Finally, the day arrived—September 13, 2017—that we would make the actual drive across eight states on Historic Route 66. All of the planning and “day trips” here in Illinois were finished. Now it was time.
We left our home here in northern Illinois at exactly 6:22 a.m. in 62 degree weather. The first hour of the drive was through a pretty thick fog, but it cleared away the farther south we traveled.
We were “officially” off to drive Historic Route 66! We would finish off the lower portion of Illinois, where we’d left off just above St. Louis, and then get into “uncharted” territory in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
For now, though, it was a pretty familiar landscape as we traveled to get to our “starting” point near Farmersville for our first Route 66 icon of the day, Art’s Motel. Great old sign! And not far from there was “Our Lady of the Highways” shrine that has blessed the road since 1959. A
series of signs heading south from the shrine recites the “Hail Mary.”
A short time later, we entered Litchfield, a Route 66 town famous for the SkyView Drive-in Theatre and the Ariston Cafe (1924). Across the street, we enjoyed spending some time in the rather new Route 66 Welcome Center. There, I learned that one of my favorite “old time” ballplayers, Ray Schalk, who played catcher for my Chicago White Sox was from Litchfield. Funny what you learn when you’re not even trying!
Time to leave and continue southwest to Hamel and Edwardsville and into Mitchell, where I hoped to see the old Chain of Rocks Bridge connecting Illinois and Missouri. Just before we entered the small town of Hamel, we passed the St. Paul Lutheran Church, a beautiful old brick structure, with a large neon cross way up above the ground, guiding nighttime travelers on Route 66 for well over 60 years.
A few more miles, and on through Edwardsville, we were in Mitchell and about finished with Illinois. What I had been anticipating for so long was just ahead—The Chain of Rocks Bridge, with the strange sharp bend. The bridge is no longer used, but at one time, it was the main bridge over the Mississippi River on Route 66 between Illinois and Missouri.
To my dismay, once we got to the bridge, we encountered a “Road Closed” sign, and there was no way to actually get to the old bridge or even see it, except from the highway once we crossed over to Missouri on the I-270 bridge nearby. We did manage a few quick long shots on the Missouri side, but nothing like what I’d expected. So it goes!
A bit disappointed, yes, but I knew there was so much more awaiting us in the days ahead. And so we drove on, skirting around to the north and west of St. Louis where we would join I-44 and the old Route 66 continuing west.
Near Eureka, Missouri, we stopped at the Route 66 State Park/Welcome Center and enjoyed many wonderful displays of remnants of old motel signs and various pieces of road lore and legend.
Through miles of rolling countryside no longer pancake flat like Illinois, we enjoyed this “new” territory and passed several rustic and natural landscapes through Gray Summit, Sullivan, Bourbon, all towns with water towers and calm and peaceful scenery out on the old road.
Late afternoon had arrived, and it was time to stop for the night. We had made a reservation for this first night at The Wagon Wheel Motel, a restored old Route 66 motor court, in Cuba, Missouri. We checked in there and were immediately transported back to an earlier time because of the wonderful atmosphere of the grounds and original rooms. We enjoyed sitting out on the little patio in the courtyard following a nice barbecue dinner right next door at the Missouri Hick Bar BQ.
After our first day, and many miles under our belt, we were ready to call it an early evening. So many more wonderful miles lay ahead, and we couldn’t wait to continue in the morning.