BILLY HOLCOMB CHAPTER
OF THE ANCIENT AND HONORABLE ORDER OF
E CLAMPUS VITUS®
A TOUR OF HISTORICAL US HWY 99
FROM THERMAL TO INDIO
MARCH 14, 15, 16, 2008
(IN THE RECKONING OF OUR ORDER 6013)
HELD UNDER THE AUSPICES OF RICK GAVIGAN, VNGH
ARTICALES COMPILED BY Mike Johnson XNGH, CLAMPHISTORIAN
BILLY HOLCOMB CHAPTER 1069
ANCIENT AND HONORABLE ORDER OF
E CLAMPUS VITUS
HOLCOMB’S EXTRAORDINARY MEMBERS ONLY REDSHIRT RENDEZVOUS
HAPPENING OF INSANE DOINGS
AN HISTORIC TOUR ALONG
OLD ROUTE 99
MARCH 14, 15, 16, 2008
(In the Reckoning of Our Order, Clampyear 6013)
HELD DURING THE REIGN OF VNGH
ARTICLE COMPILED BY
XNGH MIKE JOHNSON, CLAMPHISTORIAN
TORRES-MARTINEZ INDIAN RESERVATION
The Cahuilla Indian village of Toro is located on the Colorado Desert at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. The first recorded mention of the village is found in the 1856 field notes of U.S Deputy Surveyor John La Croze. In his writings he calls it both Toro’s and Torros. The next recorded mention of the village comes in early 1862 when Captain William McCleave speaks of proceeding “to Toro’s, an Indian rancheria, Toro being the name of the chief.” In the summer of that year the Los Angeles Star printed an itinerary of William Bradshaw’s new road to the gold strikes at La Paz, Arizona listing the Toro Indian Village, between Agua Caliente and Martinez (or Martin’s). By 1866 the area was known as El Torro Station, a mail and stage stop on the La Paz Road. By about 1875 it was commonly referred to by local miners as Torres.
When first established by Executive Order of President Ulysses S. Grant in May of 1876, the reservation was called Torres. Later, to reflect its use by Cahuilla Indians of both Torres and Martinez, the name was changed. It covered 24,800 acres, including a section of the then-dry Salton Sink. With the formation of the Salton Sea in 1905-1907 much of the land was inundated and today about 11,000 acres (40%) of the reservation is under the surface of the Sea. The remaining acreage is “checkerboarded” with private agricultural land, representing one of the most intensely cultivated and productive agricultural areas in the country. About twelve miles of Salton Sea shoreline are currently within the reservation boundaries. The population of Torres-Martinez today is about 140, and the tribal offices are located in Thermal.
The ancestors of current tribal members were Desert Cahuillas, who distinguished themselves by their ability to develop water supplies in this arid country with deep hand-dug, walk-in wells. Historic sites on the reservation include Toro Indian Village, the Coachella Valley Fish Traps, and the Martinez Historic District, which has what are believed to be the oldest existing Indian Agency buildings in California. Planned business ventures include agriculture, a truck stop, a nature tourist/travel center, various industrial activities, a sand and gravel operation, and even a gold mine. Torres-Martinez is also interested in taking an active role in Salton Sea restoration efforts and its location on (and in) the northern portion of the Sea, make it a key component in such efforts.
This information taken from the Tribal website and from June Davies Gunther’s “Riverside County, California, Place Names: Their Origins and Their Stories.” (Rubidoux Printing Company, Riverside, California, 1984)
The early life of Jacqueline Cochran is cloaked in mystery. There are conflicting reports that she was an orphan, was adopted, was a foster child, etc. Some of this confusion probably stems from Jackie’s later attempts to distance herself from her humble beginnings. It appears that she was born as Bessie Lee Pittman in the Florida panhandle, not too far from Mobile, Alabama. Where the name Jacqueline came from is unknown.
Some sources report a childhood of abject poverty, while others state that the family, while certainly not rich, lived lives similar to most others in that time and place. In 1920 she married an aircraft mechanic from nearby Pensacola Naval Air Station named Robert Cochran. The couple moved to Miami, where they lived for four years before getting a divorce. Their only child, Robert Jr., died a tragic death before his fifth birthday when he set his clothes on fire while playing in the backyard.
Jackie worked a series of low-paying jobs in her youth, and developed a burning ambition to get free from such a hand-to-mouth existence. She began working at a local beauty salon, and, full of ambition and a drive to better herself, eventually parlayed this humble beginning into a career as a top New York hairdresser. She often accompanied her rich and devoted clients as they vacationed in Europe or wintered in Florida.
In 1932, at a society dinner party in Miami, she happened to be seated next to Floyd Odlum, founder of a movie company and CEO of RKO Studios in Hollywood. He was reputed to be one of the ten richest men in the world at the time. Odlum was married with children and fourteen years her senior, but each was quite taken with the other. When Jackie related that she had plans to sell cosmetics on the road, he suggested that she might get a leg up on her competition by learning to fly. Eventually, he would help her establish a cosmetics business. From this point on, she had two great interests: flying, and Floyd Odlum.
After a friend offered her a ride in an airplane, she began taking flying lessons at New York’s Roosevelt Field. It was immediately evident that she was a natural flyer, and she obtained her pilot’s license in only three weeks. Her lack of formal education was a handicap in taking written tests, and in typical Jackie Cochran style she browbeat the examiner into letting her take the test verbally. This was the beginning of a great career in aviation.
She seemed to thrive in the heavily male-dominated flying circles that she began to frequent. She launched her cosmetic line, called Wings, and flew all over the country promoting her products. Within two years she had obtained her commercial pilot’s license. Odlum lent her support, at one time using his Hollywood connections to get Marilyn Monroe to endorse her lipstick. After Odlum and his wife were divorced, he and Jackie wed in 1936.
Meanwhile, she continued to perfect her aviation skills, even though she often struggled with classroom studies. In 1934 her competitive spirit came to the fore, and she entered the MacRobertson London-to-Australia air race, flying one of the most dangerous aircraft of the era, the Gee Bee racer. Her attempt to win the $75,000 prize was thwarted when she had to make an emergency landing in Romania. She lost the money, but lived to fly another day.
In 1935 she entered the prestigious Bendix transcontinental air race. Women had previously been banned, but with the help of Amelia Earhart she once again, by sheer force of personality, obtained permission to enter, thereby opening up the race for women. She didn’t win in 1935, but won first place in the women’s division (third overall) in 1937, and became the first woman to make a blind (instrument) landing. After that, she began to pile up aviation records like cordwood. By 1938 she was considered the best female pilot in the United States, and was not just setting women’s firsts, but overall records.
When World War II broke out in 1939, she joined the British Air Transport Auxiliary, which used female pilots to “free a man to fight” by performing various non-combat flying duties, such as ferrying aircraft, towing gunnery targets, etc. In this role she became the first woman to fly a bomber (a Lockheed Hudson) across the Atlantic. In 1940 she submitted a plan to Eleanor Roosevelt for creating a similar organization in the United States.
Also in 1940, she wrote to Colonel Robert Olds, who was organizing what would soon become the Air Transport Command. Early in 1941 Olds tasked Cochran with gathering data about women pilots in America that might be tapped for such a mission. In 1941, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, head of the U. S. Army Air Forces, asked Cochran to take a group of female pilots to check out the British system. Twenty-five (25) highly skilled women went to England and flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary, becoming the first group of women to fly military aircraft.
When America entered the war, Cochran was made head of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) and supervised the training of over 1,000 pilots. At war’s end she was hired as a magazine reporter, and in this role witnessed the Japanese surrender in the Phillipines, became the first western woman to enter occupied Japan, and attended the Nuremburg Trials in Germany.
She also began flying the new generation of jet aircraft. Encouraged by then-Major Chuck Yeager, with whom she shared a lifelong friendship. In May of 1953 she flew a Canadian CF-86, borrowed from the Royal Canadian Air Force, at a speed of over 652 mph, thus becoming the first woman to break the sound barrier. She also became the first female to land and take off from an aircraft carrier, to reach Mach 2 (in an F-104 Starfighter), to fly a jet aircraft across the Atlantic, to be enshrined in the Aviation Hall of Fame in Ohio, and the only woman to ever be president of the Federation Aeronatique Internationale. To this day she is credited with more distance and speed records than any pilot, living or dead, male or female.
In 1948, a year after the creation of a separate U. S. Air Force, she joined Air Force Reserve and eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In the 1960s she was a sponsor of the Women in Space Program, an early organization to test the ability of women to become astronauts, which today is accepted practice. During Congressional feasibility hearings, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter both testified against admitting women to the astronaut program.
In addition to her aviation skills, she also held political ambitions. She ran for Congress in her California district, and although she defeated a field of five men for the Republican nomination, she lost the election to the Democratic candidate. Fiercely competitive, ambitious, opinionated, and used to getting her own way by sheer force of will, her political setback was one of the few personal failures she ever experienced. She never ran again, and friends reported that the loss bothered her the rest of her life.
As a result of her close involvement with the military and her foray into politics, she became close friends with General Dwight Eisenhower. In early 1952 she and her husband helped sponsor a huge political rally at Madison Square Gardens in support of Eisenhower as a Presidential candidate. The rally was filmed, and Jackie personally flew the film to France for a special showing at Eisenhower’s military headquarters. Her efforts proved a major factor in convincing him to run for President. Becoming close friends, Eisenhower frequently visited her and her husband at their ranch in the Coachella Valley, and upon leaving office wrote portions of his memoirs there.
Jacqueline Cochran died on August 9, 1980 at the home in Indio she shared with Floyd Odlum. A long-time resident of the Coachella Valley, she is buried in the Coachella Valley Cemetery. She often used the Thermal Airport over the course of her long career. The field, which had later been named Desert Resorts Regional Airport, was again renamed the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in her honor, and hosts an annual air show named for her.
Despite their obvious merits, her aviation accomplishments never garnered the continuing media attention given to Amelia Earhart, perhaps because of the American fascination with heroes who die young at the height of their powers. Her use of her husband’s immense wealth probably overshadowed her rags-to-riches story. Nonetheless, she deserves a well-earned place in the ranks of famous women in history for her tremendous personal, business, and aviation accomplishments.
Other honors won by Jackie Cochran:
Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross
Legion of Merit
French Legion of Honor and French Air Medal
Only woman to ever receive the Gold Medal of the Federation Aeronatique Internationale
Director, Northwest Airlines
International Aerospace Hall of Fame
National Aviation Hall of Fame
International Astronomical Union named 100 km crater on Venus in her name
First woman with permanent display of achievements at Air Force Academy
1996 postage stamp entitled “Jacqueline Cochran-Pioneer Pilot”
Motorsports Hall of Fame
This article is excerpted primarily from information obtained from the National Aviation Hall of Fame, as well as various other internet sources.
Coachella Valley’s first settlers, in the 1890s, were mostly single men. Many worked for the railroad or were looking into other possibilities for making a living here. Wives and children came later. Edith Mann Ross came by covered wagon from Vancouver, Washington, arriving in Indio in 1896 with her parents, sister, and two brothers. The Mann children brought the number of school-age children to seven, the number required by the County of Riverside to justify hiring a teacher. The first classes were held in a tent, set up east of the railroad station. In 1897 classes were moved to a newly completed adobe schoolhouse at the corner of Bliss and Fargo Streets in Indio. The adobe bricks were made by local Indians, who helped with the construction. A bell was donated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Claude Cooper, a homesteader, built a bell tower and a picket fence which surrounded the school. Adobe was the building material of many of California’s first schools. They were often dimly lighted, with doubtful ventilation, but they were a step up from school buildings described in early county history books ad “just boards placed upright, with numerous ventilating cracks.”
Indio School District was organized October 2, 1897. The school was built on land donated to the district by George W. Durbrow, the sub divider. Miss Quinn, the first teacher, taught all eight grades, but she lacked enough pupils to fill the classes. Except for buildings down Fargo Avenue, the school was surrounded by desert.
Indio grew, and the adobe school was replaced by a two-room frame-construction school at the corner of Bliss and Oasis Streets in 1909. The adobe building served as a Methodist church for many years. It was damaged in the 1916 floods and by fire in 1922 or 1923, when it was being used as a feed warehouse. The bell from the adobe school was moved to the new building. George Koehler, a longtime Indio resident, remembered ringing the bell. He was the bell ringer in 1918, and told of knots at various levels in the bell rope to accommodate the different heights of students chosen for the privilege of ringing the bell. In addition to calling students to class, the bell was used to announce special school events, such as parties and plays. It was also rung on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, to commemorate the end of World War I. The bell was silent during the great Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, when many people were stricken with the flu and the school was used as a hospital.
On June 10, 1926 a contract was let to T. C. Kistner and Company to construct a four-room hollow tile building to replace the previous structure. The new school was later named Lincoln School. It remained in use for many years until the property was sold and the building demolished some time after 1955. The old frame school was moved to a site behind the Roosevelt School on Highway 111 and served as extra classroom space, as school cafeteria, and later as a storeroom.
At first, Lincoln School was used for all eight grades. Teachers at that time received a yearly salary of $1,350. Through the 1930s the school was used for students in grades one through four who needed additional help with English. In 1942 a court ruling against the segregation of Mexican children was made and children with limited English were no longer sent to separate schools.
One of the early teachers was Ione Crabb Cologne. In time, the school became known as “Mrs. Cologne’s School,” and parents would do almost anything to get their children enrolled in her first-grade class. She stayed at Lincoln School until it was declared unsafe and closed in 1952, serving as both teacher and principal. When she retired in 1957, Indio declared “Ione Cologne Day,” and more than 400 people turned out to help celebrate. Indio’s second schoolhouse, now relocated to the Miles Avenue Park, is being renovated as a history exhibit of the Coachella Valley Historical Society.
Information for this segment of the article provided by the Coachella Valley Historical Society.
In 1920 Dr. Harry W. and Nell Frances Smiley came to Indio from Little Rock, Arkansas. Some reports state that they settled in Indio as a result of an automobile breakdown, having originally planned to travel to the coast and begin a medical practice there. At first they lived in an adobe house in town, then moved “out into the country” and built a spacious home which also served as Dr. Smiley’s office. The site is still known to many as the Smiley Place. The popular couple, known universally as “Doc” and “Smiley,” soon became an important part of the community. Their home now houses the Coachella Valley Museum and Cultural Center, which opened in the fall of 1984.
The house is built of 14-inch-thick adobe bricks made in La Quinta. Among many unique features is the 1,100 square foot basement, which was intended as living quarters for the hot Coachella Valley summers in the days prior to air conditioning. There was even a dumbwaiter connecting it to the ground floor. The plan did not work out to the couple’s expectations, and they often spent summers in Alaska.
The approximately 3,500 square foot ground floor included two rooms used for Doc Smiley’s medical practice, as well as space for live-in household help. A portion of it later became the dental office of Dr. John C. Tyler, and to some local residents the home is known as the Tyler House.
Nell Frances, called Smiley by the locals, helped keep the family on a sound financial footing. In addition to helping with the business end of her husband’s medical practice, she invested in real estate and eventually acquired land adjacent to their home and built a group of apartments. When Indio was incorporated in 1930, the area was annexed by the city and was known as the Smiley Annex.
The Smileys had no children of their own. This may account in part for Dr. Smiley’s interest in helping Ralph Pawley to become a physician and establish his own practice in the area. During World War II Mrs. Smiley rented her apartments, as well as space in the basement, to wives and dependents of soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Young, headquarters of the famous Desert Training Center/California-Arizona Maneuver Area.
Doc Smiley passed away in 1948, and Dr. and Mrs. Tyler bought the property. It continued to serve the dual purpose of home and professional office. Mrs. Smiley died in 1951, marking the end of an era in the medical and social history of the area. Their presence in the valley in these early times is still felt today.
The house and grounds are often described as Spanish Colonial, but there is also a strong English influence, as well as Flemish, Italian, and Moroccan elements in the architecture. Spectacular rose gardens were an important part of the visual attraction, as were iris beds, lilies, flowering shrubs, and citrus and nut trees. A cork oak tree is the focal point of the Museum entrance. The property is surrounded by a six-foot adobe wall, reminding visitors of earlier and simpler times.
Excerpted from material provided by the Coachella Valley Historical Society.
DOCTOR JUNE HILL ROBERTSON McCARROLL
The chapters of Dr. June McCarroll’s life that are most well documented include the years of her medical practice in the Coachella Valley and the developing and championing of the idea for center stripes for streets and highways. Very little is known about her life in the Midwest prior to her arrival in Indio or after retiring from the practice of medicine.
We do know that June Hill was born on June 30, 1867 in Kentucky. She attended college in Chicago, unusual for women at that time, and received her medical training at the Allopathic Medical College, an exceedingly rare accomplishment for women of that era. She served as physician for the Nebraska State School for two years. Clearly, her early accomplishments marked her as an extraordinary person.
Her husband, John Robertson, developed tuberculosis, which caused Dr. McCarroll to give up her career to move to a warm dry climate, the treatment of choice for TB. The couple traveled to Los Angeles, intending to settle eventually in the Imperial Valley. During their trip to Imperial Valley they discovered a tuberculosis health camp in the tiny community of Indio, and modified their plans. The camp had been established by an Illinois manufacturer and philanthropist, and was managed by Job Harriman, vice-presidential candidate during the 1900 election. Mr. Harriman was looking for someone to supervise the 60-acre farm associated with the camp. Mr. Robertson accepted the position, and in the process regained his own health. Dr. McCarroll retired from the practice of medicine, intending to become a frontier housewife.
Doctor June, as she came to be known, was thrust back into the practice of medicine when the attending physician at the camp quit and returned to the East. Doctor June was asked to care for the patients until a new physician could be found. The local families implored her to become their regular doctor. The California Board of Medical Examiners granted her a special permit and she resumed her medical practice only a few weeks after her arrival. She soon earned an outstanding reputation for her skilled medical care and her dedication to the community.
In the pre-antibiotic years of the early 20th century, treatment of tuberculosis consisted primarily of rest and sunshine. Keeping patients’ morale high was also important, since most of them were not able to work on the farm and were isolated from the rest of the sparsely-populated Coachella Valley communities. To provide reading material for her patients, Doctor June applied for a library branch to be established in her home. Thus, she founded the first library in the Coachella Valley in September, 1905, consisting of 50 to 100 volumes which were updated every three months.
Doctor June’s medical practice ranged over a vast area, from the newly formed Salton Sea to Palm Springs, in a time of almost non-existent transportation infrastructure. Often her practice required hours-long trips by horse, horse and buggy, railroad handcar, and eventually automobile in order to provide care under primitive conditions. She criticized her fellow physicians for being unable to adapt and for only performing surgery in hospitals with every modern convenience at hand. She always carried her surgical instruments with her, since travel was problematic and telephones were unavailable. She often cleared the kitchen table, boiled water to sterilize her instruments, administered her own anesthetic, and operated by the light of a kerosene lamp. She didn’t perform major surgery, but did remove a lot of tonsils.
Doctor June was appointed the first Indian Doctor by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1907, causing friction with the tribal medicine men. Working patiently among the Indians, she and her white medicine soon gained the acceptance of most of the Indian families. One of the medicine men, Ambrosio Costillo, became so enamored of her medical skills that he abandoned his own shamanistic practice and thereafter carried out her medical orders. He provided a valuable service during the measles epidemic of 1908 by administering Dr. June’s medicine and enforcing the quarantine. This epidemic became the impetus for an Indian uprising. Dr. June was warned of the danger, but strapped on a six-shooter and continued her ministrations to the sick Indians. No one, it seems, questioned wither her courage or her shooting ability.
John Robertson died in 1914. Doctor June married Frank McCarroll, the Southern Pacific station agent for Indio, in 1916. She soon retired to the life of a frontier housewife and devoted her time to civic endeavors and club work.
The event that was to make her famous took place during the fall of 1917. While driving her Model T between Indio and Palm Springs, she was forced off the narrow concrete highway into the sand by a passing truck. The incident took place at dusk, and the truck driver apparently had difficulty telling just where his half of the unmarked white concrete highway ended and the white sand shoulder began.
Rather than just getting angry, Doctor June started to think about how such incidents could be prevented. Additionally, her medical practice brought her into contact with people injured in automobile accidents, keeping the matter fresh in her mind. While on a later trip over US Highway 99 to Kane Springs, Doctor June noticed that the road had a definite middle joint where it had been widened from eight to sixteen feet. The pronounced center joint caused cars to stay on their own side of the road. She realized that a center line painted down the middle of our streets and highways would serve the same purpose.
She took her ideas to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, who listened politely and then tabled the matter indefinitely. Undeterred, she hand-painted a four-inch-wide white stripe about one mile in length. The stripe ran down the center of today’s Highway 86 from its junction with modern Highway 111 to near the Covaldo Date Company building in Coachella. The road, then known as US Highway 99, is now Indio Boulevard. This was the first center stripe in California, and apparently the first in the entire United States.
Despite its obvious advantages, her center stripe idea was a hard sell. Doctor June spent the next five years talking to Chambers of Commerce and highway departments without success until she turned to the Indio Women’s Club. After receiving the full support of County, District, and State Federations of Women’s Clubs, she petitioned the State of California to paint a white line down the middle of all state roads. The State Highway Commission, cognizant of the boost that the idea had received from the women of California, voted to give center stripes a trial. Doctor June declared success, stating that all she had ever asked for was a fair trial and that the safety benefits would become readily apparent. She was right: her invention, and her persistence in pursuit of its implementation, have saved countless lives in California since 1924.
Eminent Riverside County historian Tom Patterson did not question Doctor June’s involvement with the center line idea, but had some question about the dates. He wrote in his column in the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he remembered a trip to Kane Springs as a 13-year-old in 1922 and recalled, “correctly or not,” that Highway 99 was completely or mostly unpaved at that time. If correct, the Kane Springs road was unlikely to have had the center ridge described above as early as 1917.
Patterson also reported that the center line idea had been previously proposed by the Road Commissioner of Wayne County, Michigan and utilized as early as 1911. Patterson also mentioned another, earlier road divider, a line of white stones on a Mexico City highway built by the Spanish conquistadores during the 1500s. Ideas and information traveled much more slowly in those pre-internet days, allowing the reasonable conclusion that Doctor June came up with the center stripe idea in Indio independent of any knowledge of Wayne County, Michigan Highway Commission practices or 16th century Spanish history. Whatever the final outcome of this debate, from that one mile of four-inch striping on Indio Boulevard sprang the myriad colors of stripes and other markings on our streets and highways which enhance our motoring safety.
Ultimately, Doctor June got her wish and retired to the life of housewife and civic-minded matron. There is little information about her life after her retirement. She remained in the Coachella Valley, but may have moved from Indio to another, unspecified community. Unlike other medical pioneers of the area, records from her medical practice have not been located. There is no record of any offspring or siblings, and little is known of her family.
Doctor June Hill Robertson McCarroll died on March 30, 1954 at age 86. Again, the historical record is incomplete. Longtime residents who knew her from the center line era and thereafter have no recollection of a funeral service and they do not know where she is buried.
State Senator David G. Kelley authored a resolution in 2000 honoring Dr. McCarroll by renaming a portion of the nearby freeway in her memory. Interstate 10 between the Jefferson Street and Indio Boulevard interchange and the junction with State Highway 86 was dedicated as the Dr. June McCarroll Memorial Freeway on April 24, 2002.
The Coachella Valley Museum and Cultural Center is housed in the Dr. Harry Smiley Adobe at 82616 Miles Avenue in Indio. The museum has an excellent display on Dr. McCarroll as well as other Coachella Valley exhibits. The museum is also home to a Billy Holcomb ECV plaque near the entrance to the museum grounds. It commemorates Dr. Harry Smiley, another Coachella Valley pioneer who began his practice in 1921.
This article is excerpted in its entirety from the history written by XNGH and Dead Abbot Gary Bancroft on the occasion of Billy Holcomb Chapter’s Fall Clampout of October, 2003 (6008), and is used with his permission.
HISTORY OF U.S. HIGHWAY 99
Historic Route 99 began as a horse and stagecoach trail extending from Mexico to Canada. Originally, it was called the Pacific Highway, the Golden Chain Route, and the Highway of Three Nations, running from Mexicali, Baja California through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, and ending in Vancouver, British Columbia.
As automobiles went into mass production in the early 20th century, it became clear that a definitive United States Highway system was needed for the promotion of commerce and tourism. In 1926 the Pacific Highway was designated as U. S. Highway 99, an official part of the U. S. road network, but the iconic U. S. Highway shields were not seen in California until 1928. The Division of Highways gave responsibility for signing the route to the Automobile Club, which carried out this duty at its own expense until 1934.
National highways brought growth and prosperity to the states. Many towns and businesses developed along these corridors, making it convenient for tourist and businessman alike. With the advent of Interstate Highways, many of these were nearly dealt a death blow when the faster Interstates bypassed them.
The Highway 99 corridor was in full operation until the early 1960s. In California, a route numbering system called the Collier Senate Bill No. 64 was passed by the state legislature on September 20, 1963. The purpose of this act was to eliminate shields of multiple routes on one highway and make a simpler, more easily understood numbering plan. This law authorized the decertification of U. S. 99. The first section to have the shields removed was from Mexicali to Los Angeles, being replaced by I-10 and State Routes 86 and 111. In early 1967, the section of U. S. 99 from Wheeler Ridge to Red Bluff was downgraded to State Highway status. The rest was rechristened Interstate 5.
Beginning in 1967, the state of Washington did the same. In 1972 Oregon declassified the final portion, which brought an end to the U. S. 99 era. As time went on, nostalgia-minded groups began to advocate trying to bring back businesses and tourism to towns bypassed by the Interstate, and to lobby for the recertification of U. S. 99. In 1993 a private group called the Historic Route 99 Association of California was formed. Under the direction of President Doug Pruitt, the Association initiated a movement that resulted in the introduction in the state legislature of the Historic U. S. 99 Concurrent Resolution No. 19. The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Stan Statham of Oak Run, California. The resolution was eventually passed and filed with the Secretary of State on September 3, 1993. The bill allows historic U. S. 99 shields to be erected on former sections of the route with non-state funds, which enables Caltrans to accept contributions from private and local agencies, individuals, and federal grants.
Many historic markers have already been placed in such cities as Calexico, Indio, Redlands, Los Angeles, Glendale, Burbank, San Fernando, Cottonwood, Dunsmuir, and Shasta Springs. The markers are already stirring up interest and bringing tourist dollars back to such businesses and communities as Clark’s Travel Center in Indio, and as more shields are placed along the route tourism and commerce are expected to increase. Now is the time to wine and dine “back on good ol’ 99.”
Clark’s Travel Center in Indio is representative of the businesses often found along Route 99. It is believed to be the oldest operating truck stop on the old highway. It began life as a GMC truck dealership, and was a Union Oil service station beginning in the mid-1940s. During the heyday of Route 99 the café was well known by travelers as one of the best on the entire highway. P.I.E. and Freightways truck lines had bunks here for their drivers to take a rest break. It also boasts a Clamper plaque commemorating the events leading up to the fall from grace of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and marks the spot where he “picked up a date.” Unlike many old-time businesses along the route, it is still in operation up to the present day.
Taken from “Summary of U. S. Highway 99,” a paper by Patrick R. Frank, founding member of the Route 99 Association of California. Information on Clark’s Travel Center provided by Bruce Clark.