Day Three on Route 66 — Rabbits, museums and another giant

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(June 26, 2016) CUBA, Mo. — He collects rabbits — the furry kind and the Volkswagen kind — at his roadside gift shop, collection of automotive relics, and real, live bunnies on historic Route 66 in Stauton, Ill. His name is Rich Henry who has become rather famous for his "rabbit ranch," which attracts dozens of tourists a week who are traveling the old road.

If they haven't heard of Henry they are still likely to stop when they spot his unusual property as they drive by. For example, a group of Harley riders from England, India, Australia and South Africa who are touring the "Mother Road" roared into his store while we were there. Henry was just one of the characters the MotorwayAmerica road crew of Jim and Luci Meachen and Ted and Trudye Biederman encountered on the third day of their journey on Route 66 from downtown Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif.

They covered 179 miles between Springfield, Ill., and Cuba, Mo., on Saturday in a 2016 Dodge Durango supplied by Fiat Chrystler Automobiles and continued to be amazed at the number of attractions that have sprung up on the road, which was the main route from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean from the 1920s through the 1960s.  The highway became obsolete with the construction of the interstate system in the '60s, '70s and '80s, but it has made a comeback in recent years as people are discovering the unique history and incredible nostalgia associated with the 2,400-mile highway.

Spending time with President Lincoln — Read the Day Two story

Henry not only raises live rabbits, but he collects dead ones as well in the form of used up Volkswagen Rabbits. In fact, about eight years ago he constructed his own version of the Cadillac ranch cutt
ing several Rabbits in half and "planting" them in a row — a kind of VW ranch. He has an assortment of other old cars and trucks as well as a well-stocked gift shop he operates when not working as an insurance salesman.

Before reaching Stauton, the crew stopped while leaving Springfield to get a shot of the Lauterbach muffler man that has stood outside the Lauterbach Tire business since 1978. He is kin to the Paul Bunyan giant now standing tall in Atlanta, Ill., on a section of Route 66.

Heading out of Springfield to Litchfield the crew discovered the Litchfield Museum and Rt. 66 Welcome Center, housed in a new building on the old Route 66. Bill Tolley, who was volunteering at the museum on Saturday, said they receive what he considers a large number of visitors every week. He stopped and checked the guest book and found that more than 30 people had signed in on Friday. He said they've had visitors from as far away as Australia and South Africa since the first of the year.

The museum is home to hundreds of artifacts from the town of Litchfield and its connection to Route 66 as well as a geneology office. Included in the displays is a restored 1930 Ford Model A Tudor.

Luci and Trudye posing with the gas pumps at the oldest surviving service station on Route 66

Down the road a few miles is the Soulsby Shell Station in Mount Olive, Ill., built in 1926 by Henry Soulsby and his son, Russell. It is said to be the oldest gas station still standing on Route 66. It was operated until 1991 and Russell and his sister, Ola, continued greeting visitors until 1997 when it was sold. Mike Dragovich purchased the historic property and is working with the Soulsby Station Society. An exterior restoration of the building was completed in 2009 and there are plans to restore the interior in coming years.

The crew got into Cuba late in the afternoon and checked into the historic 80-year-old Wagon Wheel Motel. More on the motel and the town of Cuba — called the mural city for its many paintings on store buildings — in our next story. We are heading to Carthage, Mo., today, a 188-mile jaunt that should provide more "kicks on Route 66" and a stay in another vintage motel.