Route 66 in the News

Railroad Service Aided Mother Road Towns

2010-02-11 20:23:27

Service stations, cafes and motels looking after travelers were not the only reasons communities on Route 66 survived.

For many, their main purpose was to serve the railway system and provide water for the steam engines rumbling through. Migrant railroad employees working on the tracks populated these small towns, often with their families in tow.

Sue Ellen Willis, a resident of Covina for 45 years, recalls her early years as the daughter of a railroad worker and the plight of her family as they moved along the tracks in the Mojave Desert.

In the 1940s, V.L. "Pete" Young worked as a supervisor for Silva & Hill Construction Company, shoring up the rail sidings for the troop trains crossing from camps to the West Coast.

"At that time I was in the third grade and as the work progressed we would move from town to town. I remember all the towns between Needles and Barstow," Sue Ellen said.

She attended schools in several towns along the route, including Amboy and Essex.

"Boy what an education that was," she said.

She remembered the trains stopping to pick up water from the towers, and the time her father volunteered to take her entire class to the lava fields near Amboy.

Pete was a foreman and "he liked nothing better than to run the equipment `cats.'"

"I would tell my classmates that my dad was a cat skinner, and they would give me this funny look," Sue Ellen said.

Pete was always helping travelers if they needed something, like a tire or loaf of bread. Sometimes families would get stranded at the station, and he was happy to give them a hand.

He was a proud member of the International Operating Engineers Union until his death in the early 1990s.

"When we left the desert, I was certainly glad to finally settle with my family in Alhambra and to finally finish the lower grades at one school and then on to high school," she said.

Towns and icons along the Route, no matter their present shape, continue to evoke memories for those who traveled the road. There is a mystic power that hovers above the asphalt, which elevates Route 66 to a road more revered than other highways.

A study to survey California's Route 66 will commence in March. It is being funded by the California Preservation Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. Its aim is to document historic sites along the road to determine which ones will be nominated for a "slot in the National Register of Historic Places."

"Route 66 is a piece of roadside Americana that is like nothing else in the world," according to David Knudson, executive director of the National Historic Route 66 Federation.

~Claudia Heller,


See also:


Comments about this article? Tell us.

Need to Know More?

SEARCH Route 66 University.

Have some Route 66 news to share?

Contact us. We'd love to add your story.