Old US Route 66: The Road

Lock One, Lockport, IL

Lock One, Lockport, IL

In Chicago, IL, Old US Route 66 once started from the shore of Lake Michigan.  The original right of way is no longer visible because development laid down in decades since has buried nearly all of it; nevertheless, yet older infrastructure may still be seen ~ however fragmentary.  Here are the remains of Lock Number One on the Illinois and Michigan Canal between Chicago and Peru, IL, at Lockport, IL.
[Illinois.. Secretary of State. Archives. The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911. Online. 2003. Available http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/i&mpack/i&mintro.html.]

The Illinois and Michigan Canal joined the Great Lakes via the Chicago River with the Gulf of Mexico via the Des Plaines, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers.  The Illinois River is formed by the junction of the Des Plaines and Kankakee Rivers below Channahon, IL, now a suburb of Joliet, IL.
[Jones, Steve, and John Waller. "Down the Drain: The Historic Development of an Urban Infrastructure." Chicago Public Library Digital Collections. Online. 2004. Available http://www.chipublib.org/digit al/sewers/sewers.html.]
Ballard Siding, McLean County, IL

Ballard Siding, McLean County, IL

The canal turned Chicago from a little pioneer settlement on yet another inland lake into a world port on a major seaway, but society's fascination with water transportation was soon eclipsed by its infatuation with steam.  Because the town was developing at this time, Chicago became the principal rail hub of the westward-hurtling nation.

Throughout the Midwest, surface roads were improved to transport produce and passengers to and from the railroads.  Grain brought in by the wagon load from the farm was consolidated for shipment by the carload to flour mills. Manufactured merchandise from the East and from overseas found its way into every household via the rails.

Locating the old alignments of Route 66 in Illinois is easy; just follow the railroad.  SR 4, the Pontiac Trail, which was a precursor of Route 66, was laid out along the right of way of the Chicago and Alton Railroad.  Today, where the concrete pavement veers off into the prairie to bypass some small town or other, just turn onto the side street nearest the rails.  It is sure to take you straight through the downtown business district.
Amtrak, Cayuga, IL

Amtrak, Cayuga, IL

  • As a railroad fan, I always bring my scanner along on Amtrak trips so I can listen in to the chatter between the crew and listen to the detectors. For those who don't know what a detector is, they are simply safety devices installed trackside at strategic points, and their job is to scan the train when it passes by. They warn of possible dangerous defects, which, if one is found, means the train has to stop and inspect the suspected area for defects, and the detector points out which wheel axle on the train it suspects [has] a defect. ... UP detectors said our train had 24 axles (five cars and the locomotive). These detectors were different from the CP detectors in that the train length wasn't mentioned at all but track speed and the ambient temperature outside was. Our Engineer was hopping right along at 80 miles per hour (highest 82, lowest 78) across the flat Illinois prairie, which has a beauty all of its own.
[Thompson, Paul. "Minneapolis-St. Louis on Amtrak." On Track On Line n. seq. (Apr. 2003): 59 pars. Online. Internet. 8 Aug. 2005. Available http://www.on-track-on-line.com/trips/
trip-2003-04-18-thompson.shtml.]
[Snider, Becky L, et al. "Route 66 in Missouri." National Park Service Cultural Resources. Online. 2003. Available http://www.cr.nps.gov/rt66/HistSig/MissouriContext.htm.]

The movement to secure Federal and state funding for an interstate highway system took decades to bear fruit because it was plagued by memories of boondoggles from public financing of canals and railroads over the previous four score years.
Pre66 Ribbon Pavement, Miami, OK

Pre-66 Ribbon Pavement, Miami, OK

  • While legislation for public highways first appeared in 1916, with revisions in 1921, it was not until Congress enacted an even more comprehensive version of the act in 1925 that the government executed its plan for national highway construction. Officially, the numerical designation 66 was assigned to the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route in the summer of 1926. With that designation came its acknowledgment as one of the nation's principal east-west arteries. For the most part, U.S. 66 was just an assignment of a number to an already existing network of state-managed roads, most of which were in poor condition.
  • One outstanding example of the highway in its early form is the 3.5 mile section near Miami, Oklahoma, estimated to have been constructed between 1919 and 1924.
[United States. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Special Resource Study: Route 66. Online. 1995. Available http://www.cr.nps.gov/rt66/SpecialResourceStudy.pdf.]
Chain of Rocks Bridge ~ Looking toward MO

Chain of Rocks Bridge

  • Many of Missouri’s bridges were constructed in the 1920s. Undoubtedly, the most famous of these bridges is the Chain of Rocks Bridge, which opened in 1929.  The one-mile bridge, which spans the Mississippi River between Madison, Illinois and St. Louis, was constructed as a private venture by the Chain of Rocks and Kingshighway Bridge Company.  Built as a toll bridge to bring travelers into St. Louis from the north, the Chain of Rocks Bridge became a free crossing in 1966.  The bridge, which is the 12th longest continuous span bridge in the world, became notorious for delays caused by the 30-degree bend in its middle span.  After the City of Madison purchased it, the Chain of Rocks Bridge was incorporated into the third routing of U.S. 66 through St. Louis in 1931.  In 1965, U.S. 66 traffic was routed over the new I-270 bridge.  The Chain of Rocks Bridge closed for repairs in 1970 and never reopened to automobile traffic.  In recent years, it has been reopened for hiking and biking, connecting Missouri and Illinois trails.
[Snider, Becky L, et al. "Route 66 in Missouri." National Park Service Cultural Resources. Online. 2003. Available http://www.cr.nps.gov/rt66/HistSig/
MissouriContext.htm.]
  • Bridge lanes over the Mississippi River have declined from 22 lanes in the 1960s to 12 lanes in 2003. A group of state and local officials and business people are supporting a proposal to build a new eight-lane bridge over the Mississippi about one mile north of downtown St. Louis. That project is dependent on Missouri and Illinois receiving federal funding in the upcoming Senate transportation bill.
["McKinley Bridge Could Be Repaired, Open by 2006." St. Louis Business Journal n. seq. (16 June 2003): 7 pars. Online. Internet. 14 Aug. 2005. Available http://stlouis.bizjournals.com/stlouis/stories/
2003/06/16/daily16.html.]
Rainbow Bridge, Riverton, KS

Rainbow Bridge, Riverton, KS

  • In 1992, construction of a softer curve bypassed the Rainbow Bridge at Brush Creek. After a hard fight by the Kansas Route 66 Association, County officials agreed to leave the Brush Creek Bridge standing as a historic landmark.
[Weiser, Kathy R. "Legendary Route 66." Legends of America n. seq. (2004): n. pag. Online. Internet. 9 Aug. 2005. Available http://www.legendsofamerica.com/66-Mainpage.html.]
Pony Bridge, El Reno, OK

Pony Bridge, El Reno, OK

  • The Pony Bridge at the Canadian River is 3944.33 feet long and contains 38 pony trusses. It was completed July 1, 1933.
[Randall, Guy. "Shadows of Old Route 66." The Road Wanderer n. seq. (28 Nov. 2004): n. pag. Online. Internet. 9 Aug. 2005. Available http://www.theroadwanderer.net/route66.htm.]

Count the trusses the next time you pass over. See whether or not there are more. Only those who've actually driven it are entitled to dispute the official count. Heavy semi traffic is still running along this stretch, though. Watch out you don't become too preoccupied, looking for the water. Here, the Canadian River is merely a braided stream in a wide bottomland.
[United States. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Special Resource Study: Route 66. Online. 1995. Available http://www.cr.nps.gov/rt66/SpecialResourceStudy.pdf.]

Here in Western Oklahoma, as a youth in the 1930's I did not know that my family was poor. I knew that we had no money ... but shucks, everyone I knew were the same as our family.

Dad had found out that the government was building a new coast-to-coast hiway about a mile north of our house and that they would pay a farmer one dollar a day for his labor and one dollar a day for his team of horses. ~ Boy, I never knew before that the Government had that kind of money.  He started working on the 2nd of July, and we all knew that we would eat better now, and Mom knew that she could even buy shoes for us kids to wear to school on that kind of money.

A couple of days later my Dad asked me if I could bring him a cool drink of well water to his job in the afternoon.  At around three o'clock I found a glass jar, wrapped it with a wet gunny sack, filled it with fresh drawn water, and started.  It must have been a very hot day 'cause I hadn't had a shoe on since school was out and my feet were like leather but the sand in the road was so hot that I had to get off the road and walk along the edge in the shades of the cotton stalks.  When I got to the work place there were about twenty men ~ ten with teams and tools and ten with shovels.  Dad drank from the jug. Then passed it around 'til it was empty.

As I started home the Boss called me over and handed me a shiny dime.  He also told me that, if I would bring them two gallons of water every afternoon, I would be the crew's water boy and be paid ten cents every day.

I don't remember going home.  I didn't feel the hot sand between my toes.  I do remember fingering that shiny dime in my ol' overall pockets and floating on dreams.  That man had told me that I could carry water 'til they built ten miles of that hiway 66 road bed ~ probably 60 days.  Boy I wished I'd paid more heed to that 'rithmetic last year. I would'a known how much money 60 dimes was.  No matter ~ I was sure it would be enough to buy those brown and white shoes from that catalogue and maybe a store-bought shirt, too.


[Murphy, L. C. First Job. Chart. Clinton, OK: Route 66 Museum, 1998.]
Curb, Pony Bridge, El Reno, OK

Curb, Pony Bridge, El Reno, OK

Curbs between pavement and shoulder are rarely used anymore because they are an edge trap that tends to deflect vehicles running up on them causing a rollover. The style pictured is slightly inclined to the pavement. Engineers quit specifying it long ago in favor of curbs that were more abrupt. In the days before power steering, an inattentive driver could lose control by running up on a curb like this because it would yank the steering wheel to the right.
[United States. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Special Resource Study: Route 66. Online. 1995. Available http://www.cr.nps.gov/rt66/SpecialResourceStudy.pdf.]
New Bridge ~ Old Bridge ~ Old US Route 66 ~ North of Chenoa, IL

New Bridge ~ Old Bridge ~ Old US Route 66 ~ North of Chenoa, IL

The little towns had been bypassed in Illinois, and Route 66 had been widened to four lanes before I-55 was commissioned. After the Interstate was opened, the northbound lanes were signed for two-way traffic, and the southbound pair of lanes was abandoned; nevertheless, old crossings of low prestige remain dead-end stubs, and folks have lots of parking space to spare whose private drives abut on the abandoned side.
Road Ends ~ Old US Route 66 ~ North of Chenoa, IL

Road Ends ~ Old US Route 66 ~ North of Chenoa, IL

Piles of rubble prevent drivers from venturing onto the derelict pavement at crossings that still exist. Jersey barriers block bridge access.

Rhode, Chuck. "Old US Route 66: The Road." The Mother Road and the Natchez Trace. 4 Aug. 2005. Lacus Veris. 24 Nov. 2017 <http://www.lacusveris.com/MotherRoad/Road US66.shtml>. Last modified 6 Oct. 2015. Served 8185 times between 16 May. 2010 and 23 Nov. 2017. Contact mailto:CRhode@LacusVeris.com?subject=LacusVeris.