Angel Delgadillo (pictured) was born in a house on Route 66 in Seligman, Ariz., in 1927. Growing up, Delgadillo watched the dirt road in front of his house become the main east-west artery. He saw migrants, GIs, and tourist cruise into town and fuel up at Seligman's gas stations, eat at its restaurants, and bed down in its motels. He lived in a town bustling with activity. And then in the 1970s it all stopped. At the time, Delgadillo was working in town as a barber.
"On September 22, 1978 we were bypassed by Interstate 40," says Delgadillo, who has cut hair in Seligman for nearly 61 years. "Traffic died and the town immediately died."
In 1985, the United States government decided to decommission Route 66 and planned to take down the signs lining it. Delgadillo wasn't going to let this happen.
"I called that now famous meeting to revive the route," Delgadillo says. "It was at 1 p.m. on February 18, 1987. At that meeting, the Route 66 Commission was born and I started to give media interviews about the road's rebirth. Business picked up the very next year."
Delgadillo, now in his 80s, is still a barber in Seligman—but now he's a famous one as he's recognized as the man who saved Route 66. We stopped in his shop on our way to the Grand Canyon. He's a tall, lanky man with a smile that lights up a room. My husband, Anthony, sat in his old-school barber chair and Delgadillo jokingly asked, "How much does your wife want me to cut off?" As Delgadillo gave Anthony a clip, he offered up some tips on how to save thinning hair. “You need to have your wife massage your head to stimulate your hair follicles," he advised."And you need to get it cut more often. Believe me, I've been doing this a long time."
I asked Delgadillo about his involvement in the Pixar film Cars, which depicts the story of Route 66's demise and revival. I had heard a rumor that Delgadillo played a part in it.
“John Lasseter (chief creative officer) interviewed me for three hours in that chair and asked me all about the history," Delgadillo says. "If you watch the bonus materials on the DVD you can see me talking."
Delgadillo believes Lasseter's film is brilliant. “He exposed our history to young people—to the people who are going to inherit Route 66.” Pointing to my kids, Paris and Dante, he said, "Those ones right there. They need to believe in the route. They can help save it too."
Travel tips, tricks, and tales from a girl who knows how to travel