In the early 20th century, our country took on a tremendous amount of growth and with that growth came change. Henry Ford perfected the assembly line making owning a car affordable for nearly anyone. There was a huge influx of vehicle ownership as a result. Old trails and farm to market paths soon became roads for automobile traffic. Unfortunately, most of these paths were unpaved and not well maintained. They were treacherous and difficult to navigate during long trips with requiring a multitude of accompanying resources. US Route 66 and many other US highways came as a result of numerous Federal highway acts. In November 1926, the US highway numbering system was approved. Route 66 would follow a multitude of pathways already in existence; beginning in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles. Some of the paths Route 66 followed were Pontiac Trail, Ozark Trail, National Old Trails, El Camino Real, Santa Fe Trail.
Over the decades, many changes were brought forth to the road. Sections were constantly being realigned or shortened. What most people interested in Route 66 don’t know about the mother road is that it never followed just one path. Instead, the road evolved over the years. Sections of the road were bypassed or made more efficient by removing dangerous obstacles such as sharp turns or steep grades. In many instances, cities and towns were completely bypassed, removed from Route 66. At some point during the 1950’s Route 66 took on a new form. – The super slab. Portions of Route 66 were being turned into what we know today as the interstate. Road explorers such as myself refer to the collectively abandoned segments as, “alignments,” “orphaned,” or “remnant.”
What defines a roadie is the obsession to seek out these timeworn alignments. Finding anything related to an old alignment brings you that much closer to the past. Old bridge ruins, culverts, low water crossings, foundation ruins, and obliterated pavement keep us frantically searching for fragmented history. This fascination with being part of a world bygone motivates me and many like me to keep searching for Route 66.
If you long for adventure and a glimpse of yesteryear, then come along with me as I Go My Own Way across our great country digging for new evidence of old roads.