Nothing makes you feel more like you’ve gone back in time on Route 66, than finding a beautiful stretch of the road’s original concrete surface. A near-perfect slab of 1930’s concrete still exists, west of El Reno, Oklahoma. Your tires will ba-bump, ba-bump beneath you as you pass the miles, admiring the increasingly flat landscape.
[tmt_info =””] I’ll give you a brief description of how to follow Route 66 (the post-1933 alignment) from El Reno to Hydro, but you should definitely carry a good guidebook if you’re going to drive it yourself. Follow the I-40 business loop through El Reno. Just before it rejoins I-40, a road turns off to the right, leading to Fort Reno. This is Route 66. The 2-lane road turns to 4-lane at US 281 Spur. After a couple of miles, Route 66 turns off to the left. When you reach US 281, turn left, and cross the pony bridge. Later, US 281 will turn off to the left, but you should stay straight ahead to continue on 66.[/tmt_info]
There’s not much out here, but farmland, a few homes, and an occasional old gas station, like this one.
Unfortunately, you have to watch the map closely, and make a couple of critical turns in the right places. But eventually, you come upon a spectacular old Route 66 bridge.
The bridge over the South Canadian River made the 1933 alignment of Route 66 possible. The bridge isn’t tall, but it is surprisingly long. It’s known as the “Pony Bridge” because it’s made up of 38 small, or “pony”, trusses. Each truss is just slightly longer than 100 feet, making the entire bridge 3,944.33 feet–almost 3/4 of a mile long!
Be careful when stopping to take a picture of the bridge. There isn’t a good place to pull off the road, and obviously, there’s no room for pedestrians on the deck of the bridge. At least you can see cars coming, long before they arrive!
[tmt_info =””]The Pony Bridge makes an appearance in the 1939 movie, The Grapes Of Wrath. Watch for it when Grandpa is buried. Just think, when it appeared in the movie, the bridge was only 6 years old![/tmt_info]
After more miles of beautiful, original concrete, you arrive at…
Hydro is tiny, but you will find a few Route 66 related businesses on Main Street. The town itself is less than a mile north of Route 66.
Another huge grain elevator welcomes you to Hydro.
Back on Old 66, just west of the road to downtown Hydro, the Mother Road once again becomes a frontage road for Interstate 40. After you pass the on-ramp, you’ll see an old 2-story gas station at the side of the road. It may look like a hundred other sagging structures you’ve passed on Route 66, but this one is significant.
The building isn’t famous for its design (even though it’s one of only two old stations on Route 66 in Oklahoma that have a second-story living space over the pumps). It’s famous for the woman who spent her life here. Lucille Hamons purchased the place along with her husband, Carl, in 1941. She also died here, in 2000. During the six decades in between, Lucille’s spirit and determination became legendary. When her husband started driving a truck to make ends meet, she ran the business by herself. When he divorced her, she was left with the business, and kept it running. When I-40 came through, replacing Route 66 and cutting off her business, she found new ways to keep the gas station afloat. And in the 1980’s, when new regulations for underground gas tanks created yet another near-devastating expense, she wrote a book about her life on the Route, and paid the bills. After six decades, Lucille Hamons rightfully earned the title, “Mother of the Mother Road”.
After her death in 2000, the old building fell into disrepair. Just recently, it was purchased by a businessman (who also owns the new Lucille’s Roadhouse–more on that in a moment) who made structural repairs, removed the vines that covered the building, and added new (old) pumps out front. A Will Rogers/Route 66 granite marker has been added, too. The building’s inside is still a mess, but I’m sure it won’t be that way for much longer.
After a few more miles on Route 66 (just far enough away from the Interstate to make it a comfortable drive)…
… a much busier interchange (exit 84) is now home to the reincarnation of Lucille’s old business, the nice, modern, and much larger Lucille’s Roadhouse, at Weatherford, Oklahoma.
If it had been lunch time, I would have eaten at Lucille’s. But it wasn’t, so I poked around the small gift shop area at the front of Lucille’s for a minute. I would have bought a t-shirt, but they all said, “Lucille’s — Weatherford, OK”. It seemed to be a small insult to the original roadhouse that did business in tiny Hydro (not Weatherford) all those years. It was enough to convince me that I could survive without a souvenir from Lucille’s.
After driving through Weatherford, Route 66 is once again a frontage road, hanging close to (and occasionally crossing over) I-40. Allow a windmill farm to entertain your eyes as you head on to Clinton, Oklahoma.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.