How I Spent My Summer Vacations

Route 66 was my "vacation road."

Our family's many summer sojourns down "The Main Street of America" during the Sixties etched an indelible succession of stunning roadside visuals into my eager eyes. Route 66 fueled a backseat fantasy of the majestic and mysterious west, a wonderland of mountains and mesas, Cowboys and Indians, neon signs and gaudy billboards. These rapid-fire visuals, framed through the family Ford's bug streaked windshield, became the strong recollections of a boy's wistful yearnings as the roadside marvels blurred by, just out of reach.

Those nostalgic visions of roadside wonders kept simmering in my subconscious through my high school and college years, sometimes emerging as sketches of Stuckey's signs and old cafes. My Dad and I made a special Route 66 trip back out to California in 1981; this time I made him stop at everything. Tantalizing glimpses of older pavement led me to research old highway maps for the early routes. Frequent Route 66 pilgrimages followed, beginning in 1983, each bringing some forgotten aspect of the road to light, each increasing my desire to see more.

To me, Route 66 is a fascinating puzzle, an archeological dig of over 2448 miles, through over 7 decades of roadside Americana. My desire to discover as much of the old alignments of Hwy 66 as possible led in 1994 to collaboration with fellow road historian Jim Ross on "Here It Is!" the best-selling 8-state set of Route 66 maps, and in 1998 to "Bones of the Old Road," a video exploring mysterious "lost" sections of the early roadway (with videographer Kathy Anderson). 2005 brought the acclaimed "EZ 66 Guide for Travelers," a complete guide to touring Route 66 which I researched, authored and illustrated, published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation. I have written extensively for Route 66 Magazine, the Route 66 Federation News and American Road, where I am a Department Editor.

Preserving and restoring Route 66 scenes through my artwork is another way I can contribute to this commemoration and celebration of our highway heritage. I am proud that my work is found in private and corporate collections in this country and abroad, and that it has been exhibited in shows across the country, both on and off the route. My Route 66 artwork and photos have appeared in periodicals as diverse as Historic Traveler, Popular Mechanics, and Playboy of Brazil, as well as in many books. The special visual "fix" I acquired as a child still haunts me. However, Route 66 is now much more than just the "vacation road" to me, as I have learned of the other roles this highway has played in our county's development. My works may reflect the lean times of the Dustbowl days, as well as the triumphs of tourism. I frequently feature old cars in my scenes, often done on request by the vehicle’s proud owners. The '66 culture was primarily a car culture, its resources (indeed its very pavement) dedicated to expediting the progress of the auto and its occupants, while providing a livelihood for those trying to make a living along its flanks. As of 2008, I have joined those ranks of roadside entrepreneurs, opening my Route 66 Gallery just off Route 66 in Chandler, Oklahoma.

I feel a kinship with those roadside entrepreneurs who staked their lives on two lanes of pavement and a steady stream of traffic. Behind the brightly lit facades are the people and their stories. They make their presence known in my artwork, sometimes in a subliminal shape glimpsed through a window, other times posing proudly along the road. I have visited with many of these business people through the years; we share a dependency on the old highway and a love for simpler times not too far past.