Angel Delgadillo approaches 40th anniversary of his Route 66 guardian role

The Arizona Republic — which is the state’s largest newspaper — recently published a lengthy feature about Angel Delgadillo, now known as the Guardian Angel of Route 66.

Delgadillo, 90, is approaching the 40th anniversary of a date that caused him great sorrow. That date also laid the foundation for great joy.

The date is Sept. 22, 1978 — 2:30 p.m., to be exact — when about 9,000 vehicles a day along Route 66 just outside of his barber shop dropped to almost zero. That’s because an Interstate 40 bypass around his hometown of Seligman, Arizona, opened that day.

“And then there was nothing. We were forgotten. Left to die,” Delgadillo told the newspaper.

But the seeming abandonment of Route 66 set a course for Delgadillo to tirelessly lobby the state to designate old Route 66 from Seligman to Kingman as a historic highway. He shepherded the formation of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona in 1987, then the Arizona Route 66 Fun Run a year later.

He and his barber shop, which was partly converted into Angel and Vilma’s Original Route 66 Gift Shop, became destinations for Route 66 travelers from all over the world.

Decades later, he continues to enthusiastically greet tourists, pose for photographs and, if he’s not too busy, offer a shave or a haircut.

The article is the best about Delgadillo I’ve read. A few nuggets of information worth passing along:

  • Delgadillo’s family said it has documented about 1,200 interviews he’s given over the years.
  • He said his barber shop was one of only four businesses that stayed after the I-40 bypass.
  • He managed to put three children through college during those lean times, despite making only $11,000 a year at one point.
  • The first Fun Run attracted 150 cars its first year. It now typically draws 900 or more.

The newspaper also reported the number of times Delgadillo has traveled from Seligman is less than a dozen.

Delgadillo has never been to the California Adventure theme park to see Cars Land. He has no intention of visiting Radiator Springs, a Route 66 town inspired by Seligman and crafted by Disney Imagineers.

Why bother when he can look out his front door and see the real thing?

(Image of Angel Delgadillo in his barbershop in Seligman, Arizona, in 2010 by Al R via Flickr)

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