Monday, June 29, 2009

Rt. 66- going to TEXAS

In western Oklahoma, as the temperatures broke 100 degrees and the cattle herded into the shade provided by the few trees, we drove into Arcadia OK. The round barn above is a local highlight. It is about fifty feet wide and two stories high. Because it is round, it presented unusual problems in roof construction.
The roof from inside looks like a upside down basket. It did nothing to hold back the heat, so we went down the road to POP's!

Pop's Cafe is two years old and is a welcome site to Rt. 66. The cafe is ultra modern with a 40' soda bottle with straw in front. The food and ice cream were delightful and they feature soda pop from around the world.
Pop's walls are glass with glass shelves and have the soda bottles on display. They resemble a church's stained glass. You could say this was a cathedral to soda pop.


I arrived in Shamrock Texas at dusk after a rain storm. The old Conoco Station shown has an aspect of 66 which I haven't covered prior- neon. As 66 was built, electricity followed and then neon lighting. The road took on a different look as neon was pushed to its limits in attempts to advertise. Most of the signs are gone, but some locations are actually restoring their neon and this station is a great example. Just look at the reflection in the wet roads. This station was also featured in Disney/Pixar's CARS movie.

Rt. 66 is largely a service road for US 40. It is parallel and is sometimes in bad shape. Bad enough to rattle your teeth loose. We drove into McClean Texas and found it falling down. There was an old service station at the beginning of town that was turned into a piece of art. After that, the buildings were falling down. Bricks were actually on the sidewalk and in the street. The houses set back from the old route were ok, but the business was all but gone. There was a barb wire museum and at the end of town, the Red River Steak House. I didn't have a chance to eat there, but it was recommended by all.
A piece of art.

Moving on- RT.66

This is the entrance to Fantastic Cavern, at least the old one, when you had to crawl through a hole in the rocks. Now you can drive in, but watch your head as it has low head room.
The old Sinclair Station in Gay Parita Missouri. We passed with more frequency closed and collapsed buildings. Gary the owner of this station, was a wealth of info used on the rest of the trip.
This is one of the narrow bridges below previously described. The roadway is the poured concrete original bases. We were the only car on the road at this time.
After winding through the back roads, we popped out in Carthage Missouri. This is the local courthouse. It rises like a castle above the surrounding town square, beautiful. It looks like a movie set.
Galena Kansas above.

The Cafe on the Route is in the old corner bank building above. It is in Baxter Springs Kansas. It is more than road food, but cuisine. Try the Aztec Chicken. By the way legend has it, the bank was robbed by Jesse James. Next is the Rainbow Bridge just outside Baxter.
Baxter was also a site of Quantrill's raiders during the Civil War. The small Union garrison held them off. Rt. 66 is only 12 miles long in Kansas, so on to Oklahoma.

One of the surprises of Rt. 66 was the Will Rodgers Memorial in Claremore. It is really well done and kid friendly.

This next bridge photo is the Avery Bridge looking back at Tulsa, Another bridge too narrow for traffic and is now a walkway.

The roadways are largely untouched in Oklahoma. You still cross over and combine sometimes, but the interstate was built mostly away from 66. The tree covered rolling hills of eastern Oklahoma give way to more gradual grades and less trees. We are heading into Texas.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rt. 66 Realities

Outside of St. Louis in Missouri, the road signs smooth out. Also, you can count on Rt. 66 being the service road through the state. There are times when you get bounced back to the interstate, but when you are on 66 it is largely rewarding. You do drive down Main Street USA.
That was the point in 1926 when the highway was approved and work started. The roads west of the Mississippi were dirt with some paved around the cities and towns. The idea was to link the paved roads and allow for better commerce between Chicago and St. Louis. This would spread to other states allowing a link from the heartland to the coast. The southerly route was chosen because of its better climate and easier road maintenance. This was impressive to Army Officer Dwight Eisenhower who was involved with a convoy from D.C. to California which took months because of bad roads. The rest of 66's importance and lore came around because of the migration caused by the Dust Bowl, the World War, and the return of the GI's with their access to cars and a desire to see the nation.

In 1956, that same Eisenhower signed into law the Federal Interstate Highways Act and gave us the road system we know now. It is beautiful, but it meant slow death for many of the communities along 66. In Missouri, the roadway has been covered over and used for the interstate. The towns affected have dealt with the loss or slowly become ghost towns. The businesses that once flourished are closed with the buildings collapsing and overgrown. Not all, but alot. Some of the building are now Adult entertainment business. The multitude of gas stations are largely closed. They were too small for today's trucks. They have become abandoned or are Rt. 66 info stops.

You can still find some of the attractions off 66 in operation. If they were successful during 66's heyday, then they might still be around. Once such attraction is the caverns at Springfield Missouri, in a word fantastic. The Fantastic Caverns are the only caverns in the US where you can drive through it. It is worth the trip. It was 100 degrees out and we went 126 feet down into the 60 degrees of cool. The rooms are so big, that you could hold a concert in them and they did in the 1960's for Ozark Country radio.

As Rt. 66 in Missouri came to an end, we got to see more of the original Route 66 roadway. There are places where you can stop and see the poured concrete roadway bed that was never asphalted over. It was poured and hand floated and brushed by armies of men who camped out to get the work done. There no hotels or service stations or very, very few and everything had to be brought in. The bridges were also very narrow. There were no shoulders anywhere and in some parts only room for one vehicle at a time. This was tough driving conditions. In some of the museums along the way, they write about the trucking companies who drove in teams. Each driver would have section of the road like the pony express.

At Gay Parita Missouri, station owner Gary was a wealth of information about the old roadway and all the turns that I was about to drive. His garage was built in 1927 and station in 1930. Around him are some of the many buildings that housed business, that are now closed and overgrown. I am told it will get worse before it gets better.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rt. 66 to St. Louis and beyond

We left the Cozy Dog Drive In and drove south on 66. More bad signs and u-turns to find our way. Finally, we came to Henry's Rabbit Ranch. Henry has a collection of memorabilia all around his place and was very helpful. He looks closed due to all the rust on his cars, but he's not thank goodness. He is located just below Staunton.

Did I mention Henry loves rabbit's?

After getting straight at Henry's we curved our way down to the Chain of Rocks Bridge. Just keep going southwest to Chain of Rocks Road and cross Rt. 3. The bridge you see is not it. Go over the City of Madison Bridge and past the landfill to the parking area for Chain of Rocks Bridge. It is decommissioned for traffic and open for bikes and walks. It was 100 degrees when I visited and when I started up the grade to cross the bridge, it was blazing! The trees were as high as the bridge here and the air didn't move. The swamps below gave the air a sweet-sour smell. The roadway is very narrow, hardly room for one car much less two. Then I broke out past the trees. The breeze was refreshing. From mid-point you could see all the way down to St. Louis and the Arch.

The Arch was amazing, 630 feet high. The area around it is the court house plaza with new Busch Stadium...nice. The display under the Arch was well done. It starts with a statue of Jefferson looking West. Then you walk around seeing all the things, places, people and events that shaped the Nation. Lindberg, Custer, Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Eisenhower, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph among too many to name. The Missouri, Judith, and Colorado Rivers.
Gold strikes, Dust Bowls, War, and farm belts. Enjoy the Arch, but leave time for the display.
It was 101 degrees and we needed refreshment. On Rt. 66 Ted Drewes Custard is the place to stop. We waited through the crowds.
Ted has a shake so thick, you can turn it over and it will not spill! Ingredients are plentiful and you can have it anyway you want. With a cold shake in hand I was ready for another thousand miles.
The reality of 66 is that there are too many places to stop and see. While I am not in a rush, I do have limits. Also, the poor sign issue is killing me. If you are lucky it takes 15 minutes to straighten yourself out, but usually it's longer. Henry also told me that signs were out there, but travelers sometimes borrow them to show their friends at home, my loss.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rt. 66 at Springfield Ill.

Rt. 66 passes through Springfield, the Capitol of Illinois. This the land of Lincoln. It's good to see that they have not forgotten him here. For example, they have the Lincoln Savings and Loan, Lincoln Middle School, Lincoln Grill, Lincoln Tanning Salon, Abe's alteration's, Lincoln's Lavatories and the list goes on. A touch of overkill.

We visited the 16th President's home and Burial Monument at Oak Ridge Cemetary. Lincoln lived in what is now the downtown of Springfield. He left here in 1861 never to return. He was emotional about Springfield saying," to this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything..."

The house was close to everything for Mr. Lincoln his office and the old Capitol Building. To the left is his office with hs partner Herndon.

The old Capitol is where Lincoln gave his house divided speech. The insides are open to the public and are beautifully preserved right down to the seat that Licoln occupied with his stove pipe hat resting there waiting his return.

Downtown Springfield is a mix of building styles that reflect its growth. At present the old houses are being restored and they are doing a beautiful job. One house restored by the state is the Dana-Thomas house. The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1901.
It is a three bedroom house with 12,000 square feet of living space. It was the first house in Springfield to be wired for electricity.
The dining room seats up to forty comfortably. Every window and glass door is bejeweled with stain glass that change the color of the interior rooms as the sun passes. The house also has 16 levels, a bowling alley, and a rain water channel system to spread the rain water out to the various flower boxes.
We ate at the Cozy Dog Cafe. It was my first corn dog and pretty tasty. It is an icon on Rt. 66. We left Springfield knowing we would have to return and see all the other historical sites, but now it was time to get lost again and go to St. Louis.
By the way, did you know that Illinois has some pretty good lawyers, you can call and find out, they use Lincoln as their logo too?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rt. 66 Road Trip

After passing through the buckle of the corn belt, we needed food! So we stopped on Rt.66 at the Launching Pad Cafe. The Launching Pad is a mom and pop store that is all decorated in 66 memorabilia. The feature was the whopper, no relation to the king. It was fresh made, delicious and wrapped up in wax paper like when I was a kid. We ate for $19.25 for a family of five and the Gemini Giant above watched us as we waved bye.

We drove from Wilmington Ill to Braidwood just down the road. Stopping for ice cream on a hot day, we ran into a cast of characters at the Polka Dot Drive In.

The drive in was recently redone in a 50's retro look and the wife was happy we stopped. The kids loved the ice cream including the hot fudge shake.

After cooling off, everyone wanted to dance.

Jumping back on Rt. 66, we headed south. Directions from signage is not consistant. One moment you are cruising along and then you are lost because some sign that was a must was not there and you are circling a development. Illinois is doing an upgrade on this along with resurfacing the road. In the meantime, Rt. 66 is long stretches of nothing. Some people say, "what is the point of traveling this at 55, when the interstate is right there and you can do 65!"

So I remind them," it's not about making time, it's about having a good time."

In Bloomington, there were alot of u-turns due to a lack of signs, but I am flexible. We wound up going through several small towns on the different configurations of Rt. 66. One of the small, small towns was Funk's Grove Illinois. In the Grove, they make maple sirup(no mis-spel). They have done so for decades and let me tell you, it is delicious.

We cruised on staying for the night at the Comfort Suite in Springfield and eating at Cheddar's. It was a needed recharge for sick kids and a tired mom. The route will get tougher after we cross the Mississippi and into the desert. The Comfort Suite was 9 towels and Cheddars was a wonderful meal with a cold libation, excellent.

This morning, we visit Lincoln's home, the Dana-Thomas House, and the State Capitol, both old and new. Then we move on with our great American road trip along Rt. 66

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

........young man!

Horace Greeley once said "Go west young man" and so I did. I drove from the New York area across New Jersey, Pennsylvannia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indianna, and Illinois. While I was trying to position myself for a trip on Rt. 66, America's Main Street, I found I was traveling on another Main Street.

I visited the Headquarters and Factory of Longaberger Baskets. The Headquarters are pictured at the top of this page. The display outside the Factory is next. The family had a fun time. The factory is unusual. It is set up like a small town with a lot of false fronts. Behind the facade are all the different shops that Longaberger sponsors. You don't have to be a basket enthusiast to have a good time. You can even make your own basket, very cool.
We left Longaberger for Rt. 224/24 and found ourselves on a less heralded Main Street. We rode through crossroads, towns, and small cities. The edges of the towns were defined by the corn fields. The communities had no stop lights or street lights, ok they had one...street light. Usually it was in front of the church with the white steeple. The church was something out of a New England post card. The houses ranged the spectrum from cottages covered in ginger breading to McMansions, ranches, farm houses, trailers, and pre-fabs. The streets were usually tree lined, with their branches reaching out to give needed shade. These were Main Streets too, just not as heralded as Rt. 66.
Our neighbors were working on the sides of the road. Sometimes I knew them well enough to call them by their nic- name like Mack or Cat, other times I was more polite, calling them Misters' McCallister, Peterbilt, and John Deere. Everyone knows their name, we would not be the country we are with out them.
I had no time to stop and really learn about these towns. I had to go, to motor west from Chicago to the California Coast. I'll be back.
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Huntington Indianna. I give it 8 towels out of 10, no elevator for a two story hotel.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

D-Day 2009

June 6th has come and gone. It is a memorial day of sorts. While it is specific in nature, it is easy to look beyond the day's participants to all participants of WWII and all veterans everywhere. They are slowly disappearing. I have known many WWII veterans, uncles, friends' fathers, and former bosses. I praise and appreciate them all.