This year, the July 4th holiday had me thinking about the heroes who gave so much for our county—and the heroes who have done so much for Route 66, the most famous road in America. The heroes of Route 66 include mom and pop business owners, community leaders, Route 66 association leaders, artists, authors, historians, Route 66 media, and many others. And few other historic places have such a loyal and committed fan club of active enthusiasts and experts as the Route 66 roadies. Thanks to the commitment of these passionate and dedicated heroes—many of whom have contributed their time and resources as volunteers—much of Route 66 survives today. Other authentic Route 66 places have escaped demolition and still have a chance of being saved and revitalized in the future. Public awareness and consciousness of Route 66 has never been higher.
While there are too many Route 66 heroes to mention them all, I’d like to highlight just a few.
The Father of Route 66, Cyrus Avery, helped create Route 66 in the mid-1920s, and he established the U.S. Highway 66 Association during his time as a board member of the Federal Highway System. This Tulsa businessman knew that a connected interstate system of highways would help communities along the Route prosper, but it’s unclear if he could have foreseen the national and international interest that has endured even after the road was decommissioned in 1985.
Angel Delgadillo, a barber from Seligman, Arizona has been called the “Guardian Angel” of Route 66 for his pioneering efforts to advocate “Historic Route 66” signage shortly after the road was decommissioned, and for his tireless work as the main founder of the Route 66 Association of Arizona. Following Arizona’s example, all eight Route 66 states now have a state Route 66 association. Through the work of these associations, numerous historic buildings have been saved, businesses have been revitalized, and travelers have been supported over three decades of dedicated and passionate efforts.
As the founder of the National Historic Route 66 Federation, David Knudsen and his wife Mary Lou helped to support the knowledgeable and dedicated roadies who have prepared detailed travel guides and maps to document the road and make it possible for travelers to navigate the route. Likewise, he has supported thousands of domestic and international visitors by making these publications available to travelers. The multi-day events he helped produce continue as annual Route 66 festivals. Significantly, David rallied roadies in the late 1990s to contact Congress to get the National Route 66 Preservation Bill passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
In 1990, Tulsa-based writer and historian Michael Wallis authored the seminal book, Route 66: The Mother Road, to commemorate the route's 75th anniversary, though he may be more well-known to younger audiences as the voice of the Sheriff in Pixar's Cars. Michael’s inspirational and poetic descriptions of Route 66 have been critical to its success, setting the stage for its revitalization over the past few decades
More recently, new heroes have emerged to help address the threat created with the pending expiration of the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. Through the work of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership and others, efforts to support the designation of Route 66 as a National Historic Trail are underway and gaining support. This permanent federal designation will reinforce the efforts of Route 66’s heroes to recognize and sustain this iconic American road.
These are just a few of the many heroes who have dedicated their time and efforts to Route 66, and it is through their collective efforts that the route was created and survives today. We hope that their legacy will inspire a future generation of new Route 66 heroes, who will continue their good work to preserve, promote, and revitalize this American legend. To honor and support the Route 66 heroes of the past, present, and future, we hope you will join the National Trust in supporting the creation of a well-deserved National Historic Trail designation by checking out our road campaign and signing our petition.