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American road trip

America's historic Route 66 fascinates visitors from other countries.

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The 1969 movie, "Easy Rider," and more recently the 2006 animated feature, "Cars," featured the old road, too.

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Friendly locals along the road

Of course, it isn't just the road, it's the communities and access to the people who live along it that overseas visitors feel is part of the draw as they drive across eight states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California) and through three time zones. Add scenery that includes forests, prairies, desert, and mountains, plus the promise of a journey of a lifetime, and many feel it is a package hard to resist.

Persson says that as soon as she stopped to take pictures and talk to the locals, she knew exactly what Route 66 was all about. "It's the people. The more people we talked to the more fulfilling our trip was."

Mom-and-pop diners and 1940s-style motels still thrive along the route.

At Skippy's Route 66 restaurant in tiny Leasburg, Mo., Denise Basham goes out of her way to engage international visitors in conversation and to make them feel welcome. She recalls four men from Spain who spoke no English. She had no idea what they wanted to eat until one said, "Moo!" "I brought out a hamburger and a steak, and they pointed to the steak. I added French fries and a salad and everyone was happy," she says.

Original stretches of pavement predominate as cherished vacation memories. Persson says her favorite part was a section in Oklahoma that dated from the 1930s. "It is the longest preserved stretch of all of 66. I just loved driving it," she says.

Motorcycles are a popular way to make the journey. One-way rentals of a Harley-Davidsons are big business at the EagleRider Motorcycle Rental in Chicago, where about 60 percent of the customers for the Route 66 trip are foreigners.

Mr. French, the English motorcyclist, says that a trip on Route 66 had long been a dream of his. And because his wife had read "The Grapes of Wrath," she was eager to go, too.

In Springfield, Mo., Dominick Cricchio, who manages the sale of clothing at Denney's Harley-Davidson store, says that he's had visits by several groups of at least 50 motorcyclists from Norway.

"Last year we had a group of 10 from Mexico," he adds. "Instead of stopping for repairs, most want to buy dealership patches and pins or T-shirts to show where they were. One group of Japanese riders stopped to trade pins and patches."

A famous Englishman also made the trip in 2008. Paul McCartney drove the entire route, leaving a legacy of memories at the Route 66 stops he made.

Yet one of the more unusual contingents to make the trip were 10 men and women from England who shipped five Austin 7's to the US and drove the highway at 50 m.p.h. in the vintage cars. One of the couples enjoyed the adventure so much that they returned to do it again in 2008 – but in a full-size rental car.