“You must call Jerry McClanahan in Chandler. He wrote the book you just bought,” said Laurel Kane, owner of the Packard car collection at the Afton Station in Afton, Oklahoma. She said he loves to meet people and is a genuine nice guy.
On our trip to the southwest along historic Route 66 we had met a string of outstanding individuals, but this one wrote detailed travel books about Route 66 and was a professional illustrator as well. His black & white drawings of landmark signs, bridges matched what we seeing as we picked our way through the disconnected pieces of a bygone road — the “Main Street of America.” So Roger sent him an email seeking an interview as we stopped at an RV park just outside Chandler. OK. Jerry replied almost immediately — come ahead anytime after 9:00 tomorrow. We found his McJerry's Route 66 Gallery at 306 Manvel St.
Jerry met us at the door, an affable fellow in his late 50s with the kind of smile you know from seeing your best friend after a one month absence. His 500 square-foot gallery is gleaming with brilliantly colorful scenes along Route 66, his oil, acrylic, and watercolor illustrations. Many pictures show vintage cars rendered in meticulous detail in front of old gas stations and motor courts. Reproductions are available in various sizes.
“My love for Route 66 built into a passion when my parents took my brother and me on a series of trips up and down Route 66 between 1959 and 1969. We wanted to see every last bit of that magic road, but he wouldn't stop to explore, so even when I dropped my new cap pistol out the window my dad kept right on driving!” Jerry was warming up. After receiving his BFA degree in Texas he began photographing the interesting remains of businesses and sights along the route in 1981, when he and his dad took a “stop everywhere” trip. In the 90s he made many trips. “I had an Olympus SLR with several lenses, but now I have a digital Nikon and take thousands of photos.”
He prepares his pencil drawings and artistic paintings in his studio behind his gallery. Some of his works are commissioned by owners of classic cars; both have a keen eye for fine automobiles with gleaming chrome and glistening fenders. “I'm preparing a new edition of my EZ 66 Guide for Travelers,” Jerry's best-known (and in the Bruckers' opinion, THE best) set of westbound and eastbound maps with scenic highlights and turn-by-turn directions.
Roger noticed that McClanahan is an extremely detailed artist/writer who can also see the whole picture — a rare attribute to find both in the same person. Jerry said he never thought about how he sees and writes before, but he guessed the observation was right. We asked him what kind of traveler most appreciates Route 66. He said international travelers visit him often and have thoroughly researched American life and what they wish to see. Europeans and Asians have grown up watching videos and movies of USA open spaces and romantic adventures. “They can't believe how friendly Americans are — it's universal,” said Jerry.
We asked Jerry to sum up his more than 50-year fascination with Route 66. “Route 66 is the story of people who invested their lives, hopes, dreams, and passions in something they built. Evidently some young people today understand this for here and there they are buying and restoring the old properties, buildings, signs, and scenes.” He pulled off the wall a painting he made of a ruined white stucco motel with a rusty vehicle parked. Faintly you can see the outline of a ghostly dad, eager child, and joyful mom walking toward their room.
“I feel like a paleontologist digging up the old bones of Route 66,” said Jerry, “and the stories those bones tell when you fit them together is like discovering and exploring mysteries”. He described finding and exploring an early cut-off section of Route 66 in New Mexico, where the last car passed that way more than 70 years ago. “We had to get a private owner's permission to explore. Along the trace of the old road we found a white monument with directions to Carlsbad and other towns on it and an arrow pointing toward BAT CAVE.” Bat Cave was the original name for Carlsbad Caverns.
Jerry McClanahan and Jim Ross are collaborators. They published the Route 66 Map Series, Ghost Town Press, © 2015 by Jim Ross and Jerry McClanahan, a must-buy set of state maps showing every part of the route from Chicago to Los Angeles for travelers who wish to make the journey of a lifetime down memory lane. To view some of Jerry's artwork, click here to visit his web gallery.