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Thursday, June 3, 2004 04:20 am

Get your kicks on Route 66

The Mother Road

The Mother Road
There’s something about Route 66 that confounds the “more is better” school of thought. It may be Illinois’ biggest tourist draw, yet it’s so small-scale and affordable. You can spend a whole day on the Mother Road and not turn loose even $50. In the process you’ll probably make a friend or two. Almost certainly you’ll meet some foreign visitors. High-tech amusements and grand hotels? Route 66 has a few — but for the most part it’s a road of simple and unexpected pleasures, of mom-and-pop entrepreneurs and idiosyncratic dreams come true. The satisfaction people get by traveling it comes not from big events but from the accumulation of these smaller pleasures. Nowhere is that principle truer than in the Land of Lincoln. Springfield’s own International Route 66 festival enters its fifth year on the cusp of tradition. Classic cars, live music, and an artists’ fair will fill downtown streets the last weekend in September, and the fourth Annual Cruisin’ Route 66 Classic Car Festival in Litchfield, June 22-24, takes place along a stretch of the original highway. But for year-round pleasures on a smaller scale, you can’t beat our part of the road. For example: · In Atlanta, old signs on brick buildings have been lovingly repainted. The 104-year-old J.H. Hawes wooden grain elevator, restored in 1993 and open for tours, is the only one of its kind in Illinois. The eight-sided, pristinely maintained Carnegie library is a jewel that sparkles with the village’s rich history. Towering over most of this is an 18-foot fiberglass statue of a “Muffler Man” holding a giant hot dog. It’s a recent immigrant from a hot-dog stand in Cicero. · Williamsville’s Frank Kohlrus takes time from his careers as a cemetery maintainer and guppy rancher to run Die Cast Auto Sales on Elm Street. He says he can get you a Tucker. Be sure to take in the Route 66 Dream Car Museum, a collection of vintage cars owned by Phil and Pat Hawley. During the summer, there are sock hops and cruises, too. This is a warm-weather destination. · A long-abandoned stretch of early 66 forms the eastern border of Carpenter Park, near Sherman. In 2002 it won a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk a hundred yards down this vintage curbed concrete and you’ll be in another era. · In its various alignments, Route 66 has wound around three sides of the State Fairgrounds. Don’t wait until August to visit this piece of history. From Harleys to horses to home shows, there’s always something going on. In the early days of beer-can collecting, the cattle barns were the site of many major finds.
· A block south of the Fairgrounds on Peoria Road, D-Day veteran Bill Shea has converted his Marathon station into a museum of gasoline and oil memorabilia, Shea’s Gas Station Museum. Not long ago he had to move another old station on grounds to create more display space. Travelers from 63 countries and all 50 states have signed his guestbook. He’ll make sure you do, too.
· Across South Sixth Street from what used to be Allis-Chalmers, owner Sue Waldmire carries on a family tradition at the Cozy Dog Drive In. Everyone knows you can get a corn dog there, but what fewer people know is that the Cozy has Springfield’s best doughnuts. You can enjoy your food while reading a book from the Edwin Waldmire Memorial Library. · The original 66 Drive-In, located on South Sixth Street, has come to life anew in a new location: part of Knight’s Action Park, off old Route 4. The new and improved version shows family fare early in the evening and, often, movies for mature audiences as second
Maybe you can’t shuck and jive on I-55, but you can still get your kicks on Route 66. 
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