It is called "the mother road." The main street of America. It extends from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California. This year it celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary. I’m Sarah Long.
And I’m Shirley Griffith. The story of Route Sixty-Six is our report today on the VOA Special English program, This is America.
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The idea for Route Sixty-Six started in the state of Oklahoma. Citizens wanted to link their state with states to the east and west. By the Nineteen-Twenties, federal officials wanted to connect state roads to provide a shorter, faster way across the country. So a plan was developed to connect existing state roads into one long national road.
United States Highway Sixty-Six opened in Nineteen-Twenty-Six. It was one of America’s first national road systems. It crossed eight American states. It was three-thousand-eight-hundred kilometers long. People soon began calling Route Sixty-Six "the main street of America."
Route Sixty-Six became the most famous road in America. The road extended through the centers of many American cities and towns. It crossed deserts, mountains, valleys and rivers.
In the nineteen-thirties, Americans suffered through the Great Depression. Many poor farm families in the state of Oklahoma lost their farms because of severe dry weather. So they traveled west to California on Route Sixty-Six in search of a better life. In Nineteen-Thirty-Nine, American writer John Steinbeck wrote a book called "The Grapes of Wrath" about these people.
In the book, John Steinbeck wrote: "Sixty-Six -- the long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map ... over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys.”
Steinbeck wrote: "Sixty-Six is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land … Sixty-Six is the mother road, the road of flight."
In Nineteen-Forty-Six, an American songwriter and his wife drove across the country to Los Angeles. Bobby Troup wrote a song about his trip on Route Sixty-Six. He wrote that people could have fun traveling on the road. The song said people could "get their kicks" on Route-Sixty-Six. When he arrived in Los Angeles, Bobby Troup took the song to Nat King Cole. Cole recorded the song. It became a huge hit.
Here is Nat King Cole’s daughter, Natalie Cole, singing "Route Sixty-Six."
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In the Nineteen-Fifties, many American families began to explore the western part of the country during their holidays. They enjoyed travelling on Route Sixty-Six. In the Nineteen-Sixties, Americans watched a popular television show called "Route Sixty-Six." It was about two young men driving across the country.
Route Sixty-Six represented the spirit of movement and excitement. The television show was filmed in cities and towns across America. Yet only a few shows were filmed on the real Route Sixty-Six.
Also in the Nineteen-Sixties, the federal government began building huge road systems through a number of states. Cars and trucks could travel at very high speeds. People started driving on these new interstate highways instead of on Route Sixty-Six. In Nineteen-Sixty-Two, parts of Route Sixty-Six were closed because they were in bad condition.
Then in Nineteen-Eighty-Five, Route Sixty-Six was officially removed from the national highway system. During the past few years, however, people living near the old Route Sixty-Six have formed organizations. They have succeeded in saving parts of the road. They also are saving hundreds of eating places, places to stay and interesting places to visit along the way.
Michael Wallis is one of America’s top experts on Route Sixty-Six. He wrote a book called "Route Sixty-Six: The Mother Road." Mister Wallis has lived in seven of the eight states that Route Sixty-Six crosses. He and his wife Suzanne have led groups of visitors on a two-week bus trip on Route Sixty-Six. Mister Wallis says there has been a huge increase in interest in Route Sixty-Six from Americans and people around the world.
Now it is our turn to take a trip on Route Sixty-Six. We will have to search for it at times. Many parts of it have new names or numbers. Some parts of it are included in other interstate highways. Our trip begins in the middle western city of Chicago, Illinois. Chicago is America’s third largest city. It has almost three-million people. From Chicago, the road goes southwest through many small towns in Illinois. One of them is Springfield, the home of America’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln.
Now we drive through Saint Louis, Missouri, a city of more than three-hundred-thousand people. Saint Louis is called "The gateway to the west." Missouri has many natural wonders. One of the most famous on Route Sixty-Six is Meramec Caverns in Stanton.
The next part of our drive takes us for a very short time through the state of Kansas. Then we enter the state of Oklahoma. Michael Wallis says Oklahoma remains the heart and soul of Route Sixty-Six. That is because there are more kilometers of the road in Oklahoma than in any other state.
In Claremore, Oklahoma, a statue honors a famous American, Will Rogers. Rogers was born in Claremore. He became the most popular actor in Hollywood in the Nineteen-Thirties. We pass through many historic towns in Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma City, we can visit the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. And in Clinton, we can see the Route Sixty-Six Museum. It is the first official museum that tells the complete history of the road and its importance to America.
Now we drive through the northern part of the state of Texas. The area is called the Texas panhandle. We stop near the town of Amarillo to look at an unusual kind of art that celebrates Route Sixty-Six. It is called "Cadillac Ranch." A Cadillac is a large costly American automobile. "Cadillac Ranch" has ten Cadillac cars half buried in the ground. Stanley Marsh, a rich farmer and art collector, created it to honor America’s roads.
Continuing west, we travel through the states of New Mexico and Arizona. We pass through some of the most beautiful country in the southwest. Petrified Forest National Park is one of the wonders of Arizona. Trees that are hundreds of years old have been turned to stone in unusual shapes. North of Route Sixty-Six is the Painted Desert. It is named for the colorful red and yellow sand and rocks.
We continue on our trip driving on a winding road up and down the Black Mountains. We arrive at the town of Oatman, Arizona. Long ago, Oatman was a rich gold-mining town. But everyone left the town when the mining ended. Today Oatman still looks like it did in the past.
Now we enter the state of California. We pass through the Mojave Desert, some mountains and several interesting towns. But Route Sixty-Six becomes lost among the large road systems of Los Angeles. This "main street of America" ends at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica.
Route Sixty-Six celebrates its seventy-fifty anniversary this year. Towns and cities in the eight states along the road are organizing activities to observe the anniversary. There will be special drives for cars and motorcycles along Route Sixty-Six. The largest anniversary events will take place in several cities in New Mexico this month. They include art shows, poetry readings, films, music, dances, and food.
This year, people will be coming from all over the world to “get their kicks” on Route Sixty-Six. They will be honoring America’s most famous road.
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This program was written by Shelley Gollust. I'm Sarah Long.
And I’m Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, This is America.