Q&A: Route 66's History, in Photos

Terrence Moore's new book is "66 ON 66: A Photographer's Journey." Scroll down to see photos from the book. | Courtesy of Terrence Moore

In its prime, Historic Route 66 served as a main vein of travel from east to west in the United States. For decades, millions of travelers and tourists took this scenic, eclectic road to get to their destinations, stopping at the many colorful motels, shops and diners along the way. A lot has changed in the route’s 92 years, but many continue to be captivated by the road and its history.

Photographer Terrence Moore has been fascinated with the Mother Road for as long as he can remember. For more than 40 years, he’s been photographing the road from Missouri to Arizona, capturing its evolution on film. In his new book, 66 ON 66: A Photographer’s Journey, he selected 66 of his favorite images he’s made over the years and put them together in a never-before-seen collection.

We recently spoke with Moore to learn more about his new book and what he sees in the future for the iconic route. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell our readers about yourself and about your history with Route 66.
When I was 9 years old, my family moved from Minnesota to California. On our drive we actually got on Route 66 in Tucumcari, and having never been out West before, I have all these vivid memories of the trip. When we got to California, we moved to a town called Claremont and we lived just off of Route 66. Then I went to high school on it. In later years, after I got out of college, I moved to Albuquerque and I lived about a half a block off of Route 66; that’s when I actually started seriously photographing it. So it’s kind of just been part of me for most of my life. It was something I was interested in doing, and I just continued doing it over time. I got a few magazine assignments along the way, and that inspired me, too. Next thing you know, it’s 48 years later!

What inspired you to make your new book?
Having grown up in Southern California in that era, it was really a beautiful place to be: a quintessential small college town with citrus groves surrounding it. When I lived there in my formative years, I basically watched the groves disappear before my eyes, and they were mostly replaced with tract housing. It was a really hard thing to watch and take in. When I moved to Albuquerque in 1969, I decided I wanted to document what was left, because I was interested in the architecture and the uniqueness of the businesses along the road. That’s what got me going.

I wanted to do a book years ago, and there wasn’t a great deal of interest. I tried quite a few times in the early days, but it didn’t work out. Eventually everybody started doing books on Route 66, which is really phenomenal. All these years I had dreamed of doing my own book, but I had pretty much given up. But some of my friends inspired me and helped me edit my photos and put the book together.

I’ve made three trips from Chicago to Los Angeles on Route 66, and with my work I’ve concentrated more on what I knew the best: California, Arizona, New Mexico, a fair amount of Oklahoma and a little bit of Illinois and Missouri. I didn’t try to do a book that represented the entire road and every state; I just concentrated on what I had and who I am.

As you’ve photographed and traveled on Route 66 over the years, how have you seen it change and what remains the same?
There have been huge changes, since the interstate sort of ravages the countryside, the small towns and the small businesses that are scattered along the way. It’ll never be the same, certainly, but the good thing is that some things have maintained. Like the Hackberry General Store in Arizona — that store has been there, I think, since the 1930s and it’s still in business. Or Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, the Museum Club in Flagstaff and La Posada in Winslow. There are still a lot of really wonderful things to see and experience, that give the feel of the old days, even though most of Route 66 has become interstate.

You document the past and present of Route 66 in your new book. What do you see in the future for this iconic route?
The road is overseen by the National Park Service, and they’ve done a lot to preserve these icons and landmarks that are left since it was declared a National Historic Highway. Unfortunately, it’s very likely that the funding that they’ve had through this year won’t be renewed. The good thing is that two senators introduced a bill to make Route 66 a National Historic Trail, and it looks like that’s going to go through. That will breathe new life and bring some funding back into the road again.

The thing about Route 66 is that it’s never going to die, no matter what. Between the individuals along the road, the associations along the road and the federal government doing what they can do, people are still going to be driving down it in 50 years, having fun.

What do you hope people take away from your book?
People are going to get a real feel for what the road was like before it was rediscovered, before people realized they needed to save and preserve it. By looking at my book and paying attention to where the photos were taken, you’re going to see what was once there. But I didn’t just want to show places that don’t exist anymore. There’s plenty of stuff in there that still exists and stretches of the road you can still see and experience today. I wanted the book to represent the old and the new, and just give people a little more to see and experience than a book that was all shot in the past 10 or 15 years.

The thing that’s different about my book is that more than half the images in there are things that are gone. There was no one else seriously photographing the highway in the 1970s and into the early 1980s. The images I have in that era are really unique, and many of them are one of a kind. I don’t just have 66 images; I have thousands. I’ve got a lot more that I wish people could see, but at the same time, we have a book that’s kind of quick and easy and fairly strong visually, because it doesn’t have so many images that you don’t see them all.

What would you tell people who are interested in traveling on Route 66 today?
Get an idea ahead of time of what you don’t want to miss and factor those in, and then just slow down, poke around and talk to people. The more you do that, the more fascinating your trip will be, whether you’re just doing a small stretch of the road in Arizona or if you’re doing the entire thing. There’s little gems out there. I never really searched the road with a microscope, and there’s all kinds of amazing things out there that are associated with the road. Just don’t be in a hurry and don’t be afraid to talk to people. Let the experience come to you.

66 ON 66: A Photographer’s Journey is now available everywhere books are sold. To learn more about the book or to see Terrence Moore’s work, visit his website.

— Emily Balli

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