Sad anniversary

A turtle crosses an old alignment of Route 66 west of Glenrio, on the Texas-New Mexico border.

On this day in 1985, the government decertified U.S. Highway 66.

While the move was largely symbolic — the last stretch of the original Route 66 had been bypassed by I-40 eight months earlier in Williams, Ariz. — it formalized the end of an era.

Remnants of a long-dimmed neon sign advertising a long-shuttered motel on Route 66 in San Jon, N.M.

Route 66 was certified as a federal highway on Nov. 11, 1926. Its path and numeric designation both came about through the influence of Tulsa’s own Cyrus Stephens Avery, a forward-thinking highway commissioner who pushed for an all-weather route linking Chicago to Los Angeles.

The new road was an instant success — but, ironically, it became a victim of that success. As its popularity grew, so did the number of fatal accidents, eventually earning the highway the nickname “Bloody 66,” and by the time President Dwight Eisenhower took office, it had become apparent that Route 66, with its blind curves and narrow lanes, simply couldn’t handle the volume of traffic passing over it.

In 1956, Eisenhower — impressed by Germany’s Autobahn system — signed the Interstate Highway Act, marking the rise of the superhighways and the beginning of the Mother Road’s demise. By the 1970s, Route 66 was all but obsolete, and its decertification in 1985 was little more than a formality that confirmed what the people who lived and worked along its shoulders already knew: America’s Main Street as they knew it was dead.

John's Modern Cabins, near Newburg, Mo., was a victim of the interstates.

Or was it?

In 1988, a barber named Angel Delgadillo, fed up with the decline of his once-vibrant hometown of Seligman, Ariz., launched a successful campaign to have Route 66 declared an historic highway. New signage went up, a marketing effort began, and Delgadillo — better known to roadies as “the Guardian Angel of Route 66″ — became an attraction unto himself as tourists flocked to his barbershop-turned-visitors-center to buy souvenirs and hear stories of a bygone era.

Angel Delgadillo led the effort to keep 66 alive.

Meanwhile, in Europe, moviegoers in love with the film Bagdad Cafe — set on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert – and fans of the old route66 television series began planning trips to the United States to see the fabled highway, and here in Tulsa, author Michael Wallis was about to hit the bestseller list with his 1990 book Route 66: The Mother Road, which he describes as a “love letter” to 66. A revival had begun.

Today, the Mother Road isn’t as busy as she once was, and some of her treasures have vanished over time, but her popularity increases every year as more and more travelers ”get their kicks” on “the highway that’s the best.”

The Campbell Hotel is proud to be part of Tulsa’s Route 66 heritage. Before you make that California trip, give us a call at (918) 744-5500 or visit us online at to reserve a night in our beautiful Route 66 Suite, which honors that heritage with artwork and artifacts celebrating the old highway.

Give us a little lead time to plan for your visit, and we’ll even give you a tour of Tulsa’s share of Route 66. We look forward to seeing you!

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