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United States Route 77 between the Kansas state line and Edmond is a rather interesting segment of road, because the vast majority of the original paved route is still signed as US 77 today. Even where US 77 has moved, the old paved route is still designated as a highway in some cases. This makes for a very easy drive if one wishes to follow the old route of the highway, as one need only know which highway number to look for to trace the old path for 90% of the route. We will break this portion of highway into two segments for ease of browsing; this page covers the north half, between Arkansas City, KS and Perry. For the segment between Perry and Edmond, please see the detailed routes page or click here. We hope you enjoy this alternative to I-35.
Start: Arkansas City, Kansas
We will break with tradition for this highway and start our journey outside of Oklahoma, if only just. Beginning on US 77 in Arkansas City and heading south, we soon cross the Arkansas River which gives the town its name. The current bridge appears to be a 1960s era structure; the old bridge which once carried travelers across the mighty river is gone, but the road leading to it on the south side of the river still exists in all its Bates paved glory. As the modern four lane bends west, we can take the obvious straight ahead continuation of bypassed original route which will carry us across the state line and into Oklahoma.
As we rejoin the modern route, we encounter a segment of road that has been rebuilt with shoulders; the old alignment is to our east, the grade still visible between the road and the railroad tracks. The tracks were built by the Santa Fe, and they will be roughly paralleling us on our journey. After a few miles, the road's shoulders disappear, as we are back on the old paved alignment, which has been asphalted over several times. If one pays close attention, the old Bates standard concrete pavement announces its presence beneath the asphalt as cracks have worked their way up through the asphalt over the characteristic 50' spaced expansion joints. We will encounter this situation numerous times on our journey south.
After making our way through Newkirk, still following modern US 77, which is the same as old US 77, we come to another segment of highway that has been widened to divided four lane road. In this instance, an additional set of two lanes was constructed and commissioned as the southbound lanes. The original two lanes now serve northbound traffic only, with the original pavement once again the base for added asphalt layers.
As we approach Ponca City and prepare to cross the Santa Fe tracks, the original pavement disappears as we come to some road that has been completely reconstructed, but we are still very near the original route of the highway. As we reach the Santa Fe tracks, we come to a very interesting example of multiple stage realignments and the evolution of highway railroad crossings.
The original route continues straight along the section line to a classic first generation s-curve and underpass, as can still be found on many old routes throughout Oklahoma. At some point, this was replaced with a new underpass featuring a gentler s-curve and a wider underpass that is skewed rather than crossing perpendicular to the tracks. At that point, US 77 was still two lane highway; when what are now the northbound lanes were added, it was decided, for whatever reason, to build a bridge over the tracks instead of another underpass. At the same time, the curve south of the railroad crossing to bring the highway back to the section line was lengthened by approximately a mile, presumably to bypass several businesses, which likely made right-of-way acquisition for the four lane easier. As a result, the previous curve south of the first realignment was orphaned and left as a deadend road that simply ends just before it would rejoin the highway. We are also left with two different wye junctions on the original alignment and first realignment where what is now State Highway 11 joined US 77.
At this point, we would like to make special mention of the original railroad underpass. The highway leading to the underpass is in fair shape, and the underpass itself is quite sound. However, over its existence, decades worth of sediment has built up in the underpass, creating several inches of dried mud with deep ruts covering the pavement. If one has a vehicle with good ground clearance and the area is dry, it is quite passable, but we do not recommend anyone with a low slung vehicle attempt to utilize the original underpass. We suggest driving to the underpass to view it and deciding for yourself whether you wish to subject your vehicle to the crossing.
As we enter Ponca City, we make several turns, crossing the Santa Fe line again near the center of town after passing by several large homes, including one constructed by oil tycoon E.W. Marland on Grand Avenue, which contains an early indoor swimming pool. At the intersection of Business 60 and Waverly Street, the old banked curve for the highway's turn to the south is visible in the grass southeast of the modern intersection. Evidence of a similar curve at Waverly and modern US 60 is also visible, if not as obvious. After we continue west onto the old route as modern US 60 curves north, we cross a small stringer bridge with single rail "fence" style guardrails with the "deco" detail motif, giving another telltale of an old highway route. This particular piece of road was also the old route of US 60 in addition to US 77.
At this point, we come to the one major rerouting of US 77. We turn south at the wye junction, parting ways with old US 60, to follow what is now State Highway 156, which is the original paved route of US Route 77. This segment of road is another example of original Bates standard concrete pavement that has been overlaid with asphalt over the years. The characteristic 50 foot spaced expansion joints are quite obvious along much of this segment of highway, leading to a wonderful "click-click" as one travels down the road. This is an excellent place to hone one's skills for detecting Bates pavement under modern asphalt, as the telltales one should learn to look for are quite obvious. Just before crossing the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, we come to the ruins of the headquarters of the 101 Ranch, a huge ranch in the early part of the 20th century which entertained many celebrity visitors and put on a famous traveling wild west show. The location also includes ruins of a travel plaza which was built after the Ranch disappeared to lure travelers into stopping for a look at the ruins and, of course, to purchase fuel, food and other items. We highly recommend stopping for a look around; the old travel plaza parking lot is easily accessed, there is a historical marker, and the ruins of both the ranch buildings and the old tourist trap are fascinating.
After we cross the (thankfully still here, but on ODOT's hit list) historic bridge over the Salt Fork, we continue south and pass through the town of Marland, formerly Bliss, renamed in 1922 for oilman E.W. Marland, whose mansion we passed earlier. Soon after exiting Marland, we come to the crown jewel of this highway segment. As we head west along old US 77, modern State Highway 156, we find approximately 6 miles of original Bates standard concrete pavement, unmolested except for added 2 foot extensions on either side, still in use as the wearing surface of a modern highway. The concrete pavement dates from 1929, and has held up in almost pristine condition for eight decades. That one can travel at the posted limit of 65 miles per hour on 80 year old pavement with a ride smoother than many newer highways and expressways is one of the most amazing things we have ever experienced, and a wonderful testament to those who designed and built this highway so long ago.
At the end of the Bates paved segment, the modern route of US 77 rejoins the historic route at an intersection known as Three Sands Junction. This was the historic southern terminus of US Route 177; the modern routing of US 77 between Tonkawa and this point follows what was previously its daughter route. As we continue south, we are once again on original concrete that has been asphalted over.
Just after the junction with eastbound SH 15, we cross Red Rock Creek, and we must once again spare a thought for a lost truss bridge. The classic through Pratt truss was replaced with a much less interesting concrete bridge in 2009. With the replacement of some flood plain bridges as well, a substantial segment of original paved route was unfortunately "alongside bypassed." Thankfully, we are soon able to rejoin it.
As we continue south, we pass under the Cimarron Turnpike, which, uncharacteristically politely, does not disturb us too much with its presence. Several miles further south, we cross a historic bridge which has so far escaped ODOT's vendetta against truss spans. Until a few years ago, there were five truss bridges still on the historic route of US 77 between the Kansas state line and Edmond, but now only the bridge over the Salt Fork on SH 156 and this Parker span over Black Bear Creek remain.
After crossing the bridge, we continue on the asphalt overlaid original pavement into Perry, where the road makes a sweeping turn to the west, then within a few blocks makes a turn to the south at an intersection. Following the signs, we end up making a right onto Fir St, where we begin a concurrence with US Route 64 in the heart of town.
This concludes the first segment of the northern portion of US Route 77 in Oklahoma. We will have plenty to say about the other segment, including a few words about the concurrence with US 64, in part two, but first, we would like to offer some closing thoughts on this segment of route. We started in Kansas, and were able with rare exceptions to follow the original pavement all the way to Perry. Unfortunately, several landmarks have disappeared, but enough remain to give us the flavor of what a traveler 80+ years ago would have experienced. The fact that the route has moved so little in the intervening decades is remarkable, and offers one of the rare opportunities in the state to follow so easily in the footsteps of our ancestors. We hope you enjoyed this first segment, and we hope you will follow along as we continue south toward the Red River. Thanks for reading!
For part two, Perry to Edmond, click here.
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