Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Route 66-Pontiac to Lincoln


  Route 66 was improved and widened during the 1950s and by 1957 it was a four lane highway all the way through Illinois, from Chicago to St. Louis. In some areas two lanes of Route 66 were paved over by I-55 however other sections were just closed down so now two lanes of unused highway parallel the two lanes of Route 66.

  To cope with all of the traffic on the road a new police station was built in 1941. It was in use until 2004. An aerial view is required to see why this rather dull looking station should have it’s own Route 66 sign. It’s shaped like a gun!  Parking and turn around room for RVs.


  Memory Lane, a one mile section of Route 66, was the main road into the town of Lexington from 1926-1947. It was closed when the highway became four lane. It’s now a walking path with recreated billboards and Burma Shave signs. Parking for small RVs only.


  Recreated billboard along Memory Lane and the ruins of the Oasis Drive-In.


  Towanda has opened one of the unused sections of two lane road as a walking trail. It has signs for each state with a few of the more well known attractions depicted - Route 66: A Geographic Journey. Park in the gas station lot. There’s a long bus space but it’s a tight fit.


  William Sprague, who was a contractor, built this unique, brick, Tudor Revival gas station in 1931. The upper floor was an apartment for Sprague and his family. The business changed hands over the years and the building was used for other enterprises but the gas pumps were not removed until 1979.  Room for RVs to park.


  The story of Funks Grove Maple Sirup is pretty amazing. The first Funks settled in Funks Grove in 1824 and made maple syrup for their own use. In 1891 they started selling it and today Funks are still operating the business. They produce an average of 2,000 gallons of syrup each season and sell out each year. The road is under construction so we didn’t make it to their store but the little depot at Funks Grove is cute.


  Dixie Truckers Home is the oldest truck stop in Illinois. Founded by J.P. Waters and J.W. Geske in 1928, it’s opened 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It closed for one day in 1965 due to a fire that destroyed the building but left the gas pumps untouched. It also closed for awhile after Road Ranger purchased it in 2012. Road Ranger has kept the original Dixie signs.


   The tiny town of Atlanta had it start as a service center for the area farmers. The establishment of Route 66 in 1926 brought a short boom that only lasted 20 years. It’s attempting to revive itself and attract Route 66 tourists. The collection of eclectic attractions is worth a stop. Room for RVs to park on the street or in the library lot. The sidewalks and curb cuts are not in good condition so wheelchair users may need to roll down the streets.

    Hot Dog Giant                           Palms Grill-originally opened in 1934


                          Octagon Library                                  Water Tower


   J. H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum – the elevator is only opened for tours on Sunday but an informative, self guided walking tour is available at any time. RVs will fit in the lot or on the street. The site is partly accessible.



Monday, October 5, 2015

Route 66-Pontiac

  Pontiac is a wonderful stop along Route 66. The town has really embraced the 66 culture. It has three free museums and a great walking tour of 23 murals painted on the sides of the buildings. We visited Pontiac a few years ago but stopped again to see some of the things that we missed.


 Illinois Route 66 Hall Of Fame and Museum – reposted from 2012 visit

  Along with hundreds of Route 66 artifacts this museum has two special gems, the 1972 Volkswagen van that artist, Bob Waldmire, lived in as he drove back and forth on the road, painting murals and selling small copies of his drawings; and the 1966 converted school bus that he lived in in Illinois. The building also has a War Museum which is mostly just uniforms from different wars.

  The museum is partially accessible. There’s a slight ramp to the door, which opens out, so it’s a little difficult to maneuver plus the threshold is high. The first floor of the museum is all accessible. An elevator goes to all of the floors except of the fifth. The second floor is a gift shop which we didn’t visit. The third floor has displays about daily life during the 1940s. Most of it is accessible. The forth floor is the War Museum which is accessible. The curb cuts and sidewalks are fairly good. 


Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum –reposted from 2012 visit 


  There isn’t enough room in this museum for many cars but the ones on display are in pristine condition. For enthusiasts a large library is available to browse.

   The museum is accessible but a slight ramp and an outward opening door make entering a little difficult. Curb cuts and sidewalks are in good condition.

 Museum of the Gilding Arts


  This unusual but interesting museum explains the process of pounding gold into extremely thin sheets which can then be glued onto any surface to add decorative gold accents. One ounce of gold can be pounded so thin that would spread out over an entire acre!

  Most of the artifacts are from the M. Swift & Sons company of Hartford, CT. Their entire workshop from the late 1880s is on display along with examples of gold leafing.

  Everything is accessible.


 Pontiac Murals


  The murals are really good and close enough together that it’s easy to see them all in a short amount of time.


  A free parking lot is located across the street from the Route 66 Museum. Vans and small RVs will fit but larger RVs might have to be parked along the street.  It’s possible to walk anywhere in town from this lot. The sidewalks are in good condition and have colored footprint paths to follow for a museum tour, a mural tour or a combination of both. Most of the curb cuts are good but a short detour may be necessary in a few spots.  Map

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Route 66–Joliet to Pontiac


   South of Joliet, when the road opens up to farmland and small town America, we came to the first section of Route 66 that hasn’t been widened and improved. It’s so narrow that the white lines are painted partly on the dirt.

  One new and one old photo stop – a replica of the Bluesmobile from The Blues Brothers movie is stuck on a pole at the Food N Fuel. The Gemini Giant outside The Launching Pad Restaurant, which opened in 1960, has always held a rocket (unlike most others who held mufflers). The restaurant is closed but you can still pull into the lot and get a picture.  Room for RVs to stop at both.


  Down the road the town of Braidwood has the Polka-A-Dot Drive-In, a 1956 era diner, and the Braidwood Zoo within walking distance of each other. RVs will fit in the Polk-A-Dot lot. The zoo lot has a narrow entrance road but RVs will fit in the grocery store lot across the street.


  Gardner’s little city park has a two cell jail built in 1906, a memorial to a local minister and a restored 1932 diner that originally was a horse drawn streetcar.  Room for RVs along the street.


  Ambler's Texaco was a gas station from 1933 until 1999 then an auto repair shop until 2002. It's now a visitor center.  Room for RVs in the lot.


This place is just down the road from Ambler’s but I couldn’t find any information about it.


  This Standard Oil Gas Station has been completely restored to the way it looked in the 1930s. It’s now a visitor center with plenty of room to park RVs.


  Look for the pull off to stop and view the Meramec Caverns advertisement sign on the barn. The rest of the farm looks deserted but someone is keeping the sign painted.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Route 66 - Old Joliet Prison & Joliet Iron Works


  Joliet Prison, constructed with huge limestone blocks and sporting castle-like turrets, was built in 1858 using prison labor. It’s  been featured in many movies. The most well known is The Blues Brothers which was filmed when the prison was still active and has scenes of the interior and the east gate. The prison closed in 2002 and there aren’t any plans to open it for public tours. A few plaques on the grounds give details on the history of the prison.


   Joliet Iron Works Historic Site was the site of an iron manufacturing facility from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.


Very little still exists at the site but there are a few old foundations and walls of the buildings. A one mile, paved, interpretive trail makes a loop through the ruins.

Both sites are accessible.

The parking lots at both sites are large enough for RVs.   Map

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Route 66 - Joliet Area Historical Museum


  Joliet was named The City of Stone and Steel because of it’s limestone quarry and steel mill. This nicely done, little museum  tells the early history of these industries and the stories of the immigrants from Great Britain and Eastern Europe who came to Joliet to find work and raise their families. The museum building was once a Methodist church and still has beautiful stain glass windows.


The building also houses a visitor center with Route 66 information and photo opportunities.


  The museum is accessible. A short film is shown in a mockup of a street car. The street car is accessed by steps only but the film is also shown in another location that is accessible.

The museum parking lot is large enough for small RVs. Larger RVs can park on the street.  Museum   66 Map

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Route 66 Chicago to Joliet

  We’ve wanted to travel along the entire length of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica for several years but it hasn’t worked out until now. So finally – our first day on Route 66!

  The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921 was responsible for establishing Route 66 and many of the other numbered highways that are still in existence today. The act provided federal money to the states to help create a coherent highway network, using number routes rather than names which were confusing since they often changed as the roads passed through different states. East to west roads use even numbers, north to south use odd numbers. The act also marked the beginning of standards for road construction and road signage.

   Besides connecting two major cities, Route 66 provided an easy route through the Rocky Mountains attracting truckers, job seekers, and families on vacation. As it’s popularity grew, small towns along the way vied for the tourist traffic by building fancy motor courts, restaurants of all kinds, and unusual attractions.  By 1953 four lane, limited access roads began bypassing towns along Route 66  and in 1985 the route was decommissioned. It may have disappeared altogether if it weren’t for a few people dedicated to it’s preservation. It’s still possible to drive on 85% of the original route and many of the old iconic gas stations, restaurants, bridges and motels are being restored or are finding new life as more travelers chose to go back in time and travel slowly along the two lanes.

   Travelers on Route 66 need to do some research and have a good guide book. We bought EZ 66 Guide for Travelers which has very detailed, easy to follow directions. These websites are good too - Historic Route 66, National Park Service Route 66 Corridor, and Road Trip USA.
  So (after that little history lesson) Route 66 from Chicago to Joliet!

  The beginning of Route 66. Route 66 originally followed Jackson Blvd. but by the 1950s Jackson was one way eastbound and Adams St. became the westbound route.
  Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant and Bakery, a family business since 1923, is a favorite with both locals and tourists. Breakfast seems to be the most popular meal but we arrived in mid afternoon and weren’t hungry so we had pie and a small salad. Mediocre at best so maybe stick to breakfast?
The Cindy Lou Motel, once billed as “the last motel before the city”, is a relative newcomer - opened in 1960. It looks a bit rundown and seedy but I like the primitive, homemade sign.
  Apparently Chicagoans put fries on top of their hot dogs. Henry’s Drive-In has been in business since the 1950s and has a very cool sign. Large lot with room for RVs.
  The Berwyn Rt 66 Museum is a tiny gift shop and museum. Not much to see but the volunteers are very friendly. On the street parking.
  Side trip to the Chicago Portage National Historic Site. The portage, which provided an easy connection between the Atlantic
and the Gulf of Mexico by linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, allowed Chicago to become an important port. The site has a large statue, interpretive signs, a short paved trail and a longer gravel loop trail.  Large lot with room for RVs.
  Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket has been frying up chicken since 1946. Unfortunately the opening of I-55 cut off easy access to the restaurant and it takes some effort to find it.  RVs will fit on the edge of the lot.
  White Fence Farm which opened in the early 1920s is more than a restaurant. It’s also a museum with antique cars, clocks, motorcycles, dolls and other memorabilia, plus a petting zoo and quarter games. We didn’t get to see any of that or taste the chicken to decide if it is wonderful or flavorless ( differing internet reviews) because the restaurant is closed on Mondays. Large lot with room for RVs.
  Kicks on 66 Park is a great photo stop. Look for the ice cream stand with the Blues Brothers dancing on the roof  (Jake Blues was released from Joliet Prison in The Blues Brothers movie) and pull into the parking lot. Across the street is Dick’s Towing with old cars on display. Follow the paved trail to a big Kicks on 66 sign. The park also has two nice sculptures. Large lot with room for RVs.
  It’s only about 40 miles from Chicago to Joliet but if you stop for everything it’ll take a few hours. We drove through downtown Chicago at about 10:30 on Monday morning and had no problems with traffic or finding our way. It’s actually marked pretty well with Route 66 directional signs. Unless you’re determined to drive every inch of the original road the first eight or so miles can be bypassed by taking I-55. Very little of the original character is left on this section of road.  Map