When I saw the Disney-Pixar movie Cars for the first time, what made me really like it the most was that the Cars’ fictional town of “Radiator Springs” reminded me very much of an old Route 66 town that was called Glenrio in the state of Texas (and for all I know, it may have actually been based off of Glenrio).
A Glenrio-type setting is what many people (or at least speaking for myself) think of when we imagine the dusty towns of the 1920s and 30s; with tumbleweeds rolling peacefully in the desert wind down a quiet dirt street past closed Ma and Pa shops and abandoned diners which used to be filled with people taking a temporary pit stop before continuing their journey down Route 66 to wherever they were going.
Once situated on the border between Texas and New Mexico, Glenrio was found in 1903 just after the Pacific Railroad added a track there as a passage through Texas. By 1905, a railroad station was built to service the Rock Island, Chicago, and Gulf Railways. More people, especially farmers, had moved into the area and it became known as one of the many cattle-industry towns that are very common in Texas and other South-Midwestern states such as Oklahoma and Kansas.
For the first two decades, the area mainly consisted of cattle ranches. It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that Glenrio really saw it’s boom when Route 66 was built through it and more attention was given to the town in 1939 when it became the film location for Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
The population of the town never did reach above 100 people, but the economy thrived because of the increasing tourism and entertaining travelers who passed through on Route 66.
In 1955, the Rock Island Depot closed down, causing the small town to barely stay afloat for the next couple decades, and then in the 1980s, the interstates were constructed, and Glenrio succumbed to the same fate as the other small towns nearby. After the completion of Interstate 40, travelers no longer went through Glenrio and the interstate simply passed by the small town completely. Few residents remained in the town, and by the late 1980s, the post office closed down and the last couple remaining business, one of which was a grocery store and filling station, closed up shop and moved out of town. Shortly after, the post office closed as well, and that was when Glenrio took it’s last breath. With the last of the residents gone, all the businesses closed, and all the roads leading to it being bypassed, there was no reason to venture there anymore.
Today, the town sits deserted, only being visited by people wishing to relive Route 66’s heyday. Of course, there is nothing there to entertain them, unless they are like me and are only entertained by looking at abandoned buildings. A gas and service station, along with a couple diners, a motel, a post office, and the old grocery store building line the town’s quiet main street which leads to the old Route 66, now just a dirt road that you will leave behind as you head back to I-40.
– “The mother road, the road of flight.” -Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath