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:
 
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