EL RENO — Larry Nance rode a motorcycle on Route 66 so he could stand on a corner in Winslow, Ariz. He slept in the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Ariz. Along the way, he snapped countless photographs on his personal odyssey down the Mother Road. Nance, 54, an El Reno photographer, is capturing images of the fabled highway that are shaping preservation efforts and promoting tourism in Oklahoma. "We are behind here compared to what some of the other towns are doing, especially in New Mexico,” Nance said. "We need to preserve Route 66. I photographed all of that to show people here who want to work on these projects to bring back the nostalgia.” Last year, Nance rode his Harley Davidson Road King Classic across Route 66 from El Reno to Santa Monica, Calif. Photographs he took along the way have inspired projects to promote and preserve the fabled roadway in his hometown. El Reno Community Development Director Robert Coleman said Nance's photos will guide the city's Route 66 corridor management plan. Ideas are forming for more landscaping, roadside parks and other ideas to attract tourists. "He's a great photographer, and he's going to be an asset to us when we start on some of our projects,” Coleman said.
Bringing back nostalgiaFor Nance, preserving Route 66 isn't just about the benefit of future projects; it's also about regaining some of the memories he missed out on years ago. At age 5, Nance was diagnosed with epilepsy. Family trips along Route 66 often were disrupted when he would suffer seizures. Nance said he remembers seeing roadside gasoline stations and motels but not being able to stay and visit due to his illness. On one vacation trip, his seizures flared up and his father didn't want him to stay overnight at the Wigwam. A family reunion at Oak Creek Canyon, near Flagstaff, Ariz., was cut short when seizures started. By age 13, Nance's symptoms cleared up. He made a full recovery from the ailment, raised a family and established his own downtown El Reno photography business. But he realized that there was something missing. In 2005, Nance rekindled his interest in Route 66. He decided to ride the highway, return to the Wigwam and stay overnight. Then he headed to Oak Creek Canyon, the site of the aborted family reunion. He returned and climbed the can-yon. There, he said, he thanked God for healing him. Along the way, he snapped photos, but not just for a scrapbook. Nance has shown his work to El Reno's Main Street Inc., and city officials who have embarked on a preservation plan. His pictures are helping planners brainstorm and see what projects are possible. Seeing what has worked out-of-state is important, he said. "If I don't share this with the next generation, it will be lost,” Nance said. Codie Lee Finnigan, tour-ism director of the El Reno Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Nance's photography is important to the city. "It's my guess that he will be heavily involved in the future plans for Route 66 in El Reno,” Finnigan said. "El Reno is really just getting on that path.” Nance said his next plan is for a Route 66 trip to Chicago, so that more pictures can reach more preservation committees. He said he thinks a revitalization of Route 66 in Oklahoma is attainable. "We have to strive to get it restored with as much authenticity as possible,” Nance said. "That is one of my missions. I would like to bring back that nostalgia.”
Route 66 photographs taken by Larry Nance are being used to spur revitalization plans for the fabled roadway in El Reno. BY JACONNA AGUIRRE, THE OKLAHOMAN