Friday, August 25, 2017

Ghosts of Arizona Route 66 and the Santa Fe Transcon - Part 1

Through a series of fortuitous vacations, I was able to explore much of Historic Route 66 in Arizona and as a result, I was able to see first hand the famed Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Transcon.  The Transcon and Route 66 were life partners from Illinois to Southern California, so much so, that images of the Mother Road often featured a train from the railroad that closely followed it for most of its length.  In this three part series, starting in Oatman, Arizona, I want to take you on a tour of the stretch of old 66 that I had the pleasure of exploring.  So grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the journey!

The first stretch of Route 66 that I had the pleasure of touring cemented the love affair I already had with the historic road.  I always knew that the road was instrumental in the westward migration of the folks escaping the Dust Bowl of the Midwest, and that it became a primary artery of travelers in the post World War II economic boom.  What I didn't know before hand was how much of the road still remained and was drivable.  What is really heartbreaking is the lack of concern for the icons of the highway after it was supplanted by the Eisenhower Interstate System that was approved by Congress in the early 1950's.  Thus began it's slow decline into the history books.

Fast forward to October 13, 1984.  The last piece of the puzzle was completed in Williams, Arizona and Highway 66 was officially bypassed for the last time.  Shortly thereafter, on June 26, 1985, the road was decommissioned and Route 66 became a memory.  BUT, the story does not end there!  On February 18, 1987, two brothers in Seligman, Arizona started a movement that has swept the nation - and the world - by storm.  Juan and Angel Delgadillo and a small group of supporters founded the Arizona Route 66 Preservation Foundation and began preserving what was left of the old road.  Seligman is a small town founded by the Santa Fe Railway that sits on the longest remaining contiguous stretch of the road in the country.  This effort in turn started awareness across all 8 states to capture the potential tourist market for the road and each state now has at least one organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of this national treasure.  Many of the old alignments are signed and some have been restored where practical.  It is estimated that over 85% of the original route as it existed at its peak is passable by vehicle in some capacity.  This is where I come in.

On August 21, 2013, my father took me and my family to the old mining town of Oatman, situated along the first alignment of Route 66 in western Arizona.  Though not nearly as large, the town is much like Virginia City in that it is a time capsule frozen in the 1950s.  It looks much like it did when this dangerous stretch of road was bypassed, having been nearly completely abandoned and then reborn as the tourist stop it has become today.  The town is overrun by (mostly) friendly, but wild burros that you can feed as they roam the streets.  These burros are directly descended from the pack mules that the miners brought into the area to work the mines.
Pavement marking found at the north end of Oatman.  Arizona DOT puts these
all along the route throughout the state in addition to a modified shield sign.

The historic Oatman Hotel with one of the famous burros out front.  This hotel
is where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon.  The hotel
is not open, but the bar on the first floor is.
One of Oatman's famous residents poses for a photo on the main street.
Here is my wife feeding one of the burros some carrots we brought along with
us.  You can clearly see she isn't quite sure about this whole thing!
Moments later, I am seen getting surrounded by the group when they realize
I have the bag containing the yummy carrots.

We leave Oatman and continue on to Kingman, where the Santa Fe Transcon cuts through town in a shallow canyon.  Before we get there, we have to go over Sitgreave's Pass, which was the primary reason why this particular stretch was bypassed.  The road is narrow with many sharp curves and nothing more than a short rock and cement curb keeping travelers from tumbling down the mountain.
Here from the bottom of a small wash, we see the road we just traveled down
cut in the hillside.  The narrow road has a lot of ups and downs as well as tight
turns on the way to Sitgreaves Pass from Oatman.  This is part of the original
1926 alignment.
This is the route marker that Arizona uses along its potions of Route 66.  These
often accompany the pavement marking seen earlier.
From the top of Sitgreaves Pass, we can see the road as it heads down the from
the pass.  There is a little bit more of this before the road finally straightens out
at Cool Springs and makes its way to Kingman.
The rest of the trip into Kingman is fairly unremarkable and is made a leisurely pace.  As the old road approaches I-40, it deviates slightly from the original roadbed and takes its place on the south side of the freeway and shortly regains it's original roadbed again.  It is at this junction that the railroad first comes back into view after the road crossed into Arizona from California.  There are several original Santa Fe bridges along the way into Kingman, but only a couple that you can photograph since there aren't many places through Kingman Canyon to pull off the road.

Caught this eastbound train as it crosses one of many Santa Fe bridges in
Kingman Canyon along the western approach into Kingman proper.  The track
in the foreground was built much later than the elevated track in the back.
Kingman, Arizona, like many cities and towns along the Transcon was initially settled by railroad workers.  It was the ideal weather and the surrounding topography that made Kingman ideally suited as a major stop and the town has steadily grown since.  The Santa Fe thought enough of Kingman that when the road started retiring its' 4-8-4 Northern's (think 3751), Kingman was one of the lucky recipients.  The town also received a caboose with the locomotive and both are proudly display across from the historic Powerhouse Visitors Center and Route 66 Museum, right on Route 66.

Sister to famous Santa Fe 3751, 3759 sits quietly in Railroad Park with her
faithful companion in tow as though ready to hit the high iron again.  The
city is proud of its railroad heritage and as is evidenced in this photo, they
keep the engine quite sharply dressed.  The person standing in front of the
fourth driver is my dad and he is just shy of 6' tall.
A few blocks east sits the beautifully restore Santa Fe station, which coincidentally is the third such building the city has had.  The first two were constructed of wood in the early 1900s but sadly, both were lost to fire, so number three was constructed of concrete.  After years sitting derelict and in disrepair, the city began a campaign to restore the building and have done a wonderful job.  The station hosts the daily Southwest Chief and is home to a lovely railroad museum.  There is no ticket agent in Kingman, and the train only stops for passengers without checked baggage, but that may change in the future if Kingman keeps experiencing the growth it has enjoyed over the last few years.

The western end of the Kingman station.
The eastern end.
Thus ends part one of my Route 66 adventure.  In the next installment, I will take you along as I explore the stretch of road between Kingman and Seligman.  Until next time!

-Matt Liverani

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