BY CODY FACTEAU

When you think of cross country automobile travel today, most people use the Interstate Highway System. We don't think twice about it. After all, it's the fastest way to get anywhere in the U.S. You can by-pass most of the congestion of the cities, and travel in speedy ease and relative comfort. But, there was time when time didn't really matter. A time when getting there wasn't half as important as the journey. And, when getting there really didn't matter. When the road was your destination, not a way to get there. That was the era of the legendary Route 66.

What most kids today know about Route 66 comes from their history books or from the Disney 2006 animated movie, Cars. The story takes place in Radiator Springs, a once-booming town that was sadly cut off from the rest of the world when its mother road, Route 66, was bypassed by the Interstate. The Interstate System represents how we travel today, but Route 66 was the way people traveled before and after WWII.

Just how does a now extinct highway figure into our lives today? From the beginning, Route 66 was intended to fulfill one of the most practical of purposes: to connect the main streets and urban communities of America along its course. And this it did so well that Route 66 became a miniature model of life in America, a culture of people connected by the automobile. This week marks the 85th anniversary of Route 66, which existed from Nov. 11, 1926 to June 27, 1985. It originally ran from Chicago, Ill. through Missouri, Kan., Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, ending at Los Angeles, covering 2, 451 miles (3,945 km). Much of the early highway, like all other early highways, was gravel or graded dirt. Due to the efforts of the U.S. Highway 66 Association, Route 66 became the first highway to be completely paved in 1938. The Dust Bowl of the 1930's saw many farming families, like those in John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath," heading west for jobs in California. They made their trip, on Route 66. Route 66 also helped small communities located along its path during the Great Depression, as the route passed through many, many small towns. The growing traffic on the highway gave rise to the mom and pop businesses, such as service stations, restaurants and motor courts.

During World War II, more migration west occurred because of war-related industries in California. Route 66 became one of the main routes to get there and it also served for moving military equipment. Ford Leonard Wood in Missouri was located near the highway, and it was locally upgraded to a divided highway to help with the military traffic.

In the 1950's, Route 66 became the main highway for vacationers heading to Los Angeles. The road passed through the Painted Desert and near the Grand Canyon. Meteor Crater in Arizona was another popular stop. Route 66 also gave birth to the first drive-through restaurant, and the first McDonald's in San Bernardino, Calif.

The beginning of the end for Route 66 came in 1956 with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower. His appreciation for the Interstate System was influenced by his experiences in 1919 as a young Army officer crossing the country in a truck convoy following the route of the Lincoln Highway and that of the German Autobahn as a vital component of a national defense system. The Interstate, you see, is practical, functional, fast and efficient. But, to me, Route 66 had soul. Traveling was different then. The road curved, dipped and moved with the land and so did we. We actually saw the land then. We weren't just passing through.

If you look on a modern map today, the only way you will find Route 66 is an occasional spot where it is referenced Historic Route 66. Route 66, the most famous road in America, our Mother Road, is just a piece of history. But, I have a little piece of that rich automobile history. It's a map that my Grandpa used when he traveled west. It's a 1969 Standard Oil Company map of the Western United States. And, on it, is the original, the one, the only, Route 66.

Cody Facteau is a 16-year old homeschooler from East Burke. He enjoys anything to do with cars, particularly the Classics. He loves Le Mans racing, his favorite TV show is Top Gear (BBC), hobbies are Legos and PlayStation. Career goals? What else, cars!

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