As they passed through the many towns on their way west they were sure to need 3 things: A place to eat, access to auto repair facilities, and some place to sleep for the night. At every town and village the local population was primed and ready to go. The streets were lined if not with gold, then with plenty of garages, restaurants, and motels. The competition was fierce to cash in on the primary industry, travelers. There was only one way to get to the promised land and that was right down Main Street.
Then President Eisenhower signed legislation to establish the interstate highway system. The existing routes strung together the local roads that connected one town to the next and were seldom laid out in a distance saving straight line. The new highway system was concerned with routing traffic around all the little towns that slowed them down. The result was a highway system that quickly moved traffic across the states, bypassing the towns that had counted on travelers to stay, and eat, and shop, and stay the night. The result was a disaster to the local economies.
The town of Tucumcari New Mexico fit the bill in distance and accommodations to be the stop of choice for many travelers. But in the 1950s the travelers were too few to fill the many restaurants and motels and one by one they began to close. When we passed through Tucumcari in October 2009 there were still a few motels open for business but most were closed with sheets of plywood covering broken windows. The signs permanently read Vacancy as grass grows tall in the seams in sidewalks and parking lots. With few exceptions most of the town looks empty. Population numbers were not easy to find but it appears that the population declined about 17% from 2000 to 2010.
But a hardy few stay on to see that their home town does not become a ghost town. Since 1992 the town has hosted an annual Air Show and in other ways tries to generate activity to keep Tucumcari in the public eye. It still bills itself as "The Gateway to the West"
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