It was our first day on the road and night was falling. We’d run a little long on our dinner stop at Steak-n-Shake, but the great burgers and rich milkshakes were worth it! Just as I began to worry whether we’d make our first official kitschy route 66 stop, we rounded a corner and there it was. The Gemini Giant. And within minutes, we’d documented our visit - standing under the crotch of a giant. What an auspicious beginning! Sadly, the Launching Pad Drive-In restaurant that hosts the Giant is closed (as in permanently) with overgrown weeds surrounding the building. Locals must be used to the sight of tourists stopping for a photo op, because for all the cars that passed by while we were running back and forth setting up the camera on the hood of the car and taking our picture not one person even so much as honked!
A ways after the Giant, around Dwight, IL., we passed the first of many huge windmill farms to come on the trip. They became a fascination for us as we traveled West through land so well suited to the air currents these require. We know there are pros and cons to be argued for both sides, but we really did find them to be a beautiful site as the sun set behind these giant behemoths, stoic and steady sentinels across the plains. Steve pegged it… “elegant.”
Pulled into our lodging for the night late, however the neon sign that greeted us from the Route 66 Hotel & Conference Center was a welcoming site!
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
I thought it was kismet that the restaurant we found next door in the morning was “Abe’s Southside Café & Pub” until Steve pointed out we were in the “land of Lincoln”, in Springfield, IL., and LOTS of places would have the name Abe in them, for the 16th President of the United States and NOT our son!
Driving is Springfield was unique. For quite a stretch of road, we were on a four lane, one way highway that passed straight through the middle of a neighborhood (like out street, only wider). Made me wonder how the town of Springfield developed as it dealt with the notoriety and tourism of its most famous resident.
Our first stop after breakfast was to visit the Lincoln Home, Part of the National Park Service, where the staff was friendly and helpful. Timed perfectly, we waited on benches drenched in shade by beautiful Maple trees for about five minutes across the street from the Lincoln Homestead. You have to have a ticket, but the tour is free and the park ranger was knowledgeable and chatty as he took our group of ten or so on a walkabout through the house, filled with original pieces. The rooms were roped off, but he did point out the original stairway railing as we traveled upstairs. I felt a chill as I imagined Abe walking up those stairs; hand lightly brushing the same railing. A short drive took us to Lincoln’s Tomb, much larger and more impressive than I expected. Martha Lincoln and three of their four sons are buried there as well. The entrance has a little sign on the door that read “Welcome. Please come in.” Fitting that his entrance would have such a gentlemanly invite.
Back on the road, I took the wheel for a short time and was surprised at the oil wells in the front and back yards of houses we passed. Water wells I expected, but the oil wells took me off guard. Our timing was right for an afternoon sweet pit stop as we hit the Ariston Café, believed to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest restaurant on Route 66. It was a diner, yes, but with more of an upscale décor with linen napkins and tablecloths. Steve had the bread pudding and I enjoyed a cream cheese/chocolate layered cake. All was delish (except the coffee – help McDonald’s!).
Not having an agenda to follow, we were able to make an impromptu stop just off Route 66 in Staunton, IL., at Country Classic Cars. For a few hours we wandered through about half the buildings on site and looked at a couple hundred cars. Steve got to educate me on some car history, makes and models, and tell a few good family stories. We walked and chatted until they started to close the doors on the buildings around us and we got the hint it was time to close up shop!
Purely by chance we stumbled across Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton. Henry's Rabbit Ranch Station and Visitor's Center looks like a real old classic filling station once found all along Route 66 and they pay a nice homage to the Cadillac Ranch as well!
Not all parts of the route are passable by cars anymore and the Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of those places. For more than three decades, the bridge was a significant landmark for travelers driving Route 66. Due to the 22 degree turn midway across the mile-long bridge that caused so many accidents, the bridge was closed to vehicle traffic in 1968. The middle of the bridge posts the Illinois/Missouri state line. It was an enjoyable walk across and at a little over 60 feet above the Mississippi; it gave us our first glimpse of the extent of the flooding, still a good quarter to half a mile inland.
We stopped for the night just over the border in St. Louis, MO and Steve found Sam’s Steakhouse. Its old world charm and great service were a nice compliment to the succulent steak and prime rib we had with a kick-ass bottle of wine. It was one of our more expensive meals, but well worth it in good food, service and conversation.