Tulsa Native Rhys Martin is the president of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. An avid photographer, Martin first became enamored with Route 66 during a bridge preservation event in 2015. Now, he represents the Association as a member of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, the Route 66 Alliance, the Tulsa Route 66 Commission and the Oklahoma Route 66 Centennial Commission. We caught up with Martin and got his thoughts on…

… what drew him to the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. 

My first real exposure to Route 66 was in 2013, when I took a road trip from Tulsa to Miami to see the Coleman Theatre Beautiful. I was blown away! I wanted to see what else the road had to offer – in Oklahoma and in the other seven states. In 2015, I went to a bridge preservation event in Lebanon, Missouri, and met a whole host of roadies and advocates. That sparked the flame, so to speak, and I wanted to see how I could help with other efforts. I officially joined the board of the Association in 2017 as the Tulsa County representative and was elected president in 2019.

… what the Association does for Oklahoma.

The Association was created in 1989 to help promote and preserve Historic Route 66 – which had fairly recently been federally decommissioned. We helped get the first Historic Route 66 signs placed along the road – in any state – and continue to help people not just find the road but know what to see and do while they are there. When preservation is needed, we help get the word out and roll up our sleeves to help where we can. We also work with other groups around the country to make sure Oklahoma Route 66 is represented well, especially in light of the upcoming centennial.

… his passion for historical preservation.

I loved history and social studies in school – shout out to Mrs. Smith and Coach Long! But I wouldn’t call it a passion until after I returned to the U.S. after a ten-month backpacking journey around the world in 2009-2010. I was able to experience dozens of other cultures and some remarkable history, and I came home a different person. I started looking around Tulsa and Oklahoma to see what I had been missing the whole time.

… programs he’s proud of and things he’s looking forward to. 

I’m pretty proud of our original Historic Route 66 signage initiative – which involved raising nearly $20,000 to get those familiar brown signs placed along the road. Although I wouldn’t be involved for another 25 years, that set the standard for when we worked with ODOT in the last few years to update and enhance that signage inventory across the state, from Quapaw to Texola. As far as the future goes, all roads lead to the centennial right now. I’m particularly excited about relaunching our kids membership to help engage a new generation.

… his favorite part of Route 66 to shoot. 

I love the quirky! From Buck Atom in Tulsa to the Parker Rig in Elk City to the Milk Bottle in OKC – stuff you can’t see anywhere else. I also admit that I am drawn to sites that weren’t preserved – an old, empty gas station or a rusted automobile carcass in a county field. It all tells a story.

…how people can get involved with the organization.

We are entirely membership based – the low annual fees help us buy supplies when preservation needs come up. We also rely on volunteers when projects come to us, such as the painting of Allen’s Fillin’ Station in Commerce a little over a year ago. Join us and help us out!

… the Route 66 centennial. 

Our biggest focus is not stepping on what the 40+ communities along Oklahoma Route 66 are already planning. We want to help promote what they are already doing and make sure the world knows about it! I also sit on the board of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, which is involved in the national centennial commission. I also want to make sure our 400+ miles are properly highlighted with whatever they are planning.

… his team. 

I’m just one cog in a much larger machine – I couldn’t do what I do without our board and volunteers. They are the real rock stars of Route 66 preservation! 

Previous articleSpringtime Cinema
Next articleTad Jones