Whatever Happened To...?

'America's Main Street' Has Faded From Maps, Not Memory

John Steinbeck called it the "Mother Road" in "The Grapes of Wrath." Popular culture has dubbed it "America's Main Street." But since 1984, Route 66 - long romanticized as the link from East to West - has existed only in memory.

The most famous of the two-lane federal highways of the 1920s, Route 66 slowly became an impractical relic in an age of multilane megahighways. By the 1970s, Route 66 had been replaced by five interstates, and in 1984 it was officially decommissioned when the final section was replaced by I-40 in Arizona.

But the road's impact stretches far beyond practicality. It became a unique part of Americana in the 1950s - a place where you could visit tepee motels, a Cadillac Ranch, a meteor crater, and have countless adventures through eight states. The road inspired a hit television show in the '60s and a perennially popular song of the same name, recorded by musicians such as Nat (King) Cole and the Rolling Stones.

As the first continuously paved road between Los Angeles and Chicago, Route 66 witnessed the migration of thousands to California during the Depression and the transformation of the West from a frontier to a vital part of the US.

Many fans of the road have formed associations in all the states through which it passes, dedicated to preserving its history through newsletters and Internet sites. They also help provide picnic areas, historical sites, and classic-car driving events along the old route. There are even associations in Europe and Japan, and some members have shipped their cars from Germany to drive on the famous road.

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