By Erica Semsch, Ozarks News Journal.
LEBANON, MO. – Its name goes hand in hand with the history of America. It has been immortalized in our songs, books and pictures…and for many, Route 66 represents the backdrop of a lifetime.
Route 66 museum curator Mark Spangler said it’s more than just a road. “To some people it was just a place…actually though the Route was 2400 miles long, and it represents a place in America to them— just a long drawn out place. As you travel the Route, your experiences would come back to you and you could capture those pictures in your mind and you could think of Route 66 with various snapshots of what you would find along it as places,” said Spangler.
Route 66 fan Judy Mulder has lived along the road for most of her life and explained why the Route is so special to people. “Well, my son travels and he’s traveled quite a bit in other countries and he said most people where ever he goes want to see The Mother Road. And they may not even really know what it is, but people all over the world want to see The Mother Road, said Mulder.”
The Route brought travelers from all around for decades. Along with this travel came hundreds of businesses—thriving once because of the popularity of the road and again later as it became part of history.
Spangler explains that traffic along the route increased businesses. “Very often there was a business every mile of two throughout the country. It was just amazing…the volume of traffic and people and therefore the volume of business that was to be found there, said Spangler.”
Eventually, the route acquired another name, according to Spangler. “It was called The Main Street of America, which speaks to the economics of it. Every community that lay along the route could profit by it being there,” said Spangler.
But this immortal stretch of highway has taken a back seat in recent years to major interstates and new forms of cross country travel. With those forms, some of the most well-known businesses along Route 66 have fallen on hard times. Businesses along the road did not just die overnight, which a lot of people mistakenly think. Many of the businesses dwindled because of factors that could influence any business, anywhere.
There are other businesses that are still alive and well along this stretch of highway. Ramona Lehman is owner of the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri and said she has felt at times that the business may not make it. “I can remember Pete, who built this place, who we bought this place from…you know, winter months were always slow, but he’d always say, ‘Gal, stop worrying. This plave has made it, it will continue to make it—you just stop your worrying…we will make it,’” said Lehman.
The question remains if there is enough interest in this once shining example of American progress to keep these businesses afloat in years to come. There are going to be some new groups coming through to help later this year.
“There’s going to be something new to try this fall…it’ll be in October. There is a gentleman in Illinois and it’s going to be a car tour that goes from there clear out to Santa Monica and people can come and drop off whenever they want to,” said Lehman.
Progress is not always kind to those who don’t follow along with it. Spangler explained that there are some old businesses along the road that are currently in limbo.
“The future is totally unknown on these places…will someone else try to come in and revive them and put something in there that will sustain the site? Or will they eventually just waste away to nothing,” asked Lehman
But Lehmam is convinced Route 66, and the tourism that comes with it will be around for years to come.
“Route 66 is not a dying thing, I don’t think it will ever die. The thing of it is, it that it’s got to be taught to our children. Our children have got to learn what Route 66 is,” said Lehman.
Whether these small businesses are able to survive for years to come remains to be seen. But one thing is certain –this famous road that has spawned so many romantic American dreams is still providing memories for some, and a livelihood for others. With any luck, those who grew up getting their kicks on Route 66, just might keep it alive.
“There’s something about Route 66 that just sort of gets in your blood and it makes you just want to learn and do any enjoy,” explained Lehman.