- Greetings from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Back through Time along America’s Main Street
Greetings from Route 66 is the latest in a series of colorful, nostalgic books about Route 66 that have recently been published. The book is arranged as a kind of road trip with signs directing the reader to the attractions that its pages feature. Written as a guidebook, the book is organized in the order of the eight states the highway passed through. It directs the reader from east to west, starting in Illinois and ending in California. Written by multiple authors and richly illustrated, the work features a profusion of stunning primary source images, such as vintage postcards, historic photographs, and old restaurant menus and maps. The editor’s coupling of photos of today’s ruins with historic photographs of the same sites when they were in their prime provides a valuable historic perspective for the reader.
Although Route 66 did not technically exist until 1927 when Congress created the U.S. Highway system, and officially closed in 1984, the corridor has a long and varied past. The authors recognize and celebrate Route 66’s layers of history as Indian trail, wagon road, railroad, and highway. The book provides a short history of many Route 66 communities from their early origins through the Route 66 era. In addition, Greetings from Route 66 provides guided tours of quirky Route 66 landmarks such as the Gemini Giant, a twenty-foot statue of a man in a space suit holding a rocket built in the 1960s in Wilmington, Illinois, and Galloway’s Totem Poles, a collection of tall, concrete, quasi-Native American structures built in the [End Page 211] late 1930s in Foyil, Oklahoma. The book also contains an essay on the Good Roads Movement and its role in the creation of Route 66, a piece about the history of the Burma Shave signs found along highways like Route 66 from the 1920s to the 1960s, and a history of the origin of the Airstream travel trailer.
The book features historic attractions, such as Meramec Caverns and the Riverside Reptile Ranch, found along the highway. Also highlighted is a diverse assortment of Route 66 related personalities, such as the singer-songwriter Bobby Troup who wrote the song “Route 66” with its famous refrain “get your kicks on Route 66,” Sylvanus F. Bowser, the inventor of the gasoline pump, and novelist John Steinbeck who famously dubbed Route 66 “the mother road” in The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to the histories, the authors also discuss some recent restoration efforts of historic Route 66 landmarks, such as the rehabilitation of the U Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas, and the restoration of a number of old motel and restaurant neon signs in New Mexico.
Unlike many popular tour books on Route 66, Greetings from Route 66 focuses on history rather than on folklore. Contributor Jim Hinckley writes, “Often overlooked in the quest for the Route 66 experience is the rich diverse history found with each passing mile that transforms this highway from a neon-lit Disneyland into a link that ties the distant past to the present and future” (21). The book presents the road as being primarily important as a historic corridor that allows people to understand and experience aspects of the past.
I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the history of Route 66, especially those who plan to tour the highway. It would serve well as a highway companion (which I think would have been a good title). Although not particularly academic in format or in character, the book is very detailed and historically accurate and celebrates the many layers of history and historic landmarks that comprise the Route 66 corridor.