Blog

  • Who Says Historians Don’t Have Fun?!

    Oklahoma historians, at least, give good parties. I’m just back from the Oklahoma Historical Society annual conference (held at the Hardrock Casino in Catoosa, no less!) where I learned a lot about northeast Oklahoma history and culture, met wonderful people, heard from Bob Wills’ and Woody Guthrie’s daughters, and had a chance to get far better acquainted with favorite son Will Rogers and his amazing legacy. Besides the presentation of papers, we took a quick tour of Catoosa-focused Route 66 for the Blue Whale and Totem Pole Park, then toured Will Rogers’ boyhood home and had supper at the Will Rogers Museum — both must-sees if you want to understand the US during the 1920s and 1930s. That’s our tour guide in the black hat. The peacock on the railing behind him is named Kevin.

    A special bonus was the chance to get acquainted with Rusty Williams, author of The Red River Bridge War, a wonderful and prize-winning book about a one-of-a-kind altercation between Texas and Oklahoma that involved both governors, Texas Rangers, the Oklahoma State Militia and, before it was over, the national media. Really a good read.

    And since today is April 30, I have to do a shout-out to my favorite historical character, Cy Avery, and the anniversary of the meeting in Springfield MO where he chose number 66 for the Chicago to LA highway.

    Oue Host at Will Rogers' Birthplace

    Oue Host at Will Rogers’ Birthplace

    Blue Whale

    Blue Whale

  • At the St. Louis History Museum earlier this year celebrating Route 66 with my cousins

    New Documentary at St. Louis History Museum

    Hey St. Louisans — at 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 10) the St. Louis History Museum will be airing what promises to be an excellent documentary on Route 66 in Missouri. I’ve seen the trailer, and it’s terrific. 

    I will be there, and hope to see lots of other Route 66 fans. Also, if you haven’t had a chance, don’t miss the museum’s truly terrific 66 exhibit.

  • ROUTE 66 IN CHICAGO

    With Dave Clark at the Harold Washington Library

    With Dave Clark at the Harold Washington Library

    img_4494A wonderful crowd came to the Harold Washington Public Library last night to listen to Dave Clark and me talk about Route 66– and to share their own memories of the old road. It was an altogether wonderful event. Presentations in Route 66 towns always are – I think places that grew up on 66 just feel different.  And being on the same program as Dave Clark was a total treat. He took the audience and me on a quick visual trip down our highway, from Grant Park to the Santa Monica Pier, and then talked about where 66 is and isn’t in the Windy City.

    Tonight promises to be another fun evening: I’ll be talking about the road out at the Fountaindale Public Library in Bollingbrook. So if you live in the area, do drop by. 7 p.m.

    See you there!

  • Happy Birthday Cyrus Stevens Avery, 145 on August 31!!

    I first made Cy’s acquaintance more than 30 years ago, when I was embarked in the research for ROUTE 66, THE HIGHWAY AND ITS PEOPLE. In western Oklahoma people told me, “Cy Avery invented Route 66.”

    Invented? That’s what they said. And of course he did, first by laying out the great sweeping arc of a highway, then giving it a number, though not without more uproar and drama than would seem necessary today. In 1928 he played a role in making his highway a conversation subject around the world. That was when the 66 Association sponsored CC Pyle’s unlikely transcontinental footrace from LA to Chicago and then on to Madison Square Garden.

    Before that, Cy worked tirelessly on behalf of good roads, several auto trail highways, and highway construction in Oklahoma. He also managed to raise a family, build a 55-mile water pipeline to improve Tulsa’s water, and run a real estate business on the side.

    Cy would have turned 145 on August 31, 1916, and come the last day of this month, I’d like to suggest a bit of his favorite bourbon and branch water, or simply a thought about the Father of Route 66 and his highway.

    In Cy’s honor, I am sharing a wonderful poem authored by one of my favorite people – my uncle Leo Croce. Here it is:

    ODE TO CY

    We loved your book ’bout Brother Cy
    Your research proved him quite a guy.
    His business sense none can deny
    Both roads and water were his cry
    He set his goals, his aim was high!

    He met with groups, some mavericks
    He used his charm and politics
    In business he did turn a trick
    And Tulsa’s water needs he  fixed
    Achieved his goal…Route 66!

  • THOSE ROUTE 66 FANS…

    Last weekend I had a grand time at the fast-growing Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Missouri. Nearly 500 wonderful cars lined the streets around Park Central Square and the Motorcycle Village on St. Louis Street had almost as many bikes, it seemed. Parades, fair food, the Springfield History Museum offering a Route 66 exhibit, and general good feelings made it a super event. Writers, artists, state Route 66 Associations and other non-automotive parts of the festival were all together in The Old Glass House just east of the square. This was good, as we were in air-conditioning – always a bonus – and we had a chance to meet a lot of people we otherwise might have missed. Here’s one of the most-IMG_4410-1decorated of the Route 66 fans that I’ve ever seen, and a truly nice guy besides.

  • April 30, 1926…

    That was the day, 90 years ago Saturday, when a beleaguered Cy Avery and B.H. Peepmeier got together at the Colonial Hotel in Springfield, MO, to figure out what to do about the brouhaha over the highway number 60.  Avery had selected number 60 for the new US highway between Los Angeles and Chicago, but when the Governor of Kentucky saw the first draft of the National Highway System map, he cried foul.  The number 60, said Gov. William Fields, should be attached to the road through Kentucky and on to the east coast, not some road that stopped in the middle of the country.  A battle ensued that lasted 5 months, stopped all progress on adoption of the National Highway System, and began to disrupt the workings of Congress.

    Finally, Avery bowed to the inevitable and got in touch with Piepmeier to meet him in Springfield and figure out what to do. What they decided was to take a random leftover number for their highway. That number of course was 66 — and everyone knows the rest of the story.

    So all you Route 66 fans, take a moment and think back to Avery, Piepmeier and that fateful Springfield meeting.  And offer a word of thanks to Gov. Fields.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY ROUTE 66!!!

  • A Voice From the Past

    About 30 years ago, more or less, I submitted a brief story to the Chicago Tribune Travel Section. It was titled something like, “If You’re a Kid, the Best Parts of a Trip are the Souvenir Stands,” and it was about some of the wonderful places to buy junk and memorabilia along Route 66.  I also mentioned to the editor that I had a book in the works.  The Tribune rejected that article, but Harriet Choice, the Travel Editor, called me (that was in the days before email) and asked if I’d do a big article on Route 66.  The end result was almost an entire Travel Section on Route 66.  Harriet and I corresponded a bit, but I lost touch with her even before my first book came out.  Fast forward 30 years more or less, and another Tribune luminary,  entertainment writer Rick Kogan, has written a story about Route 66 and my books.  Probably not coincidently, but certainly surprising to me, I received a request to be Facebook Friends from Harriet Choice.  I don’t think she has been following Route 66 for all these years, but it certainly has given me a good feeling to be reconnected with someone who was Really Important to the country’s growing interest in the old highway. Harriet, I do hope you’ve seen Rick’s article. (see review page)