Route 66 in the News

Check Out the Mother Road Museum

2011-09-03 17:57:17

BARSTOW, Calif. - As you drive west along Barstow's Main Street there are a number of large murals displayed on the various buildings to the north of the street. They portray the history of modern Barstow from the time it was a central route for the U.S. military. The trail was traced along some Indian trading routes and the Army tried a number of ingenious methods of traversing the desert wastes.

One of these ideas was the use of camels, and when you think about it there was good sense behind the scheme. After all, out here you could be in some of the remoter parts of the Middle East.

Of course, it was the railroad that really changed everything as far as desert travel is concerned. Barstow was then called Waterman Junction; it previously had been called Camp Sugarloaf, and also Grapevine. But in 1886, the 10th president of the Santa Fe Railway lent his middle name to the burgeoning town; he was called William Barstow Strong.

The local mining activities in nearby Calico caused the town to expand and its transportation to grow, but it was the establishment of Route 66 that really helped it to take off.

In the 1920s the great migration west began and over the next few decades the allure of new lands, freedom and excitement attracted all types of travelers aboard their jalopies and flivvers.

In 1985 Route 66 officially closed but instead of it just sinking into our collective memories it began a new life -- that belonging to the tourists.

"We get people here from all over the world," said Debra Hodkin, director of the Route 66 Mother Road Museum in Barstow. "For many Europeans, it's their dream to trace the road all the way from Chicago to Santa Monica."

From my own experience I was doing a piece on Amboy one day -- it lies on Route 66, but was bypassed by the 40 Freeway in 1973. At the filling station a group of Harley riders rolled up. To my surprise they were all Germans, and the dozen of them had been traveling the route for several days, and were now headed for Los Angeles.

I asked Hodkin what she thought was the draw for all these people.

"It's the idea of the road that appeals to so many," she said. "And they really do their homework." She also added that so many are amazed at the size and emptiness of the country.

Back in the early '60s my roommate and I would watch episodes of "Route 66" on our rented 15-inch black-and-white TV set. It was something we always looked forward to; Buzz and Todd traveling the road in their Corvette enjoying a new adventure every week.

Last time I visited the museum, I bought two copies of the DVDs of the series. I have to say I still enjoyed them. They are, of course, a little dated now, but for all that, I think they still hold up well.

The Route 66 Mother Road Museum has a lot to look at for the many visitors who stop there on their pilgrimage. I always enjoy the Model T Ford and the Mustang on display and also the pieces at the back from one of the many garages along the way. I like the sign that reads, "We fix anything -- some things we fix good."

Today, we can consider a drive along the 2,448 miles of Route 66 with only a small amount of apprehension. Tires, oil and engineering have all improved to make the likely drive pretty seamless. But for those intrepid motorists way back then, many of them only had the dream of a new life to sustain them on the difficult journey.

~Trevor Summons,


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