Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Short jaunt down Route 66.

Earlier this year I did a solo road trip. 10 states. 4700 miles in just over 2 weeks.  My goal was not only to explore some places and get lost but to get to Austin for SXSW.  I realized as planning for this went on I would be following a little bit of Route 66.  I decided to make it a large part of my journey South.  I picked up the Mother Road around Bloomington Illinois late one night when I left a day early to beat a snowstorm.  I followed down to Springfield Illinois and spent the night there.  I woke up the next day to a blanket of wet snow on the ground.
Iphone picture from my hotel room in Springfield.

Park near the cemetery where Lincoln is buried. 

It made for great photos but the questionable weather would be with me for the next few days as I traveled Route 66.

First things first in Springfield was to visit Abraham Lincoln's grave and house. I was up early and figured we would do some speed tourist things with these stops then get on the road.  

First was Lincoln's tomb.  

Lincoln's tomb Springfield Illinois. 

A beautiful place I am sure without the snow but with the snowfall coating all the trees it was like a fairytale. I was the first person there that day. no other footsteps anywhere and I was all alone except a groundkeeper plowing the roads around the cemetery.  

The inside was not open yet but I did a fair amount of walking around.  Crazy story about Lincolns tomb is that in 1876 A group of men led by a Chicago counterfeiter made a plan to actually steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom to get his engraver who was in jail freed. At the time the body was in a white sarcophagus behind a padlocked iron gate.  The government was on to them due to two of the men he hired being informants.  They were caught in the act of trying to steal the coffin out of the sarcophagus. After this the groundskeeper moved the coffin the basement and hid it under some supplies.  finally years later it was actually buried 10 feet deep, In a metal cage and encased in concrete.  Try to steal that! 

And before you leave you have to rub Lincoln's nose.  They say it brings good luck!

Lincoln Bust infront of tomb. 

Oh also buried at the cemetery is the grave of "Mr Accordian" Roy Bertelli.  Saw it as I was leaving.  I have no idea...But that is dedication.  

Iphone picture of Mr Accordions grave. 

From here I was off to downtown to catch a quick picture outside of Lincoln's house.  They have turned the whole neighborhood into a National Park with restored buildings, dirt streets and wooden sidewalks. It is like stepping back in time.  This was the only house he ever owned.  

Picture by me present day.  

Picture of Lincoln in front of home.  Behind the fence.  

It has not changed much since then but has been lovingly restored and kept up by the National Parks. I would have loved to have taken a tour but I had to get on the road.  

Coming into this trip I was worried about actually finding the old alinemnets of the road where I went. As you may or may not know much of Route 66 was re-routed onto bigger highways and interstates.  Also over time from the 20's till the the designation was taken away in 1985 many different routes had been used as cities grew and so did travel.  This in turn made many ghost towns and closed up businesses along the old road.  Finding the original sections can be tricky.  I was pleasantly surprised on the great signage most states had to follow the road.  Next stop after some cruising on side roads was Litchfield Illinois.  There is a route 66 museum here which was closed as well.  Actually many towns along the road have museums about the road and its history and many artifacts.  I am planning on doing the entire road someday soon with stops at many of these places.  

Iphone picture of the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield Illinois.

This restaurant was opened in 1935 and is still run by the same family.  When the road was realigned in 1940 from infront of the restaurant to behind it they simply flipped the entrance to the back and put neon signage there to attract business.  As the road changed and towns dried up clever thinking was necessary on Route 66.  

Iphone pic of an old Route 66 sign at the museum in Litchfield Illinois. 

An old gas station ( with old motel behind it) in Litchfield Illinois on Route 66. 

Old closed cafe in Litchfield Illinois on Route 66. 

At one point after the Great Depression parts of the Road were made into a divided highway.  After the interstates took over this was not needed so from time to time you find the road traveling along side a closed down road such as this outside Litchfield Illinois.  

From here I cruised side roads criss crossing the current interstate following the old path of Route 66.  Cruising through small towns along the way to St Louis.  One thing that you realize very quick is why another nickname for the road is Americas Main Street. As you cruise through small towns the road almost always follows the towns Main street through its downtown.  

Arriving in St Louis we had lost snow and it was mainly cloudy, Some rain and a ton of fog.  route 66 takes about 5 or 6 different paths around or through the city depending on year etc.  I left the road to go cruise through downtown and hopefully take some cool photos of the Arch.  
 I remeber coming through St louis on family road trips to Texas when I was a kid.  Going to the top of the arch. Riding a tram across the Mississippi and coming down in a questionable area where my grandfather quickly ushered us into the van and took off.  It has some great memories like the picture below. 
On the left is present day and right is me and my brother ( I am the little guy) on a trip with our parents and grand parents to visit my Aunt in Houston Texas.  Unfortunately on this trip I would also be visiting Houston Texas again for the funeral of this Aunt.  Those road trips with family to Texas directly led me to wanting to be on the road more as an adult.  

As seen in the last photo the arch was covered in thick fog...which was pretty cool for photos.  

Iphone picture.

After grabbing lunch downtown I again got on the road and heading into Missouri. My destination tonight was the only hotel reservation I had made ahead of time.  Had to make it to Carthage Missouri to stay in an original classic Route 66 Motor court.  On my way there again it was many small towns to pass through.  
The now closed Gardenway Motel in Villa Ridge Missouri. This is the way of many Motels along the road unless people step up and help restore them.  


the above tow photos are of the Sunset Motel in Villa Ridge Missouri.  The motel is long closed down but the neon sign has been restored and lights up at night. 

Abandoned Motel next to the Jesse James Wax Museum and Toy Museum.  

I so dig this Post Office in Avilla Missouri.  

Like I mentioned this was my destination for the night.  The Boots Court Motel. An old Motorcourt style motel in Cathrage Missouri.  Moroto Court motels had garages you could pull your car into next to your room. Many of these places if they still exist have long since filled in the garages to add more rooms.  This is a real gem bought and was built in 1938.  It was bought and saved from being demolished by two sisters and the Route 66 Missouri preservation group.  The Motel is at the crosssroads of U.S. 71 running North/South and Route 66 going East/West.  This gave it the nickname "Crossroads of America."  The radio show that took on that name was broadcast from the diner/drive-in that the original owner of the Boots built across the street.  Clark Gable also stayed here.  This place was just was to cool and places like this are fading away.  As a society we do not preserv our history sometimes as we should. At one time a man had bought this property to sell it to a drug store chain to build a new store...luckily that fell through and this treasure of Americana was saved.  

Front of the motel.  

Car Ports next to room. I had a room in the back section.  

Light on in Clark Gables room.

Front entrance/lobby.  Also used to serve as a gas station.  

Here are some of my iphone pictures of the inside. 

Nice comfy bed. 

old school key

People were a tad shorter in the 30's?

They try to decorate the place with period pieces.


I grabbed dinner at a restaurant/ horse arena in Carthage called Lucky J Arena.  Get a steak and watch people barrel racing from the restaurant.  I tucked myself in to get up early and get back on the road.

Next morning I grabbed a quick breakfast at a diner in Carthage called Iggys.  It has the old school feel and look inside and out.
Iphone picture of Iggys.

Outside Carthage is the 66 Drive-in a still functioning drive in. Quick stop for a picture and off we go.  
66 Drive-in Carthage Missouri.

Again we pass throiugh small towns some have fixed up historic buildings some sit in ruins waiting for someone to come along and restore them or for nature to slowly claim them back.  
Run down buildings on Route 66 in Carterville Missouri.  
In Webb City Missouri they fixed up an old Route 66 Gas Station into their Chamber of Commerce building.

I then get to Jopin Missouri.  The home of...Brad Pitt?  It has a cool old downtown but as you head out of downtown the old buildings give way to new development and houses..and then a few miles later back to old buildings.  This was where the large F5 torando ripped through Joplin in 2011.  It was crazy to realize why all the new buildings were there and gave you a real feel of how large the tornado really was.  
Also in Joplin is where Bonnie and Clyde held up in an apartment over a garage outside the downtown area and had a shootout with police resulting in two policemen being killed.  This also led to the discovery of a camera and the countries first look at Bonnie and Clyde witht he infamous photo of them holding guns leaning on their stolen car.  
Iphone photo of Bonnie and Clydes shootout apartment. 
Iphone photo.  Description of Bonnie and Clyde apartment and garage.

From Joplin we head out of town and out of Missouri and enter Kansas.  Kansas has the shortest amount of route 66 in it.  Only 13 miles but those few miles have some really cool towns and history as well as some inspiration for the movie Cars.  
First stop is Galena Kansas.  As you come into town you pass over a original overpass of Route 66. Also in this area was all the processing for the mines located a short distance away in Picher Oklahoma.

The viaduct seen in the distance in the photo below was built in the early 20's and was restored just after I was there.  

The first thing you see as you enter Galena is in front of you at the intersection the below building.

This building served as an inspiration for the Radiator Springs Garage in the movie Cars. 
Across the street from that is "Cars on the Route" an old gas station with some cars out front that resemble the ones from the movie. One of those cars is called Tow-tater and was the real life inspiration for Tow-mater in the movie.  

Cars on the route with some of the cars of the left.  The tow truck closest to the building was the actual inspiration for Tow-Mater in the movie Cars.

Just down the road in Galena are these two old soda murals for a restaurant in town.  

Next stop is the Rainbow Curve Bridge outside Baxter Springs Kansas.  Old route 66 used to go over this bridge the road outgrew the bridge.  It was built in 1923 and is the only surviving bridge of its kind on the road.  It reminds me of the bridge in downtown Halweia Hawaii on the North Shore.  The bypassed the main road by this bridge now but you can still pull off drive over it and check it out.  

Burnouts on the old bridge. 
Sideview of Rainbow Curve bridge.  

Next stop was the town of Baxter Springs.  My only stop here was an old restored service station and garage now a tourist shop and information.  The station was built in 1930.  

Baxter Springs Phillips 66 station.  No gas for sale just cool photo opportunities. 

The next stop probably could use its own post and I know I already have a Route 66 post I did shortly after the trip but I felt it was not in-depth enough.  But here I visit a place called Picher Oklahoma.  A true ghost town. What at one time was a thriving town of nearly 10,000 in the 20's it has now dwindled down to just a few.  This is mainly due to the large white piles you see around town as you come in.  This used to be a mining town.  They mined iron and zinc used in WWI.  At its peak more than 14,000 miners worked the mines.  The mining severely undermined the structure of the town.  Buildings were in danger of caving in.  Rivers were polluted.  70 Million tons of tailings and 36 million tons of sand and sludge remained after the mines shut down.  Families back in the day would let their kids play on the huge mountains of tailings...filled with lead.  This led to the Tar Creek Superfund project.  The government relocated many and some stayed behind. The final blow to the town was a tornado in 2008.  In 2009 it ceased operation as a municipality.  
It is an amazing place. Roads that used to be neighborhoods.  Driveways that lead to nowhere.  Abandoned buildings including a large high school.  Imagine the town you live in or grew up in just gone. Nothing but roads left...and HUGE piles of tailings.  I can not begin to explain how big these piles are and right in the middle of what was neighborhoods.  And all of it contaminated and kids playing in it.  This town is a good lesson in how we should treat our environment.  Here are some photos.

What used to be Downtown Picher Oklahoma. 

A former street that would have been filled with homes.

An abandoned home on a street in Picher with a large pile of tailings from the mine down the street. 

An abandoned church in Picher Oklahoma. 

What used to be the town square in Picher Oklahoma with a statue for the old high school football team. 

It was a surreal experience on an overcast cold day.  Again lessons should be learned from places like this.  If only some would listen and learn.  
From here it was off to Commerce Oklahoma.  The boyhood home of the "Commerce Comet" Mickey Mantle.  

Mickey Mantles childhood home.  Garage at right is original unrestored garage that Mickey used to use as a backstop when his dad pitched to him. 

Commerce is also home to the Hole in the Wall Conoco on Route 66 in Commerce Oklahoma. It was built in 1929.  

Iphone pic to show how the station was built right into the side of an existing building.  

Also home to the Dairy King .  It was originally built as a gas station on route 66.  

From here I followed the road into Miami Oklahoma and grabbed a bite to eat at the route 66 restaurant Waylans Ku-Ku Burger.  Built in 1960 is a classic old type drive in with pretty darn great burgers and fries.  Love me some fries.  

Ku-Ku Burger Miami Oklahoma

Leaving Miami the road splits into a original alinemnet and a newer alignment. I picked the old alignment and ended up on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  This was the original route of Route 66. This is the road the Okies took out West after the dustbowl. History beneath your feet.  Pretty amazing.  After the dirt road i met back up with the newer alignment of the road.  Around this area are many original 9 foot secrions of Route 66 still preserved all this years.  These parts are what gave the road its nickname The Ribbon Road.  They were in a hurry to pave the road but money was tight so they decided to pave only 9 feet wide. ( at least thats one story i heard)  When you overtook another car or came up on oncoming traffic you would have to go off into the gravel.  Now these sections are essentially roads between farmers fields.  You can still see the original asphalt and the curbs of cement on either side.  Below is a marker and you can see a section of road in front of it.  

Iphone picture of the old road and historical marker.  

The original Ribbon Road outside Miami Oklahoma.  Called E200 Road now,  a little used road between farm fields but at one time carried many people out west to start over.

Iphone pic of the car and another original section of Route 66

Iphone pic of an original section of Route 66.  

Iphone picture of the curb of the Original Route 66.  

Next stop Afton Oklahoma.  This was a pretty rough and run down old town. Not uncommon on Route 66.  But there was a cool restored gas station. Hopefully this spurs more rehabilitation of some of the very old buildings.  

Rundown buildings in Afton on Route 66.

Restored gas station in Afton Oklahoma.  

Outside of Afton I ran across this long abandoned Route 66 Motel.  It was once called The Avon Court Motel. It was opened in 1936 and closed around 1958.  

Next stop was one I had been waiting for since well before the trip.  It would be our last stop on Route 66 as I would have to head South to Texas from here.  This may be one of the greatest and most famous roadside attractions in the country.  The Blue Whale of Catoosa. 

"Howdy folks!"- Blue Whale of Catoosa

From the whales tail. 

You can even go inside the head of the whale! 

The Blue Whale was built in the 1970's as a surprise for the creators wife. It soon became a popular swimming location for locals and those traveling on the Mother Road. You can not help but notice it from Route 66.  In the early 2000s the owners had died and the whale fell into disrepair.  Some locals have since gotten together and been doing upkeep and taking donations to keep Blue looking great for future generations. 

That might be one of the most important things I learned on these few days on Route 66.  The world left the road and its small towns behind. Many fell into disrepair but the love of the road and history spurred some into action to save what they could.  Be it a gas station or a big whale.  The road is not dead its out there waiting for you to discover it and I can not wait to get back out and do the whole thing taking my time to see it all.  Saving these pieces of our history our vital. Not only are they cool roadside attractions that are fun but they are our countries living history of how we came to be what we are now.  You may be someone who puts a lot of miles on driving the interstate...but you have not really had a road trip or experienced the REAL America till you get off the busy interstate and hit some side roads and small towns.  The real America lies in small mom and pop shops and motels.  In greasy spoon diners in small towns all across the country.  Not chain stores and fast food restaurants.  Go get lost and have a conversation with someone new.  Ask about the history of the place and maybe get a cool story to pass along.  Share it all with your children so that the memories and stories of the past never get lost. Write a stupid blog who knows!  Just get lost and experience life.  

This trip had many more parts to it from getting lost on Texas country roads to Civil Rights historical sites.  I will hopefully post about those to if people enjoy this one.  

 I hope that I will soon get back out and do the whole Route 66.  You're feedback may help push me along.  And in turn I can take you all along with me doing videos and posts like this.  

Leave a comment. Let me know if you read it and what you think. 

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