Route 66 News

A look at Route 66 in 1985

This 1-hour, 42-minute documentary film from 1985, “Route 66,” has been making the rounds on the Internet since it was uploaded it on YouTube a few days ago and Route 66 yahoogroup creator Greg Laxton posted it on Facebook.

Roadies praise it because it provides the Mother Road’s most comprehensive look just before U.S. 66 was federally decomissioned. You’ll see things that have long since disappeared, including the Will Rogers Court in Tulsa (pictured above). You also will find footage of the abandoned John’s Modern Cabins near Arlington, Missouri, before its deterioration became severe.

Route 66 was in a sorry state. Many of the small towns had long since been bypassed, and the renaissance that came with Michael Wallis’ bestselling “Route 66: The Mother Road” was years away.

I also like the film because it offers an unflinching and unsentimental look of the time. You’ll see a few things that some may find disturbing, including cattle being killed at a meat-processing factory in Amarillo and scenes of inebriated American Indians in Gallup, New Mexico, back when public drunkenness in that town was epidemic. You’ll encounter great folks, and you’ll encounter people you’d never want to see again.

A bit of Internet sleuthing reveals “Route 66” — subtitled “A Nostalgic Ride Down America’s Mother Road from Chicago to L.A.” — was produced for the United Kingdom’s United Central Television, now known as ITV Central. The film was skillfully directed by Belfast native John T. Davis, whose credits include other documentaries and television work.

The film also proves notable for using snippets of A.M. radio of that time and a lot of original music, including Johnnie Lee Wills, Lone Justice and a very young George Strait.

Don’t look to easily buy this film on the Internet. It’s apparently long out of print, and an eBay search proved fruitless. At the risk of a product plug, I found the best way to view it is on my television using a Google Chromecast device. It beats watching it on the PC, for sure.


8 thoughts on “A look at Route 66 in 1985

  1. Denny Gibson

    That’s an absolutely wonderful movie. It’s about a whole lot more than Route 66, though. I don’t suppose there was ever a soundtrack album but there should have been.

    P.S., I watched via Roku which is kinda like Chromecast — I think.

  2. Dennis Toeppen

    That was fantastic. I was a bit skeptical a few minutes in, but it was well worth the 1.75 hour investment. I paused it many times to decipher shots. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Copper Cart in operation for no good reason. I’m glad the Holbrook Wigwam Motel survived that period. Wow, did it look bad.

    It’s a shame that was all captured with video instead of on film. It will forever be trapped in 640 x 480 resolution.

  3. John T. Davis

    Thanks for watching my film, and making such perceptive comments. Could I clarify however that Route 66 was in fact shot on 16mm film. Video copies do exist and have, I understand, circulated for some time – I have no knowledge of the source for the version posted here. It’s a shame you can’t see the quality of the original film. I directed the film back in ’84 and when it was broadcast by Central TV in 1985, 12.5 million viewers tuned it, making it number one in the documentary film charts for that particular year. It’s wonderful to know it is still popular and held in high esteem – discovering the Route 66 News website has made my day!

  4. Chasbro

    This movie blew me away. You sir are a master dream weaver. How in the world did you manage to get high quality music from local musicians at live honky tonk events? Amazing on so many levels. Bruce Brown type stuff except no actors -real people.

  5. Dennis Toeppen

    Mr Davis,

    I’m glad to hear it was shot on 16mm! The thing that threw me was the shot at 1:36:24

    The smearing of the lights is something I’d expect to see with video, and not with a professional telecine/datacine.

    I’m extremely fascinated by all the talking heads. I’d love to hear the other side of the conversations, mostly to learn how it’s done!

    Do you know who owns the rights to this film? Do you have any idea how I can get my hands on a 16mm print? Or the A-B negative rolls? I’d love to do a proper/modern transfer of this wonderful film.

    I’ll say it again…this is a fantastic film.


    1. Ron Warnick Post author

      FYI, I’ve been in touch with Mr. Davis with a bunch of questions about the film’s production. He’s in the middle of a music project now, but promised me he’d answer them when he had more free time.

  6. John

    Could you share who performed the version of Route 66 at the start? It’s one of the better renditions, yet this was the first I’ve heard it.

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