Old 4-Lane Stretch Of Old Route 66 Through Hooker Cut

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This is one of the strangest sections of Old Route 66 — one that left me feeling like the last person on earth, standing on an abandoned road that was built differently than any 4-lane highway I had ever seen, through a place where two lanes would have been excessive.

If you’ve been following I-44 instead of committing to every square inch of frontage road and back road that made up Route 66, then you need to be sure you don’t pass by Hooker Cut and Devil’s Elbow.  If you’re westbound, get off at Clementine (Exit 169), and take County Hwy. Z.  Eastbounders, use Morgan Heights exit 163.

Between Interstate exits 169 and 163, old US 66 mysteriously, and quite unexpectedly, transforms from two lanes to four.  It still feels like the old road, after all, this section of highway was built in the early 1940’s.  The original concrete has curbs at the edges, just like the 2-lane sections.  But here, the road has doubled.

Back when this section of highway was built, I imagine they hadn’t built many multi-lane roads before.  So naturally, they did everything wrong.  There’s a narrow median, but no turn lanes in the appropriate places.  There isn’t much of a shoulder at the side of the road–just an upturn in the concrete, then grass and weeds.  Since just about nobody uses this road anymore, all that vegetation hangs over onto the road, making the whole area feel like a rural scene from I Am Legend, minus the dark seekers.

So I just stopped in the middle of the road.  With little room on the shoulder, I didn’t have much of a choice.  It didn’t matter; there was no traffic.

All four lanes pass through Hooker Cut, before dropping down to the Big Piney River.  At the time it was completed, Hooker Cut was one of the deepest cuts made through rock of any road in the country.

In A Guide Book to Highway 66, published in 1946, Jack Rittenhouse explains why this part of the road is 4-lanes: to carry all the traffic to and from Fort Leonard Wood, which is just a few miles west of here.  He goes on to describe the 4-lane highway as “an engineering triumph, and truly a joy to the traveler.”

As you make the descent from Hooker Cut, watch for Teardrop Road to turn to the left (before you cross Big Piney River).  Teardrop Road is the old, old alignment of Route 66, before the 4-lane was built.  Just before you reach the old, rusty steel bridge that crosses the river…

… you’ll pass the Elbow Inn.  This old roadhouse was the original Munger Moss Sandwich Shop (named for the owner, Mrs. Munger, who after being widowed, married a man named Moss).  When the highway alignment changed, the owners moved their business to nearby Lebanon, Missouri, and expanded it, to include the landmark Munger Moss Motel.

Past the Elbow Inn, you can drive further along the river for a close-up look at Devil’s Elbow.  This dog-leg in the river frequently jammed with logs and debris.

 

Backtrack and cross the old steel bridge…

… then head uphill.  Before the old, old road meets back up with the new, old road, watch for this overlook point…

… which gives you a good view of the valley below.  Even though it’s called the Devil’s Elbow viewpoint, you can’t actually see the bend in the river.

Now let’s backtrack for a moment…

If you decided not to turn on Teardrop Road, and instead opted to follow 4-lane 66, you’ll cross Big Piney River on one of these two concrete arch bridges.

Just after crossing the bridge, watch for the Piney Beach Cabins below the road on the right (westbound).  A set of 1940’s motor court cabins have been restored.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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