The road out West was scorching, but memorable

Route 66 journeys a part of childhood

Note: Kingman is the third Route 66 city Miner reporter Hubble Ray Smith has called home. He offers these memories as Kingman prepares to celebrate the International Route 66 Festival.

My true introduction to the Mother Road came when my dad quit his job and informed us that we were moving to California.

He was a hard-working country man who did his best to break away from the farm, enlisting in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and then returning to Illinois and taking a job as a truck driver for a rendering company.

One day, after nearly 20 years with the company, when he was in charge of fleet maintenance, my dad decided he'd had enough verbal abuse from his boss. We've all been there. I think the word was "useless." That was the straw that broke the camel's back.

He described a heavenly area on the California central coast where he was stationed in the Army. My dad was an avid golfer, not a good one, but obsessed with the game. There, he could play year-round.

So we sold our house, gave away our furniture and packed our clothes, dishes and a few belongings into a U-Haul trailer, which we hitched to the back of a Ford Mustang. We said our good-byes and hit the Mother Road.

I'd been to the St. Louis zoo on a school trip once, but that's the farthest west I could remember.

Next we went through Joplin, Mo., where my grandmother was born.

I learned about actor, author and humorist Will Rogers when we passed through his hometown of Claremore, Okla. Then it was on to Oklahoma City and Amarillo and ... well, you know the song.

What stands out most about that trip west on Route 66 is how baking hot it got along the way. It was hot when we left Illinois and it just got hotter and hotter. Somewhere around Needles, Calif., my fingers touched a metal bolt that attached the seatbelt to the chassis of the car and I made sure to never touch it again.

My dad found a job in Santa Maria, Calif., not far from Vandenberg Air Force Base, which he remembered as Camp Cook, and we made the trek back to see the folks in Illinois every summer.

I began to recognize many of the towns along the way, especially the towns where we might stop for the night, like Tucumcari, N.M., or Shamrock, Texas. I said we "might" stop because my dad, being a truck-driving man, always wanted to press on to the next town, somewhere 800 or 900 miles from the last town we stayed in.

It was excruciating to pass motel after motel after motel as the day grew dark, most of them advertising heated pools (unnecessary during the summer), cable TV and kitchenettes. They all looked perfectly fine to me, but my dad said there's another one up ahead. I knew better than to whine about it. There'd be no swimming tonight.

We'd stop at Route 66 diners and curio shops along the way, and I learned a little about Indian tribes and Native American culture going through Arizona and New Mexico. We once visited the Petrified Forest and Carlsbad Caverns, and I'm pretty sure it took heavy-handed negotiating on the part of my mother to break from the route.

I sure do miss those summer trips back and forth to Illinois on Route 66, hot as it was in the backseat of that Mustang with no air conditioning. More than that, I miss my hard-driving pappy.