Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 13 Edwardsville (IL) to Bloomington (IL) 30th June

Two miles away from our motel was the Mustang Corral... arrgh Paul’s dream location! A family run affair for the last thirty years this place has Mustangs in various stages of deterioration and restoration! A yellow ’69 Mach 1, a ’67 Shelby, a ’65 GT Convertible... the list goes on!


There’s corn everywhere you look in this state, if not that, it’s peas and other vegetable crops for miles. The place is incredibly green and such a contrast to where we’ve come from.

The Colisium Ballroom in Gillespie.... is anything but these days, antiques line the massive hall which in itself is full of history. Chicago Mob money built it. Al Capone’s Grandmother lived in town so that’s why Gillespie got a Ballroom! Apparently the builder was found in a nearby pond with concrete gumboots on.. for failing to pay bills!

Just down the road the route narrowed and led to a now disused 1929 bridge... you can tell cars weren’t very wide in those early days.

Through Carlinville, pride in homes gets a huge boost, a far cry from the parts of St Louis we travelled through yesterday. American fashion has very few fences between properties and the concept of a quarter acre we used to take for granted in Australia would be considered small in these parts. Even the city square is expansive, neat and tidy.

There was grass growing under our feet on the original bits of Route 66 coming into Girard, the greenery clearly evident through the concrete pavement. Back when it was laid in the twenties and thirties the wild turkeys of this region had little regard for new concrete roads being laid... their signature now a well established attraction on the old road.

This trip has brought a handful of real highlights to mind and today Deck’s drug store was definitely another. Brother’s Bill and Bob Deck have retired now and just pop into their old store to say high to the folks passing through Route 66. They were the pharmacists in the town, as was their father and grandfather before him. In fact it opened in March 1884 and they seem to have kept everything from about that time on. Dozens of medicinal potions were presented to rectify anything from the common cold to dysentery! These guys are reason alone to make a trip on the Mother Road and bring real life to this time warp.

On the way out of town Robyn caught a glimpse of another cute creature.. the humble squirrel, munching on an acorn of course!

The Yellow Brick road is actually Auburn in this part of the world.. certainly outside Auburn and it’s about two miles long and all the original interlocked brick... Surprisingly it’s not hard on the suspension.

More insights in Springfield... no not home to Bart but in fact the home of the Pluto Pup (AUS) or Hot Dog (NZ). In 1945 Ed Waldmire came up with the idea and first put them on the market right here at the Cozy Dog Drive-In as a ‘Corn Dog’!

Speaking of ‘Drive-In’... that’s to drive in and park to get something... ‘Drive through’ is what you’d expect except in USA drive- thru can be for banking, pharmacy or even tax returns... almost anything you can think of!

Next stop was Lincoln, home of the phone box on the city hall building (used to spot approaching bad weather!) ...

... President Ab Lincoln, an undersized watermelon, significant because the former president cut the melon in honour of his namesake city! From the famous to the infamous, according to Cliff - who owns the old garage (now turned into a Harley Service Centre) on the corner of 66 coming into town – Al Capone used to fill up his cars en route south... usually late at night, leaving the cash in a strong box in the wall that they discovered when they did renovations! Cliff and his mate Dave enjoy sharing a tale or two about the road and chewing the fat about bikes... and Mustangs, if it has to be four wheels!

...and that was our penultimate day, full of inspiring people and interesting stories, a real highlight of the trip. After nearly two weeks on the road we have no one doubt about why you would drive Route 66. It is something different to everything who drives it... and you get from it what you put in. It doesn’t matter how little you see, it will be enjoyable... but if you make an effort, grab a guide or two and do some basic research the rewards are significant!
One day to go!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 12 Cuba (MO) to Edwardsville (IL) 29th June

By daytime Cuba was well illustrated showing the small town’s history went back much further than just Route 66.
 Forget Jim Beam or Jack Daniels...  in this part of the world it’s ‘Make our Bourbon Your Bourbon’. That’s their motto...  what else for a town called Bourbon. The Methodists might have the numbers but the Seventh Day Adventist take the prize for best presented... and in a town that has no choice advertising alcohol!

That’s not the only liquid they’re famous for, the Circle Inn Malt Shop has a reputation for shakes and malts. Compulsory sampling confirmed it rightly deserved.

The old road is usually located near the railway... back nearly a century ago, trains provided the easiest access, so it was a logical choice for a new road. Near Sullivan it was still obviously the best route for the interstate as well, all passing within eye shot of each other.

At Stanton we headed out to the Meramec Caverns. We’d been seeing advertising for the last 200 plus miles and wondered what it was all about. Considered the best advertising on the route, back in 1935 then owner Lester Dill erected signs up and down Route 66 and the rest of the mid west (some suggest up to 350 signs were broadly painted on anything and everything) pointing to the huge natural caves on the Meramec River where Jesse James and his Gangs reportedly hid out on numerous occasions. Part of the advertising by Dill was a concept he initiated – small stickers he had the kids sticking on every car’s bumper. This is supposedly where the now common bumper sticker originated from.

We passed through a number of small towns, a couple of options on roads including the pre 1932 road via Ballwin. Cutting through to the Interstate 44 we doubled back to the Route 66 National Park at Times Beach Resort and the huge steel bridge that crossed the Meramec river. It’s no longer in use but its presence makes you realise the enormity of the challenge they faced all those years ago building structures like this.

On to St Louis and the biggest of them all. The bridge over the river Mississippi was hailed as a break-through in building technique a hundred or more years ago. This was the first use of arches for strength as well as the new innovation of cast steel (as opposed to iron). A modern day Arch monument in the centre of the city pays homage to the shape that connected the east USA with the west and provided the world with a means of building bigger and stronger bridges.


Next stop was the Blueberry Hill Cafe, a famous musical venue to the stars... still going strong all these years later.

On the edge of the mighty Mississippi came the last monument to Missouri... the Iron Bridge at the Chain of Rocks spanning more than a mile across the river connecting Missouri with the state of Illinois. Today it is the longest foot and cycle bridge in the world.

The Mustang Corral was closed, so we would find camp nearby and come back and check that out in the morning. (obviously!)

The flat fertile agricultural land of southern Illinois was a marked change to previous states... While Oklahoma had lush pastures... in this region everything was green right up to the black top we were driving on. Still through the long grasses we could see remnants of one lane of old Route 66. With 2000 plus miles under our belt there is only a couple of days and less than 400 miles to go.