Last Tuesday our major daily newspaper ran a feature story about a number of women who are creating various projects to preserve the history of the part females played during the days of the iconic Route 66.
Reading the piece took me back to the time I traversed the full length of the Via Madre from Chicago to LA.
The journey occurred when my Florida teammate and I were returning to Nevada for the fall semester. We started off by taking the orange Blossom Special, a state of the art streamliner train to New York City. Once there we hooked up with Bill Geoheghan, who was to be one of our roommates at the U. Bill had travelled east from his Pasadena home to purchase a new 2-door black Ford sedan from an eastern car dealer. After a brief sight-seeing trip around the city we had a tasty midnight meal at Mama Leone’s in the Village. Gassing up the car we started our trip west.
Our plan was to drive non-stop to Pasadena and we would accomplish the feat by taking 4-hour “shifts” behind the wheel. After the driving stint, the driver would move over to the passenger seat in front while the third party, who had been sleeping in the back seat, would take over the wheel as the former front seat passenger moved to the back and stretched out to snooze. This way we would always have a “fresh” driver behind the wheel.
One of the highlights of the trip was the car radio, which almost continuously played Nat “King” Cole’s version of the hit song, “Route 66” that had been written for him the year before by Bobby Troup. Oft times we would be travelling through the very town that Nat was singing about in the song. While a good portion of our trip was spent in darkness at night I still recall the towns that made Route 66 the “Mother Road” as novelist John Steinbeck dubbed it. “More than 2000 miles, all the way” we pounded the little Ford mercilessly as each of us tried to outdo the others in miles covered. I’m sure we never paid any attention to highway speed limits and the route was replete with detours, many of them washboard and dusty. Although we had no map, we never strayed from the proper route and we were making sensational time until we blew the water pump in the wee hours of the morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A 4-hour delay in our schedule occurred as we waited for the repair shop to open. Strangely enough, even though we were driving through the night, we never had trouble finding gas stations in order to keep rolling. Like most college types in those days, we had big appetites and satisfied them most often at many of the little diners that are featured in the complete history that is now being assembled by the ladies. We pulled into the Geoheghan Mansion’s driveway almost 48 hours to the minute since we had left New York. We shook hands all around, headed for the guest and “crashed” until noon the next day. After a few marvelous days exploring the orange-grove laden area of Southern California, by day and by night, we motored the short distance to Reno and the beginning of the school year.
Another strong memory of Route 66 was the popular TV show by the same name. Two episodes were filmed in Reno during the early ‘60’s. The cast and crew were headquartered at the Mapes Hotel and I had the good fortune to interface with the two young stars, George Maharis and Martin Milner. I had met Milner several years before when he was a cast member of “Sixty Saddles for Gobi”, which starred Richard Widmark and was shot primarily at Pyramid Lake. Two of the most interesting characters I met during the filming were Walter Matthau and the writer Sterling Silliphant.
Recently my son travelled along one of the short stretches of Route 66 which is still drivable and sent me several bits of memorabilia.
I concur with the ladies that are involved in the present historical project that there may not have been a Route 66 if not for the women who worked along the way.