Snortin' "66" Norton

Snortin' "66" Norton
"Humpin' to Please!"

Saturday, May 12

Day 6: GIANT state, cont.

Great news - we are back with technology, so I can update you on the myriad of adventures that we've had in the past three days! As previously reported, we began our day Wednesday (May 9)bright and early; we just left without eating breakfast because we had a plan in mind. You know what they say about the best-laid plans...

We took off on Joliet Road (aka Route 66) from Chicago about 8:30 (that IS early for us!) and one of our first giant sightings was at the White Fence Farm and it was a giant chicken. We took a quick detour into Joliet (after passing the first of our many correctional institute sightings for the day) to see the grand Rialto Theater. It was magnificent! We could not get in, but you can check out its website at if you'd like to see it. While in Joliet, we found their minor league baseball stadium so we could see the first of the 'official' Illinois giants - Jackhammer Jake. Back on the Route, we were simply enjoying the views of endless flat cornfields when suddenly there appeared a HUGE stadium, then another and then even another! We finally figured out that it was the Illinois Route 66 Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway - you can see them at since we were going too fast to take pictures.

Our next stop at about 9:30 was supposed to be our morning snack stop at the Launching Pad drive in, which was allegedly open for breakfast. NOT! We were able to get a photo of official Giant #2, the Gemini Giant. He, like Jake, was originally a 1965 Muffler Man, but now he is green, wears a huge 'space' helmet, and carries a blimp ( The Polka Dot Drive In ( was our next attempt at food. No luck, but we did see lifesize models of Betty Boop, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Jake and Elroy (freshly out of Joliet, I guess). It was an eclectic crowd and Peppy loved being in the company of celebrities.

We were flying down the road so we only got a blurry shot of yet another nuclear facility and we drove right past the Riviera Roadhouse, so we had to turn around. This turned out to be a theme of the day, but it was worth it this time. This old speakeasy has been in operation since 1928 and was a hangout for Al Capone. It was built over an old coal mine, so the kitchen and dining room were on the main floor and the bar was downstairs, served by a dumbwaiter system. One of the owners, Peggy, was just leaving as we pulled in. Out back was a very cool streetcar diner which is being restored. It was originally a horse-drawn streetcar that was turned into a diner in 1932. The small town of Gardner was just ahead, and who could resist following signs to the "two cell jail"? Alas, although there was a poster of Barney Fife, Aunt Bea was not serving breakfast... Ambler's Texaco Station in Dwight was built in 1933 and was a Marathon Oil station. We saw a couple from from Nevada there, but have not run into them again. Just down the road was a real jewel - the Odell Standard Oil Station, which was in operation from 1932 to 1975, sometimes as a Sinclair and later as a Phillips 66. It is being completely renovated and has its original asphalt shingles (outside) and stamped tin ceiling in the garage bays. It was open and we talked to the man there for quite some time. All of the volunteers and people we've met along the Route love to talk about the history of their area and they are so nice! We also bought a book about Rt. 66 in Illinois. Kim was thrilled to have more to keep up with. It was after 11:30 when we left here and we were starting to regret our decision to leave without breakfast!! We saw one of the only two remaining Meramec Cavern barns and then finally we found the Old Log Cabin Inn outside of Pontiac. After a light lunch (considering we were starving!) of sandwiches (BLT and onion rings for me, grilled ham & cheese and fried cauliflower for Kim - see, we ate our vegetables!) we splurged on a piece of homemade peach pie. Yum. Once fortified, we were able to enjoy the neat little town of Pontiac. We visited the Rt. 66 Illinois Hall of Fame museum ( and got our own private tour. From there, we attempted to walk off some of our aforementioned fruits and vegetables by touring the courthouse, the jail (they are big on jails in Illinois!) and the park, complete with a swinging (not very) bridge. It was pretty hot by the time we made our way back to our car. Onward!

We stopped at a bridge with its original "Illinois 4" marking on it, and then we stopped to see the old IL State Police HQ which was built in the shape of a pistol (one of the many facts we learned a the museum). Soon it was time for a trip down Memory Lane - just outside the town of Lexington, the 66 Association has made a walking/bike trail out of a 4 mile section of the 1926 - 1940's roadbed, complete with old billboards. We're walking again! In Towanda, we survived Dead Man's Curve and found yet another place to walk - the Historic Route 66 Illinois "A Geographical Journey" path. This one was only 1.6 miles. We maybe walked 0.1 miles of it. That was enough and we were getting hot and hungry again. Where is the Whirl-a-Whip??? Not in Bloomington or Normal, which we couldn't get through fast enough. Frustrations come easily when hot and hungry, and when the guy writing the map guide is directionally challenged (who doesn't know that I-55 does NOT go east-west???) and you're driving around in the middle of cornfields in search of a place called Funks Grove and their famous maple SIRUP (their spelling!) it is not a pretty sight. Kim and I decided to be mad at the map man instead of each other. She is a great navigator and definitely has the harder job. She has learned to accommodate my ADD very well and only gives me one direction at a time and then makes me repeat it. Repeatedly. I still manage to have to make a lot of U-turns...

Anyway, the maple sirup was yummy, especially the maple sugar candy dipped in dark chocolate. Good thing we did not have room to pack a scale with us. We also bought a fantastic book, Images of 66, by David Wickline. It has proved to be an invaluable travel aid! We made a quick stop at the Dixie Truckers Home in McLean. There were way too many truckers who acted like we could come home with them! Our next side trip was to Atlanta, which was very quaint and cute and home to Tall Paul, the Bunyon's Giant Hot Dog Man, who used to live in Cicero (near Chicago) but moved here in 2003. He is the third of the Muffler Men cousins in Illinois. The library here was cool - it is a Neo Classical octagonal building with a forty foot tall clock tower. Atlanta also had a happy face water tower. The unhappy fact is that Atlanta is the halfway point of Route 66 in Illinois and it was almost 5 PM when we left...

We passed another correctional center in Lincoln as well as the Ghost Bridge between two cemeteries. It was getting late and the Whirl-a-Whip was calling us, so we breezed through Broadwell and the recently burned down Pig Hip Restaurant Museum and we finally made it to Springfield. Here we saw a giant figure of Abe Lincoln (not a Muffler Man and even more unattractive than old Abe probably was. We were too late to see all the 'stuff' at Shea's, but since much of it is outdoors, we took lots of photos of OLD Rt. 66 memorabilia and junk. We saw another giant in Springfield - the Lauterbach Tire giant, who looked suspiciously like a Muffler Man. Shallow gene pool I guess.

Now that we had officially completed ALL of old Route 66 in America, from Chicago to Santa Monica, we felt we could take some short cuts and we were off for Girard and the lure of Whirl-a-Whip. Never heard of it? Neither had we. The one in Girard is one of only two remaining of a once booming chain of ice cream stores with 50 flavors! We were so intrigued, and we had missed this spot last year even though we were looking for it. We called for directions and to make sure it would be open when we finally limped in. At a little after seven we hit pay dirt! I got a cinnamon twist cup and Kim got a chocolate walnut (this after we were supposed to be adventurous - I ask you, is chocolate walnut ice cream a risk??) My cinnamon twist was not at all what I expected. It was sort of pinkish, and it appeared to be soft-serve vanilla ice cream that had been whipped with crushed up red hots and whirled into the cup. It was fantastic! Kim's looked to be chocolate soft serve with walnuts. Duh. She said it was yummy, too. Darkness was approaching (now you know why we are running behind on this blog stuff - it takes me as long to write about it as it did to drive it!) and we had more to see before dark. Just south of Girard (which we reached by way of the Farmersville black top) is Carlinville, which is home to the largest group of Sears and Roebuck Catalog mail order homes. Standard Oil purchased 156 of them for its Carlinville Coal workers and 152 of them are still standing (and being lived in!) Three burned down and one was moved. They just don't build them like they used to! Standard Oil must have brought a lot of prosperity to this small town. The town square has brick paved roads and the courthouse is unbelievable! It's called the Macoupin County "Million Dollar" Domed Courthouse and supposedly cost $1.34 million to build in 1870!! It's built of limestone in the Renaissance Revival style and is the largest courthouse in the US with a 4500 square foot courtroom. Who knew? Too bad it was well after hours when we passed through. Right across the street was (you guessed it) the jail, in Gothic Revival styling and made with cannonballs in the cement walls.

By now it was pretty dark and we still really wanted to see the Soulsby Shell Station in Mount Olive. And we barely could. It is the oldest station originally located on Route 66. Off to Litchfield (which is north of Mt. Olive - we were intentionally backtracking) to eat dinner (all this traveling makes us hungry) at the famous Ariston Cafe, which was unexpectedly closed when we tried to eat there last year. Check it out at and it was worth the wait. Kim had spaghetti and salad and I had a gyro. We shared some homemade potato chips (great!) and a delicious pie called Fruit of the Forest. It had strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, apples, and blackberries. And a double crust, of course. At this point, we hit the interstate and sped off for St. Louis. We rolled into the Hampton parking lot about 10:30 PM, fourteen hours and not even 400 miles from Chicago!! It was a gigantic day! And as I'm writing, it's 2:30 AM on Saturday and we have a BIG day tomorrow. Night night!


No comments: