Route 66: Part 1- St. Louis, MO to Auburn, IL

It wasn’t the first transcontinental corridor.  It’s not the oldest or longest road either.  So what’s the fascination with Route 66?  Why has it become known as the “Mother Road,” with people from all over the world flocking to the States to try to reconstruct its route for their own road trip?  From a practical aspect, at the time, it was the shortest, year-round route between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast (others were seasonal).  From a romanticized viewpoint, “Route 66 spans the heart of America, symbolizing mobility, freedom, and pursuit of the American Dream.”  Though decommissioned in 1985, it continues to be immortalized in shows, movies, songs, and books and remains a steadfast icon of American road trip culture.  The National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program provides preservation information about the more than 250 buildings, bridges, road alignments, and other sites along Route 66 that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including an itinerary! This, along with an abundance of other physical and online resources, stirred a desire to see a little slice of this Americana.

Since I was already in the area, I figured I’d ride the St. Louis to Chicago segment of Route 66.  I spent 5 days exploring this roughly 300 mile section, and in no way saw everything that this historic portion had to offer.  I’ll tell the story of these 5 days through photos and their captions.  All information in quotation marks (and much of what’s not) comes from the National Park Service website:  Route 66:  Illinois Places, unless otherwise stated.

Iconic Christopher Arndt postcard of Illinois Route 66
Unfortunately, there’s no single route to take to follow Route 66 in Illinois.  The historic road underwent numerous realignments before it was decommissioned.  The goal of Route 66 was a “speedy and unobstructed flow of the ever-increasing traffic between Chicago and St. Louis…so engineers worked to bypass as many rural towns as possible” with realignments.  Also, “Route 66 was a strategic defense highway during WWII.”  Heavy trucks carrying ordnance from factories outside of Chicago along Route 66 crumbled the road not designed for such large loads.  So you’re often faced with making a decision on which alignment of the route to take.  None of the alignments are continuous however, and often merge into the interstate, a frontage road, a street, or just end abruptly. 

ST. LOUIS, MO

Famous for its “concrete” frozen custard, a shake so thick that it is served upside down, Route 66 devotees flock to Ted Drewes in droves.  It was funny when I heard the lady in front of me look up and see the historic Route 66 sign and exclaim “Oh look, Route 66 used to run right by here!” – apparently oblivious to the establishment’s Americana celebrity status. 
Though my “concrete” Muddy Mississippi didn’t pass the upside down test on this 98 degree day, it was still delicious! 

GRANITE CITY, IL

The Chain of Rocks Bridge got its name “from a 17-mile shoal, or series of rocky rapids, called the Chain of Rocks beginning just north of St. Louis.”  The bridge, built in 1929 with a 30 degree bend in the middle, is now a bike trail and no longer open to vehicular traffic.  I had heard, and read stories, that the Missouri side of the bridge was not considered safe, so I rode around to the Illinois side with the intention of walking to the 30 degree bend from that side.  The closer I got to the isolated park, the more uneasy I started to feel.  There were no other vehicles or people around when I pulled up to the park, so I positioned my bike in a trajectory that would allow for a quick escape if need be.  I jumped off the bike and snapped a few pics.  I’ve learned to trust my gut, and my gut was saying to roll out, so I did.  Perhaps I’ll get the opportunity to traverse the length of the bridge some other day, but not this day.

COLLINSVILLE, IL

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle is a water tower in Collinsville, IL.  It stands 170 ft and was built in 1949.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

LIVINGSTON, IL

Though not an original Route 66 attraction, The Pink Elephant Antique Mall on an original section of Route 66 and listed as an attraction on the Illinois Route 66 app, so I stopped there for lunch. I’m not much for antiques, so this place was not my cup of tea.  Lots of “giants” out front, including a bearded, empty-handed Paul Bunyon giant with Harley-Davidson  on its shirt. The whole place just felt a bit random to me.
Twistee Treat Diner, in the same building as the Pink Elephant Antique Mall, had 50s diner decor and the Blues Brothers performing in the corner.  The burger and fries there weren’t half bad. 

MOUNT OLIVE, IL

Built in 1926, the Soulsby Station was designed by Mr. Soulsby to blend with the surrounding area at the time.  A successful service station until the late 1950s when Interstate 55 rerouted traffic a mile away.  The Soulsby’s “stopped pumping gas, but continued to check oil, sell soda pop, and greet the ever-growing legion of Route 66 tourists” until they closed the doors for good in 1993.  

Litchfield, IL

Though primarily focused on the history and preservation of the town of Litchfield, the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center has some nice exhibits dedicated to Route 66.

AUBURN, IL

Snell and Curran Roads make up a little over a mile of an old section of Route 66 that now runs through corn fields.  VisitSpringieldIllinois.com has a great rundown of Illinois specific Route 66 sites and has this to say about the historic brick road:  “The restored hand-laid brick road is a segment of the original Route 66, completed in 1931 and placed over a concrete roadbed.”  Given how truly awful Illinois back roads have been, I was dumbfounded at how well preserved this section of road is, especially considering heavy farm equipment must have to travel it, given its proximity to cornfields. A little out out of the way, but definitely worth the effort to see, and ride, it. 
There was a surprisingly decent amount of what appeared to be local traffic on the road. At one point, I thought there was a cable sensor stretched across the road to measure traffic volume, but as I got closer, it started to slither and I realized it was actually a very long corn snake! With it stretched out across both lanes, there was no way to avoid rolling over it, and I felt bad as I saw it writhing in the road in my rear-view mirror :-/ And no, it’s not in this pic!

Next up, Part 2- Springfield to Chicago, IL

2 thoughts on “Route 66: Part 1- St. Louis, MO to Auburn, IL

Add yours

  1. Sandy and I were just talking yesterday about taking Rt 66 to the west coast and Hwy 50 back to the east. Just talk right now, but preliminary investigation is underway.

    Stay safe and stay in touch. Rescue wagon is still available if you need it, anytime, anywhere.

    Chief

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, maybe y’all can ride with Double D to California to meet me and we can ride it all together later this summer (probably after Labor Day)! And don’t you worry, I’ve got you on speed dial for the rescue wagon…

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: