McLean (pop. 778) was founded around the turn of the 20th century by an English rancher, Alfred Rowe, who later lost his life on the Titanic in 1912. Considering its minimal size, McLean is now perhaps the most evocative town along the Texas stretch of Route 66. Bypassed only in the early 1980s, the old main drag is eerily silent, with a few businesses—such as a boot shop and a fine Texas-shaped neon sign—still standing despite the near-total drop in passing trade.
McLean is headquarters of the state’s Old Route 66 Association, and efforts are being made to preserve the town in prime condition, which explains the lovingly restored Phillips 66 station at 1st and Gray Streets (on the westbound stretch of old Route 66—the pumps price gas at 19 cents a gallon!) and the many other odds and ends on display around town. The center of activity here is the wonderful Devil’s Rope Museum (100 S. Kingsley St., 806/779-2225, closed Sun., closed Dec. 1-Mar. 1, free), at the east end of downtown, which has a huge room full of barbed wire—the “devil’s rope”—and some of the most entertaining and educational collections of Route 66 memorabilia you’ll find anywhere. No hype, just lots of good stuff and friendly people telling you all about it.
Besides the barbed wire museum, a pair of places next to each other at the west end of McLean offer good food and reliably clean and pleasant rooms: Try the thick steaks, juicy catfish, and weekend barbecue at the Red River Steak House (101 W. Route 66, 806/779-8940), then sleep at the Cactus Inn (101 Pine St., 806/779-2346).