Route 66 is a genuine US icon. Made famous in novels like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and in a popular song by Bobby Troup, Route 66 epitomises the classic cross-country road-trip. Strange then, to discover that the road itself is no longer so well used. In Arizona, the fast Interstate #40 has rendered sections of Route 66 almost redundant, isolating original settlements along the old road. One such Route 66 town is Seligman.
Seligman’s heyday was during the 1950s and 1960s, when it became a popular stopping off point for travellers journeying west to the California coast. Facing potential extinction after the Interstate opened in 1978, Seligman reinvented itself, and became the poster child of a newly rebranded historic Route 66; in turn, becoming practically a living museum.
Today, Seligman is once again a lively, thriving community with its colourful restored buildings; painted classic cars and steer’s skulls; and quirky art and curios. It is an interesting place to stop and visit, however it is hard to escape the knowingness of its period charm when walking along the main drag.
Step off Route 66, though, and there is an entirely different Seligman to discover. One street back from the tourist shops and conscious quaintness, is the remains of a genuine Mid-West transport hub. Old faded signs; overgrown wooden-fence yards; goats living in camper vans; abandoned, rusting cars; and, best of all, the rail-line, cutting through the flat landscape, like a neat fold across a piece of paper.
It is with a genuine cry of joy that I spot the lights of an approaching freight train in the distance. I run across the abandoned scrub on the edge of town to stand directly beside the railroad, waving madly with excitement à la Jenny Agutter, as the big train passes through the town, its mile of carriages rumbling slowly eastwards, supremely conscious of its own massive authenticity.
© E. C. Glendenny
Travel writer E. C. Glendenny loves to follow a big engine.
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