Our Route 66 odyssey is underway, although we won’t be grinding out the continuous miles and hours until mid-September. But the journey has started all the same. Here’s why…and how.
Since we live in northern Illinois, sixty miles from downtown Chicago, we have decided to take advantage of that and cover the Illinois portion of the trip before our planned September departure for Santa Monica, California. When that day arrives, we’ll leave home and make a beeline to St. Louis via the Interstates and resume our driving on Historic Route 66, saving us a few days that would have otherwise been spent doing Illinois.
Besides, we have a big Alaska cruise coming up in August, so we’ll obviously be busy with all of that and gone for several days. But what a fun day it was yesterday actually getting the Route 66 trip started!
By late morning, we’d driven to Michigan Avenue and immediately turned onto westbound Adams Street, directly in front of the famed Art Institute. Carolyn was the driver for the day so I could read the Route 66 tour books and snap pictures along the way at various highlights and roadside attractions.
The first such photo-op occurred as soon as we made the turn onto Adams. (See my selfie with sign in background!)
From that point, we followed the suggestions given in the two excellent guides I’d purchased a while back: EZ 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahahan, published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation, and Traveling the New, Historic Route 66 of Illinois, by John Weiss, published by Historic 66, P.O. Box 66, Wilmington, Illinois.
We found the famous Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, a place that has been there since 1923, and The Berghoff Restaurant before motoring on Adams, west out of Chicago, following present-day Ogden Avenue.
We next came to Cicero, where we passed the classic Henry’s Drive-In. The sign with a large hotdog with fries was easy to spot.
Next we passed through Berwyn, Lyons, McCook, Hodgkins, Countryside, and Indian Head Park. Most of this stretch was commercial or industrial, but we got a pretty good sense of what it must have been like for this road to be the main route serving the entire area all those years ago. I found the quirky turns and angles along the way to be of great interest.
By now, we were both ready for lunch, and our timing couldn’t have been better as we came into Willowbrook, a place with which I am extremely familiar. Most of my teaching career was spent there and just a stone’s throw from one of Route 66’s iconic places: Del Rheas Chicken Basket.
Carolyn had never eaten there, so it was a real treat for her and our first Route 66 meal on the epic journey now beginning!
We satisfied our hunger with the delicious lunch buffet of the best roast or fried chicken around, and enjoyed the various pieces of Route 66 memorabilia and artwork on display throughout the quaint restaurant.
Refueled, we were once more ready to get on the road and continue our journey. The route took us in a southwest direction now, through the town of Romeoville, where infamous Stateville Prison sits ominously off to the right-hand side of the road.
Then it was on into Joliet where we wound our way to the Route 66 Visitor and Information Center. A quick visit, followed by a stop in the Gift Shop, and we were back in the car continuing on.
We passed Chicagoland Speedway and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. The whole area here was noted for the Joliet Arsenal begun in 1942, which made ammunition during World War II. Now, the area has been turned into the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Happy to report that the whole area has a happier, brighter, look and attitude about itself.
As we rolled into Wilmington shortly thereafter, we were greeted by the Gemini Giant and, a few minutes later, by Dino the Sinclair Dinosaur sitting atop an old service station-tire shop in town. Neat stuff, and part of the Route 66 lore!
Before long, we came to the Polk-a-Dot Drive-In in Braidwood and waved at Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean as we passed by on our way to Gardner.
In Gardner we immediately came upon a bright Route 66 building that was adorned with Coca-Cola signs and logos.
The place turned out to be Perkins Wood & Glass Shop, whose proprietor is a friendly fellow named Tom Perkins. He and his “guard” dog Rufus came out to greet us as soon as we pulled up, and Tom filled us in on the local history of the place and his part in it. Then he took a couple of photos for us and gave us a quick tour of his small shop.
It was an enjoyable break from the road, but the afternoon was wearing on, and we were going to bring this first segment of our Illinois-66 travels to a halt and head for home soon.
Fortunately, home would be just a little over an hour’s drive north, so we bid farewell to Tom and Rufus, paid a quick visit to the Two Cell Jail and restored street car/diner across the way, and drove the short distance to the next town on the alignment, Dwight, where Route 47 intersected with the Historic 66 on which we were traveling.
At that point, we broke away from Historic 66 and headed up Route 47 to home. We’ll head back down to Dwight next Monday to pick up there and continue on down the line. And I’m sure there will be more photos and commentary to follow.