Route 66 #1

Route 66 #1
Route 66 Museum

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Boron a Town of Ghosts & Legacy's: Part 2 - Legacy of The Mother Road

Part 2 of a series on a small Mojave Desert town that witnessed American transportation history in motion.

Coming from Barstow you take a fork in the road on Highway 58 and brake left onto 20 Mule Team Road. It's strange for there to be a fork in the road like that on such a busy highway, but 20 Mule Team Road sees very little traffic on this part of it, and its still a ways out of town. 

The "Welcome to Boron" sign is an icon of Southern California and the Mojave Desert

20 Mule Team Road leads into the town of Boron, and as a matter of fact the East-West road is the towns main drag. But why name a road 20 Mule Team, or a town Boron. If you lived in the 50's and early 60's in the era of television westerns you would get it instantly. 
The show Death Valley Days, and sponsor Boraxo with its slogan "20 Mule Team Boraxo" and image of the silhouette of 20 mules with two wagons and a tanker on its packages, gave this road it's name. The town itself is named in honor of US Borax the towns chief employer, and the element Boron that is mined here. 

If you follow 20 Mule Team Road from end to end you will notice its totally straight, no curves, no bends, no breaking off here and rejoining there. It parallels California 58 through the town of Boron, and only curves for the first time way west of town as the road dead ends and forces you back on to 58. But even at this Western dead end beyond the markers you can see it once continued straight intersecting what are now the East bound lanes of California 58. 

You see besides its interesting name 20 Mule Team Road, has some unique history to it. Remember I mentioned in part 1 that even the road had a story to tell in Boron, and here it is. Up until 1964 this road was US Route 466, the designation tells us that this route was the 4th spur of Route 66, yes "The Route 66", US Route 66. There was a period briefly when portions of 466, where originally going to be actual Route 66, but when planning was complete sections such as this one through Boron or at that time Amargo, where designated as a spur route, and by 1935 the route would receive its 466 shield. 466 itself would extend from Las Vegas, NV to Morro Bay, CA via Barstow, and Bakersfield on what are now sections of I-15 and California 58. 

466 was,  in its heyday a busy route much as its replacement CA 58 is today. Meaning that the town of Boron saw hundreds of vehicles a day travel down this spur of The Mother Road, between Barstow and Bakersfield. One can only imagine seeing Boron in about 1958 as a steady stream of cars rolled through the town, and Santa Fe Streamliners flew down its tracks. 

Route 466 would also help contribute to the world of aviation and music as well. The route would have bought stars of early country and rock music from the East to Bakersfield to produce what would be called the "Bakersfield Sound". This new type of country sound would influence country music to this day, and even contribute to the era of Classic Rock as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eagles and other bands overtly included the sound in their music. One could only read Merle Haggards hit song "Okie from Muskogee" as a country story of someone who left Oklahoma down the Mother Road, and 466 to come to Bakersfield, and keep their Oklahoman values. 

US Route 466 also influenced aviation as flyers, engineers and dreamers found their way down the route to Rogers Dry Lake Bed, later named Muroc, and then finally Edwards Air Force Base. One could only think that Chuck Yeager, Gus Grissom, and many other aviation and space pioneers must have traveled this route in those early days of the Jet and Space Age. But that is all a posting for later. 

One could easily argue that this little known town, with its little spur of the famous Route 66 may have played a far larger role in history then we think. You have seen its rail history and now it's road history, and I feel I have barely scratched the surface on both. But it's easy to see that this little town began to form a kind of nexus in transportation history as rail, road, and air would converge on it. 

US Route 466 would be replaced by California 58 in 1964. California 58 would bypass Boron as a freeway. California initially began to build 58 to be part of I-40 that would run between Barstow and Bakersfield using US Route 466 as a roadbed for the super highway, but the federal government later rejected the idea. This left only some portions finished with Boron being one of the few towns bypassed. Luckily for us though Boron, and 20 Mule Team Road remain as a living monument to what Route 466 was. 

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