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Books for Christmas: Route 66


Route 66

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

I finished The Eads Bridge and it went to the publisher. After doing the image for the dust jacket I had this 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. 


Michael Burns

Michael Burns started in his father's gas station, where he worked as a bucketeer, carrying gas in buckets from his tank trucker to farmers' tractors and trucks in rural Illinois outside Springfield.



Norma Cullison

Norma Cullison's husband, Dave, was a horse trader. Every summer they took their kids and went west to buy Navajo jewelry and rungs, Hopi Kachina dolls and fetish necklaces. Then they'd go east an sell it. Back and forth buying and selling, coast to coast. They drove a yellow Cadillac that pulled a matching 8-foot trailers, which they loaded with goods.



Lucille Hamons

Lucille Hamons built a gas station and small motel in Hydro, Oklahoma in 1936. She kept a gallon jar of homemade pickles on checkout counter of the gas station. During the Depression she took clothes, cars, and whatever from people who couldn't pay for their rooms or their gas


The biggest surprise, doing the research on Route 66, was finding people like Lucille Hamons starting businesses on the roadside in Oklahoma, when everyone in Oklahoma else was leaving for California. 

For people who love road trips and want to travel Route 66, or already have, enjoy reading history

Route 66: The Highway and Its People  picture-2-copy5  is a great Christmas gift.

For color images of Route 66 go to my website quintascott.com.


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