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Kendall's Korner: Getting more kicks on Route 66

Jeanette Kendall/ TimesNewspapers
A rest area is set up on the Missouri side for those who cross the Chain of Rocks bridge.

Picking up where we left off last week on Route 66 in Funk’s Grove, I will take you through the rest of Illinois.

Funk’s Grove is the halfway point of Route 66 in Illinois. My odometer read 199.1 miles in Funk’s Grove, so Route 66 is about 400 miles across Illinois. I should mention that in towns where there are more than one alignment, my boyfriend, Tim, and I went back and took all of them. We didn’t want to miss a thing!

The woman at Funk’s Grove Pure Maple Sirup (this is how they spelled it) said it was a fifth-generation family business. It was very picturesque driving through the maple trees to the little gift shop.

In the Springfield region, there are all kinds of Lincoln attractions, but we have seen many of those and wanted to stay on the Route. However, in Lincoln, there was one unique attraction I had to see — a 2-foot long watermelon made from steel and erected in 1964. According to the plaque there, the roadside attraction commemorates the spot where President Abraham Lincoln, who was a lawyer at the time, christened the town of Lincoln with watermelon. He reportedly said, “I never knew anything named Lincoln that amounted to much.”

In Springfield, we ate lunch at the Cozy Dog Drive-in. There are lots of Route 66 souvenirs inside this restaurant, which was started by Ed Waldmire, the man who created the corn dog. 

Auburn has a really unique portion of the old Route 66. It is entirely brick. We got out of the car and walked on it a ways. I felt like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” It was surreal.

In Girard, there is an old-fashioned soda shop called Doc’s. When we drove through, it was closed. On the way home, we stopped there and had an ice cream soda. Inside is really neat. It’s a little restaurant complete with the ice cream soda fountain counter and stools. In a side room, there is information about Route 66 as well as souvenirs. There is also Deck’s Pharmacy Museum, which has a display of old medicines from days gone by. I imagine that a drug store/soda shop combo used to be quite common. This place reminded me of Don’s Pharmacy that former Mayor Don Gronewald had on Washington Square. It, too, had this drug store/ice cream combination.

Nilwood had a very skinny section of Route 66. It is hard to imagine the old jalopies of the 1920s, filled with people and belongings traveling on roads like these during the Depression. When two of these vehicles passed each other on such a narrow road, the drivers must have been a bit tense. According to our Route 66 book, there were turkey tracks on part of this section of road. We traveled up and down it four times but never found them. It would have been nice if there was a sign marking the spot. We did have to share the road with a large tractor so we pulled over to the side.

In Litchfield, we ate at the Ariston Café, a family owned business, which began in 1924. It was very good and we stopped there again for lunch on the way home. The place is charming with its wooden booth seats. There are cloth napkins and little lights at the table. The waitress brought out the desserts on a tray from which to choose. The owner let us stand behind the counter to get our photo taken under their neon sign.

Staunton was one of my favorite places because I got to pet a rabbit at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch. Owner Rich Henry was incredibly kind. He is also smart. He operates a title and license business in addition to a Route 66 attraction. Hey, if a person is on Route 66 and not taking advantage of it, they are foolish. Henry is pretty involved in Route 66. He travels the route and also has some of the vintage signs in his yard, including a semi truck trailer. Another unique attraction is the Rabbit cars jutting out of the ground like the well-known vehicle display in Texas.

In Mitchell, we had to see the spot where Al Capone visited when he was in town — the Luna Cafe. The neon sign has a martini glass on it with a cherry inside. The story goes that if the cherry was lit, the ladies were upstairs and open for business. At one time, this was a supposed “fine dining establishment” for mobsters. 

It is not that way today and we were disappointed. The only thing they had to eat in the dingy, dirty bar was frozen pizza. It was still worth the drive to see the neon sign, though.

Next up was the Chain of Rocks Bridge and it’s quite an attraction. It is now closed to motorists, but we walked from the Illinois side to the Missouri side across the Mississippi River. The bridge was constructed in 1929 and has a sharp turn about halfway down the bridge. We also saw a plaque where two girls were thrown off the bridge and killed. 

There are Route 66 signs painted on the road and there is an old car on the bridge which makes a great photo op. In its operating days, the bridge had a structure on the Missouri side, but that is long gone, unfortunately. According to legendsofamerica.com, the bridge was closed in 1967. After sitting unused for three decades, it was restored and is now the longest strolling and biking bridge in the world.