We like to think of Route 66 shooting straight across New Mexico from Glenrio on the Texas border on past Gallup to the Arizona border. That’s how I followed it as reported the last two months in Southwest Senior.
We think the road ran straight across the state because that’s how Interstate 40 is today, and we know it followed The Mother Road. But, in its early years, the road itself was as convoluted as its history.
In the early 1920s, the last decade of America’s Golden Age, the nation was developing a network of national highways. One of its most ardent promoters was Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, who knew a national highway would bring greater prosperity to Oklahoma. U.S. 60 had been laid out from Virginia Beach to Springfield, Missouri. It was slated to continue across Kansas, Colorado, and Utah to California.
Avery had a different idea. He wanted the highway to run from Springfield through Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Amarillo. It would enter New Mexico at Glenrio, travel to Santa Rosa, and then southwest to Vaughn, Encino, Mountainaire, Socorro, and Quemado before entering Arizona. He promoted the route as avoiding crossing the high Rockies in Colorado. Moreover, he thought the road should extend north to Chicago, believing that would give Oklahoma ranchers better access to Chicago stockyards.
In 1926, the U.S. commissioned Route 60 the way Avery wanted — all except the part from Chicago to Springfield. He had been opposed by highway commission members of southern states who wanted an Atlantic to Pacific highway.
That’s where our story of Hannett’s Joke begins.
Arthur T. Hannett had been a controversial trial lawyer, mayor of Gallup, and member of the state highway commission before being elected governor, serving from January 1925 to January 1927.
According to Eric Scott Jeffries, who wrote The Historic Committee Presents — Hannet’s Joke: Route 66 for the Bar Journal in 2000, New Mexico was a rapidly changing world. Its politics were as rough and tumble as its roads. When Bronson Cutting was U.S. Senator, he accused the Hannett administration of corruption.
Jeffries wrote, “Cutting charged Gov. Hannett with ‘stealing’ the election from Manuel Otero two years ago; with having double-crossed the candidate for treasurer; with being unfair to Spanish Americans in the selection of Ed Scope as a successor to Land Commissioner Justina Baca; and with using the office for the benefit of a little ring calling itself the Democratic Party.’”
Hannett lost the 1926 election to Republican Richard Dillon, a sheep rancher from Encino. He apparently decided he had time to seek revenge for the political slight he perceived to have suffered.
Shortly after the November election, the now lame-duck governor called E.B. Bail, state highway engineer, to his office. He placed a map before the engineer and drew a straight line from Santa Rosa, through Moriarty, to Albuquerque. Bail was familiar with this suggested route. A Mr. Crossley of Moriarty had once driven Bail over the cross-country route.
This is where Hannett said he wanted to new U.S. highway built. It by-passed Encino and put Governor-elect Dillon’s sheep ranching business in jeopardy. The highway engineers were enthusiastic about the challenge. They knew they would lose their jobs come January 1 and thought the project a huge joke.
Hannett had Bail assemble two crews: one Bail led east from Moriarty; the other led by Sam Fulton worked west from Santa Rosa. In 31 days, the crews surveyed, cut, scraped, and graded 69 miles of highway. They worked through bitter December weather. They worked with a makeshift collection of tractors, graders, and dilapidated World War I
Bail’s Moriarty crew encountered nearly 30 miles of piñon forest. They chained trees to tractors and yanked them out of the ground. They cut fences without obtaining condemnation notices. Apparently, landowners thought the road would benefit them. There was not a single law suit filed.
On January 1, 1927, Governor Dillion sent his highway engineer to Palma, about halfway between Moriarty and Santa Rosa, to stop construction. But a heavy snow storm prevented him from reaching the road crews before January 3. By then, the two crews had met; the road was finished.
That should be the end of our story. But it’s not.
The southerners opposing Cyrus Avery won and got their sea-to-shining-sea highway. It took until 1932 to complete U.S. 60 from Springfield through Amarillo to Clovis, Vaughn, Encino and the rest of the route we can drive today.
The proposed Chicago to Los Angeles highway was numbered Route 66. But, instead of following Hannett’s Joke from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque, it met the interests of Santa Fe politicians, business people, and the tourist industry. Route 66 left Santa Rosa in a northwest direction to Romeroville, just south of Las Vegas. It turned south through Glorieta Pass to Santa Fe, switchbacked down La Bajada Hill to Albuquerque, and farther south to Los Lunas. There it turned northwest again, avoiding the worst of the steep, sandy escarpment of Albuquerque’s west mesa, to Correo before heading to Arizona.
Route 66 wasn’t completely paved until 1937, New Mexico being a recipient of Works Progress Administration funding to ameliorate the impact of the Great Depression. The National Recovery Act of 1933 allotted nearly $6 million for road work in New Mexico, including new bridges, paving, grade crossing elimination, and roadway straightening.
This last task — roadway straightening — had its highlight in 1937. That’s when the state highway engineers decided to realign Route 66 and cut more than 100 miles off the route. The giant “S” that swept nearly to Las Vegas and then to Los Lunas was eliminated. The road was realigned directly from Santa Rosa to Moriarty to Albuquerque — following Gov. Hannett’s rush job at the end of his administration.
I guess you could say Arthur T. Hannett finally did have the last laugh.
Budville and Thoreau sit like bookends to Grants, and I marked both on my map to see during my exploration of Route 66. Both have historic garages with interesting stories.
My interest in Budville is obvious. Thoreau captivates me because of the way locals pronounce the name — like “threw” or “through.” That’s appropriate because the farming community that got its start here in the 19th Century is so small, you’re quickly through it. Sort of like, don’t blink or you’ll miss it. I, for one, didn’t just drive through Thoreau. There was something along Route 66 there I had to see — Roy T. Herman’s garage and service station, one of New Mexico’s oldest remaining gas stations along the highway and an example of franchise service stations of the times.
Following World War II, Roy Herman worked at the gas station that was built in 1935. Then, it was a Standard Oil Company station in Grants, 30 miles to the east. When the highway was realigned in 1937, the owners moved the station to Thoreau near the railroad tracks.
Herman purchased the station in 1950, where he and his son have operated the business. In 1963, they stopped selling gasoline to concentrate on repairs and moved the station farther along the highway to the west of town. I’m not quite sure how you move a concrete block building with its hipped roof canopy over the service island and gasoline pumps.
But there it was, surrounded by the cars the men still repair. The old gas pumps are there, but their paint is dull and beginning to chip away. And the sign, telling me this was Herman’s Garage, still sits atop the canopy where it’s been since the 1950s.
Herman’s Garage was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and, despite being moved twice, the building retains its historic appearance.
Twenty-five miles east of Grants, in the shadow of Mount Taylor, is Budville. Roscoe Rice founded the village in the late 1920s, along with his garage. He preferred being called Bud perhaps for the same reason I do. My name is August Biaggio.
Anyway, Bud Rice had the only tow trucks between Albuquerque and Grants, a convenience for motorists who cars frequently broke down. Besides repairs, he sold gasoline. He operated a general store next to the garage, where people could buy food and sundries. His place was also where the Greyhound bus stopped. And Rice was justice of the peace and the local vendor for brake and light stickers, license plates, and drivers’s licenses.
Locals will tell you, if Bud was too busy to come and get your broken-down car, his wife, Flossie, would show up driving one of the wreckers and haul you back to the garage. Flossie not only drove the trucks, she was also a deputy sheriff and represented the law at accidents, making out reports.
They’d probably still be there selling gas and soft drinks if the robbers had not showed up in 1967. During the hold-up, they murdered Bud.
Jill Schneider in her book, Route 66: Across New Mexico, says Flossie sold the wrecker and closed the garage. “There’ll never be another place like Budville again,” she writes. “There’s no room for a one-man operation anymore. Everything has grown too big and that’s a shame.”
Both Budville and Herman’s are reminders of what it was like for travelers to stop for gasoline and service along The Mother Road.