Route 66 Museum
Route 66 is arguably the most famous road in the United States. One of the original highways stretching across the country, Route 66 covers eight states and nearly 2,400 miles. Established in 1926, the highway allowed easy travel across most of the country, until it was decertified from the US Highway System in 1985.
For most of those decades, small towns along Route 66 thrived. Travelers and tourists needed everything from gas stations and hotels, to food and entertainment. Entrepreneurs developed quirky advertising and unusual attractions, and Route 66 took on a culture all its own. Teepees, giant cowboys, a blue whale, and the world’s largest prairie dog beckoned travelers to stop and see the sights (and spend some money).
Built in 1995, the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, OK is a look back at the interesting history of “The Mother Road,” but also a roadside attraction fitting of the road it represents. Located just off I-40, ironically the highway that replaced Route 66, the museum is a thoroughly modern, interesting and educational experience. The entrance gallery hosts different vehicles on display, and as of this writing, featured an Oklahoma Highway Patrol cruiser from the 1930s. Previous cars are as varied as Model T Fords, to big fin Cadillacs.
Leaving the welcome area, a gift shop greets you before the main entrance to the exhibits. This is a bit commercial, but fitting, as Route 66’s culture was built off of capitalism. Admittance rates are very reasonable, with most adults charged $5, and kids just $1. Seniors, military, etc receive discounts to the already affordable price.
Once inside, the museum explains the history of Route 66 by the decade. Old school road construction equipment is displayed, with a number of pictures showing their use. You will never complain about modern road construction after witnessing how it was done in the old days.
Vintage service station replicas show off glass gas pumps and old timey advertising. Interestingly, a lot of the brands used back in the day are still around. Look carefully and you will find cans of Marvel Mystery Oil, and 8 year old ads for Champion spark plugs.
Newspapers cover the walls between rooms, offering a look back at the historically important news of the day. Boomers and older generations will likely have waves of nostalgia as they look over the headlines.
Music is available at the push of a button, selected to match the era the room represents. Interactive displays include a simulated drive-in movie experience, and a Route 66 themed game. Mimicking the “Oregon Trail” video game, you can chose what supplies you want to take on your drive from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA. Choose wisely, as you are likely to have flat tires or other troubles along the way.
Vehicles on permanent display are limited, but varied enough for most automotive enthusiasts. A couple of International Harvester trucks show off the early working history of the highway, while a VW “hippie van” and a ‘60s Rambler station wagon show the recreational side. Outside the museum, there are a few more work trucks and an absolutely ancient cement mixer.
The last exhibition area changes every few months. As of this writing, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol is showing dozens of items used to keep motorists safe back when Route 66 was popular. The big feature is the 1937 Indian motorcycle decked out in period gear and insignia. That metal seat looks downright painful. Look closely at the rest of this exhibit though, as there are interesting items like a gigantic early breathalyzer.
Leaving the exhibition area rounds you back to the gift shop, a not-so-subtle hint that you should buy something. Despite being a museum gift shop, prices were surprisingly reasonable. The staff is friendly and open to questions they have likely heard a million times, but they give an answer with a smile. Service like the old days.
The Route 66 museum is rather small, taking about an hour to complete. However, due to the wide variety of interesting displays, it is well worth the trip, especially if you happen to be passing by Clinton on I-40. It is a unexpectedly scenic drive from Oklahoma City, taking less than 90 minutes. Due to the large amount of interesting and educational material on display, and a affordable entry fee, the Route 66 museum is a fitting tribute to America’s greatest road.