How Roy Cline created a Route 66 landmark
By Dixie Boyle
For the past 81 years, those traveling through New Mexico on the stretch of highway that is now Interstate 40 have stopped at Clines Corners to take a break from the road, fill up with gas, and have a bite to eat. Roy Cline was the first proprietor to see the potential of this location at the juncture of I-40 and NM 285 between Moriarty and Santa Rosa. While he wouldn’t be the last, his name and legacy have remained a constant throughout the history of the community.
Roy Cline, along with his wife and their six daughters and one son, moved to New Mexico from Arkansas in 1926. They tried farming near Moriarty, but ended up trading the land for a small hotel in town when the farm failed to produce. The hotel business was not much better. The Clines soon moved again, this time heading south, to try running a service station and hamburger joint in Lucy.
Unfortunately, business was even worse in the isolated railroad community. Cline, ever the optimist, took his service station down in pieces and convinced a wildcat bean hauler to transport it in sections back up north, about 25 miles east of Moriarty along a stretch of state road that ran parallel to the newly built Route 66. Only seven years old at this time, Route 66 was unpaved, and there were few gas stations and eating places along its length.
Although Cline enjoyed a slight profit from his service station, he soon changed his mind about the business and returned to Arkansas to once again try his hand at working the land. Why, we don’t know. He often said he would never be satisfied with farming.
Sure enough, in 1933, he traded his latest farm for an old Chevrolet truck and loaded his family and all the canned goods he could fit inside and returned to New Mexico. His son, Roy Cline Jr., who had remained in New Mexico, contacted the New Mexico Land Commission and leased a parcel of land upon which his father built a new service station.
Highway construction crews were camping on this land when the family returned from Arkansas. Cline built his station nearby, but a few years later the business was impacted when the byway known as the Santa Rosa Cutoff was moved and renamed U.S. Highway 285. Once again, Cline jacked up his buildings and hauled them to the final, and permanent, location of what is known today as the Clines Corners Retail Center.
In the meantime, Route 66 was morphing from a dusty byway into what would eventually become America’s Mother Road. Crews prepared Route 66 for paving with Caterpillar tractors referred to as “crawling cats,” because they ran on tracks instead of wheels. The cats pulled six-foot blades that cleared everything in their path. Caliche was used as a base for the highway, and soon crews had the road paved all the way to Moriarty. The paving of Route 66 cut off one hundred miles from the original route, bypassed Santa Fe, and headed in a straight line to Albuquerque.
Cline enjoyed socializing and relaxing more than working, and he kept visitors enthralled with stories and tall tales. He was knowledgeable about the history of the area and gave away free Conoco maps, which encouraged travelers to stop at his roadside business. When not chatting with customers, he indulged in one of his favorite past-times: sitting in the shade reading Wild West magazines and smoking Prince Albert cigars while one of his daughters ran the filling station.
There was little traffic on the road, so in an effort to save money, Cline would turn the lights on in his business only when a car approached. If it stopped, he left the lights on. If it passed, he turned them off and waited for the next car. Cline actually sold more water than gas, even though he charged a dollar a gallon for water and ten cents a gallon for gas. Then as now, water was a precious commodity: it had to be hauled from the Estancia Valley and Negra, a railroad town to the south, in order to supplement Cline’s meager supply.
In 1939 wanderlust struck again, and Cline sold his business to a local named S.L. “Smitty” Smith. While the water issue had still not been resolved (Smith hauled water from Estancia during the evening hours and worked in the filling station during the day), the enterprising new owner put money and effort into making Clines Corners a major destination for travelers. By the 1960s he had added a gift shop and dining room, and had the foresight to petition Rand McNally to include Clines Corners on early maps and atlases during a time when service stations were going out of business as the interstate highway system moved westward.
As for Roy Cline, he and his wife and three daughters (the others were married by this time) moved to Arizona to operate another roadside business. A few years later he moved to Vaughn, NM, and then returned to Arkansas for one last try at farming before returning to New Mexico in 1945. Once back, he opened the Flying C Service Station & Café along Route 66, 16 miles east of Clines Corners (today known as Bowlin’s Flying C Ranch) and ran it until 1963. Roy Cline Jr. also became a Route 66 pioneer, establishing the Half Moon Truck Stop west of Santa Rosa in the 1940s. (His obit says he sold the business in 1959, moved to Albuquerque, and started a construction business).
Many small towns and roadside businesses along Route 66 in New Mexico died with the construction of I-40 in the late 1960s. The interstate bypassed towns, making it hard to exit. Other communities, like the now-ghost town of Cuervo to the east, were cut in half. But each of Clines Corners’s owners—five since Cline sold out—have worked to ensure its success. In the 1940s, the owners petitioned for and received an exit ramp off the interstate directly into the business. Along with purchasing billboards along the route, this helped to increase the number of visitors making the stop.
As a result, Clines Corners remains a popular roadside attraction. The retail center has grown to over 30,000 square feet, offering travelers not only a chance to fuel up but to also grab a bite to eat at the restaurant or Subway, and to take home Southwestern curios from the onsite gift shop that claims to be New Mexico’s largest. Cline’s old business also caters to truck drivers, and there are plans to expand the trucking operations as well as the retail store.
Roy Cline would not have to worry about the electric bill today. Over one million travelers stop at Clines Corners each year, making it one of New Mexico’s treasures from the past that still holds promise for the future.
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