Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Route 66 or Portions Thereof

October 1960 marked the premier of a t.v. show which lasted a mere four seasons, but resulted in nostalgic memories for a whole generation. The theme song was only slightly catchy with the opening line, "Get your kicks on route 66". That's some of what I recall from my childhood. Other than that, I believe there were two guys travelling around in a car having adventures along the Main Street of America. I always wanted to travel along that road, see the attractions, and appreciate the history.

A few weeks ago, hubby and I were on our way to a wedding and passed through Illinois, where we made an effort to visit some of the historic Route 66. I'll try to share my impresssions and some of what I learned along the way without turning this into a "we went here" and "we saw that" kind of a blog.

At the onset of our adventure, we used a pocket book, Road Trip USA (2009) as our guide. It was as helpful as it was confusing. Some towns/attractions were in random order and some information was no longer valid.  I discovered that the author has a more up to date, detailed website/blog on I also recommend the very useful and detailed Illinois Route 66 Visitors Guide available from the rest stop tourist information areas.

We found historic route 66 difficult to find and to follow. There are bits and pieces which go through small towns. Some pavement is old and broken up alongside a different super highway, or buried under a newer road. Some areas are closed for construction. We picked up the road south of Joliet although it actually began in Chicago.

These sightings got me enthusiastic for what I hoped would be ahead.

The Gemini Giant in Wilmington reminded me of people's obsession with space travel in the 60's. It was an amazing albeit no longer pristine fibreglass sculpture of a man with a helmet and rocket ship. The adjoining Launching Pad restaurant was up for sale. I have no idea how long that has been the case, but it was badly in need of renovations. We were glad to see that the Polka Dot Drive In in Braidwood seemed to be doing much better. Business was brisk and the original feel still prevailed.

Where some places had long deteriorated, others lived on, and still others survived in the form of restored and valued landmarks. Such was the case in Gardner where the 1906 historic two celled jail stood next to a streetcar diner which had been moved here in the 1930's. When I took the photos, I felt some trepidation...dark circular clouds loomed and there was a fierce wind. I was concerned that I'd have to hole up in the jail for protection from an imminent tornado. The good news was that I was confident the small stone building could withstand anything.

We found that for people wanting to get a true sense of Route 66, the city of Pontiac was intriguing. The Hall of Fame and Museum is housed in an old firehouse and was well worth the visit. For a donation, we were able to view two floors of artifacts and photos. The outdoors was as fascinating as  the inside. The murals provided some nostalgia.

The road to Funk's Grove was closed for construction, so unfortunately, we had to miss visiting the towns of Shirley and McLean. Not that there was much in these towns, but the names amused me.
 Along the way, we observed some historic gas stations. Not all were functional but nonetheless, interesting that someone found these of historical significance and maintained them.

In an effort to keep the Rte 66 spirit alive, Springfield, the capital city of Illinois, has an annual Mother Road Festival at the end of September. Not only does the famed Cozy Dog Drive-In still exist, Springfield is a history buff's dream. Abraham Lincoln governed here and this is the location of his tomb. Awesome and moving to see where one of the most significant U.S. presidents is buried.

Although we missed seeing the huge pink elephant in Livingston, we did find the world's largest bottle of catsup in Collinsville. This was truly a highlight for me. Built in 1949, it is a 170 foot tall water tower which was built for Brooks original rich and tangy catsup. Sadly, like so many other landmarks along Route 66, the original factory is for sale along with the giant roadside attraction.

As we drove closer to our eventual destination, we were excited that we had found even small portions of this famous road. We were also disappointed at how many of the historical treasures had disappeared or were for sale, The small towns just couldn't support the businesses once Rte 66 was replaced by a super highway.

I couldn't help but wonder. Are historical societies fighting a losing battle? Are we the last generation to really know or care about this highway and its history? And when all is said and done does any of it really even matter?
These little known personalities were only a few of the hundreds of guests on the Route 66 t.v. show.
Ed Asner, Robert Duvall, Suzanne Pleshette, Lee Marvin, Leslie Nielsen, Barbara Eden, Harvey Korman,, Walter Matthau, Peter Lorre, Vera Miles, Rod Steiger, Tuesday Weld, Joan Crawford, Rin Tin Tin, Jack Lord, Buster Keaton, Cloris Leachman, William Shatner, Robert Redford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Martin Sheen, Ron Howard, Boris Karloff, Gene Hackman, Alan Alda,  Burt Reynolds, Guy Lombardo.

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