Oklahoma has done the best job of any state in keeping the memory of Route 66 alive. There are 3 easily accessible museums there devoted to it. Two are on I-40 west of Oklahoma City, and one is on I-44, the toll road that connects the capital city and Tulsa. If you’re like a German, as in really interested in exploring Route 66, there are dozens of original stretches, gas stations, cafes, etc. along the Oklahoma 66 route. They’re well documented in Cruisin’ the Mother Road Across Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Route 66 Association Trip Guide. Both are easy to find. If you want to find out which museum is a 5 Compass experience, check out “The Ultimate Route 66 State”, blogged on June 30, 2015.
The one in Elk City is part of a huge complex that includes several museums. If you have time and lots of patience, you can learn about the world-famous Beutler Brothers Rodeo Stock Company, blacksmithing, local crops, and see a tractor seat collection during your visit. In my opinion, the Route 66 stuff gets kind of lost among too many artifacts about too many subjects. However, if you’re into vintage autos, like a white 1962 Studebaker Hawk, you’ll probably judge the Elk City Route 66 Museum worth a stop.
The Route 66 Interpretive Center east of Oklahoma City is in the town of Chandler, which was almost destroyed by a tornado only 6 years after it was founded. Twelve of the surviving buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and I really liked Chandler’s downtown cottage-style, original Route 66 Phillips 66 gas station. A visit to this museum begins with a tour of the historic building it’s in, an old National Guard Armory. A WPA project, it’s a sandstone, brick fortress built in 1936 and used from 1937 until 1972. Its huge drill hall that now looks like an oversized, period high school gym has become a local event hall used for proms, as a place to honor vets, etc. The building is definitely worth seeing.
One armory room has been transformed into a Route 66 museum that opened in 2007. It’s the kind of museum that, if you’re old enough to remember getting some kicks on Route 66, you will like. If you’re under 30 and not European or Asian, you’d probably prefer spending your time in the car playing games on your cell phone. Since I grew up in St. Louis and remember the Coral Court Motel and the 66 Park-in Theater, I enjoyed seeing photos of both. This museum’s strength is vivid images from the past. I even enjoyed both of Dick Besson’s Route 66 trips. The first was in 1959 when Dick and a friend drove to the University of Arizona. Beginning in Batavia, New York, they followed Route 66 in a 1939 Ford from Mitchell, Illinois, to Winslow, Arizona. Like a determined film documentarian, Dick well recorded his trip, even detailing his dive into a motel pool that resulted in a broken nose. I watched both the original film and its companion, Dick’s 1997 nostalgic trip re-take. Ruth, however, and some other visitors became restless and went off to lie on vintage motel beds to watch other videos. When she got restless again, Ruth found me staring nostalgically at a postcard collection. She told me that all the videos needed updating.