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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

U.S. 67

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
People still get their kicks remembering old Route 66, but Route 66 plus one – U.S. 67 – is still kicking.

It may not be the Mother Road, but U.S. 67 stretches 1,560 miles across five states, connecting Iowa to Mexico. The highway extends through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois to the intersection of U.S. 52 in Sabula, Iowa, population 670. Six hundred thirty-seven miles of U.S. 67 are in Texas, from Presidio to Texarkana.

One of 45 U.S. highways in Texas, work on the Lone Star segment of U.S. 67 started in 1927 when road builders began an extension from Fredericktown, MO. to Dallas. In 1930, the Highway Department (now the Texas Department of Transportation) began developing the highway from Dallas to Presidio. The highway reached Brownwood in 1932 and had been completed to the border by 1934.

That doesn’t mean that U.S. 67 was a seamless ribbon of pavement from Brownwood to the Big Bend, or from Big D to Little B when it first opened. A 1932 map shows the south-bound pavement out of Brownwood ended just past Talpa, the rest of the way to San Angelo being what the map’s legend referred to as a second-class road, “gravel or graded all weather.” The pavement picked up again at Ballinger and continued through San Angelo.

West of San Angelo, the pavement played out about halfway to Mertzon, with no more hard surface until the Upton County line. Then a motorist had smooth driving to McCamey. After that, except for a brief stretch near Alpine, U.S. 67 ran unpaved all the way to Presidio.

North from Brownwood, the pavement ended at the Comanche County line and didn’t resume until Hood County. From tiny Bluff Dale, drivers had pavement all the way to Texarkana.

When engineers first began designing a state highway system, some of the routes they selected for pavement had already evolved from animal trails to wagon roads to graded roads. In other instances, engineers planned roadways paralleling railroads. Much of U.S. 67 ran adjacent to the railroad tracks from Dallas to Brownwood.

Between Santa Anna and Coleman, the highway parallels the old Orient Railway, which came from Kansas City to Presidio via San Angelo and Fort Stockton in 1911.

By the 1930s, Texas had a respectable highway system, but traveling still was not as easy as it is today. The speed limit had been set at 45 miles an hour in 1928, and held there until 1941, when the Highway Commission bumped it to 60. That lasted until 1942, when war time shortages forced a reduction to 35 miles an hour to conserve gasoline, oil and rubber.

At the end of the war, the speed limit went back to 60, where it stayed until July 1963. That summer it went to 70, the limit until another gasoline shortage in 1974 resulted in a slowdown to 55 that held until the speed went back to the present 70.

The long Texas highway has seen a couple of Golden Eras. The first came during the latter heyday of Big Lake, Rankin and McCamey, with oilfield activity at its peak. The second U.S. 67 boom came during World War II, when Brownwood’s Camp Bowie served as a major Army training facility. GIs who did not reach Brownwood by train came in on U.S. 67.

After the war, a group of transportation and tourism proponents organized the Big Bend Trail Association, a non-profit corporation headed by Claude W. Meadows of San Angelo. The group touted U.S. 67 as the prime route to the new Big Bend National Park, and advocated a continuation of the highway to Chihuahua City in Mexico and from there on to South America.

“Along the route of U.S. 67,” the old Texas Parade Magazine said in 1952, “is a loyal and devout group of representative business men who believe in their hearts that the Big Bend Trail is one of the greatest boons that has come…to the Southwest.”

No matter the beliefs of businessmen, with the completion of Interstate 10 in the early 1970s, traffic on U.S. 67 west of San Angelo dropped considerably. The decline of oilfield activity between Big Lake and McCamey brought a further reduction in traffic, particularly from San Angelo to the I-10 intersection outside Fort Stockton.

The Big Bend Trail Association eventually changed it name to the U.S. Highway 67 Association and continued to promote the route, publishing a four-color brochure touting U.S. 67 as “The Big Bend Trail” and “Family Vacation Route.”

Despite the best efforts of the now-defunct organization, U.S. 67 never received the kind of press Route 66 enjoyed. But unlike Route 66, replaced by I-40 in July 1984, U.S. 67 is not likely to become a ghost road, though in West Texas you don’t have to deal with much traffic.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
August 6 , 2009 column

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