When Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, the old highway was not crated-up and carried off (although
a forty-foot section in Oklahoma was sent to the Smithsonian Museum). With the stroke of the pen, it simply
lost it's official U.S. identity. It was then be renamed, re-designated, re-numbered and re-signed by the eight
states in many different ways. Enough so it would not be recognized by future generations for what it originally
was. History was being re-written and the Mother Road was fast becoming the "Forgotten" road.
For the past quarter-century, highway historians and dedicated Route 66 "Roadies" alike have rallied to revive and re-establish this famous highway without much support from state and local governments, and in spite of this "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" mentality, we have proven that Route 66 is coming back strong. A rice farmer in China may likely recognize the Route 66 shield today. The Route has become a symbol of the "Real America" to the rest of the world. The people along the Route are like characters from Mayberry, friendly and considerate, and possessing grass-root values that seem to be missing elsewhere. It is this spirit that attracts thousands of international visitors every year.
Operating a Visitors Center on the Route allowed me to ask questions and receive input, especially regarding signage. Naturally, the "hard-core" roadies may not need signs, but most others do...especially those first-timers from overseas who have a difficult time reading maps and guide books that are printed in english, and unfortunately, many maps and books contain errors and mis-information,...sometimes leaving-out whole Route 66 communities! It is safe to say that a majority of Route 66 travelers want to see the original, "Historic" 1926 Route, not the alternates that followed in later years, but still today, many are missing their goal. Directional signage with the Route 66 shield virtually eliminates this problem. Then there are the American travelers, many "checking-out" the Route for the first time. They quickly learn that a good guide book is essential, but good signage would also be a big help by encouraging them to explore more of the Route communities.
Most visitors simply don't have the luxury to find the Route the hard way. Being lost, then finding your way, works well only for sinners, not for Route 66 travelers, who find that their journey is taking longer than expected. Many have a schedule to maintain and a plane to catch at the end of the line. Some community leaders even believe that "lost" tourists are a good thing, because they may see more of their town. In fact, for a Route traveler, getting lost is frustrating and time-wasting, so instead of stopping they move on....making up for "lost" time. This problem will be passed along to their friends, who may choose NOT to travel the Route, fearing that they too will get lost.
According to famous author Michael Wallis, "On Route 66, it's the journey, not the destination that counts", so well planned and placed directional signage will enhance and encourage Route travel, and it should have been in place years ago. Regardless of who takes on the responsibility of designing and placing these signs, it is simply a matter of resolve.
Naturally, there is a first step, and it starts in your Route 66 community. If better signage is needed, call (or write) your Mayor, City Manager and/or Chamber of Commerce and explain your concerns. Have them visit this web site and contact the nearest Visitors Center to confirm that a lack of directional signage is a continuing problem for Route 66 travelers. Ask if they would also consider "stenciled" signs as well.
The question is "What if they do nothing?
I personally had a directional sign made by a professional sign company (Sign-A-Rama) to use during presentations to local government and civic club meetings.
The custom-made sign cost me $25., and would cost less if purchased in quantity. The sign is a standard
highway-grade aluminum with a vinyl overlay. It is not reflective as few people drive the route at night. The
price does not include a post, mounting brackets or labor to install. In some locations, a larger sign may be
required to increase visibility.
Consider the sign to be a "temporary" aid to travelers, until better signage comes along. If the city, county and
state politicians, CVB's and Chambers of Commerce fail to recognize the importance of "Heritage Tourism" and
the economic benefits that follow, then obtain the permission of the Route 66 businesses (near unmarked turns
in your town and county) to have signs placed on their property, (ie. their building, existing sign etc.).
One idea is to have the businesses (or sponsors) pay for the sign and any hardware to mount it. They will then
own that sign,and if and when better signage is provided, they may wish to leave in in place (the more signs, the
better). You may personally install the sign yourself if needed. Visit 66.com features a "Sign Sponsor" page, listing those who have made this contribution and posted a photo.
As the private signs begin to go up, send press releases to your local media and request they ask your Chambers, D.O.T.'s and elected officials why private citizens are doing this valuable service while they do little or nothing to recognize this most historic old highway at their front door.
Again, I am referring only to directional signage, not the State Historic Byways signs that may by used as directional signs in some states. The objective here is to first sign the locations where travelers are getting lost most often, and where no signs presently exist.
We should not have to beg for signs to help others traverse this famous highway.....after all, Route 66 is the most famous highway in the world ! It was imortalized in the John Steinback novel "The Grapes of Wrath" and later dedicated as "The Will Rogers Memorial Highway". It was the star of the 60's tv series "Route 66". Bobby Troop's 1946 song "Route 66" has been recorded by more groups than any other song in history! Movie stars, average Americans, young soldiers heading to war and the less fortunate searching for a new life traveled on Route 66. In 1990, the Federal Government passed the Route 66 Study Act, recognizing that Route 66 "has become a symbol of the American people's heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life". Route 66 has been recently listed on the World Monument's Fund 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites, and a week later, The National Trust for Historic Preservation collectively named Route 66 motels to it's 20th. annual list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the U.S.. Today, some sections of the famous highway have also been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and more will follow.
It should be obvious that Route 66 was the road we took to reach the American Dream, yet it's businesses continue to struggle to this day because those who are looking for them get lost or mis-directed, and pass them by. They still lay out the welcome mat every day, just as past generations did decades ago. Despite the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, recessions, gas shortages, and high gas prices...they have been there every day for over 84 years. They remain Route 66 survivors and preservers of America's history, and when they ask for a few token signs and some respect from their elected leaders, then they are most entitled, and the Old Road is most deserving. Let's tell our state and community leaders that NOT signing this famous road is akin to neglecting our heritage while playing a cruel joke on those who attempt to travel on it.
Tell the story of Route 66 to anyone who will listen. Our voices are the best tool to use to preserve Route 66.
Route 66 is still there. It will live on until the last chunk of asphalt and concrete is lost to the ages, and until the last person on earth forgets about it.