Route 66: Springfield to Chicago

“Get your Kicks on Route 66”

Nat King Cole

State 6: Illinois - July 5, 2017

We woke up in Lincoln, IL having had our fill of Lincoln the day prior, but Lincoln would make one last encore appearance this morning. On our way out of town, we learned of a cute story of how the town of Lincoln came to be involving Abraham Lincoln, a young 13-year-old boy named John S. Stevens, and a watermelon. When the first plots of land were sold on August 27, 1853 Abraham Lincoln was asked to christen the new town. He selected a watermelon off a nearby cart, cut it open with his knife, and then squeezed some of the watermelon juice into a cup. Lincoln then stated, "The town proprietors have requested I christen this new town, and I have chosen the juice of this melon for that purpose." He then proceeded to pour the watermelon juice on to the ground. After which he announced that he had prepared a feast for the occasion, and all present ate watermelon together. He then proclaimed the youngest American at the christening ceremony, who was John S. Stevens, will eat the remainder of the ceremonial watermelon with me. Today in the towns center of Lincoln, Illinois, a statue stands of a quarter of a watermelon commemorating Lincolns unique christening of the town. We have seen a lot of monuments on this trip, but this was by far the most unique!

After departing Lincoln, IL we continued up Route 66. We noticed the preservation and restoration efforts along Route 66 between Springfield and Chicago are more progressed than from Saint Louis to Springfield. There were 4 Gas stations that we came across that were masterly restored to their appearance back in the glory days of Route 66. All 4 of these locations are on the National Registry of Historic Places, and are also all part of the the Route 66 Hall of Fame. The oldest station we visited was the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, IL., which is pictured below. One block down the street from the station, we noticed a metal rail and 3 cement steps leading into nothing but the grass. This made absolutely no sense, and we knew there had to be more to this story. As it turns out, the Standard Oil station was so busy back in the day, the lines for gas frequently stretched around the block, so a tunnel had to be dug under the road for pedestrian safety. The tunnel was filled in with dirt in the 1970’s, as it was no longer needed.

Another restored gas station we visited was the Texaco Station Dwight, Il, which has the distinction of having been the longest continuously running station on route 66 from 1933 to 1999 for 66 years ironically.

The next service station visited was the Shell station in Mount Olive, IL. It was owned and operated by the Shelby family for over 65 years from 1926 to 1991, and they only sold Shell gas the entire time.

The last station we visited was the Sinclair Service station in Wilmington, IL. This location no longer serves gas, and is now an auto repair shop. However, the business has a very interesting tale relating to Route 66. The mascot of Sinclair Gas is a large green brontosaurus dinosaur. For decades the large brontosaurus has sat on the roof of the station advertising the gas sold there. When the new owners converted the gas station into a car repair garage, They left the large green Sinclair brontosaurus on the roof because it attracted business. About 25 years ago, a tornado touched down in the town, and the dinosaur has not been seen since. As it turns out these green Sinclair dinosaurs are no longer made, highly collectable, extremely rare and very expensive. With the help of the community fundraising efforts and the route 66 Historical society, another Sinclair green brontosaurus was purchased, and in 2001, was once again mounted on top of the garage. You can’t help but smile, when seeing a large green dinosaur on top of a building!

Our next stop was in in Pontiac, IL to visit the Route 66 Museum and Route 66 Hall of Fame. Prior to becoming the aforementioned, the building once housed the City Hall, the Police, and Fire Department for the town of Pontiac, IL The Route 66 Museum made no modifications to the structure when converting the building, and it was clear evident what the buildings previous uses were. For example, there were two rooms that clearly used to be jail cells due to the bars on the doors and the windows, and the exposed toilets in the far corner of the room. They turned the 2 cells into an art gallery and hung framed photos depicting historic Route 66 landmarks. The gallery continued up a very steep rickety wooden staircase, and into a very dark and creepy attic. The photography displayed was spectacular, and viewing art in such an unusual location made the experience even more enjoyable. It appeared the only modification the museum made to the building was to weld the jail cell doors open, and to place a sign on the toilets inside the cells that read “Do not use this, it is not a working toilet!” We both found this absolutely hysterical. We could not imagine who in the world would throw decency to the wind by dropping their trousers in the middle of an art gallery and publicly relieving themselves.

We continued on to the first floor where there was a large open space where the fire trucks used to be parked. This was now the main display space for the Route 66 Museum. There were dozens of 8-foot-tall glass curio cabinets lined up forming a path throughout the space. Each shelf within the cabinet highlighted a famous landmark along Route 66 accompanied by information and related artifacts. Some of the places depicted we recognized because we had visited, and other places we were not familiar with since they were no longer in existence. Above the display cabinets and on the walls were the larger Route 66 artifacts which included antique signs, gas pump and much more.

I saw one item In the middle of the room that immediately grabbed my attention; a 1972 VW bus fully decked out in true hippie style. We learned the VW once belonged to a man named Bob Waldmire who passed away in 2009. He was a well-known artist and cartographer whose used Route 66 as inspiration for his artwork creating whimsical maps of the Mother Road and its human and natural ecology. For decades, he spent his winters in Arizona, and his summers traveling up and down Route 66 creating art first in a VW bus, and then in a converted school bus. It was his 1972 VW bus that was the inspiration for the character “Fillmore” from the 2006 animated movie Cars. The character in the movie “Fillmore” was actually going to be named “Waldmire”, but as a vegan, Bob would not agree to sell his marketing rights for a series of toys to be released in McDonald's Happy Meals. As vegetarians ourselves we commend him for sticking up for his values, beliefs and animal rights. We also had the opportunity to see many of his original pieces of art in a special dedicated gallery within the museum. His artwork was superb! We also discovered his converted bus was parked behind the museum. It is also pictured below, and is also a sight to behold. This was the most unique layout of any museum we have ever visited, and we had a blast.

Below are additional miscellaneous pictures from our trip along Route 66 in during our week long trip in Illinois. As you can see it was quite the experience.

It was a long 7 hour day of intermittent driving, and for the first time in our trip, we got turned away from two Walmart’s in one night! Both Walmart’s in Romeoville, IL and Joliet, IL showed no love for these two road weary vagabonds, and finding a Walmart to spend the night was becoming a theatrical tragedy. We decided to try our luck in a more upscale neighborhood, and found a home for the night in a Walmart in New Lenox, IL. Tomorrow we will be treating ourselves to a night in a hotel to relax, and recharge before visiting our last stop in the state; Chicago, IL

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