Route 66 in the 1940s
Francis Post shares his experiences traveling the Mother Road in his 1940s youth.
In '41 when I was twelve, my father retired from the Detroit police department. Friends of ours had moved to California for a good job in the aircraft industry a year or two before and their letters convinced my parents that we too, should make the move. In early July '41 we left Michigan and started Route 66 at Chicago.
When we reached Joplin, Missouri we were very surprised to see women in sunbonnets and skirts to their ankles, and puzzled by many of the items on the restaurant menu. We had never heard of red-eye gravy, collard greens, or grits. Radio had not erased the cultural differences in our country the way television did a few years later.
Unfortunately, my dad thought we would have trouble pulling our four-wheel trailer over the Rocky Mountains so we left 66 in Texas and went south to avoid them. I don't remember which route we took, but I do remember stalling out in the Guadalupe Mountains. There we were, stopped, when a stake truck with a tall lean driver in blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a big hat pulled over and parked just ahead of us. He was a Texas Ranger and he asked if we wanted a tow; with our shiny new '41 Plymouth he had guessed that we were stalled by the grade. Dad said we certainly would like a tow, so a stout rope was rigged and away we went. When we reached the summit, the ranger told us we had made a mistake leaving 66, but he said this was the worst grade we'd hit on the southern route and that we'd be alright for the rest of the way. We were "alright" for the rest of the way, but we would have been better off on 66.
By the end of the war in '45 my parents had found that they missed the seasons of the middle west and we drove back to Michigan with the same '41 Plymouth pulling the same four-wheel trailer with all our posessions. This time we stayed on 66 all the way. By then I was 16 and shared some of the driving with my dad, much to my mother's dismay. She said, “But he's only 16, Bud.” My dad said, “Yes, he's only 16, but I taught him to drive, he has a license, and he'll be fine.” We had no adventures on that trip, a testament to the travelability of Route 66.
By '49 I had hired out on the Santa Fe Railway in San Bernardino and been “cut off” in a seasonal reduction in force. I packed my few belongings into my '40 Ford convertible and hit the road (66). Up around Goldroad or Oatman about nine in the evening as I was in those hairpin curves, with the top down driving maybe 15 or 20 mph a LARGE fully grown mountain lion loped across the road about thirty feet ahead of my car and scared me silly. I accelerated for about 100 yards then slowed way down and put my top up. (The '40 Fords had a vacuum operated automatic top.) I don't know what good a bit of canvas would do if a lion attacked, but as I said, it scared me silly.
Through the fifties and sixties I drove 66 five or six times, each trip noting the changes at Joplin. By the sixties I saw no apparent differences between Joplin and any other American town. A far cry from Joplin in 1941!
I got my kicks on Route 66.
Francis L. Post hails from Bellingham, Washington. A former skipper of both railroads and yachts, Frank offers this credo: “Live every day so that you can look any man straight in the face and tell him to go to hell.”
You can find out a little more about Frank at http://home.thirdage.com/Reading/fpost3776/