Kansas is a state where Route 40 is often swallowed up by and disappears under Interstate 70, and it is sometimes difficult to remember that motoring out here was once high adventure, a sporting proposition. One Kansas oldtimer recalls the 1925 summer when he, his brother and cousin borrowed a 1923 Model T and drove from their home near Coffeyville in southeastern Kansas to Gorham in the central section. There they picked up the cousin's father, who was working in a lumber yard, turned around and went home. The round trip was nearly 700 miles and they made it in nine days.
"It was certainly not a pioneering excursion," he says of the trip. "Cars had been common in those parts for at least 10 years, but it was the first chance any of us had had to do some real touring. We prepared carefully. We asked advice from people who had been over parts of our route and when we left we had a great pile of camping gear and supplies lashed to the running boards. This was before it was common practice to number highways. They were named. I can remember the Atlantic and Pacific Highway, the Santa Fe Trail, Pikes Peak, the Potash Highway. I believe what is now Route 40 was called the Victory Highway. There was a general merchant, Woody Hockaday, and he had signs pointing the way into town. That became the Hockaday Highway. The only substantial distance of paved road we encountered was around Wichita. It was a bricked road and was called the Cannonball Road.
"There were some regular filling stations but you couldn't depend on finding one when you needed it. We carried extra gas and you could buy white gas in most groceries and feed stores. Every town of any size had a garage and a top-and-body shop. We carried a lot of tools and spare parts, though I don't recall what all."
The 1926—and first—Rand McNally Auto Road Atlas recommended that a prudent motorist carry, among other things: open end wrenches, monkey wrench, stillson wrench, spark-plug socket wrench, mechanic's hammer, large and small screwdrivers, chain files, nuts, bolts, cotter pins, a spool of soft iron wire, extra tire valves, spark plugs and rim lugs, a box of talcum powder (for inserting tubes in casings), high- and low-tension cable, grease gun, extra fan belt, a sheet of cork, two extra tires and three extra tubes carefully rolled and packed in burlap, tube-patching kit, tire boots, a pump, jack, tire chains and a tow rope.
Except for seven or eight flat tires, the travelers had no serious problems. "People on the road in those days were very good about stopping and helping anyone in trouble," the old-timer says. "Touring was so new that anybody driving became a member of the same club. There were no motels such as we now have. We stayed in tourist camps that were just what the name implies, an open field in which to pitch a tent, a source of water, primitive sanitary facilities and usually a small store run by the owner of the land. In the evening it would take an hour or so to unload and arrange our tent, stove and blankets. At night people would get together to talk about their machines, tell about adventures they had had and exchange information about road conditions. It was a gypsy atmosphere. Maybe it was like the emigrants when they drew up their wagons at night.
"The thing I remember very clearly about that first trip is the great sense of freedom I experienced. In my boyhood you were much more cut off from the rest of the world than is the case today. You lived your life in a small area. There were trains, of course, but on a train you were at the mercy of the railroad in terms of when you could go, where you could stop. The automobile was an entirely different proposition. You could travel when and where you chose to do so. Actually we didn't go very fast or far by today's standards, but I know that summer in 1925 we thought the whole country was open to us. We had the feeling that we were footloose and fancy-free." Footloose and fancy-free—it is an idea of great power and appeal and is perhaps as good a short explanation and justification of the Highway Culture as is possible.
Much that we value of past and present can be found and enjoyed along the route that was first a Shawnee trail and then the National Road and later Route 40—and now in places is known as New 70. It is a highway providing continuity of history and culture as it sweeps from tidewater to the prairies, through cities and country. This continuity was created accidentally and can disappear by accident. Already in a few places the original road on which America moved west is buried under interstates or has been abandoned, reduced to strips of rubble and weeds. There is nothing wicked about this, roads being utilitarian creations, but if the process continues the continuity of the great pathway will soon be lost. That would be a pity.
If historical points and scenic sanctuaries are worth retaining, so, too, is this interesting and instructive roadway. Setting aside hundreds of miles of Route 40 as a long and narrow historical preserve to be administered by a public-works agency is hardly practical or desirable. One of the pleasures of The Road has been the diversity of its styles, people and happenings. Official shrine status would preserve the physical artifacts but not the vitality. Well intended as they might be, mile after mile of park rangers, antiquarians and architectural committees would be too much.
There is an alternative, however. We could use the complex of old highways as a basis for something quite new. We could create a National Slow-Way as a balance against our innumerable Speedways. The Road could be set aside for recreational and contemplative travel, given over to leisurely motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, the occasional horse and buggy, to anyone inclined to mosey.