Route 66 - Rolla to Lebanon

The Rolla, Missouri Hampton Inn provided us with a safe and comfortable night's rest. We checked in just as they were bringing out another platter of cookies fresh from the oven. Yummy! In a change from the usual Hampton Inn, the A/C wasn't limited to not go below 74 so we were able to get a good night's rest. I still don't understand why Hilton properties always have those huge comforters on the bed. Those things weigh about 25 pounds and would keep you warm at the North Pole! I always just pull the darn thing off and ask for a blanket at the front desk. This location had 2 blankets wrapped in plastic on the shelf in the closet so extra points! Fast, free wi-fi, decent quality toilet paper, nice free breakfast in the morning and fresh coffee and cookies all evening. This place gets 2 thumbs up from us!

The oldest trading post in Missouri.
Rolling out of Rolla the next morning at 7:30, our first stop was just a couple of blocks down the road at the Totem Pole Trading Post. Open since 1933 and located at 1413 Martin Springs (N37 56 32.6 W091 47 33.6), it has seen thousands of Route 66 travelers and celebrities such as Buck Owens, Janie Fricke, Tony Orlando, and the Harlem Globetrotters (who had to duck due to the post's low ceilings) stop for the clean restrooms, road snacks, soda's (including Route 66 Root Beer), sugar-cured ham sold in burlap bags, fuel, beer and Ozarks souvenirs. The place was closed while we were there so we didn't get to browse around inside, but it looked interesting through the windows.

4-lane section of Route 66. Bridge over the
Big Piney River.
Continuing through Missouri, Route 66 skirts the edges of the Mark Twain National Forest, through Hooker Cut, and over the Big Piney River and the infamous Devil's Elbow. Hooker's Cut is a section of the road which was deeply cut out of solid rock. The now ghost town it was named after, Hooker, was itself named after Union General Joseph Hooker, (a reputed lover of the bottle and the ladies) who during the Civil War, maintained a stable of professional "fallen doves" that followed his army and serviced the soldiers to keep up their morale. Just after this comes Devil's Elbow, a severe bend in the Big Piney River where lumberjacks who constantly fought log jams claimed the huge boulder which caused the river to bend must have been put there by the devil himself. This piece of the Mother Road, built in 1941 - 1945 for World War II use, is one of the few 4-lane sections not just in Missouri, but the full distance.

A "rescued" turtle safely on the other side
of the road.
Next to the bridge pictured above, we came across the first of what would soon be dozens of turtles crossing the road over the next 10 miles. It was very strange. We would no sooner get past one then there would be another. Several times we saw two just a few yards apart. Youngest-daughter wanted to stop every time we saw one so she could carry it to its desired side of the road before a car could send it to turtle heaven, but after the first couple, I wouldn't stop because we would have spent several days performing turtle rescue. Besides, it wasn't like there was an abundance of traffic along this stretch so the turtles would just have to hope for good luck and a clear road. No turtles were harmed in our traverse between Hooker and Lebanon!

Route 66 icon - Munger Moss Motel.
Lebanon, Missouri was named for Lebanon, Tennessee, which was the original home of most of the town's settlers. On the east side of town is the Munger Moss Motel. It has a grand tradition of serving Route 66 roadies. Originally, there was a small barbecue cafe which was operated by Mr. & Mrs. Munger at Devil's Elbow. Mr. Munger passed on and Nellie Munger ran the place by herself until eventually getting remarried to Emmet Moss. The name of the cafe then became Munger Moss Barbeque. A few years later, the Moss' retired and sold the cafe to the Hudson's. When Route 66 was realigned and the cafe was no longer on the main road, they closed the cafe and opened the motel on the route in Lebanon. When it opened in 1946, there were 14 "modern" cabins. Over the next few years, carports were constructed between the cabins, then the carports were enclosed and the cabins were joined together. By the late 60's though, the old girl was showing her age. In 1971, Bob & Ramona Lehman bought the motel and renovated and modernized every room. Most of the rooms are now decorated in Route 66 themes. It's not unusual for it to be filled so call ahead if you plan to stay a night or two.

Lebanon was a nice little town with a great library, the Lebanon-Laclede County Library, which holds a wonderful collection of publications documenting the development of Route 66 from the beginning. Youngest-daughter and I stopped at a convenience store to restock our road food and gas up the truck and then we were off again, headed to Springfield and a story about Wild Bill Hickok.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Meramec Caverns

Meramec Caverns Entrance
We arrived in Stanton, Missouri about 5:15 in the afternoon, just in time to buy tickets for the last tour of the caverns that day. The price surprised me a bit - $34 for the 2 of us. I was expecting around $20 - $25, but ok, pay it and hope you feel it's worth it at the end.

Meramec Caverns was opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1935, but it has been forming for over 400 million years and Pre-Columbian Native American artifacts have been found inside the cave so humans have known about it for a really long time. During the civil war, the Yankees had a powder mill set up inside the cave from 1862 until 1864 when a band of Confederate guerrillas found and destroyed it. One of the members of the guerrillas was Jesse James. He would later put his experience in the cave to good use.

The Stage Curtain - a 70-foot high, 60-foot
wide 35-foot thick mineral deposit, one of the
largest in the world.
In the early 1870's Jesse and his gang used the caverns as a hideout. On one occasion, after a bank robbery, the sheriff and a posse trailed Jesse and his men into the cave. They camped at the mouth of the cave for 3 days, but when they finally went inside, they found Jesse had discovered another way out by swimming under water into another room which eventually led to a small, hidden opening to the outside. He and his gang had escaped with the stolen loot. They left behind a wooden chest, a Civil War cavalry sabre, and several guns.

In the 1930s, a cave enthusiast, Lester Dill, leased the cave from the owner, Charley Rueppele, with an option to buy it. Along with his partner, Ed Schuler, they built the access road and entrance to the cave, renamed it "Meramec Caverns ” and opened it to the public in 1935.

The Stage Curtain lit up during the light and
music show at the end of the tour.
Dill uncovered miles of new passages and spectacular views and began to market the cave to the many travelers of Route 66. Marketing efforts included the use of "bumper signs” before the advent of "bumper stickers,” as well as painting the sides and roofs of barns all along Route 66. Soon, the cave became known as one of the most famous stops along the Mother Road.

Youngest-daughter really enjoyed the tour and I thought it was pretty cool also. I didn't much care for the young "Ranger" tour guide, a teenage nerd given a uniform and flashlight and with the power invested in him by those items, the self-importance wherewithal to tell a group of adults in an overly stern voice to "follow me," "hurry up," "don't fall behind" and "stop here and listen up!" Condescending little twerp. But that doesn't take away from the cavern itself, which was interesting. Was it worth $34? Close enough that I didn't feel cheated afterwards. And now Youngest-daughter and I can say we've been to Meramec Caverns!

In the souvenir store after the tour -
Youngest-daughter doing one of her
most favorite things - shopping!
As we emerged and walked out to the parking lot, we saw several police cars, firetrucks and an ambulance parked along the river right behind our truck. There were a lot of people in swimsuits just kind of milling around so we walked over and asked one what was going on. Apparently, while we were touring the cave, somebody had drowned and the rescue squad was dragging the river for the body.

After all the walking in the cave we had done, my broken toe was barking at me and besides, I didn't particularly want to stand around ghoulishly waiting to see some unfortunate person be dragged out of the river (may they RIP).  No need for my daughter to see such a thing if she doesn't have too either, so with the sun setting behind the hills and both of us in a somber, contemplative mood, we got in the truck, maneuvered around the emergency vehicles and headed toward a Hampton Inn in Rolla, Missouri.


Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Hello Missouri!

continued from previous post.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis
After crossing over the Mississippi River on the I-270 bridge, we followed the signs up a hill to the Missouri Welcome Center just outside St. Louis. It was so hot that just walking 100 feet from the parking lot to the entrance made us appreciate the cool air inside. Staffed by a couple of very nice and knowledgeable folks, they happily provided us with a road map of Missouri and printed directions to the Arch. I noticed a full pot of coffee beside the door with a sign saying, "Free Coffee." We spent about 10 minutes reading brochures and looking around and I noted nobody took them up on their hot coffee offer. When it's close to 100 degrees, evidently even the most die-hard coffee drinker would rather have something else, free or not!

Following the instructions given us by the visitor center staff, we took a serpentine route which roughly followed several of the paths taken by Route 66 at various times in history. Along the way we passed through areas that had obviously seen better days and I would be cautious about driving around those area's after dark, but it wasn't as bad as parts of Chicago that we had driven through. We saw the Arch several miles before actually getting there and after we arrived, we discovered that road signs as to where to park were either non-existent or hard to follow. It's a very large area, but after a few minutes, we found a parking garage that only charged $6. All of the inside (shaded!) spots were taken so we had to park on the upper level in that bright sun. We could see the top of the Arch so we followed a line of people into the National Expansion Memorial Park through a large stand of trees providing welcome shade.

Youngest-daughter below the Arch as the
clouds started rolling in.
The Arch itself is located on 4 or 5 open acres of mowed grass. The 630-foot tall structure is much larger than indicated by the numerous pictures I had seen of it. The thing is huge! When we first arrived, the day was blinding bright, but as we walked around, clouds quickly moved in. The heat didn't go down any and the humidity went higher. Soon, even Youngest-daughter said she was ready to get back to the car to get out of the heat - this from a 13-year-old who, like most teenagers, doesn't seem to feel heat or cold the way grownups do.

Let's go back about 4 weeks. I was working in my home office, barefoot, when I heard it start to rain. I decided I needed a break anyway so I walked across the room to the window to check out the clouds. Next to the window is a small table where I keep genealogy records, research material and photography stuff to work on when I get the chance. The table has been in that same exact spot for 3 years so it's not like I didn't know it was there. I can't explain it, just one of those stupid "how in the hell did that happen?" moments. I stubbed 2 of my toes on one of the table legs. Not just a little stub, I kicked the damn thing! The pain shot up my foot, into my ankle and straight to the pain center. I crumbled to the ground loudly saying words I would not want my daughter to know the meaning of. The toe next to my pinkie toe was bent at a weird angle. The bottom of it was now on the side. No doubt about it, toe broke.

Now, back to the day at the Arch. I told you about my toe so you'll understand what happened next. I had finally stopped limping and my toe was almost back to it's normal pink color rather than the angry black and blue it had been for weeks, but it was still tender. We decided to head back to the car to get out of the heat so we walked across the open grassy area until we were standing directly under the arch. I stopped and aimed my camera straight up to take what I thought would be an interesting shot. As I was standing there taking my picture, minding my own business, all of a sudden I heard my daughter shout "Daddy!" and I heard a male voice a few yards behind me shout, "Look out!" I had no idea what danger I was in or where it was coming from, but survival instinct kicked in and I quickly ducked my head and brought down the camera as I started to duck down. It was a good thing I did as a rather large guy came down from the sky, his elbow brushing the top of my head, his body bumping into my side and the heel of his foot crashing down full force on my poor broken toe. He was actually a young man who, with a group of other college-age people, were playing some kind of game with a whirly-bird do-hicky. It was like a dart kind of thing that they would throw in the air and then it would float down on helicopter blades. Evidently he was running to catch it, was watching it rather than where he was going, and just happened to jump up to grab it as he came up behind me. He was a nice kid, apologized several times, kept calling me sir and I knew it had been an accident so I told him it was ok, don't worry about it. But my toe was screaming it was not ok.

Youngest-daughter and I made our way over to a bench and sat down for a while, waiting for my toe to stop screaming. After a while, I limped my way back to the car. My toe was already starting to swell and turn red. 5 acres of open space and the guy comes down on the few inches of ground my foot covered! Time to get out of the big city.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis
We got on Route 66 again, on Gravois Avenue to 6726 Chippewa Street where we stopped at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.  Locals and Route 66 travelers have been purchasing frozen treats at this site since 1941. Try the concrete milkshake.

Finally leaving St. Louis, we entered a geographic region of forested hills with deep cuts and steep grades. For me, it was a great change from the city we had just escaped from. Our next stop was in Eureka at the Route 66 State Park. Situated on the banks of the Meramec River, it is located on the site of the former community of Times Beach. Back in the 1920's, the town of Times Beach was founded and developed as a vacation spot for St. Louis residents. By the 1970's, the community was showing its age and the population had changed to lower income residents. The roads had never been paved and the dust was annoying so the town contracted with a small company to spray the streets with oil. The only problem was the cheap oil the 1-man operation used was, unknown to him, contaminated with dioxin, exposing everyone in the town to a serious dose of the toxic substance. In the early 1980's, the government admitted there was a big problem in Times Beach and bought the entire town from its residents. Everyone was gone by 1985, and by 1992, all of the town's buildings except one were torn down. A few years later, an incinerator was built and the top 6 inches of dirt was scraped off and sanitized.

Today, the area is perfectly safe and that 1 building that survived is now the Route 66 State Park Visitor Center which houses memorabilia and interprets the environmental success story of the former community.

Restored neon sign from a Route 66 business.

Route 66 Harley Davidson in the visitor center.
Sure made me want to do Route 66 on a bike!
Following the Mother Road into Pacific, a town nearly wiped out by a battle there during the Civil War, we stopped at Monroe's 66 Diner at 409 E. Osage. Opened in the early 1940's, it served Route 66 travelers until about 2005 when it closed. Known for it's stone front attached to a Quonset Hut structure, the closing was a cause for mourning among long-time patrons. However, it re-opened in early May, 2012, just a couple of weeks before we stopped there. It now is named The Down South Café and serves American food as well as Cajun and Creole - po'boy sandwiches, gumbo, beignets, etouffe, and fried alligator. We would have eaten there, but it was Sunday and they evidently are closed on Sunday's so I can't testify as to the quality of the food. Looking through the windows, we could see the inside has been decorated with Route 66 décor and we had fun with the alligator on the sign in front.

Monroe's diner - the famous stone front and
Quonset Hut rear.
It was starting to get a little late in the afternoon, but we made our way a few miles on down to the town of Villa Ridge and the Tri-County Restaurant and Truck Stop, another famous Route 66 establishment we had heard about.  Pulling into the parking lot, we were disappointed again as it was closed due to construction. Giving up on getting a sit-down meal and needing gas for the truck, we stopped at the next gas station/convenience store, fed the truck (18 gallons at almost $4 per gallon - ouch!) and grabbed some road food to munch on as we made our way to the town of Staunton and a stop at the Meramec Caverns.

Fried Alligator is on the menu now so the rubber
alligator on the sign in front is a nice touch!

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - The End of Illinois & Ms Barbeau

It was starting to feel like we had been in Illinois forever and to be honest, Youngest-daughter and I were both starting to get a little tired of still being in Illinois. Not tired of Route 66, but you could say we were looking forward to seeing Route 66 in a different state. So we got up before 7:00AM and put the Collinsville Fairfield Inn behind us. It was a decent hotel, reasonable price, clean, good beds, middle-of-the-road toilet paper and the A/C worked well enough to get our room to a chilly good sleeping temp so it gets a thumbs up from us.

The disappointing and misleadingly advertised
Mustang Corral.
Next on our list of sites was a place advertised as "The Mustang Corral, a large lot with about 200 Mustangs waiting for a second life." This was on Youngest-daughter's list of must stops since she loves horses. I had serious doubts as to exactly what this is, but we were going by it anyway since it is on the route. Sure enough, Youngest-daughter was thoroughly disappointed as it was just a big dirt parking area for old Ford Mustang cars. I'm not sure what it was all about as there was no building and nobody around trying to sell them or anything.  I have no idea why it is even listed in several Route 66 books, but I can tell you, there is no reason to stop here. Even though it was still relatively early in the morning, it was already hot and the dry conditions resulted in all of the cars being covered in a layer of dirt. We didn't help matters as we drove around on the dirt rows between the cars for a few minutes and quickly raised a huge cloud of dust. We carried a few pounds of The Mustang Corral away with us when we left with my truck covered in a layer of it. (I later learned there is a dirt road in back that leads to a Mustang parts "junkyard" that has been around as long as the cars. I didn't see it so I can't say for sure, but for my 2 cents worth, just because a place has been around for a long time doesn't mean it's a "must stop" place.)

Luna Cafe - the top floor was where the
"Fallen Doves" serviced their customers.
It soon became obvious that we were leaving behind the farms of rural southern Illinois and coming to the suburbs of St. Louis. Entering Mitchell, we stopped at the famous Luna Cafe (N38 45 42.1 W090 05 18.7), former hangout for shady characters, most notably, Al Capone. Built in 1924, it was once a fine-dining establishment, but after the the wealthy, law-abiding patrons had eaten and gone back home, the place became a high-class gambling den and hosted a bevy of "ladies of the night" in the upstairs rooms. The neon sign in front of the establishment featured a cherry in a glass and according to old stories, the cherry would be lit and shining bright red if the ladies were in and available for customers. The girls are gone and the place is much more subdued and worn now, a working-class establishment catering to the local folks and travelers of Route 66.

Chain of Rocks Bridge
Taking Illinois SR 157 through Edwardsville, we followed Route 66 through a rather confusing stretch of twists and turns until we came to the Chain of Rocks bridge. Built in 1929 and financed by tolls, it was designed to link Illinois with Missouri by going straight across the Mississippi River. 5,353 feet long (1.632 miles) and 24 feet wide, it is one of the most architecturally interesting bridges in the world due to poor planning.  Illinois and Missouri were both in a hurry to get the bridge completed so they started building it on both sides and planned to meet in the middle. However, when they got close, they found out there wasn't any bedrock in that section of the river to build a solid foundation. To get around this problem, they had to build and meet 200 yards up river. The 22-degree bend right there in the middle of the bridge proved to be a constant hazard for drivers.

Where Ms Barbeau breathed her last in the
movie  Escape from New York"
In 1967, the New Chain of Rocks Bridge carrying Interstate 270 opened just 2,000 feet from the old bridge  which closed in 1968. The bridge began to deteriorate and during the 1970s, Army demolition teams considered blowing it up for practice. In 1975, demolition was eminent, but fortunately, a bad market saved the old girl. The value of scrap steel plummeted, making demolition no longer profitable.  The Chain of Rocks Bridge then entered 20 years of uncertainty - too expensive to tear down, but too narrow and rusted to carry modern vehicles. There she sat, slowly falling apart until 1980 when film director John Carpenter used the gritty, rusting bridge as a site for his science fiction film, Escape from New York.  The bridge is where, near the end of the movie, Kurt Russell made his escape and poor Adrienne Barbeau's ample, jiggly bosom rose and fell for the last time with her cinematic dying breath.  Restored, painted and maintained, it is now the longest pedestrian bridge in the world and provides a great view of the Mississippi River for those who walk, jog, or bike across it.

The Mississippi River as seen from the
Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Walking back into Illinois after crossing into
Missouri on the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
The multi-talented Ms Barbeau before breathing
her last on the Chain of Rocks bridge.
Returning to BFT (Big Ford Truck) in the gravel parking lot of the bridge, it was a huge relief to start the air conditioner and just sit there feeling the cool air on our hot, sweaty bodies. The temp gauge said it was 97 and you could feel every one of those degrees. I don't know how high the humidity was, but the sweat was running down our faces, our shirts were clinging to us like a wet second skin and we each sucked down a big bottle of water.

We drove a couple of blocks to take the I-270 bridge across the river and there it was, the Missouri state sign. Finally, we were out of Illinois! We had made it to the Show Me state, land of the Ozarks and Jesse James. One state down, 7 more to go. Although we really just wanted to stay in the truck with the A/C blowing on us, there was no way we were going to come this far and not take a side trip in St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch. I'm glad we saw it, but it turned out to be a rather painful decision that would have repercussions for the rest of our trip.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Cozy to Rabbit Ranch and Liquid Fire

After bidding the Lauterbach Giant adieu , we made our way over to the Cozy Drive Inn at 2935 S. Sixth Street in Springfield (N39 45 49.0 W089 38 54.6). In 1941, Ed Waldmire, Jr. saw a very unusual sandwich in Muskogee, Oklahoma called a "corn dog." It was a wiener baked in cornbread. The problem, as Ed saw it, was the length of time it took to cook. That fall, he told a college friend about it. His friend, whose father was in the bakery business, thought it was an interesting idea.

Five years later, while Ed was in the Air Force stationed in Amarillo, Texas, his friend sent him a letter saying he had figured out a cornbread mix that would stick to the wiener as it was being deep fried. He sent along some of the mix and Ed began to cook their version of the "corn dog" and sell them at the airfield's PX and the USO. They called their invention a "crusty cur" and it became a hit as people lined up and bought every "crusty cur" Ed could make.

After his tour of duty with the Air Force was over, Ed & his friend, Don Strand, the inventor of the mix, decided to open a stand to sell Crusty Curs in Lake Springfield. However, Ed's wife hated the name "Crusty Cur" so after much thinking and discussion, the name was changed to "Cozy Dogs." The Cozy Dogs were again a hit after the stand was opened in the spring of 1946 and gained widespread fame after Ed sold them at the Illinois State Fair that year. The Cozy Drive In was opened on Sixth Street along Route 66 in Springfield in 1949. The current building was constructed in 1996 right next door to the original structure and is managed by Ed's daughter-in-law and grandsons.

I would recommend a stop here, especially for Route 66 travelers, because it is a landmark on the route and the food is ok, but the atmosphere is better than the food. The Cozy Dog may have been the original and you can call me biased since I'm a Native Texan, but I much prefer a Fletcher's Corny Dog at the State Fair of Texas over a Cozy Dog.

"Hare it is!" - Down the road a bit in Staunton, about 250 miles from our starting point in Chicago, we came upon a really interesting site, Henry's Rabbit Ranch at 1107 Historic Route 66 (N39 00 15.1 W089 46 55.4). Route 66 travelers can't pass through Staunton without stopping here! Rich Henry & his wife Linda both grew up on Route 66 and both of their fathers have been inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame so to say they are pretty close to being experts on Route 66 is pretty safe. Henry's Rabbit Ranch is their contribution to The Mother Road.

The "old" vintage gas station at the
Rabbit Ranch
Almost 15 years ago, Rich and Linda drove to California on Old Route 66 and noticed the lack of visitor centers and souvenirs of the Mother Road. When he got back home to Staunton, he decided to do something about that and built his visitor center. The Ranch celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway with a collection of highway and trucking memorabilia in and around a replica of a vintage gas station. You'll also find a large collection of Route 66 gift and collectible items as well.

As for the story behind the rabbits - years ago, Rich & Linda's daughter got a pair of rabbits as pets. She didn't think ahead though. Soon, the original male and female rabbit's son's and daughters were too much for her 1-bedroom apartment. Rich stepped in to help out and the next thing you know, the Rabbit Ranch became the newest attraction on Route 66!

Having fun riding a bunny. Note the headstones
on the left for the rabbits who have gone on
to greener pastures.
Youngest-daughter and I agree this was the most interesting and fun stop we had in Illinois. From old 18-wheeler trailers to vintage cars, neon signs and large rabbits to climb on, we spent more fun time exploring, wandering around and taking pictures here than any of the other sites in the state. Even the hand-lettered melancholy stories painted on the little headstones of departed rabbits were interesting. You would never know the old "gas station" is only a little over 10 years old as it appears to have been here since the 1940's. Well done, Rich and Linda, well done.

Old gas pump at the
Rabbit Ranch

Buried car ranch in honor of the Cadillac
Ranch on Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas.

A number of old Campbell's Trucking's "Humpin
to Please"  trailers with "Snorton Norton" the
camel at  the Rabbit Ranch.

Old neon signs at Henry's Rabbit Ranch
Speaking of neon signs, did you know that a neon sign can be seen at a distance 10 times that of a conventional sign? That makes the neon sign a natural fit for the roadside business owner and is why they were so prolific along Route 66.  The word "neon" comes from the word "neos," which means "the new gas" and was given to the very labor-intensive process of hand-bending glass tubes into designs. The colors are the result of the type of gas inside the tubes: blue - argon with a little mercury, white - carbon dioxide, gold - helium, red - neon gas. Other colors are created by placing various phosphor coatings inside the tube. The signs were invented by Georges Claude in 1902 and the first neon signs in America were sold by his company to a Los Angeles Packard dealership. Two signs with the word "PACKARD" were erected. Each sign cost $12,000, equivalent to about $127,000 today. They were called "liquid fire" and people from miles around would stop and stare at what would eventually become an integral part of the story of Route 66.
When you see a sign like this, you gotta stop!
By the time we left the Rabbit Ranch, it was getting dark quickly so we called it a day by heading over to Collinsville where the GPS said we would find a Fairfield Inn to rest our tired, but happy heads for the night. On the way there, we found one of those sites the adventurous road trip warrior will occasionally find; a site so unique and out of the ordinary that you just have to stop. We found the world's largest catsup bottle! At 170 feet tall, this water tower was built in 1949 for the G.S. Suppiger catsup bottling plant - bottlers of Brooks old original rich and tangy catsup. Slated to be torn down in 1995, the "bottle" was saved and restored to its original condition by an organization called the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group. Now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is visited by tourists from all over. Well, they say it is anyway. There was nobody there when we were, but hey, that just made it better for us! And I certainly wish the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group well. A name like that just brings a smile to your face!
Youngest-daughter holding the world's largest
catsup bottle above her head! 

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Along Route 66 - Here There Be Giants!

(continued from previous post)

As we were leaving Oak Ridge Cemetery, a car stopped beside me and a nice gentleman got out and introduced himself as Jim. His wife Betty stayed in the car, but rolled down the window, smiled and waved. Jim and Betty, an older retired couple from Missouri were, like me, checking off a bucket list item with a Route 66 pilgrimage. They had started in Chicago and planned to make it to Oklahoma City where they would then decide if they could continue going west or if they needed to go back home, rest for a while and tackle the 2nd half of the journey in the fall. Turns out he had parked next to my truck at the Sirup Store in Funk's Grove and noticed my metal Texas hitch cover. By chance, they kept coming up on us as they were stopping to see sites along the road just as we would be leaving. They knew for sure that it was us because of the Texas hitch cover. After a few pleasant minutes of conversation, he asked me if I knew where the "giant Lincoln" was? Hmmm. I remember reading about it in one of my Route 66 books, but I couldn't recall exactly where it is located. Now that he mentioned it and we had seen a couple of other "giant muffler" guys, we had to see it! Jim and I didn't discuss it for very long though because it was so dang hot standing in the middle of that blacktop road! We shook hands, said good luck finding Giant Abe, we'd keep an eye out for each other and have a safe trip!

Rail Splitter or Axe Murderer?
Firing up the mi-fi (mobile Internet connection - it's a wonderful thing!), I soon found directions to Giant Abe and we headed off toward his location at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. We got turned around a bit and wandered around for a while, but then spotted an Olive Garden and decided to eat lunch. Olive Garden was the usual Olive Garden, good, familiar, but nothing to rave about. After getting back on the road, we talked about the next giant dude on our list of "must see em's," the Lauterbach Giant. It took us a while to find the fair grounds, driving around lost for a while until we finally came across a street that was in the directions we had found on the Internet. After driving a couple of miles in the wrong direction (yes, I am very directionally challenged, a particularly vexing problem for a road  warrior), we got turned the right way and about an hour after leaving Olive Garden, we found the Abe we were looking for.

Located at N 39° 49.884 W 089° 38.382, the entrance to the fairgrounds, "The Rail Splitter" as he is affectionately known by most of the local residents (the rest of them supposedly call him "The Axe Murderer"), is made of fiberglass and was erected in 1968. He stands 30 feet tall and is one of the few depictions of a clean-shaven Abe Lincoln. We looked, but sadly, didn't spot Jim and Betty. We kept an eye out for the them during the rest of our trip, but never saw them again. Hope they found Abe, completed their journey and arrived back home safe and sound.

Needing to get back on Route 66 to see the Lauterbach Giant, I plugged in the address of the Lauderbach Tire and Auto Service. After following GPS directions for a couple of miles, Youngest-daughter and I remarked at almost the same time, "Hey, this looks familiar." Sure enough, we were backtracking and several miles later we found ourselves at the Olive Garden where we had eaten lunch. "Turn left" said sexy-voiced Lorena (with a voice like hers, my GPS couldn't be named anything but Lorena!). And right there in plain sight, not 1/2 a block on the left after we turned was the Lauterbach Giant. We had been just 200 yards from him as we ate!

Lauterbach Giant
N39 45 51.7 W089 40 47.0
One of the last 3 remaining original "Muffler Men" in Illinois, he started out holding a giant tire, but became more patriotic a few years ago and now holds an American flag.

Tragedy struck in March, 2006 when a tornado ripped through this section of Springfield and decapitated this gentle giant. Most folks thought he was a goner for sure, but his head was found intact a few hundred feet away and the Lauterbach auto business he stands in front of found a company which does fiberglass repair. He was soon reunited with his head and he still stands today, proudly holding the flag as it waves in the breeze.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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