Route 66 - Lucille

(historical photo)
West from Fort Reno is, to me, where the "Grapes of Wrath" historic Route 66 really starts. To the east is grasslands and big cities. In the middle is the oil producing area. But right in here is where the farming and ranch lands begin; the home of farmers and small town citizens who, Beverly Hillbillies style, packed up everything they had and with nothing left to lose, headed west to what they hoped was the promised land.
In Chapter 12 of John Steinbeck's epic novel, "The Grapes of Wrath," he eulogized Route 66, giving it the enduring nickname of "The Mother Road" while describing the route and the plight of the people traveling west on her.

"Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66 - the long concrete path across the country, waving gently, up and down on the map, from the Mississippi to Bakersfield - over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountain, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California Valleys.

66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.

The people in flight streamed out on 66, sometimes in a single car, sometimes a little caravan. All day they rolled slowly along the road, and at night they stopped near water. In the day ancient leaky radiators sent up columns of steam, loose connecting rods hammered and pounded. And the men driving the trucks and the overloaded cars listened apprehensively. How far between towns? It is a terror between towns. If something breaks - well, if something breaks we camp right here while Jim walks to town and gets a part and walks back and - how much food we got?

Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel, listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift level, listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses, for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm may mean - a week here? That rattle - that's tappets. Don't hurt a bit. Tappets can rattle till Jesus comes again without no harm. But that thudding as the car moves along..."

And this part of the road seems to be the start of where most of the Route 66 "different" people make their homes. The "odd," the "not exactly normal," the "interesting" - the eccentrics that seem to be in more abundance making their home along 66 than possibly anywhere else in the world. It's they who brought Route 66 back to life after the government decided she was no longer useful, no longer worth keeping. It's almost as if the folks who live along The Mother Road are one big family. Sometimes very dysfunctional, but family nonetheless. If I had only a week to travel and see Route 66, this is where I would start and west is the direction I would go.

The small town of Hydro was founded in 1901 and was named for the good well-water found in the area. Hydro has always been a small, agriculture town, but when Route 66 came through, the town prospered by providing services to the travelers. When the interstate was opened, most of the Route 66-based businesses went under and Hydro reverted to being a small, sleepy agriculture town.

Not all of the Route 66-based businesses closed though. In 1941, Lucille Hamons and her husband Carl purchased a gas station that had been built in 1929 along with 5 tourist courts behind the station. Located along a rural stretch of Route 66 just outside of Hydro, the station included a small convenience store and rooms above the gas pumps where the Hamons made their home. Soon, needing to bring in more income to take care of the growing family (they eventually had 3 children), Carl purchased a truck and started hauling. Lucille was largely left alone to mind the station and tourist court and to raise the children.

In an interview, Lucille said, "After Carl got a truck to earn more money, I was alone here to run this place. During this time, people from Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and eastern Oklahoma were traveling the road to the West Coast to find jobs. Many times I would have people stop that were completely broke and I would feed them and give them gas in exchange for some appliance or other articles of small value they might have. Sometimes I would just buy their old broke-down cars and then they would catch the bus and head on west looking for work."

The motor court rooms behind the station.
When I-40 was completed in 1962, it cut off access to the 5 motor court rooms so the Hamons closed them. Carl passed away in 1971, but Lucille hung on and kept the station open.

In 1997, my wife and I had the fortuitous pleasure of happening upon Lucille's while traveling from one place to another, stopping for a soda and met Lucille in person. We browsed her little store while she kept up a constant chatter of stories of the old days. We had not conducted any Route 66 research at that time and didn't actually realize this was a rather famous lady. We purchased our cold drinks and ended up spending some time listening to her. She was a heck of a character, so friendly and welcoming and full of energy. Before leaving, I spotted a glass bottle of Route 66 Root Beer so I bought it just to keep as a souvenir. Lucille rang it up and then asked if I wanted her to sign it. I didn't want to hurt her feelings and it didn't matter to me so I said sure, that would be right nice of her. After we arrived back home, I did my research on her and found out we had spent part of an afternoon visiting with one of the true icons of Route 66.

Historical marker at Lucille's.
Lucille spent 59 years living on Route 66 and serving and caring for thousands during that time. With her story, the longevity of her little place of business, and her outgoing personality, but mostly because of the countless times she had fed a hungry traveler and given them a place to spend the night for free, Lucille Hamons became known all across the land as The Mother of The Mother Road. Lucille passed away in August, 2000. Hundreds of people from near and far came to her funeral to pay their respects and many a tear was shed by people whose lives she touched. And I still have that bottle of Route 66 root beer autographed by Lucille Hamon.  It's one of my most prized possessions. Thanks for the memories, Lucille.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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