The Mother Road from John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath told the story of thousands of Americans fleeing drought and poverty in Oklahoma and Texas during The Great Depression as they traveled west along Route 66 in search of a better life.
Known as the “Father of Route 66” Cyrus Avery (1871-1963), a Tulsa businessman who journeyed west from Pennsylvania by covered wagon to Missouri, was later involved in founding the U.S. Highway 66 Association to increase tourism on the roadway that was nicknamed the “Main Street of America”. Today various parts of Route 66 have been preserved in different cities along the route from Chicago to Santa Monica, California (through eight states) for 2,400 miles.
What helped make the highway famous occurred in 1946 when singer Nat King Cole scored a hit single with “Get Your Kicks on Route 66″. The song was written by Bobby Troup while traveling on Route 66. Back in the day, Route 66 was the shortest year-round route between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast, and reduced the distance of travel by more than 200 miles.
The route symbolized freedom and mobility for those that ventured across U.S. by car. For American servicemen, Route 66 represented an icon of free-spirited independence and became the essence of the American highway culture. To further a tribute to the highway the TV show “Route 66” aired from 1960-1964 and told the tale of two drifters traveling in a Corvette encountering various situations.
Although Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, millions of people feel that the glory days of a Route 66 trip remain in their thoughts and want to revisit some of the preserved structures and landmarks that are visible along the route.
To maintain“The American symbol of travel and seeking a better life,” Congress passed Public Law 101-400 The Route 66 study Act of 1990, recognizing the importance of Route 66. To further recognize the Route 66 legacy on September 16-17, 2022, the Greater Ontario Visitors and Convention Bureau organized the 9th Annual Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion, a free event covering 22 blocks of the tree-shaded Euclid Avenue in Ontario, California.
Over 1,000 classic cars rolled into downtown Ontario with 150,000 car enthusiasts admiring classic Mustangs, ‘Vettes, hot rods, motorcycles and trucks. The oldest cars that cruised the tree-lined route were a 1914 Buick, and a 1924 Model T that won Best in Class. It was two-days of cruising, contests, live music (Jefferson Starship and Shelia E), food vendors, games, and a 75-foot high Ferris wheel.
Besides looking forward to coming to this event for the classic cars, especially cars of the ‘50s, I always arrive about dinner time on Friday to have a meal at Gloria’s Cocina on the corner of D Street and Euclid Avenue. At the same time of my dinner the cars started to line up on Euclid so I approached a ’55 Chevy Bel Air owned by Sam Landeros from Victorville, California.
“We drove the car from the desert and she drives like a champ, like a Cadillac. Its an automatic with a little Chevy 350 engine with a 350 tranny,” Landeros told me. “I’ve had the car since ’93 and have done the body, the paint and basically 90 percent of the work but a friend, Billy Hernandez did the interior, and all old school.
“In the ‘60s I had a ’55 Chevy Hardtop going to High School and I’ve always loved the cars of the ‘50s. I worked in a gas station as a young man and cleaned the windows, checked the oil and even pumped gas and it was a joy to communicate with all the people. I think we’ve lost that human connection with people and that’s what I miss in this technical world.”
The Route 66 Cruisin’ was a celebration of America’s love affair with the automobile and a tribute to the Mother Road.