US Route 66 was opened in 1926 and was one of the original national highways. It ran a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km) from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. It is well known in popular culture as the Mother Road, and as the Main Street of America. It was the primary migration route for impoverished workers who went west during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, many from the state of Oklahoma.
During its prime the volume of traffic on Highway 66 generated revenue for many towns along its path. Beginning in 1957 a revised system of interstate highways began to replace the older roads, many of which had been pieced together from existing routes and tended to wander. They went through the center of towns along the way bringing revenue to the towns but causing the travel time to increase. The interstate highways tended to bypass the population centers saving time but drying up revenue. Route 66 was officially discontinued in 1985 although much of the original highway remains as state highways.
Many of the attractions along the way have become well known in popular culture. Today Smokey and I visited a few of Tulsa's route 66 icons.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa was built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift to his wife Zelta, who collected whale figurines. The Blue Whale and its pond became a favorite swimming hole for both locals and travelers along Route 66 alike.
Originally, the pond surrounding the massive Blue Whale was spring fed and intended only for family use. However, as many locals began to come to enjoy its cool waters, Davis brought in tons of sand, built picnic tables, hired life guards, and opened his masterpiece to the public.By 1988, the Davises were not able to continue managing the attraction, so they closed it to the public. In 1990 Mr. Davis died. The park soon fell into disrepair, crumbling from neglect and weather. However, after a decade the people of Catoosa and employees of the Hampton Inn launched a fund-raising and volunteer effort to restore the Route 66 landmark. The Blue Whale was restored and repainted to its original brilliant blue. The adjacent picnic area has also been restored. It is no longer available for swimming but visitors are welcome to take pictures.
All along the highway were many restaurants and motels to provide food and lodging to weary travelers. Tally's is typical of these diners and still serves great food, just the way they used to.
Route 66 traverses Tulsa east to west for 24 miles, running along 11th Street until it crosses the Arkansas River and becomes Southwest Boulevard. in the 1930s a large neon sign was erected on top of a building at 11th and Lewis advertising Meadow Gold milk. It was a beacon that could be seen for miles from both directions, especially at night. Over the years it fell into disrepair and was dismantled some time in the 1970s. Fortunately the sections were preserved and recently it reappeared on a special structure at 11th and Quaker and is again an 11th street icon.