The Mother of the Mother Road

Though the famous Route 66 was officially decommissioned in 1985, some of the folks who lived and worked on it refused to fade quietly into obscurity. With the renewal of interest in the Mother Road, some of those people have become legends among those who treasure the old road.

One of the best-known of those Route 66 personalities was the woman who came to be called “The Mother of the Mother Road”, Lucille Hamons. Fans of the highway, and her friends and neighbors, knew her simply as ‘Lucille’. For nearly sixty years she owned and operated a combination gas station and general store on old 66 near the small town of Hydro, Oklahoma.

Lucille Arthurs was born in Oklahoma on April 13, 1915, to parents who had arrived a few years earlier during the Oklahoma Land Run. Hers was a farming family and, despite having to skip one year of school after her junior year to earn money to finish, Lucille still managed to be the only one of ten children to graduate.

Shortly after she finished high school, Lucille met and married Carl Hamons, a native of Hydro. Upon the death of his parents, Carl came into a small bequest and, with that, he bought the Provine gas station just south of Hydro on the new Federal highway, US Route 66.

LUCILLE, CARL, AND THE STATION

Even during the height of the Great Depression, Carl and Lucille still found ways to eke out a decent living with their station, renamed the Hamons Courts. They put in new-style electric gas pumps and began renting cabins to weary travelers. Soon, business began to pick up and things were getting better, until around 1932 when the dust started to blow. The storms of the Dust Bowl ruined many farmers and businesses across several states, and nearly ruined the Hamons.

To survive and keep the station, Carl began hauling hay for local farmers, and Lucille tried serving meals to travelers. It was hard times for everyone in those Depression years, and many of those who stopped at the Hamons Courts were nearly down to their last dime. Often, their patrons would be entire families traveling west in search of jobs and a better life. Carl and Lucille, like many business owners along Route 66, helped when they could. Many times they’d send travelers on their way with an extra dollar or two in their pockets, a full tank of gas, and perhaps a bit of hope they hadn’t had before.

As the United States entered World War II in 1941, Carl and Lucille were still struggling. It wasn’t until after the war that business along Route 66 began to improve. Post-war America was on the move and highway 66, now almost completely upgraded to four-lane status, had evolved into one of the major cross-country routes. The Hamons Courts became a popular place along the way to stop for gas, food, and a comfortable place to stay. The many trucks using the highway provided an excellent source of income as well.

THE ROAD TO CHANGE

However, the Hamons’ days of prosperity were numbered. In the late 1950s they received word that one of the new Interstate highways would soon be under construction near their place. Interstate 40 was coming to Oklahoma, and there were no plans for an exit anywhere near Carl and Lucille’s station. When the new highway was opened, business gradually slowed to a trickle. Where once they had a thriving trade, now the Hamons had only local and farm traffic. In a scenario soon to be repeated across the United States as the Interstate highways took over, their business was all but destroyed. It didn’t help their marriage, either – Carl and Lucille divorced soon after the coming of the new highway. Carl kept his trucking business, and Lucille was left with the Hamons Courts.

Lucille refused to give up. When a strong wind blew down their sign, she had it replaced with one that said simply “Lucille’s”. She kept the Courts open, and began renting the cabins out to road crews brought in to build the new highways. But, after a few years, she decided to get out of the café business and get back to just operating a gas station. Around 1966 Lucille, looking for something to boost her income, started selling beer at the station. Her rickety old cooler kept the beer colder than usual, almost to the point of freezing, and word soon got around that Lucille’s had the coldest beer around!

Unfortunately, the problems weren’t over yet. In 1986, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued new regulations regarding buried gas tanks. Through a bit of trickery on the part of her gasoline representative, Lucille found herself no longer leasing the tanks on her property – she was now the owner of the tanks. Non-compliance with the regulations would result in a complete shutdown of the station, and she had until December 1998 to take care of the tanks.

PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

In 1997, Lucille’s daughter Cheryl Nowka conceived an idea that might bring in enough money to save the station. She convinced Lucille to write her memoirs, and tell the many stories she’d accumulated all those years on 66. The book, published by Cheryl herself, was a huge success and sold hundreds of copies. Sales of the book brought in enough money for Lucille to get those gas tanks fixed and save her property from confiscation.

During that time Lucille suffered a series of health problems – a heart attack in 1989 and a stroke in 1999. Still, despite her medical woes, she refused to slow down completely or to leave her old station. Lucille had been fighting for years and wasn’t ready to pump her last gallon yet.

Those later years weren’t completely grim. As more people discovered old Route 66, and Lucille’s, word began to spread through the various organizations that had been formed by enthusiasts of the highway. Visitors from around the world began stopping by her place to experience an original Route 66 business, and to meet the woman who’d been with it all those years. Lucille became a minor celebrity, appearing in newspapers, and on broadcast media. Near the end of her life, she received what she regarded as the highest honor of all, induction into the Route 66 Hall of Fame in Oklahoma.

Lucille Hamons died quietly at home on the old highway, on 18 August 2000. Her gravesite is easy to find – it’s the one with the tombstone featuring a Route 66 sign and the words, “Mother of the Mother Road”.


SOURCES

Nowka, Cheryl Hamons, “Lucille's on Route 66 In Oklahoma,” Short Bio. 1999 - 2000. <http://www.route66clicks.com/recent.html>. (22 - 24 January 2004).
Hamons, Lucille. Lucille - Mother of the Mother Road. Las Vegas, Nevada: privately printed by Cheryl Nowka, 1997.
chats with Lucille herself, August 1998

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