Fact and Fiction on Route 66

Fact and Fiction on Route 66

The Forgotten Road

Richard Evans’ novel follows “Charles James,” (The man and his circumstances are fiction) on the legendary (but real) Route 66, walking from Chicago toward Los Angeles.

Joliet [Illinois} is one of the rare big cities that still claims its roots in Route 66, and its most notable icon, outside of the prison, is the Rich and Creamy  stand–a boxy white-shingled building with a large ice cream cone-shaped sign on its roof that reads, “JOLIET Kicks Route 66.” Also on the roof are fiberglass replicas of Jake and Elwood, posed in their signature dancing stances.

A few miles later I pass Dicks on 66–an auto repair shop with vintage cars parked in its lot and two old cars on the roof.

Richard Paul Evans, The Forgotten Road

That part is non-fiction.  Check out Joliet and Route 66 on www.theroute-66.comRichard Evans obviously knows Route 66 well.  I was disappointed to find that Charles James hasn’t finished his walk, hasn’t reached the part of the road that we know, by the end of the book.

From The Broken Road to The Road Back

Evan’s first book in the series, The Broken Road, shows how Charles James comes to The Forgotten Road.   The third book of the trilogy, The Road Back, is “coming soon.”  Evans, author of The Christmas Box, has written enough books that I expect he knows more about “coming soon” than I do. 

I’ll be watching for The Road Back not only to see how Charles James comes out of the dilemma facing him at the end of this middle book, but because I (and my other half) want to know what the fictitious Charles sees in the Mojave Desert as he approaches Los Angeles.  

“Coming soon” means?

I suspect that one who has published as many books as Evans has a  predicted date for The Road Back–Spring 2019. .

I’ve been moving the Panama and Beyond date back month by month as I find more information, study relevant history, check and recheck facts, and solve formatting problems.  Now that I’m working with a professional editor, I think a publication date is on the horizon.

When I published Three Tales, I had far fewer pages to proofread, few acknowledgments, half a dozen illustrations instead of over 100, and no bibliography or references

I promise–after Panama and Beyond, my next  publication will be fiction.  It saves so much work when the what, where, when, how, and why are my creation, not fact-checkable history, and the only copyright that concerns me is my own.

A Bit of History on Route 66

The REverend Christian Christiansen's grave near Route 66.
Christian Christiansen’s grave in Gardner Prairie Lutheran Cemetery, Gardner, Illinois

I would have fun checking out all the Route 66 descriptions in The Forgotten Road,  Fictitious Charles, like historical William Hobby in my upcoming book, notices details and relates them to history.  I checked out the following and easily found a photo of Christian Christiansen’s grave, and more of the history, on the Internet.  Charles is walking through Gardner, Illinois.

A few minutes’ walk from the town center, I came across a humble memorial for someone I had never heard of yet may have saved the world.  The Reverend Christian Christiansen (which might be the most perfect name ever for a preacher) was born in 1859 along the west coast of Norway and immigrated to the United States in 1880…The Reverend was in his eighties when he came across an article in the Chicago Tribune that changed history.  

The article reported that the Nazis had built an atomic weapon plant in Christiansen’s home town in Norway–a site chosen because of its access to the heavy water needed in the production of a nuclear weapon… [The Allies] were unable to launch a strike against it as it was naturally protected by a mountain shelf and the fiord was too shallow for a battleship to navigate.”

Richard Paul Evans, The Forgotten Road

“Charles” continues the story.  I quote Burt Parkinson, editor of the local paper, from the files of Illinois Periodicals Online for an I-was-there report:


One morning [the old reverend–now age 85] came in with a Chicago Tribune article about the plant. ‘Look here, Burt,” he said. The English had been bombing it, but that shelf of mountains protected it. The reverend said, “I can show them how to get up underneath and bring a warship in.” Nobody knew the depth of the fjord or anything that might be in the way. I said, “Let’s call the Navy.” I knew one of the guys up there. The reverend said, “Fine.”
The next Sunday morning after the sermon, the reverend invited me over. A line of cars was parked out front. Out on his kitchen floor two admirals, one from England and one from the U.S., had laid out a map as big as a dining room table. We all got down on our hands and knees. The reverend took a red pencil and drew his own map on the bigger map. Then they left.

Illinois Periodical Online

We don’t know whether the subsequent attacks by the Allies and Norwegian commandos were a direct result of Christiansen’s cartographic memory, but we do know that the result was Hitler’s inability to get the necessary “heavy water” to a facility for bomb construction. 

So what isn’t factual in the novel?  I assume conversations between “Charles” and the waitresses, museum docents, migrant workers, and bikers are fiction, although I’m tempted to guess that the author is remembering and adapting his own experiences.

You can read The Forgotten Road for the story of a man finding his way from self-centered grasping to empathy, or you can skim over the plot and read it for a vicarious walk along Route 66, or, as I did, read it twice, concentrating once the story and once on the travel.

In The Forgotten RoadI tend to feel that Charles James is as real as Route 66.

One thought on “Fact and Fiction on Route 66

  1. Fascinating! Somewhat recently we watched a documentary on the attack of that plant, although I cannot remember much of the details,or whether Fr Christiansen was mentioned.

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