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Old Story, New Blog


Good Grief: Not another Route 66 blog. Not another Route 66 site.

I first came to Route 66 in 1978. I was very lucky, because I got there before the people who invented Route 66 were gone from this world.  They were the people who could tell me about the Great Depression and lived The Grapes of Wrath. They were the people who watched the great migration to the west after World War II. They were the people who invented roadside tourism.

I interviewed them and made their portraits and thousands of images of the buildings they built, which was what first attracted me to Route 66. From this research I produced two books: Route 66: The Highway and its People with Susan Croce Kelly, who wrote the text, and Along Route 66: The Architecture of America’s Highway. Both books drew on the oral histories Susan and I took along the roadside.

I told this story several weeks ago on my other blog quintascott.wordpress.com, but I will introduce this blog by telling it again.

Route 66: The Highway and its People was the first book published on the history of U.S. Highway 66.

I finished, my first book, The Eads Bridge, and it went to the publisher. After doing the image for the dust jacket I had an old/new Speed Graphic, I needed to learn how to use.

I loaded the film holders with black and white film, took the camera out onto Watson Road in St. Louis, made photographs of the big screen of a drive-in theatre and a motel, and spent the winter sitting around in a funk, waiting for the book to be published in March. 

Slowly, it came to me that Watson Road was old U.S. 66, Highway 66, Route 66. I knew the song. I knew the Grapes of Wrath. I spent my adolescence mooning over Tod and Buz in the TV show. I knew I had a great idea for a second book, one on the architecture of motels, gas stations, drive-ins, cafes, and souvenir stands along Route 66. I hadn’t a clue how to go about it. 

I began making photographs along Route 66 in Illinois and found enough material, both in the form of old buildings and people, to think a book on the architecture of the roadside was possible. I did the same in Missouri.

The Eads Bridge came out in March and Dick Miller (Howard S. Miller), my co-author and I did a noontime TV interview. While we waited in the Green Room, I babbled on about Route 66: There was nothing outside of the Grapes of Wrath, the song, and Buz and Tod available on the highway.

Dick led me through a careful dialogue, at the end of which I concluded that I would learn about the highway by taking oral histories from the people who lived and worked in the buildings I would photograph. 

Shortly after, at a party at the Tri-County Truck Stop on Route 66 in Villa Ridge, Missouri, I met Susan Croce Kelly. I told her about my idea. She was the first person who got it. I invited her to work with me and write the text that would accompany my photographs.

To build credibility we started the project by doing a series of picture stories for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Midwest Motorist, the monthly magazine of the Missouri AAA.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded me a Fellowship to do the photographic work and we were off, taking one state at a time, looking for buildings that were built between 1926, the year Congress passed the act that established the road, and 1956, the year Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act, which funded the roads that replaced 66 and many of the other famous federal highways.

Once we found the type of building we were looking for, we knocked on doors or went up to the counterand asked for the person who started the business and built the building. Sometimes it was the person we were talking to, sometimes we were directed to a house nearby. In this way we traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles, playing “who do you know ” to locate our subjects. As we got better and better at doing our interview, people passed us from one person to another up and down the highway. 



Lucille Hamon, Hydro, Oklahoma owned a gas station and motel. Her daughter, Cheryl Nowak wrote one of the earliest Route 66 blogs. The list of her blogs can be found at http://nowka.com/full_copyright.html.


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