The answer: Yes. It sits on an obscure and short-lived alignment of Route 66 from the 1920s. More on this later.
Although the Big Texan no longer sits on Route 66, it began on Amarillo Boulevard (aka Route 66) in 1960 and often shows its Mother Road roots in the gift shop and decor. It moved to Interstate 40 during the early 1970s after Route 66 was bypassed.
I later received this message from West Texas A&M University marketing professor and Route 66 researcher Nick Gerlich:
A solid argument can be made that the current Big Texan sits on or adjacent to the 1926-1928 alignment, which followed 18th Ave SE in from Washburn. The current freeway obscures much of that now, but the BT is one of few businesses to be able to say it has sat on two different alignments.
I never had heard of this. I knew of the U.S. 287 alignment that was Route 66 from 1926 to 1928. But my online sources indicated it went at least a half-mile north of where the Big Texan is now.
Intrigued, I emailed Route 66 researcher Jerry McClanahan. He wrote “Route 66: EZ Guide for Travelers” and co-wrote the “Here It Is!” Route 66 map set. I asked whether the Big Texan sits on an old alignment of 66. He replied:
Yep. 66 entered Amarillo from the east via what became US 287 during that time frame. […] I am not 100% sure at the moment about whether the NORTH frontage road of I-40 on Amarillo’s east side is the exact early alignment. I strongly suspect it is, and I think I have a way to check when I manage to get the time!
But the early route is definitely in the I-40 footprint past the current Texan.
McClanahan directed me to the Spring 1997 issue of Route 66 Magazine. In his article, “The Claude Controversy,” McClanahan investigated whether early U.S. 66 went through Claude, Texas east of Amarillo (answer: probably not). Adding to the confusion is the routing of U.S. 66 changed four times in five years in the area during the 1920s.
McClanahan’s article included a map of how alignments of Route 66 — real and hypothetical — would have gone from Jericho, Texas, to Amarillo during the 1920s.
To follow 1926-28 westbound Route 66 in the region, from Washburn you would take Interstate 40 from U.S. 287, exit at northbound South Grand Street, turn left onto westbound 10th Avenue, turn right on northbound Fillmore Street, then turn left on westbound Sixth Avenue, which finally becomes the traditional and longtime pathway of Route 66 through Amarillo.
Gerlich said he also found other evidence of the 1920s version of Route 66 going that way through Amarillo:
… A couple of years ago I found an old abandoned motor court on SE 10th in Amarillo, further evidence that the street carried long-distance travelers … just like Jerry said. The Fairgrounds nearby were also built around 1926, so the town had already grown that way.
This is the kind of stuff that could be the ultimate Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up argument.
One could have argued the Big Texan during the early 1970s abandoned its Route 66 roots on Amarillo Boulevard to survive on Interstate 40. Unwittingly, the Big Texan ended up on Route 66 after all. And its upcoming new place a mile or so west of there will stay on the Mother Road as well.
(Image of the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, by Travis Simon via Flickr)