THE BLOG © www.rt66pix.com
Above: Photographer Frank Gifford with AMERICA (SOLARIZED)
All images below appear full-size in one or more galleries. Permission is granted to link. Written material may be reproduced with appropriate credit.
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HERE'S THE ON-RAMP
If you're just surfing--welcome! You're about to explore and celebrate the American experience in images from Route 66 and many other places.
This is the largest site of its kind, offering unique fine art photographs and photo-based artwork viewed in 140 countries.
The overarching theme is America--past and present--along historic transportation arteries including Rt 66, the National (Cumberland) Road, Lincoln Highway, Erie Canal, Natchez Trace, Pony Express route and historic railroads. Brief histories are below.
There are also galleries for twenty cities including Denver, Memphis, Natchez, New Orleans, New York and Santa Fe. Other images capture American life in out-of-the-way places.
Looking is free at full-screen size and there's even a slideshow mode. Images appearing automatically on the Home Page are in the first gallery: "Home Page Slideshow."
Most photographs are available for sale or licensing--ordering is encrypted and secure. We don't require registration, use pop-ups, send spam, or make you squint at a stamp-sized image.
While 99.99% of the site is suitable for children, a few images feature alternate lifestyles, obscene signs or gestures, partial nudity, beggars, public drunkenness etc. Most are in the city galleries. I believe these photographs are compelling and may offer teachable moments.
The Tech section discusses photographic technique and technology. And for a refreshing break, check out the Fun!© section to test your new-found knowledge.
Everything is here on the site, not on social media. There's lots to see and enjoy, and you can take your time.
So...Happy Trails and Happy Motoring!
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THIS ART COMES FROM LIFE
Everything on rt66pix.com is first captured on a camera, as this man in a moving Tucker demonstrates. (Although I much prefer my vantage point!)
Images are offered exclusively here as fine art photographs, or given an artistic treatment such as oil painting, watercolor...or even fresco.
Various types of archival-quality prints are offered. The photographs are real, not inkjets, on your choice of high-quality stock, up to 24 x 36-inches, from America's largest professional photography lab. There are also canvas wraps, metal prints, glass prints, standouts, wall clings and personal merchandise.
The "Shopping Cart" is encrypted and secure. Non-US orders are welcomed and may be handled by pro-lab partners in Canada, Europe or Australia.
We never run sales or offer coupons etc. The intrusive copyright symbol and website logo do not appear on prints or merchandise.
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A WORK IN PROGRESS
The current mega-project is America's first coast-to-coast road, the 3143 mile (5028 km) Lincoln Highway (New York NY to San Francisco CA). Photography began at the Kearney NE Centennial in 2013 and is perhaps 95% complete. On-scene work is finished from New York City to Sacramento CA with a few exceptions in UT and NV.
The emphasis is on fresh and unique...like the famous 1933 Dunkle Gulf station in Bedford PA reflected off a gasoline pump before dawn. I plan to complete photography late in 2018.
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SITE NEWS & NOTES
. Custom Phone Cases have been added, allowing personalization of your Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Three styles are available. Because of dimensions, some images work well but others don't. See the Photo Gifts Products section to order.
. "Pioneer Trails" has some contemporary scenes along historic trails to Oregon and California. This gallery will be developed in stages.
. "Hand Signals" shows spontaneous images featuring hands, fingers and arms.
. "Lincoln Highway Sampler Trip" has been added with three images per state.
. "Tats all Folks!" has candid images of tattoos and other adornments taken from NY to CA.
. A city gallery has been added for New Orleans.
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2018 ROUTE 66 TRAVEL ADVISORIES
"The flow of guns into Chicago is just insane." --Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson
"Chicago's extreme gun violence has been described as an epidemic--where gang-related shootings are often spontaneous and unpredictable." --The FBI
I recommend seeing Chicago's downtown Loop where Route 66 began, then skipping the city's grim 4-mile (6.5 km) Ogden Avenue alignment.
The Chicago Tribune has an excellent crime map available on-line. Here are the key points:
. Ogden Avenue goes right across a zone that has recently had Chicago's second-highest violent crime rate.
. Some victims have been shot at random, and not involved with gangs or drugs.
. Violent crime peaks in the summer, at nights, and on weekends.
From personal experience, I would add this:
. Ogden Avenue is ugly and desolate with one marginal Route 66 site, the former Castle Car Wash. Photographs are in the Route 66 ILLINOIS gallery.
Chicago's violent crime rate sparked national attention in 2016 then lessened somewhat in 2017. To put the "improvement" into perspective: over the Fourth of July Weekend more than 100 people were shot and 15 killed city-wide.
Meantime, carjacking (the violent theft of an occupied vehicle) increased.
The Travel section (under Crime and/or Evil) offers a simple expressway detour from downtown that rejoins Route 66 in the suburb of Cicero.
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Along Route 66 in TX and NM, the graffiti-and-vandalism crowd has discovered isolated buildings and structures, seriously degrading the trip for others. Many of my images were taken several years ago--current conditions are far worse. Some spots are now downright ugly.
Vandals have left crude markings and physical damage scattered along a 200 mile (320 km) stretch. This is 8% of the road, right in the middle, and far from big urban areas.
One recent example is the defacing of a 90-year-old bridge or culvert on "Dirt" 66, an early road bypassed by pavement in the 1930s. This historic reinforced concrete structure spans a gully on private property between Adrian and Vega TX. It is easily visible at 75 MPH near the Westbound I-40 Rest Area. Somebody thought painting it with their initials or gang logo would be an improvement. It may remain defaced for decades.
The "Cold Beer" ruin at Montoya NM (a personal favorite) has been tagged as well.
Some vandalism is outright destruction. The quirky VW Bug Ranch near Conway TX is along an I-40 ramp. Right nearby are three abandoned Interstate-era buildings that have hosted either a party or a war. (Usually I don't photograph vandalism, but a February 2018 shot has been made into a facetious postcard above.)
Another building cluster outside Santa Rosa NM near the Frontier Bar-Museum ruin has suffered the same fate. Both locations are noted in the EZ66 Guide (see the Travel section) and are frequently visited by tourists.
Glenrio TX/NM already had two abandoned and vandalized Route 66-era gas stations along the I-40 Westbound exit ramp. Now the famous First/Last Phillips 66 has fresh graffiti, and damage (possibly vandalism) to its service bay door. In addition, the photogenic rusty steel post that once marked the state line just south of Rt 66 has vanished. (A Home Page Slideshow image shows the First/Last building and post several years ago.)
Graffiti and vandalism tend to attract more--they're social proof for lowlifes. These buildings are isolated and abandoned, so the outlook is not good.
Route 66 sites are being ruined in legal ways too:
. NO TRESPASSING and KEEP OUT signs have been plastered on the front of the 1952 Little Juarez Diner at Glenrio, spoiling a photo-op for responsible tourists.
. A high chain-link fence has been installed around another former photo-op: the Richardson Store ruin at Newkirk NM.
. Another fence has restricted access to a photogenic former truck stop at Wildorado TX.
. More original narrow 1930s Rt 66 concrete has disappeared under a rough and noisy Chipseal coating, making it into just another I-40 frontage road.
Most of this damage is recent, but an exact timeline misses the point. The effect is cumulative--things get worse with every visit.
Outside little towns, the Conway TX-Santa Rosa NM stretch in early 2018 is far inferior to what I photographed mainly between 2000-2015.
What if this becomes the norm? What if all the abandoned structures take on the look of John's Modern Cabins (discussed below) or Conway TX?
Would you spend big money traveling from overseas to look at graffiti, broken glass, fences, KEEP OUT signs, rot, and termite damage? Could you "Get Your Kicks" on a Frontage Road?
The vandals (and in some cases property owners) are desecrating historic Route 66 structures before decay, wind and rain get their chance.
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MAJOR ROADS AND GALLERIES
This site attracts a very high proportion of non-US viewers, so here's a summary of major roads and transportation corridors in chronological order.
The story of American mobility is basically a giant arrow pointing west from original Anglo settlements along the Atlantic Ocean. At first, only crude paths or trails existed. The nearby Appalachians were the first mountain barrier. Then came vast fertile lands and long largely-navigable rivers (Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri) before the towering Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and then the Sierras leading into what is now CA.
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NATIONAL (Cumberland) ROAD: Begun on the western edge of Cumberland MD (image above) in 1811, this was the first Federal road-building project. The key Appalachian section ran straight ahead 131 miles (210 km) to Wheeling VA (now WV) by 1818. Many pioneers then went down the Ohio River to settle the Midwest.
The project had first-rate engineering and construction for its time, including grading, bridges, ditches and a packed stone-covered surface. But only human and animal labor were available, so it conformed to the land. Fortunately the Appalachian Mountains are old, worn and relatively gentle.
The National Road even had signs! An engraved stone or cast iron marker along each mile showed the distance to Cumberland (hence the popular name) and nearby towns in both directions.
The road formed an informal boundary of sorts, with wealthier better-educated settlers generally taking land to the north. This shows up even today in a demographic divide across OH IN and IL.
Construction ended in 1839 and control passed to the states with portions still incomplete. The road then entered a long decline since most travel in the late-1800s was by train. Today, US 40 uses much of the original alignment. I-70 is roughly parallel the entire distance.
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NATCHEZ TRACE: A dirt trail first used by Native Americans and animals, it runs 444 miles (710 km) from Natchez MS on the Mississippi River, northeast to near Nashville TN. Peak usage was northbound from 1790-1820 when it was on the frontier. Ohio Valley settlers returned home after floating rafts of farm products down to Natchez or New Orleans LA.
Despite efforts to improve the Trace, it was never more than a well-worn dirt path through a wilderness. Many sections became badly eroded and sunken. It was largely abandoned after 1830 when new technology, steamboats, made the return trip much faster and cheaper.
A blacktop two-lane National Park Service road, The Natchez Trace Parkway, begun in 1937, now parallels and crosses the Trace (an archaic term for "trail" or "path"). Portions of the original Trace are walkable.
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ERIE CANAL: Canals had a brief era of importance in the early 1800s before railroads and highways were constructed. The Erie Canal opened up a fertile wilderness, creating tremendously positive secondary effects that are still being felt.
NY State built the canal alone from 1817-25 after Federal funding was rejected. It runs 363 miles (580 km) across the upstate region from Albany westward to Buffalo. It also links New York City and the Hudson River with the Great Lakes. It created an agricultural and industrial boom by lowering transportation costs more than 90%. It also boosted settlement and development of upstate NY and the Midwest, and cemented New York City's role in trade.
But freezing temperatures forced the Erie Canal to be closed and partially drained every winter to avert ice damage. Operating season during the peak years was generally only 7-8 months--late April to late November.
Other canals helped development and commerce, and some were profitable, but the Erie was the only major US canal to be a resounding success. Modernized and altered several times, it remains in use mainly for summer recreational traffic. Railroads (discussed below) largely ended the Canal Era.
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PIONEER TRAILS: Anglo settlers established and heavily used the Oregon and California Trails during the 1840s-60s to claim new lands in the west. Perhaps 500,000 people migrated and some 50,000 died en route--mainly from cholera and other waterborne diseases, and gun accidents.
Most pioneers used covered wagons, others rode horses or mules and led pack animals. They formed into groups at jumping-off points like Council Bluffs IA, Independence and St. Joseph MO. Many went through a corner of today's KS, all went through NE following the shallow and non-navigable Platte River into WY. There the trails separated for today's ID and OR, or UT NV and CA. Both trails branched out as well.
Pioneers began travel in spring, hoping to complete the trip by fall--before the first snow. They traveled some 2000 miles (3200 km) through wide-open prairies, mountains and deserts, home to nomadic Native Americans and buffalo herds. The average speed for ox-drawn wagons was 2 MPH (3.2 k/h) over level ground, and a good day's travel was 15-20 miles (24-32 km).
Conflicts with Indians were much more common in movies and TV than in real life. Theft of wagon train animals was a much larger problem. It varied depending on the pioneer group's size and the year. Some pioneers killed more buffalo than they needed for food, and over time the once-vast herds were severely reduced, even eliminated in some areas, endangering the Indians' survival.
Most travel was westbound but some people gave up (or out), while others returned disillusioned. The worn path was sometimes very wide, with dozens of travel lanes. But mountain sections frequently were barely passable and wagons were forced to go single file. Many pioneers tried to bring too much, and had to abandon furniture, stoves etc.
The second half of either trail was especially stressful on both humans and animals, with harsh terrain, unpredictable weather and lack of water. Those CA-bound endured a long desert then a steep mountain climb.
Trails were crude and difficult throughout their use, only a few improvements were ever made. Traces of the pioneer migration remain in scattered spots--mainly "swales" or eroded gullies.
The Transcontinental Railroad (discussed below) ended the long wagon journey after 1869, but some settlers still used trail segments for their final leg.
Mormons or Latter-Day Saints had a parallel but shorter migration called the Mormon Trail across NE and WY to their settlements in UT. One other famous route, the Santa Fe Trail from MO to today's NM, was used primarily by traders and the military, not pioneers.
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PONY EXPRESS: The Pony was a demonstration project by the freight-hauling firm Russell, Majors and Waddell. Although it had a postal contract, it was not established or run by the Post Office or US government. Horseback riders, including many teenagers, crossed a wilderness carrying important mail, telegrams and newspaper articles in leather pouches suspended from their saddles.
The Pony Express operated from April 1860 to October 1861, providing a specialized service necessary only for a short period. At first it covered nearly 2000 miles (3200 km) from the end of railroad tracks and telegraph wires in St. Joseph MO to Sacramento CA--but the distance rapidly decreased. A portion used pioneer trails (above).
This was the last gasp of old communications technology: fast horses. The ancient Babylonians had a horse relay system for important mail some 4000 years earlier but there had been no progress since then! The Romans later copied the system, and the US established a horseback relay between New York NY and Washington DC in 1832.
Finally in 1844 came an improvement: the telegraph, allowing brief important messages to be sent by wire using Morse Code. By 1860, major cities in the east were connected to the telegraph system, and the Pony Express was a temporary way to link them with CA. On horseback, it took 10 days for a telegram, letter, or news article to cross the open distance, perhaps 12-15 days in winter.
Stagecoaches already ran along the same general route, carrying paying passengers plus ordinary mail and newspapers. But their travel time was more than twice as long. Some mail also went by ship around the coast of South America (!) which took even longer.
Throughout the brief Pony Express run, telegraph poles and wires were put up alongside the route from both ends, rapidly closing the MO-CA gap and reducing the horseback distance. When the final wire connection was made a message crossed the country in minutes. (Logistical techniques used on the telegraph line would be copied a few years later in building the Transcontinental Railroad over much of the same territory.)
The Pony was expensive to operate and backers suffered huge losses. It vanished leaving almost no trace on the land, and only a few crude structures. But it helped keep CA in the Union at the start of the Civil War (1861-65).
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RAILROADS: Experiments began around 1830 using steam engines bolted to wagons running on wooden or iron tracks. Within decades, equipment was standardized and individual railroads operated as a system. After the Civil War, cities in the Northeast and Midwest had frequent short and long-distance passenger and freight service. The South lagged, but had fragments of a system.
Public reliance on efficient railroads kept many roads in a primitive state, suitable only for horses and farm wagons. Many remained unimproved until the automobile era (discussed below).
Rails also posed tremendous competition for canals. While the Erie Canal, for example, endured a routine 4-5 month shutdown because of ice, the nearby New York Central Railroad plowed away heavy snow and continued operating with only occasional delays. Railroads also moved people and cargo much faster than canals.
The Transcontinental Railroad went into service in 1869, shortening the pioneer journey from months to a few days. Some trails remained in use, but only after pioneers had gone as far as possible by train.
A great deal of speculative overbuilding, linking little towns, occurred in the late-1800s. Modern diesel-electric equipment began replacing coal and oil-fired steam locomotives beginning in the 1930s and accelerating after World War II. Steam was essentially gone by 1960, except on "tourist" railroads.
Between 1920 and 1980 railroads declined financially, with the growing road system triggering competition from trucks, cars, buses and airlines. Passenger service became unprofitable, was reduced, and then restructured under Amtrak. Eventually, regulators permitted widespread mergers and pulling-up unnecessary tracks.
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LINCOLN HIGHWAY: A volunteer-led effort of 1913-26, this was the most important of 250+ "named" early automobile roads. It ran 3400 miles (5450 km) from New York NY to San Francisco CA. Everything was done at first by citizens and the automobile industry through the Lincoln Highway Association, government involvement came later. The LHA established and marked the route with signs on poles and trees etc. The group also published guidebooks and maps.
In major cities, streets of 1913 were commonly brick, wooden blocks, cobblestones, or gravel. But automobile ownership was not widespread and most long-distance travel was by railroad. Roads were primitive, generally dirt (or mud) in the Midwest, or unmarked old wagon trails in the West. Many were used only by horseback riders or farm wagons. Some states didn't even have Road Departments!
The Lincoln Highway was patched together to form a marked and promoted route. At first it was far less than a highway and generally not even a decent road west of Chicago. Driving coast-to-coast was an adventure, possible only in dry weather during warm months, and relatively few people attempted it. In 1919, it took a military convoy 62 days to make the trip--digging out and building a road as they went. Automobile owners generally used the Lincoln Highway for shorter trips in the more-developed Eastern and Midwestern states.
Backers also paid for "seedling miles" of concrete paving, demonstrating what was possible. These sparked widespread public attention, goading states into road construction and maintenance, just as automobile ownership was taking off with mass production of the Model-T Ford. Car and truck registrations soared 18-fold, from 1.25 million in 1913 to 22.2 million in 1926.
With government involvement and gasoline taxes, Lincoln Highway conditions improved tremendously in the 1920s. Remote dirt stretches eventually had at least bridges and grading. By 1935, with the "numbered" system in place, the first American highway was completely paved coast-to-coast. It was US 30, and most of it from PA to WY was the former Lincoln Highway.
The 1913 goal of an all-weather gravel road across the country had been surpassed by something infinitely better: a continuous concrete, brick and asphalt paved highway in just 22 years!
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ROUTE 66: This is the most-famous highway of the "numbered" era that began in 1926, after governments took over road building and maintenance. The "named" system had become unwieldy to mark, map and follow. Some named highways served no real need, others were basically promotional scams.
Route 66 ran 2450 miles (3950 km) from Chicago IL to Santa Monica on the Pacific Ocean just beyond Los Angeles CA. It was easily the best all-weather route to most of CA. Rt 66 never went coast-to-coast, but many major eastern highways linked to it between Chicago and Tulsa OK.
Peak fame came in the 1930s when it became the escape corridor for people in OK and nearby states fleeing the Great Depression, Dust Bowl and large-scale mechanized farming for a better life in CA.
Bypassing of the historic two-lane pavement by multi-lane urban parkways, turnpikes and then Interstate highways happened in many stages between 1940 and 1984. The road's current popularity centers on nostalgia for a supposed American "Golden Era" of the 1950s (see Blog entries below).
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LONELIEST ROAD: This is a modern marketing term for US 50 across remote central NV. "Loneliest" is an exaggeration, but the two-lane blacktop road is wide-open with little towns an hour apart. The gallery includes both US 50 and an earlier version, NV Hwy 722, forming an interesting loop. This was also the Pony Express route and the unpaved Lincoln Highway of 1913-26.
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INTERSTATES: The Interstate Era started in 1956 with a joint Federal-State highway building program championed by President Eisenhower. But the basic idea began decades earlier.
Back in 1908, NY State opened a pair of highways with dual lanes in both directions, grass medians, and limited access for intersecting roads. The Bronx River Parkway and Long Island Motor Parkway took the centuries-old concept of wide downtown Boulevards with a park in the middle and ran them toward the suburbs. These Parkways were designed for enjoying passing scenery at relatively slow speeds.
Speaking of slow speeds...in 1919, young Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower crossed the country in a military convoy. The primitive Lincoln Highway west of Chicago was largely dirt or mud, and the trip, full of mishaps, took 62 days at an average 6 MPH (9.6 km/h)! Later, as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, Eisenhower saw the 1930s era German Autobahns and realized their importance.
In the US during the 1930s, road congestion was becoming a problem. Traffic volumes forced planners to think beyond conventional single-file roads and intersecting streets regulated by stop signs.
In 1937 Canada opened the first segment of the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) between Niagara Falls on the US border and Toronto. It was designed after the German Autobahns and eventually ran 86 miles (138 km) with two lanes in each direction and a grass median. It also had innovations including overhead lighting plus cloverleaf and partial cloverleaf (trumpet-style) interchanges. The QEW became North America's first modern long-distance divided highway with controlled access.
In 1939 the heavily-attended General Motors "Futurama" display at the New York World's Fair promoted an idyllic world of high-speed roadways free of any need to stop. It was supposed to be America in 1960 or so. It was a tremendous hit with visitors and received very favorable coverage in newspapers and magazines.
Then almost immediately the future started coming true! In 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened a 160 mile (256 km) section inaugurating modern long distance Interstate-style travel in the US. It had two lanes in each direction separated by a grass median. Other roads crossed over or under, and toll plazas regulated access. Long and gentle railroad-type grades on the new toll road replaced the need to use dangerous mountain sections of nearby US 30, the former Lincoln Highway.
But along the way, mistakes were made. In 1940, the 8 mile (13 km) Arroyo Seco Parkway opened connecting Los Angeles with suburban Pasadena CA. It was the first piece of the LA freeway system and replaced an original section of Route 66. The Parkway had divided pavement with a narrow median and controlled access. But it also climbed hills with narrow lanes, tight turns, a dangerous median curb plus woefully inadequate entrances and exits. Trucks have been banned since 1943. Amazingly, the original design is still being used! It is now called the 110 or Pasadena Freeway.
In 1953 the 86 mile (140 km) Turner Turnpike opened linking Oklahoma City and Tulsa OK. It used a design similar to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This was the first lengthy bypass of Route 66 by a modern roadway.
Finally in 1956 Congress passed The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. It used lessons learned from these earlier efforts in establishing standards. The Pennsylvania Turnpike and Turner Turnpike were close enough to be "grandfathered" into the system.
The Interstates, which honor Eisenhower on occasional signs, are meant to be safe and efficient for high-speed travel. But driving enjoyment has been engineered out. Above is Route 66 in central MO with I-44 in the background. One conforms to the land, the other bulldozes through it, cutting away a hillside and using the rock to fill a gully.
Serious designed-in flaws, like on the Arroyo Seco, are relatively rare on the Interstates. The biggest shortcoming is state maintenance and repair of older pavement which ranges from barely adequate to nonexistent.
Interstates appear sporadically on the site but do not have a separate gallery.
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PROGRESS...AT A PRICE
This scene, photographed for its grace and beauty, also shows what a difference a century can make.
The view is eastward from Blaine OH toward Wheeling WV eight miles (13 km) away. The National Road S-bridge in the foreground (restored and open to pedestrians) is from 1828. Reinforced concrete arches in the background carry US 40 up a steep hill (out of view at right) and date from 1933.
During that interval we went from wooden wagons on wood and iron wheels, pulled by oxen over dirt and mud...to steel automobiles on air-filled rubber tires, pulled by gasoline engines over concrete and asphalt. And what had been a full day's travel was reduced to half-an-hour.
We also got new options. Trains were experimental in 1828, but the dominant travel mode a century later. And flying, a fantasy in 1828, was taking off as a business with scheduled passenger service. An early cross-country flight took 48 hours with multiple stops and a layover for sleep in Kansas City.
Here are other examples of progress that are not generally known:
. Oregon Trail pioneer Ezra Meeker (1830-1928) walked 2000 miles (3200 km) alongside an ox-drawn wagon in 1852. He drove a car along the Trail in 1915 and flew above it in 1924. His speed went from 2 to 100 MPH. The incredible full story is at http://www.historylink.org/file/7757
. In 1846 the Donner Party walked alongside wagons from IL to CA. They got a late start and bad directions on a shortcut that wasn't. Then they were trapped all winter below a snow-clogged CA mountain pass. Some members died of starvation...or resorted to cannibalism. But just a generation (23 years) later, they could have bought train tickets and gone from IL to CA in relative speed, safety and comfort. And infant Isabella Breen, who lived until 1935, could have flown to CA on a scheduled airliner.
. In 1861 Pony Express riders could have sent telegrams, spanning the long lonely 2000 miles (3200 km) in minutes, even as the service was delivering its final letters, which normally took 10-days. A couple of riders could have sent Air Mail letters in their lifetimes--service began in 1918. Transcontinental phone calls were possible by then too.
. Some Model-T drivers on the primitive, largely unpaved Lincoln Highway of @1915 lived to travel the modern Interstates beginning in the 1950s. Cars also made a rapid improvement. By the Interstate era many had radios, automatic transmissions, V8 engines, power steering, power brakes and tubeless tires. A few even had seat belts and air conditioning.
But now consider the cost of progress:
. When undocumented aliens in the form of Anglo settlers (including my ancestors) first turned up, there were perhaps 15 million Native Americans already on the soil. Many Natives in the East and most in the South were communal farmers with strong attachments to their land. In the West, Natives had familiar hunting grounds over largely open terrain. But all were generally regarded as savages, obstacles in the way of Manifest Destiny, the God-given right of Protestant settlers (Catholics and others arrived later) to control, subdivide and populate the continent. And so, the Native Americans were forced out or killed in the name of "progress."
. Cities rose and many fell along with their transportation corridors. Buffalo NY, Wheeling WV and Natchez MS (along with many others) peaked in importance during the 1800s then plunged. Some bypassed places, like Depew OK along Route 66, never recovered--although the road did just fine. Others, like Madison IN, languished for a century then came back better than before. (Many have separate photo galleries here.)
. Automobiles and paved roads made travel easier and faster early in the 20th century. But thousands of mom-and-pop crossroads stores went out of business because local folks suddenly had more choices. Little rural stores could not compete on price or selection with big new "chain" stores in newly-accessible cities. Often entire towns suffered from the gravitational pull of a larger place that had everything--including cafes and a movie theater.
. Urban neighborhoods were severed, some were bulldozed, under the promise of slum clearance or "Urban Renewal" often in conjunction with Interstate highway projects. Some recovered, some did not, and some slums (like Larimer Square in Denver) came back and flourished on their own.
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A TALE OF THREE CITIES
I'm a preservationist the same way I'm a pedestrian--both labels are technically accurate from time to time but don't really define me. Interesting photography is the overriding goal here, and almost always this requires being on foot.
Walking downtown street grids with a camera gives me new optimism about American cities.
Three places linked by the Ohio River--Wheeling WV, Madison IN and Cairo IL--form an extreme study in contrasts. They offer lessons in how to hold on, how to succeed, and how to fail. (All have separate city image galleries.)
Wheeling seems to be muddling through a very long downturn. The city peaked in importance between 1820-50 and retains some of its former charm. There's gentrification in spots and despite extensive gaps downtown many historic buildings remain in various stages of upkeep. Wheeling is definitely worn, but not worn out.
The waterfront includes a pleasant park, concert venue and walking path under an iconic bridge. And I found relatively little graffiti or vandalism.
The location has always been picturesque, but troublesome. Downtown and other areas along the river are subject to flooding, while steep hills (mountains to some) constrain growth.
Wheeling was the original 1818 terminus of the National (Cumberland) Road. By 1849 a suspension bridge stretched across the Ohio River, and the National Road continued into the Midwest. Eventually, with improvements, it was turned into US 40.
A century later I-70 plowed through downtown Wheeling, followed by I-470 on the south, with 13 local interchanges in total.
Yet with all these assets, the population is down more than 50% in a century. Wheeling has fewer people today than in 1880. The once-big local industries of steel, iron, stogies (cigars) and chewing tobacco are mostly or entirely vanquished.
In a way, Wheeling has a number of Sister Cities downriver. When early National Road travelers reached Wheeling, frequently their next trip segment was by raft or boat propelled by the Ohio River's current. Madison IN (halfway between Cincinnati OH and Louisville KY) was a major jumping-off point.
Founded in 1809, Madison is seven-years older than the state of IN and was once its largest city. It peaked in the Steamboat Era with an industrial waterfront that included slaughterhouses and a glue factory. Since it's surrounded by hills, it must have been one stinky place!
A lengthy period of stagnation and flooding washed away Madison's unpleasant past, but preserved the old downtown. Going there today is like time-travel to a century ago. 133 contiguous blocks are on the National Register. And yet there are "real" businesses downtown including Subway and Dollar General...along with an independent bookstore (cat included), scented soap purveyors and sidewalk cafes.
Madison has built on its good luck. No parking meters exist, and the city has restored and enlarged a classic mid-century Main Street gas station for public restrooms. Wonderful ideas, both. They should be shamelessly copied elsewhere.
The population never suffered any serious declines. It has been stable around 12,000 for half-a-century.
Madison is 25 miles from the nearest Interstate...but it was never bypassed. This is another piece of good luck. It was always a river town accessible first by water, then by rail, and finally by two lanes of blacktop.
And then there's the third Ohio River city, Cairo IL (pronounced KAY-row), done in by White racism and a Black boycott that produced no winners. Cairo's population has fallen by more than 80% in the past century. Periodic floods and getting bypassed by the Interstates didn't help either.
Of those who remain, 44% are below the poverty line. A few years ago a local bank repossessed the Sheriff's patrol cars. Most of what I photographed along Commercial Street is gone now, probably hauled off to a landfill.
Cairo is probably the worst-looking city I've seen in the USA, surpassing even Detroit and the place many Detroiters look down on: Flint MI.
Other places have been hard hit by other woes. The pottery-making city of East Liverpool OH, along the Lincoln Highway, looked significant on the map. But I was unprepared for the largely-vacant downtown. And then there's mournful Depew OK, which still hasn't recovered since Route 66 bypassed it...back in 1928.
I've been positively surprised by Pittsburgh, Nashville, Salt Lake City and a host of smaller places like Ligonier PA, Minerva OH, Casey IL and Woodbine IA. (They're all here in various galleries.)
Even some places clearly left behind appear to be at least putting up a good fight.
I was impressed by Denver decades before and was not disappointed recently. The city gets a lot of things right, including free weekend parking and free shuttle-bus service along the pedestrian mall.
It seems to be a universal law: Get a good mix of people enjoying downtown (yes, including those in costumes!) and many urban problems will solve themselves.
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REMEMBER THE ALAMO?
Preservation can be a long and lonely effort.
San Antonio, where I photographed during Christmas weekend 2016, offers inspiration from a long-delayed preservation story, The Alamo, and a flood control project, the River Walk. Both now seem so...obvious. But they took decades to catch on.
"Remember the Alamo!" was used as a battle cry just six-weeks after the old mission fell to Mexican troops in 1836. But physical preservation of the shrine to Texas independence took six-decades. Meantime the scarred ruins served as an Army depot and wholesale grocery warehouse. (The famous building above is the chapel, the entire complex included what is now this plaza and street--an irregular city block.)
Today, more than 180 years after the famous battle, the site remains a work in progress. There's tacky stuff right behind this vantage point and a bright sign desecrates the nighttime scene.
A couple blocks away is San Antonio's River Walk (Paseo del Rio), begun as a downtown flood control project after a deadly 1921 storm. The original plan was for a paved sewer! While that tragically awful idea was flushed, the river still languished until much later. It became a success story of development more than preservation, demonstrating that the two can be complementary.
The first riverfront restaurant, one floor below street level, opened in 1946. But it wasn't until the 1960s that paved walking paths, lighting, landscaping and other elements of the good life (like Tex-Mex food) really began attracting locals, and then tourists, to enjoy the river.
These two legendary sites came about from determined efforts by lone individuals with vision. The Alamo can be traced back to Clara Driscoll and the River Walk to H. H. Hugman. (Their stories are readily available on-line.) The causes they fought for are today among the nation's top tourist attractions with millions of visitors a year. San Antonio is lucky, because the rest of downtown is nothing special.
We can't save everything. But I'm broadly sympathetic to preserving the best. The River Walk, especially, shows that new construction can improve, redefine and reinvigorate the past. I hope some images in the various city galleries here will help inspire local causes.
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NOT YOUR GRANDPAPPY'S LINCOLN HIGHWAY
Anyone expecting a documentary study of old concrete posts and Seedling Miles will be baffled by urban images, including edgy street photographs and an Anime + Cosplay convention. And yet this is the Lincoln Highway today.
Camera-equipped travelers of a century ago enjoyed seeing, photographing, and thus preserving transitory Lincoln Highway scenes of their time, and I'm no different.
Take the photograph above from Denver, where a young Orange American is living out The American Dream. His "Pursuit of Happiness" involves dressing up in his best plastic pumpkin-head, ill-fitting dark suit and sneakers, and going out with a leggy faux-blonde. This is precisely what the Founding Fathers intended! (Well, maybe not precisely precisely--but you get the point.)
Important societal clues are documented here too. The young woman is confident enough not just to claim--but to exclaim--through long flowing locks, that she is now officially blonde. Liberated by Steinem, empowered by Friedan, lightened by Clairol, and heightened by Platforms, she steps out with an exaggerated stride and takes the lead.
And what about the guy? The shadow captures him (and their relationship) especially well. His jacket is way too long, and his left sleeve is all bunched up. He's a schmoe, a schlub...a man-child being dragged along by a dominant young woman.
The Lincoln Highway can only gain from the attention and life they bring to it, and that's why this and other odd photographs are included. They're also in the "Anime + Cosplay: Fantasy Worlds" gallery. Participation in comic book and costume play greatly surpasses interest in this largely forgotten road, left behind by the same process that created Route 66.
It's all good...so enjoy the show!
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EYES ON THE (MOTHER) ROAD
Some images are offered only with an artistic treatment. The original photograph is not shown. Here to...uh...illustrate is Rusty the truck driver, the third image from the Home Page Slideshow.
I had long wanted to bring this Santa Rosa NM truckstop mascot "to life" with a close-up showing his 1950s charm. But the original shot languished in my files for 20 months. It's a faded and rusted sign fragment taken in the shade. Pretty dull stuff.
Rusty (my name for him) appears on both sides of this iconic sign. On the often-photographed east side, neon on his face has been destroyed. This shot is from the west side where much of the neon is intact, and where he faces left toward Rt 66.
Using Photoshop on my shadow-free image, I defined the glass tubing against his faded metal skin a few inches away. The result is very different from the original photograph, and I put it on the site as photo-based art.
I then wondered how Rusty would look in a car mirror--flipped horizontally. Perhaps because I had been working close-up to highlight the neon, I was astonished to discover the 66 which had been unseen for six decades! (On-scene, a rearview mirror would faintly capture this.)
Originally the "numbers" were reversed neon loops forming Rusty's eyes and eyebrows with sections between blacked-out. The same tubing outlines his face and extends down to his chin.
Artistic effects make this image work. They bring out something that's real but not intended for viewing, and apparently never before photographed.
And my original? It's back in the files where it belongs. It's not much to look at...and everything's backward.
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Over the years, several groups tried but failed to preserve privately-owned John's Modern Cabins along Rt 66 in MO. In early 2014, well aware of these efforts, I joined the list.
By then the location had become hopeless from neglect, but one idea still had not been explored: off-site preservation of some key elements. While less than ideal, "some" beats "none" by precisely 100%.
And so I offered the absentee owner cash for two signs and rights to harvest part of a cabin, all for display elsewhere along Route 66. He would receive an immediate payment for the signed contract (I even supplied a stamped envelope)...or no payment if he continued to let things rust and fall down. He chose the latter!
I'm out $2 or so for phone calls, postage, paper and envelopes, but if all life's failures had a guaranteed maximum $2 downside I'd gladly fail more often.
Interestingly, digital cameras offer a similar risk-reward profile if you take enough shots. The cost-per-failure eventually approaches zero, and a success occasionally appears when you...push the envelope.
This image from John's is a successful failure. Shot into the sun as a vertical, it originally included unnecessary flare, sky, trees, and foreground debris. It was such an ugly and confusing mess that I went on to other images. Months later I had another look. Extensive cropping at top and bottom brought out this evocative shot.
50 images of John's Modern Cabins may be overkill, but this place is vanishing. Soon, failure will be a complete success.
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ROUTE 66: A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
A westbound trip on the Mother Road can be a spiritual journey for those prepared to look beyond literal meanings.
John Steinbeck's Route 66 novel The Grapes of Wrath contains many possible Biblical links, according to scholars. This material is readily available but has not crossed the boundary to Route 66 travel literature. I can't find even a single passing reference to it! This is called a "silo effect" and what follows is a first effort to break it down.
Steinbeck was raised as an Episcopalian and his adult views on religion reflected a great deal of searching. He was exposed to Biblical stories from an early age and used this material in his works. Simply Googling Bible Grapes of Wrath novel produces a wealth of material from many different viewpoints.
Here are just two examples: the Biblical Job becomes Steinbeck's Joad family, and Jesus Christ is mirrored in preacher Jim Casy.
A westbound trip can also recall the Crucifixion, traditionally pictured in a mountainous desert. Jesus was on the cross up to six-hours according to some accounts. That was a typical driving time from the Colorado River bordering AZ--until a return to life with a dramatic green-up as migrants neared the coast or Central Valley.
These similarities, and many others noted by scholars, would have occurred to Dust Bowl refugees, at least subconsciously, as they struggled through in the 1930s. Nearly all were raised as Christians and their experience made Route 66 unique among American highways.
Some of this appears in both the book and movie versions of The Grapes of Wrath. But to my knowledge, no Route 66 road or tourism material mentions any of it, even in passing. In 15+ books, many promotional publications, and travel websites The Grapes of Wrath is simply the saga of the fictional Joad family in the Dust Bowl.
A westbound trip on today's Rt 66 with its dramatic changes near the end could take on a great deal of additional meaning for Christians, especially those who read and contemplate the novel.
This may read like veiled Bible-thumping but my religious views are not expressed here, I'm simply respecting the faith of others. (And wouldn't it be nice if everyone did unto their brethren this way? Amen and AMEN!) Government is properly barred from promotion of this kind, so the burden falls on individuals, associations, businesses, and religious groups.
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THE UNLIKELY ICON
We take on the cosmic questions here at rt66pix.com:
. Why does burnt coffee cost $4 a cup?
. How come (insert name of a celebrity here) is rich and famous, yet has no discernible talent?
. Why has the 57 Chevy become an icon?
The first two stump us--so let's take a stab at the third.
While rivals Ford and Plymouth offered all-new sheet metal for 1957, Chevy was peddling a restyled 1955 car. Because of its advanced age the 57 Chevy was taller and boxier. And attempts to make it look new were odd. The his-and-her hood ornaments. That now-famous fin with chrome on the edge and (on some models) anodized aluminum along the side.
The 55 and 56 models had a pubescent fin and tail light on the top corner--a pleasing, logical arrangement. But on the 57s, the fin was just sheet metal with the light way down in a little chrome pod near the bumper. It looked like an aftermarket part: an open mouth contorted in sadness. The combination was awkward at first glance, especially against the "clean" look of rivals.
Plymouth was the styling leader that year with a windswept design ending in towering fins. Ford was low and modern with graceful canted fins.
Chevy stumbled badly in 1957--and that makes what happened later so fascinating! For the model year, Ford jumped to #1, Chevy fell to #2. Plymouth soared from #5 to #3. The earth moved under Detroit when all that happened.
On the basis of market share (which adjusts for changing economic conditions), the 55, 56 and even 58 Chevy were bigger hits with the public than the 57. So what happened to create iconic status today for a car that was a big disappointment at the time?
First, failures by the competition. The Fords were attractive and "of the moment" but rusted out. The even more attractive Plymouths also rusted out...if they didn't fall apart first. They were some of the worst cars ever produced. The Chevies lasted if they were reasonably maintained. Many parts carried over from 1955 and 56.
Second, wacky styling for several years afterward. It would be 1962 before Chevy offered a clean design. And longer still before anybody's family-hauler rivaled the tri-fives (55, 56 and 57) in value, respect, and loyalty.
The 57 Chevy looks much better in retrospect. The design was odd then--but not today--because we're used to it. We've seen the future and it's nothing like what anybody envisioned in 1957...in sheet metal or anything else. Plus, unlike the main competition, it was a solid car. Chevy delivered value that year.
To paraphrase William Faulkner: 57 Chevies did not merely endure, they prevailed.
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YOU CAN'T GO BACK AGAIN...AND SHOULDN'T WANT TO
Route 66 is being homogenized, pasteurized and sanitized for mass-consumption, both here and elsewhere. I hate to contribute to this dumbing-down of American history--although that's exactly what I'm doing (see above).
Now that Disney has a Rt 66-based attraction in California, here's a reality check to counter the pretty pictures (both still and animated).
Interstate highways, fast food joints, and chain motels condemned today for their boring sameness are actually improvements. We wanted them, we needed them, we got them, and we're better off for them.
Consider the realities of Rt 66 in, say, your new 1957 Chevy:
. Many narrow and twisting two-lane sections were known locally as "Blood Alley."
. The guy coming at you might be legally drinking and driving.
. Nobody had seat belts, air bags, or other protection.
. You sat on a bench seat without air conditioning or cruise control.
. Open windows brought in noise, dust and insects.
. Trucks and Greyhound buses filled oncoming lanes to the brim.
. A good (but hard) day might be 300 miles (480 km).
Nostalgic yet? But wait, there's more...
. Although gas stations were branded, clean restrooms--or competent repairs--depended entirely on the owner.
. Every restaurant was different, likely run by a local operator. Every food stop required due diligence, first outside then inside (and a tip was expected).
. Every motel was a one-off, requiring you to scrutinize the sign, then inspect the room, and finally haggle over the rate.
Today's self-service gas pumps, McDonald's and even Motel 6 actually represent improvements. If not they wouldn't have spread. I value them for their efficiency if nothing else. I wouldn't want to go back in time--and have to stay there.
Route 66 makes for a great (and multiple-day) theme park experience, minus expensive tickets and long lines. It's wonderful to enjoy the Mother Road...without trucks, Greyhounds, congested downtowns, leaded gasoline fumes, unpredictable food and bad motels.
In other words: without all that ugly reality!
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"FIN" MEANS "END" IN LATIN
Route 66 has its own Monument. Made from steel, it's on the Mother Road in front of the Convention Center in Tucumcari NM:
That's sculptor Tom Coffin's interpretation of a Chrysler Corporation fin...perhaps a 1958 DeSoto. GM and Ford never had fins like this.
You rarely see late 50s Chrysler products (Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial) at Route 66 cars shows. They sold just fine, except for Imperial, but they were poorly-engineered rust-buckets. The Walter P. Chrysler Museum outside Detroit tacitly admits this on an overhead sign illustrated with a 56 DeSoto:
"Some sacrifice" indeed! The 57s were a rush job and hadn't been properly engineered. Other accounts have these cars intended for 1959 or even 1960!
When sales boomed, quality control suffered with assembly lines and suppliers running flat out. The company paid a price--and buyers paid even more. There was plenty of "sacrifice" to go around:
"The 1957s started to rust within several months of being built--all models, Plymouth to Chrysler. They leaked water on both sides of the windshield posts on all models. Torsion bars broke leaving cars looking like fallen over Towers of Pisa. Upholstery split, seams tore, seat springs popped through, paint flaked off in huge chunks, hubcaps wouldn't stay on, rear view mirrors vibrated, door handles broke with ease, locks froze easily, and interior appliances fell off."
--Curtis Redgap, Insider's History of Plymouth
This was an extremely short-sighted business decision, and a Tipping Point in American business. Up until then, Chrysler had been known for solid engineering and boring styling. But suddenly the sizzle became more important than the steak. The company's absolute top car for 1954, a Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe, is at left, while the entry-level Plymouth's top model, the Fury, is from 1957:
Fins didn't last, but Chrysler's new-found reputation for problems did. Warranties were only 90 days/4000 miles back then--but all the claims helped push Chrysler deep into the red for 1958. Chrysler--always the swing producer--was in trouble again:
"The biggest problem is that (the 57 Plymouths) were the worst cars Chrysler ever made. Quality was terrible so every car they sold made an enemy instead of a friend." --Dave Holls, "Collectible Automobile"
Chrysler has had several boom-and-bust cycles and near-death experiences since then. Lots of forgettable-or-worse vehicles too: Aspen, Volare, Aries, Reliant, Omni, Horizon, St. Regis, Sebring, Intrepid. (Intrepid?!)
Plymouth, #3 in 1957 behind Ford and Chevy, is gone now. And we can't forget DeSoto either: the Fireflite, Firesweep and Firedome were all burnt toast by 1960 as the brand was extinguished.
The fins that have come to symbolize Route 66 and "America at the top of its game" actually tell a very different...and very sad...tale. One era had ended and another was underway. From Value to Planned Obsolescence. Steak to Sizzle. American Steel to Rust-Bucket.
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ROUTE 66, INTERSTATE 0
A Google search for this phrase on September 17, 2011 finds a single result--this website--so I'm assuming it's original. I like it for the momentary confusion it causes before someone realizes: "Oh yeah, it's like a sports score of 66-0. The Interstate can't compete because it doesn't have scenery.
Earlier versions of this idea come from novelist John Steinbeck in 1962 and journalist Charles Kuralt in 1990. Their very similar quotes are about driving the Interstates without seeing anything. A great summary is at www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/first.cfm. (Thanks to Richard Weingroff)
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GUILTY, WITH AN EXPLANATION
Some things on rt66pix.com look better than you will see them on a typical Route 66 trip.
Take "USA Steel & Rust" from the opening slideshow. Captioning indicates this was taken in strong sunlight after rain. Directional sun creates all-important shadows, moisture creates deep coloring in the metal. On an ordinary day, in ordinary light, the 1929 steel is almost as dull as the paint. And letter "U" is very hard to spot without the shadow.
Many good photographs, both here and elsewhere, take advantage of unusual lighting and/or weather conditions. Many are made within an hour of sunrise or sunset, even if the sun is not in the image. Mid-day in mid-summer, the peak of Route 66 travel, is generally the worst time for photography--especially from OK westward. There's just too much sun!
Some scenes change over time or disappear. Take an extreme case--the Sidewalk Highway around Afton and Narcissa OK. During 2011 two things happened: (1) A lovely stone marker was installed describing the pavement's historic significance and (2) Nearly all the historic pavement was buried under dirt and stone, plus crude grading tore up chunks of original asphalt!
So enjoy the pretty marker...because the Sidewalk Highway is now largely a dirt road. (Two images on rt66pix.com were made before the desecration, and "Traffic on Sidewalk Highway" shows a short remaining paved section.)
In a more typical example, the 1949 Nash Airflyte that's the opening thumbnail for the "Rusted & Busted" gallery got hauled away. So rt66pix.com is now inadvertently promoting something that's no longer there. Other things fall down, get demolished or fenced off. Some even get painted! Others are hit with graffiti or vandalism. It's impossible to keep up with all of it.
So the plea is "Guilty, With an Explanation" for showing Route 66 and other locations better than you will likely see them. This is neither fair nor balanced...but it can't be helped.