Route 66 #1

Route 66 #1
Route 66 Museum

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dropping Out in McClean Texas - Part 1

After traveling very hard for a few days with long hours in the car, and a lot of miles covered you feel the need to slow down. When coupled with the morning malaise you feel after rushing out of the motel, getting breakfast and on the road, you can hit a wall that won't let you travel any further, especially when you make a stop in a quiet town. 

We arrived in McClean, Texas just short of 9 AM with hopes of hitting the Devils Rope Museum. Being a Saturday though the museum didn't open till 10AM. So my wife and I looked at each other, and decided we would just wait. But how do you waste and hour in McClean? 

If your not familiar with McClean, Texas let me tell you there is not much to it, now that is. There's no Wal-mart, or fast food places, or anything like that. But what there is are the remains of a classic example of a western Route 66 town. 

To say the least McClean is still a living town unlike Conway up the road a bit which is a Route 66 ghost town. So you will find life here and the interaction of the population with the town that once was, which also means there are stories and memories if your willing to listen. But on a Saturday morning though it was just us roaming the town that once was. My wife a professional photographer got some fantastic photos here, even the ones I took where good.

McClean, like many other medium sized towns on Route 66 got so much traffic, that it actually split the eastbound and westbound lanes so that they would form a loop around the commercial heart of the town (Winslow, AZ is like this too). This meant that the directional lanes where about a block apart separated by commercial areas, basically at that point McClean's downtown. Separating the  lanes had two benefits, first it would force travelers through commercial areas to access lanes going the opposite way, the second is that the one way streets eliminated lefthand turns making accessing commercial areas safer and easier. For businesses like gas stations prime property would be the triangle of land where the lanes divided before entering town, McClean has an excellent example of this on its west side. 

Walking through downtown McClean I was reminded of the film Last Picture Show, although the town that film takes place in is in southern Texas. But walking through McCleans downtown with its old theater on the west side if the street, you get a similar impression. The rest of the main body of its downtown is filled with mostly empty buildings that where once department stores, drug stores, cafe's, and all the other types of retail that would have bought folks into town from miles around. In the old days when Saturday was "go to town day" this spot would be crowded with people doing shopping and going to the movies even by this hour of the morning. 

The retail spaces spill out of the down town and dot the east and westbound lanes of old 66. So to do the remains of gas stations and motels. On the westbound lanes is an old Phillips 66, probably the first gas station in town and predating a divided Route 66 through town. It's currently being restored by McClean, and is a historical building as well. 

I snapped the picture below at this gas station. There's something iconic and slightly abstract about the shadow of this shield, it seems to sum up both McClean and Route 66 as shadows of something that once was. 

I will cover our visit to the Devils Rope Museum in part 2.

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