Route 66 sign
Route 66: History, Myth and Memory

Zach Senger's Project

Gas Stations Diners Motels Attractions Museums Cruisers Merchandise Interviews
Patriotism
 

Doug Dukeman Ford Festiva club had an annual meet in St. Louis, MO.  Many people from across the country showed up to partake in the event.  It was a two-day event; on Friday they had a photo shoot, in front of the arch, down by the casino, and by the waterfront.  That night they had dinner.  The next day the group caravanned on the interstate, and eventually stopped for a picture of everyone who attended.    Doug keeps in contact with everyone he met through their website www.fordfestiva.com

 

This is a picture of one of Brian’s mustangs.  It is a GT Mustang, which stands for Grand Touring.  He has modified his car to his aesthetic appeal.  The hood is raised to allow for a larger motor, which would in turn make his car quicker or faster.  The wheels have been customized for visual appeal as well as performance lightweight wheels.

 
Burnout


Cruising 66  
    

Route 66, the mother road, the lifeblood of America; the road has been called a lot of things, and over time it has become a very nostalgic piece of asphalt.  This nostalgia started in the very young stages of the roads life, when author John Steinbeck called it “the mother road” in his book the Grapes of Wrath.  The road helped the country grow greatly economically during the 30’s and the 40’s, until the introduction of the interstate highways in the 50’s (Krim 1990).  After the introduction of the interstate, the roads use died off as a commercial route, and developed into one of family vacation and became a popular cruise road.  The cruising part of the road is the focus of my research.  I want to know what makes cruising popular today?  Why have car festivals and car hobbies, such as racing and cruising, replaced the family road trip?  To understand these questions I will need to break these down further and understand the cultural background of racing, cruising, cars, and the family trip. 
      

The family vacation was a very popular idea from the late 40’s to the early 70’s.  Route 66 was not used as much from the 50’s onward with the development of the interstate, but that did not kill the road.  Much the opposite, the road has become an icon of America.  There has been songs wrote about the road, the car industry has boomed along side Route 66’s hay day.  The route has been very influential.  So once these families stopped using the road for family vacations, it transformed into a cruising road.  Today it is very popular with bikers, and car enthusiasts.  People speak of traveling the road as almost a pilgrimage, that every biker or car enthusiast must take once.  Doug Dukeman expressed interest in traversing the road from start to finish sometime in his life. 
      

The group that makes up bikers and car enthusiasts is mostly males.  To understand this interest that males with loud bikes and cars, one must look into the culture that these American males grew up in.  To this I look to the play items that were used by young boys.  Socially boys play with toy cars or soldiers.  As well as the teenage boy turning 16 is a very huge deal for boys.  This early exposure to cars is likely a reason that men primarily dominate these cruises.  As Brian stated in his interview most people at car cruises are forty-year-old males, who have the money to finally buy the car they played with or sought after as a child or teenager.  It could be theorized then that the 50’s 60’s generation are at the point financially that they can afford their “toy cars.”
      

The car industry had a large pick up twice during the height of Route 66.  First was in the late forties early fifties; then again in the middle to late sixties (Motortrend 2008).  The first one came after the war, but before the building of the interstate.  There was a great need for cars, and soldiers were rebuilding their families, and spending money on vacations.  The second boost was after the introduction of the interstate, but by this time the Route had become nostalgic and was a popular cruising road for both families and cruisers.  Current day cruisers tend to favor cars from the forties, fifties, and sixties, to take to cruise events, they may actually be taking the car that their family took on vacations, and turning it into a cruiser car.  By growing up around these automobiles, it must have had a social impact on their choice later in life.  In a way when they cruise the Route they are bringing back the past by getting into their 60’s car and driving a road from that time. 
      

Racing is another facet of the car culture in America.  Drag racing, Nascar, street racing, and burnouts, all are popular among car enthusiasts.  Both interviewees spoke about burnouts; I have included this as a themed page and have links to videos on that page.  It is the need to compete for these people, to test their vehicle against the other.  This probably comes from childhood play, as boys are always competitive when playing with other boys.  Whether it is a game of tag or hide and seek, or a foot race, young boys are always testing each other.   This competitiveness just carries over into later life and transforms into car racing.  The loud exhausts that cars have could be a replacement of young boys loudness while playing.  When they race they want to be heard, they want to be the loudest, so that people will remember their car.  There is a great deal of pride on the line during some races.  Brian spoke about car rivalry in his interview.  Some of the biggest drag races of the year are between certain manufacturers such as Ford and Chevrolet.  The rivalry between these cars is comparable to that of a Red Sox and Yankees baseball rivalry.  Here is a link to the message forum that Doug Dukeman spoke about in his interview, www.fordfestiva.com.  Drag racing gathers huge numbers at events some as large as 150,000 people.  And as Doug and Brian both stated; men, who normally bring their spouses, primarily dominate these events. 
      

Car festivals are another huge part of cruising.  Doug and Brian both stated how they’ve been to the Mother Road festival in Springfield, Illinois.  The number of cars attending that event is greater than 6,000.  All makes and models attend this event, and people come from all over the world (Sommerville 2002).  These large cruising events are difficult to understand exactly their cultural significance.  But my theory is based on the social aspect of these events.  The human race is a very social animal and these events are solely events full of socializing.   Social interaction is the biggest draw at these events; people love to talk to other car enthusiasts who are eager to hear the story behind their car.  Brian and Doug both expressed in their interviews, how you would meet people and become friends with a certain group and eat dinner with year after year.  This event is a four-day event where people sit at their car and talk to the passer bys who are examining their car.  The cars are always in immaculate condition for the event.  And the car owner’s just love telling the story of where they found their car and how much work they’ve put into rebuilding it from nothing to what it is today.  There is a great amount of pride with each car owner when they’ve built a car from nothing.  I can remember many times asking about a car and listening intently hoping one day I would have the funds to rebuild a classic car of my own.  Another aspect of cruiser festivals is the patriotism attached to them, I will explain that in a themed essay.
      

In conclusion, cruising on Route 66 is popular today for a number of reasons.  First the nostalgia of the road only adds to the experience.  Both of my interviewee’s expressed interest in the history of the road and how that was a major reason for their interest, it is what sets it aside from other roads.  The family road trip across America seems to have died down, when I hear of families traveling now it is by air, or to some large attraction like Disney World.  The family vacation has been replaced by short cruise trips, centered around just driving on a road perhaps Route 66, with no particular final destination, but to just experience the cruise and enjoy the scenery.  The social aspect of these cruises makes them insanely popular.  People love to share their story with fellow car people; it makes the experience memorable and very enjoyable to share their knowledge with others.  Another facet of cruises popularity is the competitiveness.  While still remaining friendly with each other, car enthusiasts build their cars to race each other in a competitive race.  Or they shine their car up, to try to win over the judges to see who has the cleanest and most customized car.  And lastly Route 66 wouldn’t be what it is today without the car industries, most notably the American companies Ford and Chevrolet.  Without their business rivalry compelling the other to make better cars year after year for the enthusiast to enjoy, there would not be any cruises or races or loud vehicles.  They are what make Route 66 the “auto river” (Krim 1992). 


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