Get­ting kicks with Will

Will Rogers and Route 66 have an in­ter­twined his­tory.

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SUNDAY LIFE - BY MAX NI­CHOLS

From 1892 to 1895, a young man named Will Rogers trav­eled a 40-mile cat­tle trail from his fam­ily ranch near Oolo­gah to Wil­lie Halsell Col­lege, a Methodist board­ing school near Vinita. That trail be­came part of U.S. 66in 1926.

Rogers played a ma­jor role in pub­li­ciz­ing the “Mother Road” with his syn­di­cated news­pa­per col­umns on the 1928 Bu­nion Derby and on Model-T Ford driv­ers rac­ing from Clare­more to Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia, wrote Joseph H. Carter in Route 66 Mag­a­zine.

A con­gres­sional res­o­lu­tion to name Route 66 in honor of Will Rogers was con­sid­ered in 1935 but was not fi­nal­ized. The high­way un­of­fi­cially was dubbed the Will Rogers High­way by the U.S. High­way 66 As­so­ci­a­tion in 1952.

Ok­la­homa’s first Will Rogers mon­u­ment was es­tab­lished in 1999 by the Will Rogers Mon­u­ment Com­mit­tee of Vinita, said Am­ber Eg­nor, of the Vinita Area Cham­ber of Com­merce. His­tor­i­cal mark­ers were placed along Route 66 from Chicago to Los An­ge­les.

The life of Will Rogers and his place in Route 66 his­tory now are show­cased in the Will Rogers Me­mo­rial Mu­seum on a Clare­more hill­side.

‘Cross­roads of Com­merce’

Route 66 also has be­come fa­mous for iconic sites and busi­nesses, which are cel­e­brated by the “Cross­roads of Com­merce: A His­tory of Free En­ter­prise in Ok­la­homa” ex­hibit at the Ok­la­homa His­tory Cen­ter in Ok­la­homa City.

“A con­trast­ing re­ac­tion to the ac­cel­er­at­ing pace of life in the 1960s and 1970s was the grow­ing al­lure of two-lane roads and lost Amer­i­cana,” said Bob Black­burn, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ok­la­homa His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. “Re­in­forced by the fruits of his­toric preser­va­tion at both the na­tional and lo­cal lev­els, a new busi­ness sec­tor emerged that banked on the pub­lic’s at­trac­tion to neon signs, for­got­ten mo­tor courts and road­side at­trac­tions.

“There was no bet­ter place to find those trea­sures than on Route 66, known as the Mother Road or Will Rogers High­way.”

A video in the “Cross­roads of Com­merce” ex­hibit de­scribes iconic sites and busi­nesses along Route 66. One of those busi­nesses, an early way sta­tion in Ok­la­homa, was a two-story stucco struc­ture built in 1929 a few miles east of Weather­ford. The most fa­mous owner was Lucille Ham­mons, who lived there, op­er­ated the ser­vice sta­tion and man­aged the ad­ja­cent mo­tor court. Now known as Lucille’s, the build­ing is vis­i­ble from In­ter­state 40.

Another site on the Will Rogers High­way is the Foyil Totem Pole Park. In 1937, this fa­mous folk art at­trac­tion was de­vel­oped north­east of Clare­more by man­ual arts teacher Ed Gal­loway. The cen­tral totem pole fea­tured a 90-foot-tall piece of painted con­crete on the back of a tur­tle with 200 im­ages of Amer­i­can In­di­ans, sym­bols and an­i­mal fig­ures. The park also in­cludes the Fid­dle House, an 11-sided struc­ture for sell­ing fid­dles to tourists.

Dur­ing the early 1970s, Hugh Davis built Route 66’s iconic Blue Whale next to a spring-fed pond near Ca­toosa. Davis added pic­nic tables, sand beaches and a replica of Noah’s Ark. Over time the Blue Whale fell into dis­re­pair, but in re­cent years, com­mu­nity groups have re­stored this fun road­side at­trac­tion.

In 2007, when Route 66 was gain­ing in­ter­na­tional pop­u­lar­ity, Ok­la­homa oil­man and en­tre­pre­neur Aubrey McClen­don opened a new ad­di­tion to the Will Rogers High­way sight­see­ing list, Pops. De­signed by award-win­ning ar­chi­tect Rand El­liott, Pops fea­tures a mod­ern gas sta­tion, restau­rant, gift shop and event venue.

Pops also fea­tures a 66-foot-tall sculp­tural pop bot­tle, il­lu­mi­nated by LED lights, and a 110-foot can­tilevered canopy.

“In­side, the road theme con­tin­ued with sou­venirs and more than 600 dif­fer­ent pop va­ri­eties for sale, in­clud­ing more than 80 root beers,” Black­burn said. “As Ok­la­homa na­tives McClen­don and El­liott proved, the sub­stance and spirit of Route 66 is still alive.”

His­toric preser­va­tion

The story of Will Rogers High­way, and the ways that his­toric preser­va­tion along Route 66 con­trib­utes to lo­cal economies, can be found in ex­hibits at the Ok­la­homa His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s Ok­la­homa Route 66 Mu­seum in Clin­ton.

One pop­u­lar ex­hibit at the mu­seum is one of the Will Rogers High­way mark­ers at the en­trance. Trav­el­ers en­joy find­ing these mark­ers and stop­ping at each one along the high­way.

“A few years ago, the friends of the Ok­la­homa Route 66 Mu­seum Inc., with the as­sis­tance of Vir­gil Smith, com­pletely re­stored a Valen­tine Diner as a special ex­hibit at the mu­seum,” said Pat Smith, di­rec­tor of the Ok­la­homa Route 66 Mu­seum. “Peo­ple travel Route 66 from across the United States and around the world to see the Ok­la­homa Route 66 Mu­seum, which is the largest mu­seum ded­i­cated to the his­tory and cul­ture of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Mon­ica (Cal­i­for­nia).

“This proves that preser­va­tion along Route 66 en­hances com­mu­nity re­vi­tal­iza­tion, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and sus­tain­able tourism along Amer­ica’s iconic Mother Road.”

“Nos­tal­gia has made va­ca­tion­ing on Route 66 a pop­u­lar pas­time,” Black­burn said. “His­toric preser­va­tion along Route 66 has en­sured that a new gen­er­a­tion can en­joy the sim­ple plea­sures of a road trip, and that lo­cal economies re­main vi­brant.”


ALONG THE ROUTE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A diner scene in­side the Ok­la­homa Route 66 Mu­seum in Clin­ton. [PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY OK­LA­HOMA HIS­TOR­I­CAL SO­CI­ETY] The grounds of the Will Rogers Me­mo­rial. [PHOTO BY PAUL HELLSTERN, THE OK­LA­HOMAN ARCHIVES] The Blue Whale, in Ca­toosa, is along Route


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