Most would say that no treatment of Oklahoma's historic highways can be considered complete without mentioning US 66, and we tend to agree. Since its decommissioning in 1985, US 66 has become the most famous of all the US highways, surpassing in notoriety all its many brethren still in service as active routes. Due to this publicity, US Route 66 has had the benefit of a great many dedicated people focusing on it, unearthing and publishing a wealth of information about the Chicago to Los Angeles highway. Because so much data on US 66 is readily available, both in published works and on the Internet, we feel it would be superfluous and altogether unnecessary for us to attempt comprehensive coverage here. In addition, it would be disingenuous, as we gained much of our knowledge of Route 66 in Oklahoma from these other publications, and a pale retelling of others' research is not something we care to do here at Oklahoma Highways.
Instead, we urge those curious about in depth coverage of US 66 in Oklahoma to seek out some of the many excellent resources already available. A good place to start is at ODOT's website, where they have a respectable section on US 66 in the "Memorial Highways" section. The most comprehensive and by far the best resource we have encountered, however, is a book written by Mr. Jim Ross entitled simply Oklahoma Route 66, published by Ghost Town Press. Mr. Ross spent over ten years researching and exploring the entire ribbon of US 66 through Oklahoma and produced the best maps and historical information to be found covering US 66 in any single state. We highly recommend that anyone interested in Route 66, whether from Oklahoma or elsewhere, peruse Mr. Ross's excellent work; it will give the reader a new appreciation for the rapid development of early highways in general and US 66 in particular.
Given that such excellent coverage exists of US 66 in other forums, we have chosen to focus our efforts at this website on the many other highways whose stories have been rather unfortunately neglected due to US 66's immense fame. While it is true that US 66 was a major highway, it was but one of a vast network of US routes that connected the nation. In Oklahoma alone, US Routes 60, 62, 64, 69, 70, 75, 77, 81, and 83 are all major US highways that extend across great swaths of the United States, and several of these routes are actually longer than US 66 ever was.
Nevertheless, we do have quite a bit to say about US 66, as it is truly a fascinating highway, with many lengthy segments of bypassed original route still driveable. Below, we have highlighted certain portions of US 66 in Oklahoma that we find particularly interesting for one reason or another. Each of them exemplifies in some way the wonderful design and construction of early highways, giving us some very enjoyable drives and great examples of early infrastructure in Oklahoma. We hope these small morsels give a taste of US 66 in Oklahoma that will encourage readers to seek out more comprehensive information from the many talented and dedicated individuals who love this particular highway.
The "Sidewalk Pavement"
The first portion of old US 66 we wish to call attention to is a very early alignment that was actually laid out and paved in 1922, before there was even a State Route 7, let alone US Route 66. This stretch of highway, bypassed in 1937, was paved with asphalt on a concrete base with a total roadway width of only 9 feet from pavement edge to edge. It has become known colloquially as the "Sidewalk Highway" due to its narrowness, though it was likely seen as quite adequate and perhaps even extravagant when it was constructed. The original pavement underlies modern asphalt for the first 1.5 miles of the path shown above, then the original road is laid bare for use until it joins the modern highway. Unfortunately, gravel that was used later to widen the roadway to two lanes has had the effect of eroding and contributing to the extreme deterioration of the pavement, but it is still driveable with care, though quite rough.
"Sidewalk Pavement" Continued
A scant few miles south of the first section of 1922 pavement, there exist an additional three miles of the same 9 foot wide asphalt-on-concrete paving. Like the segment near Miami, gravel has been used over time to widen the roadway to two lanes, but it has been mostly cleared off of the old pavement, which has survived in overall better condition here than the northerly segment. Still, the asphalt has deteriorated a great deal, so we suggest driving slowly and with care if you choose to follow this alignment. This pavement is actually an early incarnation of the Modified Bates type pavement, sharing most of the characteristics of the later standard except for the width of the roadway. Indeed, the expansion joints in the concrete base which have propagated up through the asphalt present the greatest challenge to a vehicle's suspension as one drives this segment of very old highway. We highly recommend an enthusiast at least drive to and inspect this pavement up close, as it is an excellent example of how quickly the standards for highways changed in the early days, as well as a look at early forms of what later became universal characteristics, such as the banked curves at section corner turns. The curve at the south end of this segment, just south of the modern highway, is an excellent place for said inspection, as it does not really see much use anymore.
Toward Sapulpa along the Frisco tracks
This segment of old US 66 lies just southwest of Tulsa on the way to Sapulpa. The roadway is Bates standard pavement that has been overlaid with multiple layers of asphalt over the years, and the highway snakes along some wonderfully rolling terrain as it follows the old Frisco tracks south. Though only a few short miles from a major city, this road gives one the feel of being out in the countryside following a classic highway alignment. This segment also has quite a bit of history, as it was originally part of State Routes 7 and 12, then became US 66 and US 75 with the coming of the US Highway system in 1927. This remained the path of US 66 and US 75 until it was bypassed in 1951 by the current SH 66 alignment.
"Ozark Trail" west of Sapulpa
Just west of Sapulpa, turning off of modern SH 66 to cross the Rock Creek bridge will take one onto this early section of US 66. The 1921 bridge, whose brick deck is unique on US 66, gives a clue that this is another stretch of road that existed as a "good road" before there was a State Highway system, let alone US Routes. This segment of highway was designated as part of State Route 7 in 1925, the same year it was paved in Bates Standard concrete. In 1927, the US 66 designation was added, and it lasted until the segment was bypassed with the modern alignment in 1952. The road winds along through some quite interesting tree lined terrain, feeling very rural and isolated for the duration. Between the bridge and the railroad underpass, the Bates pavement has been lightly overlaid with asphalt, but the overlay disappears near the underpass and the road becomes bare concrete until it rejoins the modern highway. Unfortunately, rather haphazard asphalt patching has rendered the bare Bates section fairly rough, so proceed with care. The aforementioned underpass for the (still used) old Frisco tracks dates to 1925 (as confirmed by its datestamp) and is an excellent example of a first generation style railroad underpass.
The "Tank Farm Loop"
Between Kellyville and Bristow, we find two "loops" of old route that were bypassed with a straighter alignment in 1938; regrettably, only the loop highlighted on the above map is still driveable. The so-called "Tank Farm Loop" cuts to the north from the modern 1938 alignment and winds along past several residences on bare Bates pavement that is in quite good shape. Like so much of the road between Tulsa and Edmond, this loop was State Route 7 before it was US Route 66; so too was its continuation south of the 1938 alignment, the "Motor Court Loop" which is visible on the map above. Both loops were paved with Bates concrete in 1926 as Route 7, but the Motor Court Loop has been cut off and lies partly on private property today, so the northern loop is the only one accessible to us. The Tank Farm Loop carries the highest recommendation, however, as it is a prime example of a first generation "terrain following" routing with original pavement in very nice condition.
The original "State Highway 66"
The road highlighted above carries a dubious distinction, but a great history as well. It was part of the 1925 State Route 7 and the original 1927 routing of US 66, but it was unpaved at that time. When the highway through the area was paved in 1933, the US Bureau of Public Roads directed that the paved alignment bypass Wellston to the south as shown above. The Oklahoma State Highway Commission ended up paving the old loop through Wellston with state funds alone, and redesignated that loop as *State* Highway 66. This gave the people of Wellston claim to two firsts. This is believed to be the first State Highway 66 that arose between Chicago and Los Angeles relating to US 66; unfortunately, the reason it was designated as such is that Wellston was the first town in Oklahoma to be bypassed by the mainline highway, a phenomenon that would eventually become far too common.
The Perfect Examples
The short segment of bypassed highway shown above is home to a very valuable example of highway history. Within this short loop, both the Bates Standard and Modified Bates pavement exist unmolested and available for study. In fact, both standards being used here is the very reason we know so much about their specifications, as this area's 1928/29 paving project is where the standard sheet in Mr. Ross's book (our reference for the Bates pavements) came from. The east-west piece of this road segment is Bates Standard concrete, but just before the road begins curving north, the surface changes to Modified Bates asphalt. This is an excellent location to familiarize oneself with both standards, as the road does not see much traffic in its current role as access to a few residences; since being bypassed in 1952, the roadway likely only sees traffic from the homeowners along its length and US 66 (or old highway) enthusiasts. Both road surfaces are in quite good condition, though the Modified Bates asphalt has deteriorated somewhat as we have come to expect. This piece of road is a diversion we highly recommend anyone traveling Route 66 between Tulsa and Oklahoma City take at least once, as it is quite short, smooth, and easily accessed, yet gives a traveler a very authentic and informative old highway experience.
An Old Bridge and An Old Lake
West of Oklahoma City between Bethany and Yukon, the above alignment along Lake Overholser can be found. It begins at the northeast corner of the lake by crossing a multiple span truss bridge over the North Canadian River, then follows along the north shore of the lake before bending slightly south along the shoreline, then west again toward Yukon. This road along the 1919 water supply lake was built in the early 1920s and was part of original State Route 3 beginning in 1925, then became part of US Route 66 in 1927. The road just west of the bridge is bare Bates concrete, which disappears under asphalt overlays for the stretch along the lake, then reappears after the final curve to the west and remains exposed until the end of the segment. As the old highway passes by several new housing subdivisions, the road has been widened in a way we greatly approve of; the original highway pavement has been left intact and an additional lane has simply been grafted onto the south side to widen the road. This is one case where US 66's fame has worked greatly in our favor, as we are almost certain that is the reason the widening was accomplished in such a fashion. Another positive consequence of US 66's fame can be found at the old bridge over the North Canadian, which we have been informed is currently closed, but due to its history will be rehabilitated and reopened to vehicular traffic in a few years. We hope this is the case, and look forward to driving over this classic bridge again.
The El Reno Cutoff
The lengthy segment of straight highway shown above is entirely paved in bare Bates Standard concrete in excellent condition; it is also far enough removed from I-40 that one can ignore the expressway and simply enjoy the old road. This section of near pristine Bates concrete was paved in the early 1930s and remained US 66 until I-40 was constructed through the area in 1962. Original State Route 3, and thus the original US 66 in 1927, turned north toward Calumet at what is now US 270, but when the highway was paved west of that point in 1933, a more direct route was chosen continuing due west toward the Canadian River. Since this new alignment bypassed several towns, including Calumet, Geary, and Bridgeport, it became known as the El Reno Cutoff. This bypassing, however, probably contributed greatly to the incredible preservation of the old highway. After only 30 years of mainline service, it was bypassed by I-40, and since no towns lay along the old cutoff, the traffic load became extremely limited, easing the strain on the pavement and leaving us with an almost perfectly preserved roadway.
The segment of highway highlighted above consists almost entirely of the climb and descent of a massive hill, all on unmolested Bates standard concrete. The hill paving also includes the characteristic small curbs sometimes found on Bates paved alignments, as well as the trademark eyebrow drains. This is a continuation of the El Reno Cutoff, and continuing west on what is now US 281 after the highlighted route above will take a traveler to one of the reasons for the cutoff, the incredible 38 span bridge built in 1933 over the Canadian River. The view of the river valley and bridge from atop Bridgeport Hill is a very impressive sight, and reason enough to visit this piece of road; the Bates pavement is a bonus. Apparently, even the OSHC found the view impressive, as they included pictures of the vista on the back of the 1934 and 1945 state highway maps among others.
Hinton Junction to Hydro
The route highlighted above contains the end of the El Reno Cutoff and, continuing our theme, many miles of unmolested Bates standard pavement. In fact, much of US 281 between the Canadian River bridge and Hinton Junction (the start point shown above), which was also US 66, is actually bare Bates pavement, but portions of it have been overlaid in asphalt. From Hinton Junction to Hydro, however, we are presented with a similar situation to the first part of the El Reno Cutoff, where the old highway passes through no towns and thus has seen very little traffic since being bypassed by I-40 in the early 1960s. Thus, the original early 1930s concrete pavement has survived to the present in almost pristine condition and is again far enough from the interstate that the expressway's presence can be easily ignored. The El Reno Cutoff ends south of Bridgeport, where the original route rejoins the 1933 bypass. From that point into Hydro, the highway travels mostly straight along gently rolling hills, allowing for a very relaxing drive on the classic paving. Just before Hydro, the highway crosses first one then another truss bridge before I-40 makes its presence known and classic US 66 becomes simply the frontage road of its infinitely more boring replacement.
Original Concrete south of Clinton
There is actually quite a bit of original US 66 bare Bates standard pavement west of Hydro, but the vast majority of it is now frontage road for I-40, within 100 yards of the interstate, and thus the enjoyment factor is somewhat limited. The segment highlighted on the above map, however, is one of the rare exceptions where unmolested original pavement exists at a sufficient distance from the interstate to allow for true appreciation of what the old highway was like. Neptune Drive coming south from Clinton is actually the old route, but the original 1931 concrete has been overlaid with asphalt until the curve to the west at the starting point shown. From that curve to the rejoin with I-40, however, the roadway returns to its original Bates standard glory as it travels alone through the countryside.
Expanded, Overlaid, then Abandoned
The road segment highlighted above contains an extended section of original pavement that was converted to the westbound lanes of a four lane highway, overlaid with asphalt, then eventually abandoned when it was decided four lanes were no longer necessary. The road was originally paved in 1929, then four laned by adding two additional lanes for eastbound traffic in the mid 1950s. When I-40 was built through the area in the mid 1970s and traffic shifted to the expressway, the need for a four lane road on this route diminished greatly and eventually the original two lanes were abandoned, returning this road to two lane status. This is an interesting example of how highways evolve, and it is also useful as an example of Bates pavement that has been overlaid with asphalt. Since the abandoned original roadway is accessible in several places, this is an excellent location to familiarize oneself up close with the telltales of Bates standard pavement under asphalt. The characteristic center crack and expansion joint cracks are quite visible and viewing them at close range may help an interested party in identifying possible Bates standard underlays in other locations.
As stated at the beginning, this page is not meant to be a comprehensive look at US Route 66 in Oklahoma, just a glance at a few of the more intriguing pieces. Much of the background information given in the above paragraphs comes from Jim Ross's Oklahoma Route 66, which we would like to recommend again as a much more comprehensive guide to US 66 in Oklahoma. In any case, we hope you enjoyed reading about the bits and pieces of the highway we highlighted above and our take on why they are particularly interesting to us here at Oklahoma Highways. Thanks for reading.
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