Known as the “Main Street of America,” Route 66 once offered a 2,448-mi-long route between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Roadway demands have changed greatly since Route 66’s commission nearly 80 years ago, and much of the road is no longer in use. Much has changed with the road construction industry as well.
Whereas early highways relied on tremendous amounts of manpower for completion, today’s roadways are built much faster and better using modern machinery and other technological advances.
Becco Contractors Inc., Tulsa, OK, can attest to this trend. Named one of the top 150 largest primary highway contractors by the Federal Highway Administration, Becco recently won a bid to resurface one of the remaining useful sections of Route 66.
Contracted to pave a 5-mi. (8 km) stretch between Tulsa and Sapulpa, OK, Becco put its new tandem-drum vibratory roller on the job as the breakdown unit.
Featuring operating frequencies of 3,400 to 4,000 vibrations per minute, the new Hypac C784 can achieve working speeds up to 4.5 mi. (7.2 km) per hour while maintaining 10 impacts per foot.
This performance allows the roller to work faster and more efficiently, which, in turn, allows the paving train to maximize productivity.
“With an 84-inch-wide drum, the new roller covers a lot of ground,” said John Besgrove, Becco paving superintendent. “It can provide good compaction at higher speeds so we can pretty much run the paver as fast as possible and the roller can keep up with it.”
The job required placing a 1.5-in. (3.8 cm) overlay on the entire road surface, including five 12-ft. (3.6 m) lanes, and two 6-ft. (1.8 m) shoulders. With a paving train consisting of a paver, mat smoothness machine, the C784, C530A pneumatic roller and a C778 steel wheel roller for finishing, the 10-person Becco crew placed about 2,500 tons (2,250 t) of hot mix per day, and finished paving in nine days.
Operator comfort and ease of use is another obvious equipment advance since the days when Route 66 was first built. Back then, laborers filled the role that equipment plays today, engaging in hours of backbreaking work while sweating over the hot asphalt. Modern equipment makes the ways of old hard to imagine.
“The new Hypac roller is very easy to use,” said Besgrove. “The seat adjusts so the controls are right there in your lap. Also, the machine is completely controlled by two joysticks. When your hands are on the controls, the armrests make it very comfortable to operate. It’s much easier on the operator and a lot better than having to crank a big steering wheel all day.”
Just as equipment has improved, road quality standards have taken a quantum leap since the late 1930s. Back then, as long as the roads were passable, they were qualified to be part of Route 66. Now, with density requirements and project warranties, contractors are held to a far higher standard.
Fortunately, modern equipment helps alleviate many of these concerns.
“The new equipment is completely computerized, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of the application,” said Besgrove. “With the C784, you can program the required speed and vibration into the computer and the operator basically just needs to steer. Even if the operator tries to run the roller wide open, it will only go as fast as the program allows.You basically set the speed and vibration, and the operator can’t mess up, even if he tries.”
Today, only 80 percent of the original Route 66 alignment still exists. Though most states have abandoned their remaining expanses, Oklahoma works hard to maintain virtually all of its original Route 66 miles, and in the process, is preserving a piece of Americana.
In fact, travelers can still drive across most of Oklahoma using Route 66, rarely having to stray onto the interstate. Purists continue to lament the losses of the historic “Mother Road” and its attractions, but the old methods and equipment used to build it will not be missed by laborers or contractors.