Western Trips

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Route 66 / Texas Panhandle

Traveling through the Texas Panhandle on Interstate 40 offers some very interesting stops regarding the old "Mother Road", Route 66. As you may know, Interstate 40 through Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona roughly follows Route 66. Many towns sprouted up in the Texas Panhandle aided by both the railroad and the famed highway.

route 66 texas
Route 66 in the Texas Panhandle
The Texas Panhandle Comes Into Being.

If you ever wondered how the Texas Panhandle came into being, it was the result of the Compromise of 1850. Prior to and even during the Mexican American War of the 1840's, Texas claimed a vast area in the west. Claims were made as far west as the Rio Grande in present day New Mexico. This began during the days of the Texas Republic in the 1830's. When the war ended, the federal government created New Mexico Territory. Issues necessitating the involved slavery and general sectional disputes. When the compromise was reached, Texas was allocated the over 25,000 square mile area which we call the Panhandle.

The Texas Panhandle would eventually be an area noted for cattle ranching. It was in the Texas Panhandle where the famous XIT Ranch operated within it's 3 million acres. 

The Railroad and the Texas Panhandle

These are the towns you'll find today driving west from Amarillo Texas. These include towns such as Vega, Adrian and Wildorado Texas. The economy of these towns were generally ranching and agricultural. The first boom era was ushered in with the railroad.

vega texas
Vega Texas
While the Denver and Fort Worth Railroad put Amarillo on the map,other railroads were building into Amarillo Texas. Mergers and acquisitions took place and eventually the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad was completed.

By 1910, a rail line was built from Amarillo west to the New Mexico border. The Rock Island would eventually run to Tucumcari New Mexico where it would join up with a Southern Pacific line and offer service from Chicago to the west coast. This line would be in direct competition with the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

Route 66

After the Texas Panhandle towns of Adrian, Vega and Wildorado came into their own due to the railroad, they would find themselves directly on the path of America's Route 66. When Route 66 came into being in 1927, American's finally had a numbered highway that would extend from Chicago Illinois to Santa Monica California.

magnolia gas station texas
Magnolia Station
Adrian Texas

Texas Panhandle towns west of Amarillo suddenly had an influx of cross country travelers. Motels or motor courts sprung up. Restaurants and gas stations suddenly grew by leaps and bounds. Adrian Texas represents the halfway point between Chicago and Santa Monica. One thousand and one hundred and thirty nine miles in either direction.

Vega Texas

The first store to open in Vega Texas was in 1903. At one time this was a busy town along Route 66. Vega had cafes and gas stations, three small hotels and auto repair shops. The town's name came from the Spanish word "Vega" which means meadow. Drive past Vega on Route 66 today and you'll still see the Vega Motel sign. The motel was built in 1947 when post war traffic on Route 66 was humming along and it still operates today. 

Drive into the center of Vega today and you'll see the restored 1920's era Magnolia Gas Station. The Magnolia Petroleum Company was formed in 1911 after the consolidating of several other oil companies. More mergers would take place. The Magnolia stations sold Mobil oil and gas. It's most recognizable symbol is the Greek horse "Pegasus" which still can be seen on top of the old Magnolia Building in downtown Dallas Texas which is now the Magnolia Hotel.

vega texas motel
Vega Motel on Route 66
Wildorado Texas

Wildorado Texas came into being in 1900 when the Rock Island Railroad came through the Texas Panhandle. Wildorado published it's own newspaper by 1909. When the rail lines were built the town site was mapped out. Just as with Adrian and Vega, Wildorado's growth blossomed after World War Two thanks to old Route 66.

Side Trips Off the Interstate

It's so easy these days to drive right past historically interesting sites and landmarks when traveling the Interstates. Because it follows much if the old Route 66, Interstate 40 through Texas is an excellent example. When you drive west of Amarillo you'll see the signs of the town's names and you'll also see signs pointing out where sections of the old Mother Road still exist. If you have the time I think you'll find a short detour through some of these towns a worth while stop. Lots of old Route 66 nostalgia is guaranteed.

amarillo texas santa fe depot
Old Santa Fe Train depot, Amarillo
If you drive west from Oklahoma City on Interstate 40 before reaching the Texas Panhandle there are many interesting stops. One is historic Fort Reno just about twenty miles west of Oklahoma City.

You'll enjoy our Western Trips article on Fort Reno. Drive a bit further west to Erick Oklahoma and you can visit the Roger Miller Museum.  The singer songwriter was born in Erick and the town has put together a very interesting museum concerning his career.

You'll also enjoy our photo article on the Roger Miller Museum. Another interesting Western Trips photo article is Tucumcari along Route 66.

All of these attractions and many more are along the old Route 66 and now easy to reach via Interstate 40. You'll also want to set aside some time to visit the old Route 66 area of Amarillo. The Mother Road went through the center of the city and there's plenty of interesting structures and shops still standing from the era.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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