Readers of this website may be surprised to know there are folks out there who scoff at Route 66’s history and its current-day attractions. They insist it’s an “old, dead road,” and claim its history is as colorless as the interstates that replaced it.
The next time you run into someone like that, show them a copy of this book.
Jim Hinckley’s “Route 66 Encyclopedia” serves very well its basic purpose as a one-stop reference guide for the world’s most famous highway. But its 288 pages also show how interesting, how colorful, how vital the Mother Road has been and remains. And, bear in mind, this vast array of material comes from a highway that is less than a century old.
Hinckley arranged the entries alphabetically on Route 66’s history, towns, landmarks, people, and culture. He sprinkled the pages with almost 600 images of photographs from his personal collection, or memorabilia from longtime roadies Joe Sonderman, Steve Rider, Mike Ward, and others. (Disclosure: I proof-read a small section of Hinckley’s early manuscript, and the book has a short entry about Route 66 News.)
Hinckley obviously put a lot of diligent research into “The Route 66 Encyclopedia.” Even the most well-read Route 66 aficionados likely will find a tidbit that escaped their notice. For instance, did you know about Hodge, Calif., a settlement between Barstow and Victorville? Did you know there once was a motel, gas station, and store complex called the McHat Inn, east of Williams, Ariz.? You’ll probably learn something new with each turned page.
As befits a reference book, Hinckley doesn’t allow flowery language or tangents. The text remains necessarily lean, allowing him to shoehorn as much information as possible.
Space limitations also undoubtedly forced Hinckley to combine some potential entries into others. For instance, if you’re looking for the Blue Whale in the book, you’ll find it in the “Catoosa, Oklahoma” section, along with another Hugh Davis creation, The Ark. Fortunately, Hinckley included an index in the back of the book to help readers track down items.
Hinckley doesn’t shy away from what might be controversial elements. In the Tulsa entry, he summarizes the Tulsa Race Riot that laid waste to a vast African-American neighborhood and scarred the city to this day. He also provided a generous entry to Victor H. Green, publisher of “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a guide for Negro-friendly businesses and lodging, from 1936 to 1964. One excerpt conveys why the guidebook was deemed important:
An article in The Albuquerque Tribune, dated August 16, 1955, quotes a spokesman for the NAACP who lays the blame of a fatigue-related accident near Clines Corners on the lack of available lodging for blacks in New Mexico. “Mr. Boyd said a recent survey by his committee showed that less than six percent of more than 100 motels and tourist courts on U.S. 66 in Albuquerque were accepting Negro tourists.”
Obviously, America and Route 66 have come a long way since those Jim Crow days.
But “The Route 66 Encyclopedia’s” most important asset is its sheer amount of information. The section on the “Cars” movie will settle a lot of arguments about the Disney-Pixar film’s Route 66 inspirations. The entry about Route 66 icon Arthur Nelson (perhaps best-known for his Nelson Dream Village in Lebanon, Mo.) is as complete as any I’ve read. And it’s gratifying to see a few paragraphs devoted to even itty-bitty towns such as Dilia, N.M., and Phelps, Mo., and forgotten establishments such as the Motel Royal in St. Louis.
Hinckley also has pledged to post clarifications or updates to “The Route 66 Encyclopedia” on his website. In fact, he’s already posted about the “East Meets West” statue installed in Tulsa less than a month ago. Smartphone users also can reach the website by scanning a QR code on the book’s back cover.
Instead of devouring the book’s sprawling contents in one sitting, “The Route 66 Encyclopedia” probably is best digested a few pages at a time. But even a random perusal will fascinate and even enthrall.
Highly recommended and essential.