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Preview: “A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway” October 28, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History, Television.
The Lincoln Highway in Franklin Grove, Ill. (Courtesy of PBS)

The Lincoln Highway in Franklin Grove, Ill. (Courtesy of PBS)

The Lincoln Highway is not Route 66. Instead of going from Chicago to L.A., it traverses the country from New York City’s Times Square to San Francisco. The Lincoln is 1,000 miles longer. And it predates the Mother Road by more than a decade.

However, Mother Road aficionados will find a lot to love during the PBS-TV broadcast premiere of “A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway.”

A few days ago, Brian Butko, proprietor of the excellent Lincoln Highway News and the author of several books about the road, was kind enough to mail me a screener DVD of the one-hour program. It is set to air at 8 p.m. EST Wednesday and 10 p.m. EST Friday (check listings for your area).

Having viewed it Monday, I can report that “A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway” is packed with delights. And roadies ought to find much in common with what’s in this program:

  • Folks who eschew the interstates and seek adventure on the old two-lane roads, including one who goes across the country and “never spent a time at a national chain restaurant or hotel.” Another says: “I never get tired of driving it. There’s always something new to see.”
  • Obscure highway alignments, including the early “seedling miles” that sought to stimulate local investment in paved roads. Then there are alignments that are little more than gravel roads.
  • Astounding natural beauty that you’re hard-pressed to see on the overly engineered superslab.
  • A brief interview with Michael Wallis, who seems to be always there if a historic highway is involved.

It’s hard to pick out my favorite moment from the program, so here are several: the family that runs the charming Lincoln Motor Court in Manns Choice, Pa., the Haines Shoe House, the rustic General Store of Eureka, Nev., and the owner of a historic gas station and his cat in Nebraska.

I can’t recommend seeing “A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway” enough. WQED of Pittsburgh, which produced it, deserves a truckload of praise. And it wouldn’t surprise me if this sparks a surge in tourism like Wallis’ best-selling book “Route 66: The Mother Road” did.

If you’re going to be away from your TV set the nights it airs, set up your DVR or buy the DVD of the program here.

Here’s a sneak peak:

UPDATE: Here are some outtakes of footage from the program.

Going Dutch October 27, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Route 66 Associations, Web sites.
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Dries Bessels of the Netherlands has just created the Dutch Route 66 Association and has a Web site for it.

The site contains plenty of photos, history of the route, and other information. Bessels, who’s driven the route by motorcycle, told me the association has just a handful of members now, but is hopeful the Web site will entice more people from his region to join. Bessels is planning another Route 66 trip in 2009.

Babel Fish does a reasonably good job translating the site into English. You can start with the English version here, or do your own with the Babel Fish site here.

It’s an election year … October 26, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, People.
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… so the presidential candidates both were on Route 66 in the same town on the same day.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama held a rally at the University of New Mexico on Saturday evening. Earlier that morning, Republican candidate John McCain held a rally at the New Mexico fairgrounds. Both are right on Central Avenue, aka Route 66.

The crowd sizes sure weren’t the same, however. McCain’s rally drew about 1,500 people. Obama’s drew at least 45,000, according to the fire marshal.

Portion of original National Road found October 26, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History.
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This isn’t on Route 66, but still significant for lovers of historic highways. After all, we’re talking about the granddaddy of the entire bunch.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

While excavating for construction of a new bridge overpass near the Brownsville Drive-In, PennDOT workers discovered what turned out to be a 200-year-old portion of the original National Road.

Donna Holdorf, executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor, said the slab was discovered in late August and was buried beneath several layers of asphalt, dirt, and cement. Holdorf added that an archaeologist from PennDOT contacted the Corridor upon discovery of the road bed in accordance with an agreement. [...]

“When the backhoe dug down through the existing asphalt, which was 16 inches thick from repaving projects, it first exposed a thin layer of tar over a thick layer of earth fill placed there by a contractor decades ago,” Rowles said. “Beneath the fill was another layer of tar and then the original National cobble roadbed, beneath which was a layer of natural clay.” [...]

Although she isn’t exactly sure when the slab will be ready for display, Holdorf said she hopes to have it ready by next spring.

For more about the National Road, aka U.S. 40, go here.

William Least Heat-Moon writes another road-trip book October 25, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Road trips.
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Back in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon wrote one of the great books about the road, “Blue Highways: A Journey into America.”

The 13,000-mile itinerary of “Blue Highways” didn’t follow Route 66. But the author’s willingness to explore the nation’s backroads and its people — and his refusal to patronize the interstates and fast-food joints — contained an aesthetic that’s familiar to modern-day Route 66 aficionados.

“Blue Highways” became a major best-seller and still sold 25,000 copies a year more than 15 years after its publication. It’s regarded as one of the best travel books ever written, and it helped blaze a trail for Route 66’s eventual renaissance.

Now, Least Heat-Moon has a new book coming out on Wednesday, titled “Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey” (582 pages, $27.99). The Los Angeles Times Books section describes the new volume:

… [T]his is a far more directed work involving a series of planned trips: tracing the route of the Ouachita River from Arkansas into Louisiana, paralleling a “Forgotten Expedition” sent out by Thomas Jefferson; searching for the lost Florida in the state’s panhandle, perhaps a step ahead of its extinction through development; tracking down ghostly lights in Missouri while investigating an early 20th century murder; examining Route 40, a series of linked roads that were “the Ur-Mother of American transcontinental highways,” precursor to the interstate system (and more significant than the much-touted Route 66); venturing into the great north woods of Maine, loosely in the steps of Henry David Thoreau; and motoring by ship down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, whose continued existence may be, by Heat-Moon’s report, an open question.

The reviewer, Art Winslow, seemed to like it:

Despite his vision of a society that has depleted far too much (forests, aquifers, coastlines) through its excesses, Heat-Moon’s sense of humor remains intact. Before entering the vastness of Maine’s north woods, he watches as a man uses a wetted finger to draw a map on the top of a bar, only to see his directions evaporate.

That’s very much within his probabilistic idea of travel — a quoz is anything “strange, incongruous, or peculiar,” which offers Heat-Moon great latitude. For him, the journey includes the nation’s largest gated community (chopped into an Arkansas mountaintop), a publicly financed road to nowhere (a drug smugglers’ landing strip in Florida), “worship centers” with “the architectural lines of an auto-body shop” (Oklahoma) and, in the stretches between churches, “miles of abandoned buildings, of decaying house trailers steadily vanishing under glomerations of cast-off appliances,” including “one remarkable stack of refrigerators topped by a ragged American flag flapping a conqueror’s tired glory over the rummage.”

So how much is the Illinois Route 66 plan going to cost? October 24, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History.
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The answer: no one knows.

But the Chicago Sun-Times group attempts to fish for a few answers regarding an ambitious proposal to enhance the Route 66 experience in Illinois:

… Ambrose said they are continuing to seek state and federal funding.

Most recently the group applied to receive a federal grant for $475,000 which would fund installing wayside exhibits along the route. These stationary signs would highlight attractions in the area, places to visit that aren’t located right off the roadway, and a place to stamp passports used by Route 66 travelers.

The organization has yet to find out if they received the grant, but Ambrose said there are other ways to keep the project moving both on the local and corporate levels.

“We need to work with communities,” she said. “To get photos, particularly historic photos,”

Financial contributions would also help, she said, where communities fund ideas mentioned in the plan local to their community. Corporations, such as those in the gas and oil industry, could also play a major help toward seeing the project through.

But even if the money was to all come through, Ambrose said she estimates it would take at least 10 years to execute all these ideas.

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