Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 and fully paved by the late 1930s. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, creating connections between hundreds of small towns and providing a trucking route through the Southwest. While not the first long-distance highway, or the most traveled, Route 66 gained fame beyond almost any other road. Dubbed the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, Route 66 carried hundreds of thousands of Depression-era migrants from the Midwest who went to California hoping for jobs and a better life.
“How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him–he has known a fear beyond every other.”
– The Grapes of Wrath
“Like the pioneer days, when they outfitted at St. Louis for all points in the West and Southwest, so today people traveling by auto . find themselves coming to St. Louis over the various U.S. roads, and when arriving in St. Louis, by consulting their map, find U.S. 66 is the most direct road to the Pacific coast and likewise to all points in the great Southwest.
“I challenge anyone to show a road of equal length that traverses more scenery, more agricultural wealth, and more mineral wealth than does U.S. 66.”
In the 1930s, drought and falling crop prices drove thousands of rural midwestern families to leave their farms and follow Route 66 to California to find work. James F. and Flossie Haggard left Oklahoma in 1935 after a fire destroyed their barn and its contents. The Haggards and their children, Lillian and James Lowell, made their home near Bakersfield, and James found work with the Santa Fe Railway. Another son, Merle, was born in Bakersfield and began his singing career there. By the 1960s Merle Haggard was a country
– American on the Move
I am just an old country boy in a big town trying to get along. I have been eating pretty regular and the reason I have been is because I have stayed an old country boy.
– John Steinbeck
The difference between our rich and poor grows greater every year. Our distribution of wealth is getting more uneven all the time. A man can make a million and he is on every page in the morning. But it never tells you who gave up that million he got. You can’t get money without taking it from somebody.
– John Steinbeck
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