6-30 The Politics of Route 66
SANTA FE -- A recent column mentioned the politics of Santa Fe being on, then off, Route 66 in the early days of the road. I admitted most of my information came from old timers reminiscences and invited readers to help straighten me out.
And did I ever get straightened out about how Route 66 got straightened out. Every reader I heard from added something to the story.
Here's how it all seems to come together. In 1926, the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads mapped out a national highway system by cobbling together a maze of existing roads, most of them unpaved. They were pulled together to become highways designated by specific numbers.
All across the nation, states and towns clamored to get the highway system to pass through their areas. The politics everywhere was big time because it meant increased commerce.
Route 66 came into New Mexico from the east, passing through Tucumcari and Santa Rosa. Seven miles west of Santa Rosa the road ended its western path and headed north along present Highway 84 almost to Las Vegas. There it turned west again to Santa Fe.
Some accounts say Route 66 circled the Santa Fe plaza. Another source says it turned a block short at Water Street, headed west to Cerrillos Road and south from there, down the treacherous La Bajada Hill to Albuquerque.
The highway entered Albuquerque on 4th street. Here again, there is disagreement. Some accounts say it turned right on Central Avenue and headed West again.
Others say it continued south to Los Lunas and then angled northwest along the route that now is State Road 6 to join the existing road 25 miles west of Albuquerque.
Another road headed east from Albuquerque to Moriarty. But there was no effort to connect Moriarty to Santa Rosa because Santa Fe politicians wanted the road to come through their city. The detour added some 90 miles and four hours to the trip across the state.
Gov. A.T. Hannett saw the need for connecting Santa Rosa and Moriarty and continued to press the subject at his own political peril. He was defeated for reelection in November 1926 and he blamed the Santa Fe politicians and business community.
As revenge, Hannett marshaled all the equipment and personnel of the Highway Department from throughout the state during his last month in office.
Crews worked from both ends of the 69-mile stretch. They worked double shifts through snow, bitter cold and some sabotage. They didn't even take off for Christmas day. And they finished.
According to one story, the crews ended up with a couple of extra days. The new governor, Richard Dillon, sent his new engineer to stop the construction on Jan. 1 but the weather was bad so he didn't get there until Jan. 3, just in time to see the road opened to traffic.
Dillon was so impressed by the achievement that he kept all the laborers on the state payroll. Those were the days when a new administration meant a total turnover of employees.
Even though Route 66 has been replaced by the Interstate system, it still is celebrated as the Mother Road that brought Midwesterners to the Promised Land of California. It is claimed to be the most fabled highway in the world.
And it refuses to die. The Route 66 Association of New Mexico is holding its first-ever Route 66 Motor Tour of New Mexico, July 23-25. Each community along the way will join in the festivities with car shows, live music, vendors, entertainment and food.
The event is not a race. Participants are free to stop wherever and whenever the mood strikes. All types of vehicles are invited -- autos, motorcycles, travel trailers, bicycles, classic to contemporary.
The tour begins in Tucumcari July 23 with registration, then heads west, ending in Gallup on July 25, with Indian dances, prizes and awards.
More information and registration forms can be obtained by calling 505-831-6317 or by visiting www.rt66nm.org.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org