Route 66: Part 2- Springfield to Chicago, IL

OK, back on the road to Chicago. . .


According to a sign beneath the Bunyon statue in Atlanta, IL, the now famous fiberglass advertising “giants” found along Route 66 came into fashion in the 1960s.  Originally designed to hold an ax, the first of these was a “Paul Bunyan”  figure done for the Paul Bunyan Cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff Arizona around 1962.  Most of the giants were derivatives of this one mold.  The Lauterbach Giant on Wabash Ave in Springfield is an example of how these giants continue to find life along the route- this one as a patriotic advertisement for Lauterbach Tires in Springfield, IL.


According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest covered wagon is driven by Lincoln and resides on old Route 66 in Lincoln, IL.  At 40 ft long and 25 ft tall, this hand-built Illinois oak novelty really grabs your attention as you’re rolling down the road!


It was interesting to feel the different vibes of each town as I retraced sections of historic Route 66.  Some towns had a single, random, run-down Route 66 site, be it a road section, a building, a giant, or a placard, that seemed out of place and incongruent with the vision of the current township.  In those cases, Route 66 felt sad and dated.  But then I’d pull into a town like Atlanta, IL, that not only embraces their Route 66 history, but has given it context with the city’s own history.  I was delighted to walk the streets and admire the Route 66 murals, giant and park, but also to learn how a grain elevator works through the very informative J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator and Museum. I marveled at the 1908 octagonal-shaped library and historic clock tower and enjoyed a delicious cupcake from the sweet shop now housed in the iconic Palm’s Grill Cafe and Atlanta Museum.  I came for Route 66, but got so much more out of the stop.  Plus, I met a couple of other bikers on a trike who gave me some great maintenance and route tips!
This particular giant had it’s ax swapped out for a hotdog and was used to advertise a restaurant in Cicero, IL.  The owner purposefully misspelled the name of his business “Bunyons” in order to avoid a potential trademark conflict with the Paul Bunyan Cafe in AZ.  A legend was born, and over the next 38 years, “Bunyons Statue” became a Route 66 landmark.  The giant is now on loan to the city of Atlanta, IL right on Route 66 for all to enjoy. 
How happy is this water tower in Atlanta, IL?!


According to the sign, that 90 degree turn in the road in the upper right corner of this photo, was the site of many disastrous accidents from the late 1920s through the 1950s. The curve, part of the original Route 66 through Towanda, IL constructed in 1927, was bypassed when a realignment in 1954 placed the road approximately ¼ mile down the road.


Pontiac, IL is one of the towns who have embraced their Route 66 association and draw you into their city’s history through its connection with the historic road.  Though the road pavement in the downtown is in horrible condition, the mural walking tour provides an enjoyable alternative to experiencing the beautiful area.  This mural, by famous Route 66 muralist Bob Waldmire, is behind the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum.  I’m parked on a small section of original Route 66 pavement bricks.  
In 2009, a group of muralists, known as the Walldogs, descended upon Pontiac, IL and painted 18 murals throughout its downtown and created a tourist destination on top of an already historic site.  According to their website, the Walldogs “are a group of highly skilled sign painters and mural artists from all over the globe.”  Towns can host a festival or commission the group to boost their tourism through beautiful public art.  It worked…I walked the whole downtown just to view the murals and ended up having lunch at a local establishment in the process 🙂 
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve met some pretty incredible folks along my journey so far this summer.  Pontiac, IL was no exception.  Mary Ann, one of the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum volunteers was a wealth of knowledge and a delight to boot.  She made sure that I knew when to come back the next day (I showed up too late to really see anything) and gave me a good overview of all the museum and town had to offer, including the best times to visit different attractions The next day she gave me the back-story on all the cool exhibits.  She even went out back and took a picture of me and my rig in front of the mural 🙂 
I arrived at the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac with barely enough time to skim the exhibits, and right as the Livingston County War Museum was closing (it’s housed in the same building).  After brief introductions, Route 66 Museum volunteer Mary Ann alerted Robert (I hope I remembered his name correctly?), the War Museum volunteer, that I was a veteran and that I’d be back tomorrow. He stated that he wouldn’t be there to give me a guided tour the next day, and that simply wouldn’t do.  So, he unlocked the museum and spent the next hour taking me through what can only be described as a painstakingly respectful, and impressive homage to the military veterans of Livingston County.  There were hundreds of full uniforms on mannequins accompanied by the story of each hometown veteran who wore that specific uniform (this pic is just a small section of the Navy and Marine section).  From an actual Civil War Medal of Honor, to personal service member artifacts from the post-911 operations, this place housed the memorabilia of Pontiac’s hometown heroes and far exceeded the expectations of a volunteer-run museum. 


Built in 1932, the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, IL “originally sold Standard Oil products”…but later “the station began selling Sinclair and the now famous Phillips 66.” “The station sold gasoline until the 1960s and then became an auto body shop until the late 1970s, when it closed its doors for good.”  Unfortunately, the gift shop was closed the day I visited (lovingly run by volunteers), but when pressed, a button on the wall played a recording relaying the history of the station, the family that founded and ran it, and the impact of both on the town.


Built in 1933 to look like a cottage, Ambler’s Texaco Station in Dwight, IL sold Texaco, and then Marathon gasoline during its 66 years of operation as a gas station, though it continued on as an auto repair shop for another three years, until 2002 when it ceased business operation.
Interestingly, I met another very friendly and helpful Route 66 site volunteer named Mary Ann!  A wealth of information and obviously passionate about preserving this unique piece of history, she made my stop at the Ambler’s Texaco Station that much more enjoyable!


An advertisement for The Launching Pad Restaurant in Wilmington, IL, the Gemini Giant is one of the most recognized icons on Route 66.  Another of the Paul Bunyon/Muffler Man giants that grace the historic route, this 30 foot monstrosity sports a green suit and welder’s mask (which is supposed to be a space helmet?) and holds a rocket!   It got its name after the Gemini space program.  Interestingly, the rocket sports an American flag and a Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Badge.  I couldn’t find any information regarding the EOD badge, nor is it depicted in online historical photos, so I’m assuming that at some point, a resourceful EOD tech made a late night mission to add the badge to the rocket. 


Traffic was pretty bad by the time I arrived in Joliet, so I went straight through downtown until I reached the Rich and Creamy Ice Cream Stand.  I have to say, I was a bit underwhelmed when I pulled up to the tiny square building in an unkempt park on a very busy throughway.  Nevertheless, I parked the bike and got a pretty decent chocolate shake and then played frogger to cross the bustling street and get a pic of the building. The Blues Brothers on the roof is a nod to the 1980s comedy movie by the same name, where one of the characters gets released from the Joliet prison.


Like the rest of Route 66, it’s hard to determine an actual Eastern terminus since it depends on which alignment you use.  For simplicity, and because I despise big cities and I wanted to get in and out of Chicago as quickly as possible, I googled “Historic Route 66 Begin Sign” and was taken to the corner of W. Adams St. and S. Michigan Ave.  As you can see from the pic, it’s hard to tell, but that rectangular sign below “Route 66” supposedly spells out BEGIN under all those stickers.  Whether it does or not, it was good enough for me to feel like I had closure for the Illinois section of Route 66! 

The Chicago leg of this trip was facilitated by a Bunk-a-Biker home-stay in a Chicago suburb. As much as I hate big cities, I actually had a great time around the Chicago area. . . more to come . . .

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