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.
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