As we approached Santa Rosa on Interstate 40 the heavens opened and for about ten minutes we drove through a downpour so heavy that it was almost impossible to see the road or any other vehicle on it – scary stuff. Maybe the elements were finding a way to punish the road that almost destroyed one of the most iconic of all American cultural icons, Route 66.
We were here to visit the Route 66 museum, dedicated to capturing and preserving all that is most symbolic of America’s Mother Road. The Santa Rosa section of Route 66 opened in 1930 and the town flourished with the business it brought. Motels, diners, gas stations lined the highway here; you can still see some reminders of that era lining the historic route that runs parallel to the Interstate.
I was also interested to read that Santa Rosa’s stretch of Route 66 is part of film history. The film of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was partly shot here. The director John Ford used Santa Rosa for the memorable train scene in which Tom Joad (played by Henry Fonda) watches a freight train steam over the Pecos River railroad bridge into the sunset. The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favourite books, and I loved the film; so our visit here sent me back to watch and enjoy it again.
Route 66 Auto Museum
One of the pleasures of a US road trip for us is discovering the off-beat attractions as well as the major historic sites and natural wonders; and Santa Rosa’s Route 66 Auto Museum is an excellent example! Owner Bozo Cordova has amassed a wonderful collection of classic cars and Route 66 memorabilia, and has turned his passion into a great attraction.
Cordova grew up along Route 66 and this gave rise to a lifelong interest in cars. He started out with the model variety and worked his way up to the real thing, starting a Route 66 business, Bozo’s Garage, here in Santa Rosa. But his collection of classic cars grew so much that he opened the museum to accommodate and show them off.
Even before we went inside the museum we discovered a number of vehicles parked outside worthy of attention and of our cameras. Unfortunately, although it had stopped raining just as we arrived, the sky was very leaden; we only took a few pictures here.
Inside the museum
Inside we found ourselves in a large gift shop / café; here we paid the entry fee for the museum ($5 in 2011). This lies behind the wall that separates it from the shop and is vast! Classic cars of all kinds make up the bulk of the collection; and their elegant shapes and interesting details made for great photos. Among others we saw Chevys, Buicks, Fords, a Coupe de Ville, a Mustang and more.
There were also lots of smaller Route 66 related memorabilia, both in the museum and in the shop area. I loved seeing the old signs, including the original Fat Man sign from the now defunct Club Café which was painted by Route 66 sign painter Rudolph Gonzales of ‘Signs by Rudy’ in nearby Tucumcari.
Incidentally, a few of the cars were for sale when we visited; so if you’re looking for a very big holiday souvenir this could be the place! It wouldn’t be a cheap souvenir however; the 1970 Dodge Roadrunner that caught my eye was $45,000. There were more reasonably priced souvenirs in the shop of course, with a large collection of Route 66 related items. These included t-shirts and other clothing, model cars, shot and beer glasses, various signs and of course model cars. Although we weren’t shopping it was interesting to see the additional museum items displayed here. I particularly liked some of the old photos of the road at the height of its importance.
We had previously driven stretches of Route 66 on our road trip in Arizona. But our visit to this time capsule of a museum inspired both of us with a desire one day to drive it in its entirety; a plan that is now firmly on our post-Covid travel wish-list. So watch this space!
I visited Santa Rosa in 2011