Ok, so I’m going to level with you. I wanted to write a whole post about just this bridge.
38, count them, thirty-eight glorious spans! It’s almost 4,000 feet long! It absolutely took my breath away. I forgive you if you don’t share my enthusiasm.
It’s officially known as the William H. Murray Bridge, but I guess the locals call it the Yellow Bridge, for obvious reasons. It was built in 1933. It carries US 281 (formerly US 66) over the South Canadian River.
Annnnnnnnnd… well, that’s all I can say about it. Well, there is one more thing. As I was taking pictures here, a passing state trooper slowed way down and looked at me like I was nuts. Ah, the slings and arrows we bridgefans suffer.
Fortunately, we also crossed several other great Route 66 bridges. Like this one that crosses the Big Piney River at Devil’s Elbow, Missouri.
It’s on a twisty and pretty old alignment of the road.
This bridge was built in 1923, too. It’s near the little town of Spencer, Missouri. Route 66 was rerouted nearby in 1960.
In Kansas, this 1923 Marsh arch bridge is known as the Rainbow Bridge. Even though another bridge was built alongside it in 1992 to carry Route 66 traffic, this bridge is still open to traffic for nostalgia’s sake.
It’s only open in one direction though, and not the one I was facing when I took this shot.
This 1924 bridge carries an old alignment of Route 66 just west of Oklahoma City. A restoration was completed in 2011.
Every old bridge on Route 66 probably gets an extra chance to live just because it’s associated with the Mother Road. I say right on!
The point of our Route 66 trip was to take in America at ground level – to experience the countryside’s changing terrain as we moved west, to enjoy the small towns that dot the route, and to take in any tourist traps that interested us. But me being me, I also wanted to see some old-road infrastructure. So I favored the oldest alignments in hopes of finding some old pavement. I was not disappointed.
We found only one brick segment, just north of Auburn, IL. But oh, was it glorious – and well tended, too, with every brick in place and no asphalt patches. It lasted for about a mile.
A section of the old highway on the edge of Lexington, IL, is open only to pedestrians. It’s known as Memory Lane because it is lined with vintage-style billboards and Burma-Shave signs.
Route 66’s first alignment in much of southern Illinois was routed along what had been State Route 4 at about the same time it was being paved in concrete, which was in 1926. Notice the lack of expansion joints. Early concrete highways were usually a long ribbon of concrete, which then predictably cracked as the seasons warmed and cooled it. By the end of the 1920s, highway departments pretty much everywhere were placing a central expansion joint and usually regularly spaced lateral expansion joints in their concrete roads to retard cracking.
This stretch of concrete is most famous for the marks a turkey left in it while it was still wet.
About four miles west of Doolittle, MO, we found not only some abandoned Route 66, but some abandoned and obliterated Interstate 44. There isn’t much information about this stretch of I-44 on the Internet so I’m not sure why it was rerouted. But it had the unfortunate effect of cutting off this alignment of the Mother Road.
Here’s the abandoned stretch of Route 66. I-44 used to be on the right. We went here to see John’s Modern Cabins, a kind of motel, which I’ll write about in an upcoming post. The green arrow in the map excerpt above marks the location of this photo.
The segment of concrete pavement in this photo passes a restored former Phillips 66 service station in Spencer, Missouri. Notice the center expansion joint and the lack of cracking in this concrete.
One of the most significant stretches of old pavement is the “ribbon road” or “sidewalk highway” south of Miami, Oklahoma. This pavement is all of nine feet wide! That’s narrower than a single modern highway lane. The state of Oklahoma completed this road in 1922, and Route 66 was routed along it when it was “born” in 1927. The 1910s and 1920s were a highly experimental time for those who built highways.
Route 66 was realigned here in 1937, which is what saved this historic pavement – the old alignment became just a rural road and was not improved. This road is a concrete pad overlaid with a thin layer of asphalt. It is in very poor condition; the asphalt is missing in many places and is often covered in gravel.
My favorite stretch of old pavement begins just west of El Reno, Oklahoma, and runs for nearly 80 miles west to Elk City. It’s a concrete road, laid in about 1930. The first 40 miles or so west of El Reno are gloriously free of I-40, which parallels (and occasionally interrupts) it the rest of the way to Elk City. Driving these first 40 miles was among my most favorite experiences on the trip. This 80-year-old concrete is mostly in wonderful condition – with crumbling asphalt patches in most low spots, so even though the speed limit is 55, slow down where the road is patched.
Once upon a time, this road was choked with traffic. Route 66 was a very busy highway! Today, not so much.
I’ve geotagged all of these photos, so if you’d like to find these locations yourself, click them to see them on Flickr and use Flickr’s map to pinpoint them.
It’s not entirely true that I didn’t plan our Route 66 trip. I did book motels in advance. I wanted to stay in independent motels as much as possible, and Route 66 boasts several that are well known because of their connection to the Mother Road.
Two of those motels really stood out. The first was the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri. Dig that incredibly awesome lighted sign! It’s too bad that some of the neon tubes were out, but I’m sure that the scourge of neon is keeping it in perfect working order.
When we checked in, we met Ramona, who owns the Munger Moss with her husband. Making friendly conversation, she asked what brought me and my sons to her hotel. When I told her that we were driving Route 66, her eyes lit up. She reached out and took my hand and said that she was so happy to see families driving the route and that people like us were keeping its memory alive.
Ramona placed us in room 66 to honor our trip. It was decorated with framed covers from books by Michael Wallis, who has written extensively about the Mother Road. I didn’t think to photograph the room’s interior until after we’d junked it up with all of our stuff, but it was large and clean and bright. The bathroom was straight out of the late 1950s with coral fixtures and floor tile and turquoise tile on the wall.
The other standout motel was the Wagon Wheel, in Cuba, Missouri. It’s only about 80 miles east of the Munger Moss – far too close for us to stay in both on consecutive nights. So we stayed at the Wagon Wheel on the way home from our trip.
I came back after dusk to photograph these signs lit.
The Wagon Wheel’s office fronts Route 66, but the rooms themselves lurk well back from the highway in several small buildings, most of which are faced in stone. We stayed in this building, in room 11, which is the second door from the left. That’s our car out front, on its first road trip since I bought it last year.
Our room was small, and looking at the number of rooms in each building I’m sure ours was typically sized. But it was a very pleasant space, with every detail obviously carefully chosen.
Many old independent motels won’t give you experiences like we had at the Munger Moss and the Wagon Wheel; they are simply a cut above most of the old independents. We stayed at two other independent motels on our trip, and both were adequate but not memorable. Worse, some old independents are in terrible condition and have shady clientele – or so say reviews on the various Internet travel sites, which I used extensively to choose our accommodations. It sure beat rolling into some town after dusk and choosing a motel sight unseen.
My sons and I are just back from our biennial spring break trip, and this time we drove old Route 66 across Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
I was a teenager when the last of Route 66 was decommissioned – that is, no longer considered part of the national highway system. At about the same time, Hot Rod magazine sent a couple guys out to follow old 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles in a vintage Corvette. They found it difficult to follow in many places because various Interstate highways had interrupted or overlaid the route. They published a story about the trip, showing photos of truncated and abandoned sections of the old highway. I was incredulous that perfectly good road would be left essentially to rot! The photos excited me, and I credit them for sparking my interest in the old roads. I chalk it up to arrested development that it took more than 20 years for me to make my first road trip, and nearly 30 years before I finally explored the Mother Road itself.
In the photo, I’m crouched on a segment of Route 66 about 30 miles west of El Reno, Oklahoma. This concrete pavement was poured in about 1930 and saw constant traffic for decades before I-40 was completed, replacing Route 66 in this part of Oklahoma. Today, it’s a very lonely road. But I was very happy to be there, imagining a time when it was choked with traffic.
In the days to come I’ll share the best sights and stories from our four-day trip along Route 66.