Route 66 sign in the City of Lexington, IL

You’ve got to love the gumption of residents of Lexington, IL. When the state of Illinois or one of those Route 66 organizations didn’t deem their town to be worthy of one of their signs… they made their own

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What you spot from the Road is this big wooden box with Roadside Attraction written on it with the SAME font you see on this sign below (down to the red lines) only theirs looks like it was produced by the students themselves.

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Followed by this sign, which from the looks of it the History Club of the local high school was able to guilt the Illinois state Historical society into making happen… the quality of the casting is NOT up to the level of the official signs

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The Route 66 (decommissioned) Illinois State Police headquarters, Pontiac Township

Alongside Route 66 just, in the middle of pretty much nothing, and just south of Pontiac, IL is a very attractive but run down Art Modern Style building that clearly isn’t open, but is surround by all sorts of paid for by the government Illinois Route 66 signs.

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This building wasn’t on Google Maps (I really hate their tendency to not mark abandoned historic buildings. Off to the right side of the building you can spot (next to the tree) one of those State of Illinois Route 66 signs

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In this part of Illinois, at some point in it’s history, the state decided to build a NEW route 66 that runs just along the old one, which was allowed to decay. The old broken up road to the left/center on the image below is the old 66, and to the FAR left is a lighter colored strip, which is the new one that traffic now travels on.

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Old Route 66 heading south

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Old route 66 on left (blocked from traffic) the new on the right

Luckily there was a guy here mowing the lawn’s when I arrived. He told me that This was The Old Illinois State Police Headquarters, that they recently moved it to a new location up in Pontiac, and that they’re talking about turning this building into some sort of museum/landmark status building type thing…. but that the estimates to do it (because the building is in dire need of renovation) is about 2 million dollars and right now the funds are not available.

The Gemini Giant: Wilmington, IL

UPDATED: I first visited here in August of 2018, came back again two months later:
The Gemini Giant is 28 feet tall fiberglass “bit Thing” named after the Gemini space program of the 1960’s, located on Historic Route 66, (it was one of the very first major highways in America, was built in the 1920’s … and is also known as the Will Roger’s Highway, the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road). 
 This roadside attraction was built during the very beginning of the space race as a way to lure travelers off the road with a photo opportunity, in the hope that they’d stay long enough to buy a hotdog or a drink.

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The statue stands directly adjacent to Route 66 (yes, really, it’s the nondescript two lane road in the picture)

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and is in the parking lot of the Launching Pad restaurant (which was once a drive-in)

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The restaurant was built in 1956 at which point it was a 600 square-foot shack…they actually hired Hopalong Cassidy (well, the actor who in the 1950’s played the character in a series of sixty-six movie serials based on the character, William Boyd) to come and cut the opening ribbon (Boyd is the one in the cowboy hat)

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(According to the owner of the Launching Pad, who was thrilled to share the places history with me, after the show ended Boyd had gone to the studio and bought the licensing rights to the name Hopalong Cassidy for $450,000, a lot of money in those days… and in a few short years turned it around into $5 million by putting his picture and name on lunch boxes. I will note that Wikipedia disputes some of this but hey…)IMG_2160.JPG The new owner went on to tell me that the same family owned it for the next 50 odd years, passing it through the generations (and it was always wildly successful that whole time, open from around 7am to midnight — at least I think that’s what he said — with a staff of 20, and always doing good business) until 2010 at which point they sold it to somebody outside of the family who ran the business into the ground in the course of two short years (by buying cheaper ingredients, refusing to run the air conditioning, etc, all in an attempt to increase his profit margins I assume). As such, this Route 66 landmark business quickly went broke as its bread and butter local customers abandoned it, and has stood empty until this new owner bought it in 2017. The new owner is financing it solely from his own pocket and with any money he’s made by merchandising the image on T-shirts and bumper stickers and what not.

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Note the high quality Route 66 paraphernalia, MOST of which name the store or have the image of their iconic rocket man

He told me he has licensed the image of the giant (something the previous owners never bothered to do), so that nobody else can replicate it and he has tracked down all the old recipes for their dishes and intends to have the kitchen up and running in about two months. Till then, he’s filled the restaurant with a random collection of memorabilia intended to keep visitors happy. IMG_2164.JPG

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Even without the restaurant up and running, he told me that nn a slow day he says an average of about 200 people showing up in the store/resturant, while on a fast day it’s 500 to 800 people coming in from all over the world because they’ve heard about this place. Just during the time I was there, for about half an hour at about 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, I saw a Chinese guy and a French couple stop in to check the place out, all of whom were folks that were road-tripping Route 66 on motorcycles.

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Return 2 months later:

Full circle achieved. Stopped here the first time while driving from Pennsylvania (Pennsic) to San Francisco via I-80, and came back two months later while doing Route 66 in Atlanta, IL, where I came across this sign about an hour down south of here.

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Had a nice long talk with the wife…. last time I met the husband… and bought two T-shirts from they. While these guys have a lot of the same Route 66 stuff other people do, the wife has also put in the effort to have a whole SLEW of T-shirts made up that commemorate THEIR store, the Giant out front and route 66 all at the same time. (My major complaint with businesses/cities along the route is that most are just lazy and order stuff that I could easily and cheaper buy from Amazon).

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She apparently recognized me (although we had not met) which makes me think they saw this blog post…. and talked with me about the renovations that they’re doing. One of the things I noticed immediately was that the front rooms, which on my last visit were CRAMMED with stuff so that the tables rather than being available for customers were instead covered in collectable chachkies that were NOT for sale… which included a whole collection of expensive guitars and Blues Brothers dolls had now been cleared out… (see images from my first visit). I asked her what had become of them, “didn’t these tables used to be covered in stuff? Where did it all go?” and she took me into a back where they are creating a dedicated museum space in the back of the restaurant… which was not there last time I came.

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I remembered see almost ALL of this stuff crowded into the front room my last visit

Then she talk with me about what they’re doing redoing the plumbing and the timetables for that, and how they didn’t did not want to get funding from the 66 foundation in order to be able to pay for it, and why… but would rather do it out of pocket and owe no one. That said, she said that had done a REALLY good business this season in the T-shirts and collectables.

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She said that their timetable currently is to be serving food by March, but it will be simpler stuff like hot dogs and ice cream and things of that sort, while they continue to renovate the kitchens… and that they hope to be back to full diner status maybe by November of 2019. Since that’s the end of the tourist season, they’ll be able to start up slowly, serving the local community, and then be “ready” when the tourist season begins the following spring.

The transformation of the city of Pontiac, Illinois

Located about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago is the small city of Pontiac Illinois. To be honest, the only mentions of this place that I ever heard growing up referred to the state prison located at the south end of town. In recent years however the city has made a concerted to transform itself into a tourism destination, and in my opinion is well on its way.

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Firstly, in the center of town is a very attractive turn of the century styled Town Hall.

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Until I approached it I hadn’t known that this was one of the towns included in the National Park Service’s Looking for Lincoln Trek.

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I also found it was quite attractive on the inside as well, although not quite as nice as on the outside (they need to work on that). It’s a bit too spartan (other than the floors) and why is Lincoln looking at the ground?IMG_0286.JPGAlso, one does not expect with a population of just shy of 12K people to have four museums (I went to two of them, the Auto museum and the Gilding arts one, and they were both worth the visit). In addition, the city has been embracing the tourism tactic of hiring artists to pain murals around the downtown area to beautify itIMG_0284.JPGAnd another very cute thing that they’ve done is to scatter these cars for kids on street corners around townIMG_0287

I really have to give my props to the Mayor and city consul of Pontiac Illinois for transforming their little town from a town whose major employer was a state prison into something worthy of extended visits from those doing the route 66 trek, as well day trips for people living in the Chicagoland area.

Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum.

Located just off Route 66 in Pontiac Illinois, is the interestingly named Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museumthe name confused me a lot till I look in Wikipedia and apparently the Pontiac brand was originally called the Oakland, but was produced in Pontiac Michigan, and ultimately the name was dropped in favor of being called Pontiac. IMG_2297As I discussed in the post about the Gilding Museum, Pontiac Illinois has decided to turn itself into a tourist destination that people will actually stop at. To do this, they have offered empty store fronts to people with museum worthy collections, and are hiring people to come in to professionally set up the exhibits. Where gilding actually has nothing to do with the town, what could be more apropos than a museum dedicated to the Pontiac brand of car in Pontiac Illinois?

IMG_0266When you first enter it’s to what seems to be a fairly large gift shop, but one that’s reasonably sized once you realize how bit the museum space is.

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The woman who owns it was working there and she says they’re opening up a second one in Flint Michigan and her husband also runs a magazine for Pontiac collectors

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If you’re into cars, and even if you are not, this museum is well laid out and well worth a visit.