps, all important elements of the life of the road. A central concept of the exhibition is to combine the high and the low, the common and the rare, in a democratic journey through one of the world’s most important cultural touchstones.

Support is strong among potential lenders. Sponsors are actively being sought, as is a major European or international institution to host what should be one of the most iconic American exhibitions to tour overseas in recent years.

For additional information contact Stephen White at fotodazela(at)gmail(dot)com.

If the exhibit comes together and proves popular across the pond, it could prove to have a huge impact on Route 66 tourism by bringing a new batch of travelers on the road.

Route 66 expert worries about traffic congestion in Chicago suburbs August 7, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, Vehicles.
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A prominent Route 66 expert wrote a letter to a village, expressing his concern that truck traffic will negatively impact tourism on the Mother Road in Will County, Illinois, reported Suburban Life Publications.

John Weiss, who won the prestigious Steinbeck Award for historic preservation with his late wife Lenore in 2002 and has written several books about Route 66 and other historic roads in the Chicagoland area, wrote the letter to the village of Elwood, Illinois, in support of efforts to transform Illinois Highway 53 (aka Route 66) to a more Route 66-friendly corridor.

But he warned efforts will be for naught if truck-traffic congestion from Elwood and Joliet aren’t addressed.

Here are quotes from Weiss from the letter and to the newspaper:

“Route 53, from Joliet to Wilmington, … deserves better treatment. This stretch of road serves as the gateway to Historic Route 66, where the metropolitan landscape gives way to idyllic and quaint communities. Unfortunately for visitors and tourists – many of whom are traveling from overseas and visiting the U.S. for the first time – their first impression of small-town America is appalling and disappointing. [...]

“Words spread quickly with social media. Of course, tourists are going to hit Chicago. World-class city. But from there, they have a choice: Either get on I-55 and bypass all this or come down into Joliet and through all this congestion. I, myself, I’d bypass it.”

Weiss lives in the area, and has a lot of credibility about Route 66. So I’m sure his letter got the attention of the village – and the media.

The problem was exacerbated by Elwood starting an overweight-truck permit program a few years ago. The village gained revenue from it, but truck traffic increased on Illinois 53 because of it. The CenterPoint Properties trucking intermodal development also added truck numbers on the route.

A CenterPoint spokesman said the best solution to remove trucks from Illinois 53 would be a new bridge from Interstate 80 and Houbolt Road.

Also, jurisdictions could simply ban big trucks from that road and create a dedicated truck route away from it instead.

In addition to the mentioned towns before, Will County includes Braidwood, Wilmington, Crest Hill and Romeoville on Route 66. But it seems most of the truck trouble is in Joliet and Elwood.

(Image of Illinois 53, aka Route 66, in Crest Hill, Illinois, by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr)

Road to Our Lady of the Highways Shrine will close for repairs this fall July 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History, Religion.
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A badly deteriorated section of Interstate 55 west frontage road between Farmersville and Raymond in Illinois — best known as a section of Route 66 that passes in front of the historic Our Lady of the Highways Shrine — will be closed for repairs for several weeks starting in late September, according a story in The Journal-News in Hillsboro.

The newspaper said residents collected more than 1,000 signatures in petitions that urged the Illinois Department of Transportation to fix the road. I have little doubt the Route 66 tourism angle proved crucial in persuading the agency.

The Facebook page for the shrine this spring posted a photo of a tire damaged by the road. It also posted this message on April 7:

Due to poor maintenance by IDOT, it is not recommended that tourists take Historic 66 from Farmersville through Litchfield which includes the location of the Shrine. Many tires have been destroyed as well as rims. The deterioration is a hardship for those of us who live in the area but we’d hate to see your trip ruined.

We ask that you complain to IDOT as well as sign a petition which is available at the bars and gas stations in Farmersville. We hope that a thorough and complete resurfacing will be done but until then the West Frontage Road/US 66 is dangerous.

The Journal-News reported that resurfacing of the road will begin in late September, closing it for about three weeks. 

A few purists might mourn the covering up of old pavement in the area, but a road so decayed that Route 66 travelers can’t reliably use isn’t any good, either.

The Litchfield Deanery’s Catholic Youth Council raised money for the shrine in 1958, and the statue was dedicated Oct. 25, 1959, at the edge of Francis Marten’s farm. The marble statue of the Virgin Mary was imported from Italy; area youths built the wooden alcove, a brick base, a cobblestone walkway and lights around the statue. Total cost at the time was $900.

Francis Marten died in 2002, but family members continue to keep up the site.

(Hat tip to Peter Stork; image of Our Lady of the Highways Shrine by alan berning via Flickr)

High school class makes superb film about Route 66 June 11, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History, Movies.
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The film class of Jenks High School in Jenks, Oklahoma, uploaded this 10-minute film about Route 66 in the last few days. This well-edited clip features Tulsa-area Route 66 experts Marian Clark and Michael Wallis.

This sort of excellence isn’t new for the Jenks High School film class. It won an Emmy award in 2012 for the “All That Remains” film, about the dying historic black down of Boley, Oklahoma. G0 here to view it.

Rock Creek Bridge may reopen in next month June 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Bridges, Highways, History, Preservation.
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The historic Rock Creek Bridge, which has been closed to traffic since March 2013, may reopen to lighter vehicles sometime next month, according to a city official in nearby Sapulpa, Oklahoma.

Suzanne Shirey, president of the Sapulpa Area Chamber of Commerce, revealed the plans for the 1921 bridge during an email a few days ago:

We are looking to open the bridge in mid July.  We will have to build barriers to restrict vehicles over 3 ton from entering.  These barriers will be away from the bridge so they will not obstruct the view for photos.

It will be interesting to see the eventual layout of the new barriers. With a three-ton limit, that would allow all motorcycles, almost all cars and most pickup trucks.

A state inspection last spring deemed the bridge unsafe for all traffic, and local officials placed barriers and big chunks of concrete to keep people from driving on it. Pedestrians could walk around the barriers to the bridge, however.

Follow-up questions about the bridge weren’t answered. But Shirey made it clear the bridge will be at least partly reopened by mid-summer.

The Rock Creek Bridge served Route 66 from 1926 until 1952, when officials realigned the highway to the south. The Rock Creek Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Currently, the only way to reach the 3.5-mile stretch of the original Ozark Trail alignment of Route 66 is several miles west, near a Shell gas station. Don’t count on driving through the parking lot of the VFW hall near the bridge; access to the Ozark Trail is often blocked by a gate.

Here’s a video we produced a couple of years ago, before the bridge was closed:

(Image of the Rock Creek Bridge by David Sugden via Flickr)

The darker side of Route 66 May 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History, Museums, People.
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The Autry Museum in Los Angeles recently uploaded a few more videos of interviews with longtime residents of Route 66. The museum is preparing for its “Route 66: The Road and the Romance” exhibit that starts June 8.

But there’s nothing particularly romantic about these clips. As a good museum should, these delve into the darker aspects of the Mother Road.

First, Angel Delgadillo, known as the Guardian Angel of 66, explains why Route 66 also was known as “Bloody 66.”

Bloody 66 – Angel Delgadillo from Autry Media on Vimeo.

Then Dennis Casebier, former director of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, talks about those — especially unethical mechanics — who took advantage of vulnerable travelers.

Taken Advantage Of – Dennis Casebier from Autry Media on Vimeo.

Finally, Delbert Trew, founder of the Old Route 66 Association of Texas, said a study revealed travelers on Route 66 were notably poorer than the ones who traveled Route 83 in the Texas Panhandle.

A Difference in the People – Delbert Trew from Autry Media on Vimeo.

A few may grouse at these videos that place Route 66 in a less-than-ideal light. However, these interview subjects were longtime eyewitnesses to the good and bad of Route 66. It’s commendable and proper the Autry Museum is examining the less-savory aspects of the Mother Road, in addition to its rosy nostalgia and recent renaissance.

A section of old road in western Oklahoma May 11, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, Road trips.
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This is fun. Hunter Bachrach posted this video of driving on an older section of Route 66 in western Oklahoma.

This likely is the section east of Erick, that used to be part of a four-lane highway.

I suspect a local periodically takes a Brush Hog or snowplow to it. Every so often, it becomes nearly impassable because of fallen tree limbs and brush, then it’s open again.

The chatter in the video is worth hearing. His companion says: “The current (66) is over there, but we’re over here.” Hunter replies: “‘Cause it’s cooler over here.”

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