As the 19th century westward migration following the discovery of gold became a rush, the need for an all-weather road, a southern route to California, increased. President Buchanan hired Navy Lieutenant Beale to survey and develop a road following the 35th parallel as closely as possible. The assembled team included 25 camels from Egypt &/or India. Part of Ed Beale’s instructions was to test them for military use.
The Beale Wagon Road that resulted was the “first federally funded wagon road in America” according to one display in Arizona’s Route 66 Museum. Like the further-north Oregon Trail, sections of it are still visible to travelers trying to see what’s left of 66.
Next the railroad came through. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe connected to the Southern Pacific and hotels and restaurants with Harvey girls sprang up along the route. All of this is very well covered in Kingman’s Route 66 Museum in the Powerhouse, a visitor center that also includes Kingman’s Chamber of Commerce, 2 model trains, etc. Begun in 1907, the Powerhouse was supposed to supply power for mines, a trolley system, etc. But now it entertains tourists.
What this Museum is good at is telling stories, like the one about C.C. Pyle, winner of the 1928 Los Angeles to New York footrace that used Route 66 as far as Chicago, its terminus. With his $25,000 prize, Pyle bought a car and drove back to Oklahoma.
What it’s not especially good at is reducing clutter, refreshing its exhibits, and creating a watchable film. The prairie schooner and its migrating mannikin family looks like it has been untouched since installation, and the current film as one exits is like watching Grandpa Jones old films of his heyday trips to the West Coast 2 or 3 generations ago.
I did, however, love the Burma Shave Tribute. These fun and funny signs accompanied many roads from 1925 to 1963 when Phillip Morris bought BS. “The chick he wed-let out a whoop-felt his chin-and flew the coop-Burma Shave”.
I also was impressed by the 1950 Studebaker on display and its historical significance. The only company that spanned the era from wagons to cars, South Bend, Indiana’s Studebaker Corporation lasted for 114 years.
Route 66 was totally paved by 1938. Folks with foresight realized its importance to the coming war effort, and many training bases popped in the West, especially in California, because of Route 66. Convoys were not an unusual sight for travelers from 1941 until World War II’s end and beyond. Fifteen years after Pearl Harbor the Interstate Highway System was proposed and 66 began its slide toward nostalgia.