It’s hard to believe now, but from 1926 until 1937, driving Route 66 from eastern New Mexico to Albuquerque was hardly a straight line.
Near Santa Rosa, one had to drive north to Santa Fe, then drop southward, following a mostly parallel path of the Rio Grande, to the Duke City.
The Free New Mexican recounts the story that finally created what was known as the “Santa Rosa Cut-off.”
In short, Gov. Arthur Thomas Hannett had tried for years to built a new 69-mile road from Santa Rosa to Moriarty, which is just east of Albuquerque. When he lost his bid for re-election, he had 31 days before leaving office. He gathered together road workers that were loyal to him and, defying the protests of his rivals in Santa Fe, started work on that road.
The work advanced at lightning speed in spite of snow, bitter cold and instances of sabotage, including sand put in the gas tanks of tractors and graders. The men even gave up their day off for Christmas.
The outcome was related many years later by engineer Bail: Republican Richard C. Dillon assumed the governor’s office on Jan. 1, 1927. That same day, a new engineer was sent out from Santa Fe to put an end to “Hannett’s joke.”
The weather was bad, so the engineer delayed his departure from Santa Fe a couple of days. When he arrived at the construction site on Jan. 3, he discovered the Santa Rosa Cut-off, a graded and graveled road, had been completed hours earlier and was now open to traffic.
Dillon was so impressed by the achievement that he relented and kept all the laborers on the state payroll.
The new road cut off nearly 100 miles of distance of Route 66. It’s not a coincidence that Albuquerque’s population more than tripled from 1937 to 1950, and doubled again from 1950 to 1960. A straight east-west road fueled that growth.