Day 6: A Taste of Route 66, Oklahoma

It was getting late by the time we crossed into Oklahoma, so we decided we would keep driving even after it gets dark, then look for a hotel somewhere beyond Tulsa. This way we could continue our slow exploration of the old road. Oklahoma’s 400 miles of Route 66 contain more of the original alignments than any other state, and we wanted to experience as much of that as we could.

The differeing “alignments” of Route 66 are the result of years of “highway improvement” that changed the road’s actual path to eliminate sharp turns and railroad crossings, or to avoid traffic congestion in major metropolitan areas. Of the original 2,400 miles, its estimated that 80-85% are still driveable overall.

As we entered Commerce, the light was so perfect we had to stop to photograph the restored Conoco station, even though it was closed. We were focused on the rusted frame of an old Model-T, when we heard a man calling to us from the street.

He greeted us, then began to tell us a little about the town’s history, inviting us into the open Dairy King across the way. He told the story of middle America — local heros, boom and bust, the American dream. Showing us a few photos of what this street once looked like in black-and-white, he spoke of Bonnie and Clyde (read more about the duo: “The Outlaw as Folk Hero”), and how their Ford got stuck in the mud nearby back in the 1930s. The outlaw duo tried to stop a passing motorist at gunpoint, but the driver got around them and went to the police. When Police Chief Percy Boyd and Constable Cal Cambell got to the scene, Campbell was shot and Boyd was kidnapped (and later let go).

As we left the Dairy King, he offered us some of their homemade Route 66 cookies, in the shape of the shield and frosted with the 66 emblem. We thought for a second about keeping one as a souvenir, but they were too delicious! There wasn’t even a crumb left by the time we were rolling again.

Waving good-bye, “Silly Squirrel” made a really good observation, noting how people here seemed to really hold onto their history, safeguarding the past, but also enthusiastically sharing it with visitors.

We set out to find a stretch of the old road known as the “Sidewalk Highway.” According to directions, we would find it somewhere around Miami (Oklahoma not Florida). Only nine feet wide, it was an original paved section of the earliest alignment of Route 66. I had really been looking forward to driving this segment, and was glad when we easily spotted the narrow road with the distinctive white curbs. This piece of history took us between some farm fields, and we were lucky there was no one coming the other way, as our Jeep seemed to take up the entire width of the road.

We could imagine it crowded with an unending line of cars as families fleeing the dustbowl moved west in the 1930s. If one car broke down, the whole thing would have been blocked, bringing all movement to a standstill. How could they have made a “federal highway” this narrow?

It seems that the Oklahoma Department of Highways, which was responsible for the parts of Route 66 that ran through their state, had decided to build it this way. Original blueprints show plans for both a standard eighteen-foot roadway and the nine-foot roadway. One often-repeated story suggests that there was not enough funding to pave the whole length of road at the “normal” width, but by making it only 9 feet wide, it could be paved in its entirety.

The sun was setting as we drove into Vinita, and we realized that we were hungry. We had such a great drive day we had actually forgotten to eat lunch!!! Luckily Clanton’s Cafe with it’s enormous “EAT” sign was right there. We didn’t hesitate. And we made sure to order some ice cold Route Beer with our meal. By the time we finished dinner it was dark. We would have to miss Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park in Foyil, and the Blue Whale in Catoosa, too! We drove on into the night straight through Tulsa…


More from Oklahoma Route 66:
NOTES FROM THE ROAD: A Taste of Route 66 Oklahoma | The Endless Horizon on Route 66, Oklahoma | Ghosts on the Edge of Route 66, Oklahoma
REFLECTIONS & OTHER THINGS: The Outlaw as American Folk Hero | In Search of Ghosts
PRACTICAL MATTERS: Camping Across America | Review: Clanton’s Cafe | Museums on the Road
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL: Portfolio: Route 66 Oklahoma

Back to Kansas | Complete Trip Log | Start at the Beginning

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