Restorers want a new generation of riders to get their kicks on Route 66

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The Independent US

Much of it has been covered by multi-lane freeways or bypassed and left to crumble into disuse but stretches of Route 66, the famed highway immortalised in song, are being renovated and revived in an attempt to preserve a vital part of American history.

Much of it has been covered by multi-lane freeways or bypassed and left to crumble into disuse but stretches of Route 66, the famed highway immortalised in song, are being renovated and revived in an attempt to preserve a vital part of American history.

The nostalgia-driven movement has led to the rebirth of landmark buildings along the road, and Route 66-related souvenirs and trinkets are flooding onto the market to celebrate the famed highway that John Steinbeck called "the Mother Road". Although some of the trinkets tend to be tacky, they are part of the efforts to restore and commemorate the route, which had its 75th anniversary three years ago.

"We want to save an important piece of Americana for generations to come," said David Knudson, co-founder of the National Historical Route 66 Foundation in Tujunga, California. "Route 66 was once a 2,400-mile carnival. There were all sorts of exciting things to draw you off the road - everything from freak shows to lion heads to motorcycle races. Now it is disappearing before our very eyes."

There are Route 66 associations in each of the eight states through which the highway passes and Route 66 museums have been established in several states but the main restoration efforts are centred in California, where the highway ends at the Pacific Ocean on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

The last single-screen drive-in cinema in Los Angeles County, which closed three years ago and was destined for the wrecking ball, has had its imposing façade preserved; and ageing motels and restaurants, which once thrived but have struggled to survive in recent years have been given facelifts and new leases of life.

The very first McDonald's restaurant, in San Bernardino, has been converted into a museum, and there are plans for a Route 66 Hall of Fame.

"Route 66 has a mystique about it that we're trying to capture," said Brad Buller, a city planner for Rancho Cucamonga, a town on the historic highway.

To many it came to represent the romance of the open road, and each year thousands of vintage car enthusiasts from around the country converge on San Bernardino for the Route 66 Rendezvous and car rally. The city is now searching for a home for a "Cruisin' Hall Of Fame."

The highway, which runs from Chicago to Santa Monica, started as a string of mostly gravel and dirt country roads that stretched from the top of Illinois down through Missouri, across the south-east corner of Kansas and through Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California.

It brought Depression era and Dust Bowl refugees to California by the tens of thousands in the 1930s and was a main artery for troops and material heading for the Pacific theatre in the Second World War. During America's prosperous post-war years it provided a colourful backdrop for billions of miles of holiday trips and billions of rolls of photographs but it fell on hard times when interstate highways robbed it of its traffic and led to the closure of many of the roadside attractions.

Supporters hope that the renewal of Route 66 tourism will breathe new life into the restoration groups efforts in the towns and villages once joined by the road that was also known as the Will Rogers Highway and, more fancifully, Main Street of America.

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