By Frank Brusca (firstname.lastname@example.org)
More than a half-century ago, I discovered George Stewart’s 1953 book, U.S. 40. That landmark publication about pre-Interstate road travel and a slice of American life contained 115 brilliant photographs and about 100 essays about everyday life along what is perhaps the greatest highway in the nation.
Stewart’s book was the spark that ignited a lifelong obsession with that transcontinental thoroughfare. As a child, my parents took my four siblings and me on extended annual road trips that often included Route 40. As an adult, I have driven the highway from Atlantic City to San Francisco, often revisiting the scenes from Stewart’s book. So when I read Kerouac’s On the Road, I was struck by how he traveled Route 40 more than any other highway.
Here are my five favorite aspects of Route 40.
1: F.M. Light & Sons
The best way to describe this venerable Colorado retailer is to imagine L.L. Bean in the Rockies. Located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, they specialize in outdoor and Western wear, and serious road trippers should be obligated to embark on a brief diversion at the store. However, what sets F.M. Light & Sons apart are its signs. For miles in each direction, the highway is festooned with dozens of charming hand-painted black and yellow signs, somewhat akin to Burma Shave signs. When I see the signs, I am reminded of childhood road trips on Route 301 and keeping an eye out for South of the Border signs.
2: Golconda Summit
This mountain pass is on an abandoned section of Route 40 a few miles east of Golconda, Nevada. I have a fascination with the American West, and no other place provides as much pleasure as standing at the pass with the desert air blowing past, taking in one of the best views in the U.S. The pass featured in U.S. 40 is one of my favorite places. For the highway archeologist, five iterations of the road pass by this point. Access to the old pass is tricky and should be done in a high-clearance vehicle. You will need to travel along two miles of abandoned road that once had a sign that read, “Travel at Your Own Risk.”
To read the rest of this article, members are invited to log in. Not a member? We invite you to join. This article originally appeared in SCA Road Notes, informally known as SCA News, is a quarterly publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology. Back issues are available for download.
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