Day One on Route 66 — Not enough time to see everything

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(June 24, 2016) The biggest takeaway from our first day on old Route 66 is that we did not allow nearly enough time traveling the old highway out of downtown Chicago through such cities and towns as Joliet, Odell, Pontiac, Bloomington, Lincoln, and Atlanta on our way to Springfield. The route is teeming with small museums highlighting the glory years of the road, restored gas stations, diners and drive-ins of the past, and dozens of old car displays. One day simply is not enough for the serious visitor to discover the past glory of famous 66.

Dick's Towing Service in Joliet, Ill., has this eye-catching display of vintage cars and trucks on old Route 66. The

Motorway America crew — Jim and Luci Meachen and Ted and Trudye Biederman — also discovered the route has no shortage of friendly people willing to talk about the glory days of Route 66 when hundreds of thousands of cars made their way from the Windy City to the coast of California.

See our introductory story outlining the history of historic Route 66

Bob Ford of Atlanta, Ill., about 45 miles north of Springfield, said he has lived in the town of about 1,600 people since he was 3-years-old in 1946 and remembered when hundreds of cars streamed through on a daily basis in the '50s and '60s. Ford, who owns an antique shop called Memories, said renewed interest in the old road has brought an increased influx of visitors on Arch Street — once Route 66 — over the past few years.

One of the attractions that has helped bring tourists is the huge fiberglas statue of Paul Bunyan, originally made for the Paul Bunyan Cafe in Flagstaff, Ariz., in 1962, which is now owned by the Preservation Committee of the Illinois Route 66 Association and on loan to the town of Atlanta. Originally the figure was designed to hold an axe, but now holds a giant hotdog.

John Fey, pictured at left, who owns a plaque shop in Berwyn, Ill., outside of Chicago and on the route of old 66, founded the small Berwyn U.S. 66  Museum about nine years ago. He says he has several visitors a day who look at the memorabilia from the Berwyn section of the road.

The most interesting town on the 200-mile route is Pontiac which boasts four museums including the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum and the Pontiac - Oakland Automobile Museum. The Hall of Fame  and Museum claims the largest Route 66 memorabilia collection in Illinois including artist Bob Waldmire's VW bus and Road Yacht mobile home.

Diners and restaurants from the glory days still serve food and nostalgia. We ate lunch at the Old 66 Family Restaurant in Dwight and discovered that it, indeed, lives up to its billing as one of the best places to eat on Route 66 in Illinois. The menu is extensive, the food outstanding and the service first class.

US 66 was established on Nov. 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous road systems in America, originally ran from Chicago, and through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California before ending in Santa Monica, Calif.

People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System in the late '70s and '80s.

Route 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime, and it was officially removed from the United States Highway System on June 27, 1985, after it had been replaced in its entirety by segments of the Interstate Highway System.

Our second day will be spent in Springfield, the capital of Illinois, touring the Lincoln Library, the Lincoln Museum and other attractions that once drew vacationeers on Route 66 into the heart of the city for a day of historical sightseeing. And then on day three we will travel southwest to Cuba, Mo.