Road trips in our great country are terrific. Living in the Birthplace of Route 66, we've taken this route more than once. Should you?
Springfield, Missouri: Birthplace of Route 66
Although Route 66 originates in Chicago, it was a telegram from Springfield businessman John Woodruff to federal officials suggesting this new highway be numbered “66” that gave Springfield the recognition of "birthplace." The Secretary of Agriculture approved this route on Nov. 11, 1926—the official birth date of U.S. Highway 66.
The Mother Road covers 2,448 miles through the eight states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally California. This article will take us from Springfield, Missouri, through Williams, Arizona, and will point out several stops worth your time. Of special interest are the painted Route 66 shields along the way with the GPS coordinates for those inclined to find them.
Note: Please view each thumbnail for the GPS and other information. I use thumbnails to avoid too much scrolling.
Red's Giant Hamburg, the First Drive-Through
No, this is not misspelled. Along with being the birthplace of the Mother Road, Springfield is the birthplace of the first drive-through hamburger joint. I had the pleasure of eating there myself before it closed in 1984.
Red (Sheldon Chaney) was quite a character, sometimes entertaining guests with impromptu antics. His burgers were the tastiest on the planet. Rumor has it he used suet in his patties. That might be illegal today. Or at least considered unhealthy.
As for the name, the story goes that he ran out of room painting the sign and left off the final "er". Another likely scenario is that the sign had to be planted further into the ground than anticipated necessitating the removal of the last two letters.
There is now a new Red's in a different part of town, not quite a replica, but it does pay 1950s homage to the original.
First Stop Heading West: Pops!
Pops 66 Soda Ranch, to be exact, in Arcadia, Oklahoma. A fun place to stop, look, and shop, there is something for everyone. You can get a hamburger, fries, ice cream, and several types of souvenirs in the ‘50s-style diner, and you can fill your ragtop with petrol. We bought a few of their 700 varieties of pop for our kitchen decor, and bought—what else—a bottle opener as our souvenir.
Factoid: Growing up, we always called carbonated, flavored beverages "pop" or "Coke." I didn't hear "soda" until well into adulthood. Even in a cafe, the conversation would be:
Waitress: "Would you like a Coke?"
Patron: "Yes, please."
Waitress: "What kind of Coke would you like?"
Patron: "Oh, I'd like a 7-Up."
The Round Barn
As a bonus, just down the road on Route 66 is the Round Barn. Built in 1898, it was thought that a round structure could better withstand the punishing tornados that frequent this area. There is no science behind that, but yet this is still standing.
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In case you didn't know, it's not easy to bend wood. The roof is as unique as the rest of the structure. It's another piece of history about our hard-working ancestors.
Oklahoma City Memorial
A sad and somewhat recent event in American history was the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The current silence and stillness belies the chaos and terror that occurred there. The memorial to that tragic event is really something to see. It is very thoughtful and representative.
The empty chairs are arranged in nine rows signifying the nine stories of the building. The sizes of the chairs—large and small—represent the adults and children who died on the corresponding floor.
Plan to spend at least 30 minutes for the outside memorial, free to all. Plan for a longer stay if you visit the museum, which has a fee.
First Shields, Texola, Oklahoma
Now we come to the first shields found west of Springfield, which are in Texola, Oklahoma. You can tell from the second photo that it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere these days.
I have the words "latitude" and "longitude" in the description for human clarification. If you clip it out to view in a "maps" app, remove those two words and use only the coordinates with a space in between. That will take you right to the spot.
- Latitude 35° 13’ 17.802” N Longitude 99° 59’ 53.412” W becomes
- 35° 13’ 17.802” N 99° 59’ 53.412” W for the search
An item to note is that there are often multiple shields near the same coordinate, one or two facing east and one or two facing west. Evidently you can then be assured you are on Route 66 whether you are coming or going.
The third thumbnail here is, in my opinion, a bogus shield. It has no resemblance to any other highway shield. I think a nearby restaurant painted it to attract customers. Oh well, what can you do?
The fourth photo gives remembrance to Oklahoma's Will Rogers Highway, a segment of Route 66. This marker is very near the first two painted shields. These days you will find the Will Rogers Turnpike, a paid toll road. My, how things change.
Next Up, Cadillac Ranch
This is a fun stop with a funny concept. Cadillac Ranch features 10 Cadillacs planted nose down in the middle of nowhere Texas, just outside of Amarillo. This free 1974 art project is more popular today than when it was first implemented.
Unless there is an absolute downpour or impending tornado, this is worth a stop. At the least you can stretch your legs, stroll around the old cars, and take as many photos as you like. Buy a can of spray paint from a nearby vendor or bring your own if you want to participate. Stay as little or as long as you like.
Shields at Vega, Texas
The next shields along the Main Street of America are found near Vega, Texas. The second photo depicts more than one shield as mentioned before. There is not a lot to do here, but if you want to complete your shield acquisition, this stop is a must.
Adrian, Texas brings us to The MidPoint between Chicago and Santa Monica. You could spend a little time here if you need a break.
Notice the old-style windmill near the sign and the modern windmills in the background. Again, there are multiple shields, and a nice cafe. Sit a spell and enjoy the day.
Such a fine sight to see. I have to say, The Eagles are the first thing on my mind when we talk of Winslow, Arizona, but Route 66 is there as well. Two American icons in one place. Does it get any better than that?
Winslow has done a bang-up job of merging the Main Street of America with the main corner of their town. Lot of shops, good cafes, and plenty of photo ops. Some props are real, some are artfully painted. Notice the red, flatbed Ford on the corner.
I was fortunate enough to see The Eagles on their "geriatric tour" as they called it in 2008. It was really "The Long Road Out of Eden" tour, but that was a line they used on stage. Terrific concert.
Spend a little time here and take in the atmosphere. It will bring back nostalgia for many of us, and a snapshot of days gone by for the younger set.
We have arrived at the last stop for this article, although not the last stop for Route 66. Williams is a fun little town west of Flagstaff. Plenty of shops, places to eat, and things to do.
One attraction is the Grand Canyon Train, which runs from Williams to, you guessed it, the Grand Canyon. This seems like a great way to avoid the car congestion at this famous national park. Although I have not taken this train, we have driven the highway alongside some of its railway. The countryside is lovely with the tall pines, meadows, and mountains.
We were there in the last of the afternoon so there are shadows on our photos. There is an entire area around this shield, near where you board the train, so you can spend as little or as much time as you like.
A Note on Photo-Op Safety
There are more shields to be found on the way to Santa Monica and also starting in Illinois. Please, take care if you stop to take photographs. These are working highways and there is always oncoming traffic. Park in a safe area, look for vehicles, and do not assume they will see you. Drivers are often distracted and the sun may impede their vision at any particular time. You don't want to leave any of your own self behind!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 The Sampsons