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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.”

Route 66′s lifeguard March 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History, People.
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The Bloomington Pantagraph recently published a profile about longtime Illinois state trooper Chester Henry, who patrolled Route 66 and Interstate 55 in the Pontiac area for more than 25 years and wrote an estimated 50,000 speeding tickets.

Henry, now 84, has been retired for about 30 years. He still drives his old beat from time to time.

Some tidbits from the Pantagraph’s story:

 

  • He once wrote 238 tickets in one month.
  • His record for issuing speeding tickets in one day was 45, just before Thanksgiving.
  • Over the years, he walked a total of 150 miles walking the distance from his squad car to the front window of the vehicles he stopped.
  • Some days were so busy, Henry and his partner would prefill parts the tickets to save time.

 

Henry didn’t write all those tickets just to be a stickler, either:

Patrolling a stretch of asphalt that was so accident-marred in the post-war dawn of the super highway that it became known in this area as “Bloody 66,” a key part of Chester’s job was simply this: cut down on death by trying to curb the speed-demons who were taking kindly to the new, wider, smoother, more open roads.

“We didn’t waste much time on motorists who were only going 10 (mph) over,” says Chester. “There was enough traffic out there that we could wait for the better ones.”

Until the ’70s, highways like Route 66 cut through hundreds of small towns, wedged amid a patchwork of family-owned gas stations, diners and Howard Johnsons. [...]

Highways, Chester says, were a much more personal, friendly place. He knew all the great places to dine, sleep, take a break and he told anyone who asked.

In a way, he was like a Route 66 lifeguard — friendly, helpful but also stern and mindful.

“Everything went up and down the road,” says Chester, “but it was always the people that made the work enjoyable.”

Henry is the member of two halls of fame, including the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. He was inducted there in 1993.

Australia highway wants to use Route 66 to rebrand itself March 1, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways.
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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, Route 66 should be very flattered indeed by what certain highway boosters are wanting to do in Australia.

We’ll let The Australian newspaper explain:

Grain silos rising from flat terrain vie with open-cut mines for the attention of truckers who use the 660-mile Newell Highway. A kangaroo occasionally jumps across the arrow-straight road. Among the most unfortunately named districts hereabouts is Bland Shire.

Jeff Stien has a plan to change things. A member of the Newell Highway Promotions Committee, he wants to rebrand the road, which motorists think is one of eastern Australia’s worst, as Route 66 and make it a destination for lovers of Americana.

The committee is seeking government funding to promote the road, which connects the southern state of Victoria with Queensland in the northeast, as a tourist highway, complete with brand-new Route 66 signage, hoping to shake its image as a service road for travellers headed elsewhere. [...]

If all goes well, drivers will be stopping at an observatory that helped broadcast the Apollo moon landings, seeking relics of one of the biggest U.S. Pacific air bases in World War II and breaking out their blue suede shoes next January at a festival for Elvis Presley’s birthday.

Apparently the small towns along this mostly rural road have met hard times because of drought and a drop in commodity prices. The  New South Wales Parliament will decide on the proposal next month.

The Newell Highway has its own tourist-friendly website here. And this video provides a nice overview:

This effort makes one wonder whether the highway’s expanses — “dull” is a word that often comes to mind from its travelers — would cast the real Route 66 in a none-too-flattering light. Then again, the idea of faux Route 66 road signs Down Under might inspire Australians to seek out the genuine article.

(Image of Australia’s Newell Highway near West Wyalong via Wikimedia Commons)

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