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 quoted or reprinted for non-commercial use only 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 enjoyed in 170 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, frontier trails and historic railroads. Capsule histories are on the "Roads" page.
There are also photo galleries for twenty cities including Denver, Memphis, Natchez, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco 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. We don't require registration, use pop-ups, send spam, or make you squint at a stamp-sized image. The site is best viewed under controlled lighting on a laptop or desktop--not on a cellphone. If the image above appears lit by fluorescent bulbs instead of golden sunshine, your device has an improper White Balance. Some can be adjusted.
Most photographs are available for sale or licensing--ordering is encrypted and secure. Images appearing automatically on the Home Page are in the gallery "Home Page Slideshow."
I don't sugar-frost this stuff. While 99.99% of the site is suitable for children and the workplace, a few images feature alternate lifestyles, obscene signs or gestures, partial nudity, beggars, public drunkenness etc. Most appear in the city galleries...as they do in real life. I believe these photographs are compelling and may offer teachable moments.
The TECH section discusses photographic technique and technology. ROADS summarizes American transportation corridors and movements. HISTORY dusts off the past. PRESERVATION offers successes and failures. And for a refreshing break the FUN!© section offers a chance 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 (61 x 91 cm), from America's largest professional photography lab. There are also canvas wraps, metal prints, glass prints, standouts, wall clings and personal merchandise. Non-US orders are welcomed and may be handled by pro-lab partners in Canada, Europe or Australia.
The "Shopping Cart" is encrypted and secure. We never run sales or offer coupons etc. The intrusive copyright symbol and website logo watermarks do not appear on prints or merchandise.
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Our generic holiday scene for 2022 was photographed on April 8th. It is non-denominational, multicultural and (best of all) glitter-free. It even has religion, although the cross framed by the Dairy Queen-like curl is really a utility pole.
And with this slushy seasonal scene, gentle reader, comes a helpful reminder that some prices will...um, adjust in 2023. Happy New Year!
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ROUTE 66 VANDALISM
The cops are too late...and so are you.
Vandals are trashing sections of the Mother Road before the elements even get their chance. This eyesore is in Conway TX next to the VW Bug Ranch mentioned in the EZ66 Guide.
Lonely + Abandoned = Easy Target. This hideosity is at the well-known Twin Arrows site in AZ, visible from I-40. And just one arrow remains standing.
Although new Rt 66 attractions have been added--conveniently off Interstate exits in cities--the original road pictured in books, magazines and on this site is fast disappearing. Collectors and thieves make their negative contributions by snagging historic signs and artifacts. You can't see or photograph what's gone and there is significantly less to enjoy, especially along the road's western half.
Vandalism hastens and degrades natural decay which can, at times, be fascinating--even beautiful. My Route 66 images were generally taken between 2000-2015 and I believe capture this process at a peak. I extensively photographed the site below before human scum discovered it:
This location in NM (the "Cold Beer" ruin at Montoya) has now been scarred forever. A stone wall was knocked down so a loser's scribbling would be visible from I-40. The gallery "Route 66: Going Going GONE" samples today's increasingly-grim realities.
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TRAVELING CHICAGO'S ROUTE 66...OR NOT
Here's timeless travel advice from someone without an agenda...or a physical business location along Route 66. I posted this to a UK chat site in 2016, and updated it in 2019. There's no sense freshening it again. The problem will ebb and flow but the risk/reward is still horrible.
RANDOM...INNOCENT...SUMMER...NIGHTS...WEEKENDS. Anybody you know?
Route 66 suffers from boosterism, and you will hear or read anecdotes and statements elsewhere that the entire road is perfectly safe.
In contrast, this posting has three sources: the FBI, Chicago Police and Chicago Tribune newspaper. Is it worth braving random gun violence just to see this tarted-up (but permanently closed) gas station?
The easy detour allows you to enjoy Chicago's downtown, cruise near the Lakefront, then hop on a (free) expressway until you near the suburbs.
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THE REAL THING
While Photoshopping this Route 66 image, I thought I'd seen him on television a long time ago: the father figure on a series set in the past. And I was partially right.
"The Waltons" ran on CBS from 1972-81 and this seems to be father John...except it's not. Actor Ralph Waite died in 2014, five years before the photograph.
This is reality imitating fiction, helped by his windshield and my deja vu. Yet eternal truths and values from "The Waltons" shine through. Happiness can be you, your little dog and dependable old pickup truck, cruising Route 66 near sunset.
The image "DRIVER & DOG (Rt 66 Sapulpa OK)" appears in several galleries and helps inaugurate a new one: "Happy Happy Happy Happy."
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NEWS & NOTES
. Images of the Oregon and California Trails across WY and ID are being added to the "Frontier Trails" gallery. Perhaps 500,000 people traveled 2,000 miles (3,200 km) to find new homes (or gold) during the 1840s-60s before the Transcontinental Railroad was joined in 1869. Some even had time for sightseeing, and Ayers Natural Bridge in WY just one mile (1.6 km) from the joint trail became a popular attraction. It is now a county park, a great place to throw pebbles into the stream that created this.
. Don't look down, but images of the Georgetown Loop Railroad in CO have been added to the "Twin Streaks of Rust" gallery.
. More, oh more, YES MORE, STILL MORE, extra additional bonus gratuitous (and also completely unnecessary too!) images have been added to the "Natchez Trace" gallery. Because why not? Even minivans look good surrounded by complementary autumn colors and graceful curves. This family-hauler is southbound not far from Nashville TN. Hope the kids glance out occasionally from their video games:
. A 1925-era wooden gas station canopy on Route 66 at Glenrio NM has collapsed, eliminating yet another Mother Road photo-op. The building in back is now an ugly ruin. I took 18 images here over the years, including this lush springtime view of its peak beauty around 2000, perhaps 25 years after abandonment. The chair is a metaphor.
. The "Pony Express" gallery is essentially complete. Many images are close-ups of riders and horses, others show the wide-ranging landscape. In all, 750 photos sample the 1860-61 route from MO to CA. This young Re-Rider crossing tree-free central WY appears to be carrying airmail:
. Images are now available in "Plantations: White Privileges" a new gallery. This backlit shot of Oak Alley in Vacherie LA captures midday sun through columns and exterior walls painted a dusky rose. These are some of the last photographs showing the iconic tree-lined entrance ("allee" in French) before Hurricane Ida's devastation in August 2021.
. A new gallery is devoted to the art and artistry of crossing a void. "The Beauty of Bridges" offers 400+ selected images from road and city galleries. This soaring structure carrying the two-lane Natchez Trace Parkway in TN easily makes the cut--especially at sunrise in autumn.
. Another new gallery "Happy Happy Happy Happy" shows two-fisted outbreaks of Joy. Too much of a good thing can be WONDERFUL, especially when it's strawberry. Enjoy! He did...I did...and you can did too!
. Tulsa's beautiful downtown filled with 1920s buildings now has a gallery just for architecture: "Tulsa: Art Deco Metropolis." (Photographs also appear in the Route 66 ALL IMAGES and Route 66 OKLAHOMA galleries.) This building has quite a history--one part built in 1918 and the other cantilevered over it 66-years later in 1984--but somehow matching the earlier style and elegance:
. Finally, a new page has been established for HISTORY, with original magazine articles and historical musings previously on this page, and on the PRESERVATION and ROADS pages.
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WISDOM FROM DUMB OLD CARS
We laugh at this today. Who would buy something so ridiculous?
Rich folks, that's who.
The 1959 Cadillac is a monument to...um, excess? Yes, but that's a gross understatement. 'Vulgarity' is accurate. 'Stupidity' too.
And yet 142,000 of these flamboyant finned fantasies were produced and peddled to the upper class. Rich people are supposed to have superior intelligence, sophisticated taste, and impeccable judgment, but Cadillac increased market share in 1959!
Three land yachts made up the high-price field back then: GM's Cadillac, Ford's Lincoln and Chrysler's Imperial. The 59 Lincoln was a beast, and the Imperial suffered from company-wide quality problems. So despite towering fins with wacky rocket-exhaust nozzles perpetually glowing red, Cadillac's share of the US luxury market rose from 73 to 77%.
And it's not like most rich people had to buy one. GM's quality was still good in that era, and the 59s didn't have important new features (like cup holders) so keeping the same ride for another year and hoping for sanity to return in 1960 was an option. The 58 and 57 Cadillacs weren't unattractive. The graceful 56, 55 and 54s have become classics.
What might a 1959 Cadillac Chrome DeVulgar teach us today?
. Adults do foolish things, just like kids.
. They are susceptible to peer-pressure.
. They are easily manipulated by advertising.
. They are seduced by status symbols.
. Some buy at the top of the market for fins, stocks, or most anything.
. Some "get theirs" through looks, luck, marriage or inheritance...not skill, hard work, education or intelligence.
. Some will take horse dewormer, but not a proven and free vaccine.
. A few will even Drink the Kool-Aid or Storm the U.S. Capitol because a deranged authority figure told them to.
The rich aren't different and they don't necessarily have better taste. Just more money, good credit or good luck. Those on their way up, down, or sideways in 1959 bought cheaper hideosities like the bat-wing Chevy or rocket-launcher Buick. GM designers (largely middle-class) reserved special scorn for the rich and foolish, creating exclusively for them a motorized majestic monstrosity slathered in chrome:
See and reject would have been far more appropriate, exemplifying one's discriminating taste in fine motorcars. But I digress (and pontificate).
The 59 Caddy occupies the pinnacle on our Culture of Crap. Nose-down ass-up on a pile of other all-American rubbish (spray-on hair, shag carpeting, knotty pine, the Electoral College, cheese in aerosol cans), the fins with their rocket-exhaust nozzles make a dual obscene gesture to values that sometimes made this country great.
The Peak Cadillac is a parable in awkwardly-bent steel. A testament to the power of branding and advertising. A cautionary tale for yesterday, today, and all time. You can't fix stupid. The best Mr. Goodwrench could do was get stupid (car and owner) back on the road.
Pass on this wisdom: take your kids to a car show! All the chromed vulgarity (compounded by finance charges) may teach them to resist ads, fads and peer pressure...and think for themselves.
They can't be cynical enough. And they can't start soon enough. Cadillac's still peddling excess: the Escalade offers up to 36 speakers (18 per ear) and can cost six-figures. But unlike in 1959, the chrome is fake, and payments typically run 72-84 months. Leases easily top $1,000 a month without eventual ownership.
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Three side notes:
. The ad's perspective is from the front corner (note the tires). This makes the ridiculous 3 1/2 foot tall (1.07 m) fins look smaller, and the second one barely shows. The fins have four sides combined but just one appears in full--that's almost a 75% improvement. Additionally, the man and woman behind the fin are seven-feet (2.1 m) tall! Either that or artistic liberties were taken.
. Cadillac's image was badly tarnished beginning in the 1970s, and foreign competitors grabbed market share which they have never relinquished. Exactly 50 years after producing the Peak Cadillac, GM began a new chapter: it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Cadillac's share of the luxury market has cratered from 77% in 1959 to less than 7% today. (Its share of the total US vehicle market is less than 1%.)
. Owners of classic vehicles (I'm not one of them) deserve our thanks for preserving history, often at great personal expense, and passing it on to later generations. 1959 cars are no longer in use, so the only first-hand exposure we have to them is through museums and car shows. Thanks, owners of classic vehicles!
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PROGRESS...AT A PRICE
This National Road scene, photographed for its grace and beauty, also shows what a difference roughly a century can make.
The view is eastward at daybreak from Blaine OH toward Wheeling WV eight miles (13 km) away. The 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.
In between was a century of tremendous change. We started with hand-made wooden wagons on wood and iron wheels, pulled by oxen, mules or horses over loose stones, dirt and mud. We ended with mass-produced 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.
Other examples of progress that are not generally known are below. But first, in keeping with internet tradition here's some spurious advertising: a free limited-time offer! Well before "One Weird Trick" there was "One Weird TRIP (don't do this!)" sponsored by the Donner Party:
. After placing this in a Springfield IL newspaper, the Donner Party walked alongside wagons from IL to CA. They got a late start (April 14th) and bad directions on a shortcut that wasn't. Many members were trapped the winter of 1846-47 below a snow-clogged CA mountain pass. Some died of starvation...or resorted to cannibalism. But just a generation (23 years) later, they could have taken the train and arrived safely in five-days with meals provided! And infant Isabella Breen, who lived until 1935, could have flown to CA on a scheduled airliner late in her life.
. Oregon Trail pioneer Ezra Meeker (1830-1928) walked 2,000 miles (3,200 km) alongside an ox-drawn wagon in 1852. He drove a car along the trail in 1915 and flew over it as an airplane passenger in 1924. His speed went from 2 to 100 MPH (3.2 to 161 km/h).
. In 1861 Pony Express riders could have sent telegrams, spanning the long lonely 2,000 miles (3,200 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 Lincoln Highway of @1915 lived to travel the modern Interstates beginning in the mid-1950s. Cars also made a rapid improvement. By the dawn of 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 costs of progress:
. When undocumented aliens in the form of Anglo settlers (including my ancestors) first turned up, what is now the continental US was already populated. One scholar estimates 15 million Natives were living in harmony with the land...and had been for generations. Indians outnumbered Anglos until the 1830s. Indians east of the Mississippi River were mainly communal farmers who hunted and fished. On the plains, Natives had familiar hunting grounds and some farmed and fished. But European newcomers generally regarded Natives as savages, obstacles to Manifest Destiny, the God-given right of Protestant settlers (Catholics and others arrived later) to control, subdivide and populate the continent. Europeans brought deadly smallpox plus superior weaponry, and killed or expelled Indians in the name of "progress." Our government, and many of our ancestors, carried out genocide, ethnic cleansing and forced deportation onto reservations--or concentration camps. To coin a phrase: "We got rid of the Indians and named the land Indiana." Many Native Americans were denied US citizenship until 1924, and even then some, along with Blacks, were not allowed to vote.
. 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.
. Automobiles and paved roads made travel easier and faster early in the 20th century. But thousands of mom-and-pop crossroads stores failed because local folks suddenly had other 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.
(Related material appears on the PRESERVATION and ROADS pages. The cities mentioned appear in various galleries.)
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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 fourth 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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ROUTE 66: A (POSSIBLE) 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 Bible stories from an early age and used them in his works. Googling Bible Grapes of Wrath novel produces a wealth of material from many viewpoints: 9,690,000 at last check.
Here are just three examples. The Biblical Job (pronounced: JOE-bb) and his family become Steinbeck's Joad (JOE-dd) family. Job/Joad are good people suffering greatly from circumstances beyond their control, and from the former comes the term "Trials of Job." Jesus Christ, a secondary figure in the novel, is mirrored in itinerant preacher Jim Casy. And "grapes of wrath" is from the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" which comes from the final book of the Bible (Revelation 14:19-20).
A westbound trip can also recall the Crucifixion in a mountainous desert. Jesus was on the cross perhaps up to six-hours. That was a typical driving time in the 1930s from the mountainous desert around Oatman AZ and Needles CA, until a return to life with a dramatic green-up nearing the coast or Central Valley. Many migrants drove the desert at night to avoid brutal heat, so greenery would suddenly appear at the start of a new day.
These similarities, and many others noted by scholars, would have occurred to 1930s American refugees, at least subconsciously, as they struggled through. Nearly all were raised as Christians, many as fundamentalists who believe every word of the Bible is literally true, 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 25+ books, many promotional publications, and travel websites The Grapes of Wrath is simply the saga of the fictional Joad family during the Great Depression and 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.
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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 this "Do Unto Others" novelty be nice if it caught on? Amen and A-MEN!
Government is properly barred from promotion of this kind, so the burden falls on individuals, associations, businesses...and religious groups.
("The Wrath of Dust" in the HISTORY section explores 1930s economic and social conditions.)
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THE UNLIKELY ICON
Cruising Route 66 in a 1957 Chevy...the road and car that have come to symbolize the 1950s.
Too bad the story is hopelessly jumbled, with this pretty picture adding leaded fuel to already-bad history. In 1957 both road and car had become outdated and ready for replacement. The Route 66 story is told elsewhere on the site. This is a companion tale about the car.
Today's pop-culture iconography gets it seriously wrong. The 1957 Chevy wasn't the best-selling vehicle of the 1950s--that was the 55 Chevy. The 57 Chevy wasn't even the best-seller of 1957! What the 57 Chevy was...was a solid disappointment.
While low-price rivals Ford and Plymouth unveiled all-new sheet metal that year, Chevy was still peddling the 55 body, warmed-over for a second time. GM made more profit that way.
Because of its advanced age the 57 Chevy was taller and boxier. And attempts to freshen it were odd. The his-and-her hood rockets. The now-famous fins with chrome on the edge and (on top models) anodized aluminum along the sides.
The 55 and 56 Chevies had rounded pubescent fins with tail lights built into the top corners--a safe, pleasing, logical arrangement. But on the 57s, the larger pointed fins were empty, and lights were way down in separate chrome pods near the bumper. Motor Trend panned the strange design as a safety hazard:
"The new low-set tail lights, smaller than most, do not give adequate protection against rear-end collision."
They also looked like aftermarket parts: open mouths contorted in sadness. We now have emojis like them. The combo of big empty fins with separate little lights was awkward at first glance, especially against the "clean" look of rivals.
Plymouth was the low-price styling leader that year with a windswept design ending in towering fins filled with lights. Ford was low and modern with graceful canted fins next to large round lights. Chevy was trying to pass off a two-year-old car with pointed but pointless fins as brand-new.
Or just maybe, possibly, not.
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 cruised from #4 to #3, passing Buick. The earth moved under Detroit when sales were tallied.
On the basis of market share (which adjusts for changing economic conditions), the 56, 58 and 59 Chevies were bigger hits with the public than the 57. So what happened to create iconic status today for a car that was an instant retro-ride for buyers and a setback for GM?
First, failures by the competition. The Fords were attractive and contemporary but Motor Trend found "startlingly bad" build quality. They rusted and had doors that could fly open on bumps. The Plymouths (as noted in an essay below) leaked in the rain, fell apart, and rusted prematurely. They were some of the worst cars ever produced--and that's saying a lot!
The Chevies lasted if they were reasonably cared for. Things fit and worked because many proven components carried over from high production in 1955 and 56. This parts availability also meant the 57s could be owner-maintained and later restored.
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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A follow-up: Detroit automakers lost their way in the 70s, and GM went bankrupt in 2009. They fully deserved it--good riddance to them and their anti-American values. The UAW was a willing accomplice and shares the blame. (Today's General Motors is legally a different company.)
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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.
. You sat on a bench seat without seat belts, air bags, or other protection.
. Air conditioning and cruise control were for rich folks in Cadillacs, not you.
. Open windows brought in noise, dust and insects.
. Your entertainment system was a single-speaker AM radio that picked up power lines, neon signs and thunderstorms.
. 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...
. You drove single-file through dinky towns, perhaps behind a string of trucks, enduring 25 MPH zones, parallel parkers, and red lights.
. 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).
. Almost every motel was a one-off, requiring you to scrutinize the sign, inspect the room, and haggle over the rate. Motel chains were just starting and toll-free phone reservations came much later.
. America smoked like a chimney, with 45% admitting their habit to Gallup in 1954. Air-conditioning was not widespread, so restaurants and motel rooms typically had a stale cigarette odor.
. Black travelers faced tremendous problems even getting the basics--food, lodging, gas and restrooms. Many businesses openly (and until 1964 legally) refused to serve them. Entire "sundown towns" were openly racist, warning Blacks not to stay there, or even drive through after dark. "Jim Crow" laws were widespread, well beyond the South.
Today's self-service gas pumps, McDonald's and even lowly Motel 6 actually represent improvements. If not they wouldn't have spread and endured. 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 unexpectedly 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:
This is sculptor Tom Coffin's interpretation of a Chrysler Corporation fin...perhaps a 1958 DeSoto. GM and Ford never had a design like this.
You rarely see late 50s Chrysler products (Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial) at Route 66 car shows. They sold just fine, except for Imperial, but they were hastily-engineered rust-buckets. The (since closed) Walter P. Chrysler Museum outside Detroit tacitly admitted this on an overhead sign oddly illustrated with a 56 DeSoto. Problems started with the all-new 1957 models:
"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 soared, quality control plunged 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 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. A 1954 luxury car, the 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 newly-found reputation for problems did. Warranties were only 90 days/4000 miles back then--but all the claims helped push "Crisis Corporation" deep into the red for 1958.
"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 entered the 1950s with 23% market share, behind only GM, and left it in free-fall, plunging below 10% by 1962. The pattern has continued since then with wild boom-and-bust cycles, near-death experiences, taxpayer-supported bailouts, and multiple foreign owners. Lots of forgettable-or-worse vehicles too: Aspen, Volare, Acclaim, Breeze, Dart, Omni, Horizon, Avenger, Dakota, St. Regis, Sebring, Intrepid. (Intrepid?)
Plymouth, #3 in 1957 behind Ford and Chevy, is gone now, along with Imperial. And we can't forget DeSoto either: the Fireflite, Firesweep and Firedome were all burnt toast by 1960 (below) as the brand was extinguished. (A few 1961 models were produced but didn't sell.)
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 Solid Value to Planned Obsolescence. Steak to Sizzle. American Steel to Rust-Bucket.
(Published in the "Federation News" by the National Historic Route 66 Federation.)
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GUILTY, WITH AN EXPLANATION
Some things on rt66pix.com look better than they normally appear.
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. Peak travel time, mid-day in mid-summer, is generally awful for photography--especially on Rt 66 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!
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 showing something that's no longer there. Other things fall down, get demolished or fenced off. Many are hit with graffiti or vandalism. Some even get fresh paint! 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.
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