Route 66 News

On the Mother Road with Charles Kuralt

In the quarter-century that Charles Kuralt produced his “On the Road” series for CBS News, I figured that he and Route 66 crossed paths eventually.

Sure enough, here’s one I found about Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas:

The clip is notable in that it apparently was shot shortly after Cadillac Ranch was installed by the Ant Farm in 1974. Proprietor Stanley Marsh 3 obviously is much younger (he’s in his 70s today), and it was before those up-ended Cadillacs were spray-painted by tourists. So the clip, at the least, contains historical value.

On a whim, I recently ordered the first volume of a DVD set that collected some of the best of Kuralt’s “On the Road” segments. While watching them, it struck me how much of a profound influence Kuralt made on my road sensibilities. I had read several Kuralt books about travel, but it had been years since I cracked them. “On the Road” had been off the air for two decades, and Kuralt himself died nearly 15 years ago.

The show sought its material “away from the interstates” and appreciated — even embraced — serendipity in finding stories. Kuralt was the star, but often put himself in the background so he could let his subjects shine. And his leisurely voice and straightforward writing perfectly suited the stories about unsung heroes and unusual characters.

Watching “On the Road” made me again realize that Kuralt lands firmly on my short list for most influential roadies. That includes Michael Wallis, William Least Heat-Moon, Jane and Michael Stern, and my father. If you haven’t read or seen Kuralt’s segments in a few years, you may want to revisit them. If you’re not familiar with Kuralt’s work, you don’t know what you’re missing.