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home : people : history February 06, 2016

4/3/2013 9:04:00 PM
One for the Oklahoma History Book
By Max J. Nichols Oklahoma Historical Society


Legends of Route 66 have been passed down through generations in stories, songs, books and the preservation of historic sites since 1926, when the famous U.S. highway was started and eventually extended 2,400 miles from Chicago through Tulsa and Oklahoma City to Los Angeles.

Now visitors can enjoy Oklahoma's Historic Route 66 Mobile Tour to hear and read about historic landmarks through their cellphones while traveling the more than 300 miles of Route 66 through Oklahoma. The tour is presented by the Oklahoma Historical Society's State Historic Preservation Office, said Melvena Heisch, director of the State Historic Preservation Office.

Mobile tour stops extend from the Coleman Theater in Miami through landmarks such as the Whittier Square and Blue Dome historic districts in Tulsa and the gold dome Citizens State Bank and Lake Overholser Bridge in Oklahoma City. It continues through the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton and finally the West Winds Motel in Erick and the Magnolia Service Station in Texola.

"The landmarks featured in the 72 stops and stories about them have become part of the heritage of Route 66 and Oklahoma," said Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the OHS. That heritage also is preserved by books such as "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, "Route 66: The Mother Road" by Mike Wallis and "Oklahoma Route 66" by Jim Ross," plus film, television and personal experiences."

Songs such as "Get Your Kicks" by Asleep at the Wheel and "Will Rogers Highway" by Woody Guthrie can be heard at the Route 66 Museum in exhibit galleries that include iconic ideas, images and myths of the "Mother Road," said Pat Smith, director of the Route 66 Museum for the OHS.

"Route 66 linked rural communities to urban ones, permitting an unprecedented flow of ideas and economic growth across the country," said Heisch. "It saw the migration of Dust Bowl refugees, World War II troop movement, the advent of car culture and automobile tourism. It facilitated large-scale settlement of the west.

"The highway has come to symbolize the spirit and freedom of America and the pursuit of the American Dream. Route 66 was decommissioned as a federal highway in 1985, but Oklahomans continue to celebrate the road and its landmarks."

As stretches of Route 66 were widened and paved and as bridges were constructed, Oklahoma's landscape changed, said Heisch. Visitors can learn from various National Register properties included in the mobile tour stops that business establishments often moved to the highway, and a town's development shifted in that direction.

"New businesses to serve travelers grew rapidly," Heisch added, "providing jobs and economic booms to local communities. The development of the inter-state system subsequently drew these same businesses away from Route 66. However, the historic highway continues to add to Oklahoma's overall economy through the business it generates in heritage tourism.

"The result of visitors seeking this special American experience makes it possible to preserve and adapt for new uses of many of the icons that motorists of the mid-20th century saw on family vacations and business trips."

That includes my personal memory of a 1947 trip from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles on Route 66 in my family's 1939 Chevrolet. It was the only extended vacation my parents were able to take while I was growing up in Oklahoma City. We also used to count the variety of license plates on Route 66 near my home.

"For the ultimate Route 66 experience, visitors can enjoy the Route 66 Museum in Clinton," said Pat Smith, director of the museum for the OHS. "The museum galleries have been redesigned to offer visitors a personal journey through the history of the nation's most revered highway.

"Visitors can learn about the dreams and labor needed to make the road a reality. They can experience the Dust Bowl as thousands streamed along the road to the "land of promise." They can listens to sounds of the Big Band Era, the roar of trucks and welcome home cries for soldiers returning home. They can touch the counter and sit in the booth of a 1950s diner. The museum also offers changing special exhibits, focusing on the Route 66 experience."

To access the mobile tour, visitors are asked to call (405) 415-0626 and listen to the brief introduction and instructions, said Heisch. They can enter the stop numbers (1-72) by using a telephone keypad. Visitors will then hear or read the text captioned name, location and a brief narrative for that particular stop. To move to another stop, visitors can enter the number when prompted at the end of a stop narrative.

Also, the list and a map of the stops can be found at www.okhistory.org/route66mobiletour, said Heisch. Visitors using smart phones can link to more about each stop and about Historic Route 66 in general. The tour is made available through the services of OnCell Systems Inc.

This remarkable Historic Route 66 Mobile Tour, said Blackburn, brings a whole new life to visitors who want to relive the road that made a huge difference in the lives of generations who developed Oklahoma.





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