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Class of '66 to travel Route 66

By MARTY FINLEY The News-Enterprise

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. - Forty-eight years after they graduated, members of the Elizabethtown High School Class of 1966 are reuniting to travel one of the country's most famous highways.

The classmates are banding to travel a roughly 300-mile stretch of U.S. Route 66 from Springfield, Missouri, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The members who have confirmed their invitation will gather at the starting point of the University Plaza Hotel in Springfield, where many already have booked their reservations. Embracing a spirit of spontaneity, no further reservations have been booked along the route, said Bob Swope, one of the classmates who will make the trip, likely in a 1962 Chrysler Imperial.

"We may want to pack a tent and some sleeping bags," Swope said with a chuckle.

Stephen Rafferty, the classmate who developed a working itinerary for the trip, said there is a simplistic beauty in embracing a self-guided journey without set limitations or hurried schedules.

"Leave it open," Rafferty said. "Where you end up is where you end up."

The group plans to depart from Springfield on July 13 and wrap up their trip the following Sunday, July 20, in Oklahoma City. The itinerary as planned would include stops in Joplin, Mo.; Miami, Okla., and Tulsa.

During his research, Rafferty consulted AAA maps, tour books and other guides and brochures to not only find the best route but also locate entertainment options along the way. To their delight, the approach being taken is filled with museums, wineries and yard sales.

Rafferty joked a visit to Oklahoma's wineries may result in a tour of local jails.

The group estimates an average of 60 miles of travel each day, which is easily attainable in a day's journey while leaving time to tour individual cities and towns.

Tulsa has been penciled in for a two-day stop because the dates the class intends to pass through the city align with a large shopping extravaganza flush with antiques and collectibles.

"Is that where the yard sale is?" Darlene Baumgardner Trimble asked Rafferty of Tulsa. "I'm a two-nighter."

Trimble, a fellow classmate, said she enjoys shopping and site-seeing and is thrilled about hitting such a legendary roadway with old friends.

Route 66 as it was once known technically doesn't exist anymore, decommissioned for decades now and removed from most maps. But patches of it still exist and it attracts flocks of tourists each year who want to travel past the same mile markers so many did in the 1950s and 60s.

Route 66 opened in 1926 and was heavily traveled as people migrated west during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The road was developed from Chicago to Los Angeles and runs through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It garnered many nicknames, including "The Mother Road."

Swope said his classmates grew up enamored with Route 66 but only started talking about the journey three years ago during a gathering at a classmate's home, where it was noted that most of the class would turn 66 in 2014.

One classmate mentioned a road trip along Route 66 would be a clever way to commemorate the occasion, but they only latched onto the idea when Rafferty developed a rough draft of his itinerary.

For classmate Dan Rennie, it will be a chance to reconnect in person with some he hasn't seen in years. Rennie lives outside of Oklahoma City and has supplied Rafferty with brochures and materials on Oklahoma, noting the state and the city have active tourism industries with lots of options over a multi-day visit.

For Rafferty, the trip gives him the freedom to pursue a personal achievement with a group of people he enjoys spending time with.

"If it wasn't for this class, I wouldn't do it on my own," he said.

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