America is full of things like this, with the world’s biggest ball of twine probably being the most famous (In the movie “Michael” (1996) the Arch Angle Michael — played as less than angelic by John Travolta — comes to earth to see these things); I argue that anyone doing a roadtrip across America is sort of obliged to search them out… because they are “Americana” — (that said, I’ve found them in Australia as well)
Found a very good quote on the topic, courtesy of Neil Gaiman
“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low, unimpressive wooden building.
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”
“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a giant bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
this oversized covered Wagon in Lincoln Illinois, located just off of Route 66, was named the “Railsplitter” after Abraham Lincoln, is the largest one in the world, and has been recognized as such by the Guinness Book of World Records.
A recent attraction to Route 66 (built in 2001 it was only purchased by Logan county and moved to it’s currently location in 2007), it was built out of oak and steel by David Bentley. According to one site, the Reader’s digest organization has also awarded it the title of America’s #1 roadside attraction… although I got to wonder about that title
Built in 1978 and located on route 66 (well one of them) in Springfield IL, is a fiberglass “muffler man” in front of Lauterbach Tire and Auto who USED to be holding a tire.
He’s actually had some serious repairs in 2006, as the result of a Tornado that ripped off his head (ouch).
Update: Further up Route 66 (i.e. Northeast) in Atlanta, where the Paul Bunyon Statue is located (A Paul Bunyan holding a hotdog in a bun), I found this description of the Lauterbach man that includes what he looked like BEFORE his repairs — he’s got a completely new wardrobe now… and back when he was still holding the tire
I find it interesting that as much as this muffler man is lauded as being one fo the Route 66 attractions, for SOME reason it has not earned one of those State of IL signs… which makes me wonder if the local authorities and business owners have to help pay for the things.
This 19 foot “muffler man” is a Paul Bunyan woodsman statue (for those who don’t know, Paul is a character from American Folklore), who stands alone without his trusty side-kick Babe the Blue Ox…. and is holding, instead of an ax, a hotdog.
The Statue was built in 1966, and stood initially on the roof of a hotdog joint on Route 66/aka Ogden Ave in Cicero Illinois. The owner intentionally misspelt the name as Buyon instead of Bunyan in order to avoid any copyright infringements. After a while the statue became such a tourist draw that the owner moved it down to ground level, so that children could climb on it
When the business closed in 2002 the beloved Route 66 landmark went up for sale and was purchased by the city of Atlanta (a one stoplight sort of a town), as a tourism draw.
Anyone reading my posts about traveling Route 66 knows one of my pet peeves was most of the gift stores along the route sell generic stuff you could buy on Amazon. The gift stores in town do have some of that stuff, but they’ve also got clothes and towels that have been embroidered with the statue, and even with some of the buildings in town. Didn’t buy any, but seeing these made me very happy. One warning about the town is that during the ‘off season’ which is when I was doing 66 — late October, most of the shop owners just can’t be bothered to keep their shops open. There are two museums in town, both were closed, and there’s a restaurant that’s supposed to be pretty good, and it was closed as well. And there were shops that, according to the signs in the window, SHOULD have been open and where not… the place was bit like a ghost town.
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.
The statue stands directly adjacent to Route 66 (yes, really, it’s the nondescript two lane road in the picture)
and is in the parking lot of the Launching Pad restaurant (which was once a drive-in)
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)
(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…) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Located in Staunton, Illinois, Henry’s Rabbit Ranch really is one of the route 66’s “must sees” and it’s one that lives up to the promise … mostly because of the owner. Remember the Cadillac Ranch and the Slug Bug ranches in Texas? Well this is the Rabbit Ranch…
That said, Henry, the owner of this place, who is a lover of rabbits (he told me that at one point he was fostering 27 rescues) really is why you come.
When you first approach the place it looks like run down pile of junk that’s trying to take advantage of some of the 66 trafficBut when you get out of your car and start really looking, you realize this is one of must see stops (with accolades from both the route 66 landmark group and the state of Illinois
Among his “junk” he’s got a sign from a depression era WPA project on the route!!! (this should NOT be outdoors in the elements, it should be in a museum)
Inside you’ll find Henry. I had read this over and over again but it’s true, he is a ridiculously sweet guy who takes joy in helping 66’s travelers, and will talk to you all day if you let him. All of his bunnies are rescue bunnies and he told me that at one point he had like 27 of them.
After talking to me for a while, he took me around to see his property, including the fairly large a Rabbit cemetery along the side of the house (each stone marks multiple rabbits), which includes a MASSIVE fiberglass rabbit he insisted of photographing me on top of
To be honest, I almost missed the place… the two images on the left side of the picture above is what the place looked like approaching from the north bound route 66. NO references are made to it being the Rabbit Ranch… all of his signs assume those sorts of tourists (on 66) will be going south bound… starting in Chicago and heading to LA.
For the life of me I’m not sure WHY the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma has become one of Route 66’s must see locations.It’s noted on ALL the lists. But, it was built in the early 1970’s, so it’s not even concurrent to the route’s hay-day, and on top of that it’s not even particularly impressive. It started off as a roadside attraction, a sort of very low rent amusement/water park…. (the whale offers multiple ways to slide in to the water) …. but when compared to pretty much ever amusement park or water park out there… I’m talking really really low rent.
AND, considering it’s supposed to be a water slide type thing, you’re not even allowed to swim in the water there anymore…
It’s fairly close to The Nut House, which also for the life of me doesn’t deserve its acclaim. All I can thing of is that folks traveling the route are sort of desperate for things to see along it at time (there’s really NOT much in the way of mother nature to look at along this stretch of the road) and were grateful for almost anything diverting where they could stop and stretch their legs.
That said, according to wikipedia it’s actually made it on to TV more than a few times (usually as part of a reality TV show).
This Big thing just south of the town of Collinsville, Illinois has actually managed to make it on to the National Register of Historic Places, as a prime example of 20th century Americana.
According to their web site, among its other claims to fame, it is one of the weird places, mentioned in the movie Twilight: Eclipse, where Bella and her mom had traveled to, and that her mom turned Bella’s t-shirts from those places into a keepsake quilt for her daughter.
When I saw I wondered, was it just an oddly shaped water tower? Apparently I was right, according to this discussion of the bottle’s history. Where I was wrong was when I opted to go here (World’s largest… so duh) I assumed I was going to a place NOT on Route 66, but it turned out that as far as the state of Illinois is concerned, it is.
It’s a fork that is 35 feet tall, and stands in Springfield, Missouri outside of a nondescript office building that is the home of a website called The Food Channel (not to be confused with the The Food Network).
While a 66 roadside attraction, Pops Soda Ranch, having opened in 2007, is most clearly NOT so much an icon of Route 66’s heyday, so much as one of its rebirth. This ultra modern ode to the soda pop includes a 66 foot bottle of pop, in Neon (would love to see it at night, but didn’t manage that, maybe next time).
Pops has a fairly impressive selection of of drink options (I didn’t see any alcohol)
They have these 6 pack cases, and you can either buy 6 of one or mix and match them as your heart desires
I’m sad to say these were the ONLY ginger beers I found that weren’t diet… the Sioux city one was a bit better (more ginger burn) than the “extra ginger” Cock and Bull, ironically enough. And for those who really don’t want soda there’s hot chocolate or mocha coffee
Of course the place sells gas (I only saw a handful of folks filling up there) and they have a large selection of things to eat (I didn’t eat there)
odds and ends you can buy (many of them route 66 oriented)… but let’s face most people are there to try all the different flavors of pop.
Located directly in front of the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum, is a VERY big gas pump, but of the sorts that used to be used back when Route 66 was a thing.
The gas pump stands along side car museum. I found the juxtaposition of the very OLD fashioned gas pump with the Tesla charging stations amusing.
Unfortunately the places closes at 4pm and I got there at around 6pm… At first I thought it was open because so many cars were the parking lot and people were standing around, but it turned out to be a high-school reunion for the class of 1968 from the local high school