Richard and Suzanne's Big 2000 Road Trip
Cruisin' Route 66
Trout Creek, MI to Phoenix, AZ
We began our trip homeward down US 45, passing the resort towns, blue lakes, and supper clubs of Northern Wisconsin. South of Aniwa, we saw a faded sign advertising lion & tiger shows, but alas, even after a brief search, no large cats crossed our path. Just south of here, we were menaced by a large badger & squirrel in front of a exotic nightclub, but we survived the encounter after taking some fun photos (of the badger). Then again southward through the Wisconsin heartland, where we saw many farms allied with various dairy cooperatives, including Land O' Lakes. Does that make their cattle "Land O' Cowrissians?" (groan...) After a while, we found ourselves on WI 110 about two miles east of Butte Des Morts when we found a most astounding place - Schettl's Freight Sales (and Ace Hardware!) This store has the most amazing collection of so-tacky-it's-way-beyond-cool stuff littering the front yard, including giant figures of moose, dinosaurs, pigs, cows, elephants, whales, Elvis, happy hot dogs, and other things guaranteed to bring a grin to the most grizzled road warrior. Best of all, according to the staff, this ain't no museum - most of them are for sale, and the rest are for rent! While we didn't bring home any large statuary ourselves, we did find some Wisconsineirs and some cool drawer handles for the kitchen and laundry room. Then it was a short drive into Neenah, land of paper and manholes, to visit some good friends who were also in town for life-changing purposes. We then grabbed a nice dinner at Zatatecas restaurant downtown, debunking the myth that ya can't find decent Mexican food in east Wisconsin.
The amazing stuff at Schettl's Freight Sales
We left the Neenah/Menasha megalopolis, and escaped while the hordes descended upon Oshkosh for the annual EAA fly-in. We were happily entertained as we saw nearly every conceivable type of flying machine either buzz above us in the sky or zip past us on a trailer. In Fond du Lac, we made a stop at Kristmas Kringles, where we saw (& bought) a few cute items having to do with some minor winter holiday. We listened to polka music on Truckasaurus' stereo as we toodled down US 41 to Milwaukee, where we stopped downtown to stretch our legs and collect a herd of stress cows. We were also pleased to see that fuel prices had dropped a bit from $2.05 a couple weeks ago to a more affordable $1.32. Out of Beer City on the new 794 expressway, then onto I-94, where we found many Wisconsin "moo-venirs" at the Mars Cheese Castle, a fun tourist trap near the Illinois line. Then south onto the Illinois tollways (with button copy mileposts - so that's what our spare change buys!) to downtown Des Plaines, where we had a late lunch at the Choo Choo Cafe. At this unique dining experience, your food is delivered from the kitchen via Lionel train! Fortified by this rail-transported sustenance, we braved the rush-hour Chicagoland traffic and intersection-blocking Metra trains, stopping briefly to take pictures of a "multi-car pileup" on the corner of Harlem & Cermak (a sculpture, not an accident). We then headed to the South Side to travel historic Route 66 out of town, passing by Joliet Prison and other landmarks. Stopped for a sundae on Tuesday at the Launching Pad restaurant in Wilmington, under the benevolent gaze of the famous Gemini Giant statue (nice new paint job on ya, dude!) Then through the cornfields on old 66, watching the fireflies flitter in the night sky (splat, oops!) We ended up in a place we typically aren't familiar with - Normal. Seeing a near-complete absence of old motels with cool neon signs, we settled for & into the Motel 6 on the far side of Normal.
The EAA takes over Oshkosh's freeway signs
This day started reeeally early, as there was much to see and do. First, a quick stop at the Dixie Truckers' Home and Route 66 Hall of Fame in McLean, and to take pictures of a new type of railroad crossing that uses nets to catch errant cars before they splatter on the side of the train. We swung around Lincoln (neat giant steer in front of the Bonanza!) and headed in to the vortex of all things Lincolnesque - Springfield. Here we stopped at Shea's gas station museum to see much 66abilia, then off to Lincoln's tomb (and of course the souvenir shop tastefully placed just outside the cemetery gates. We added to this trip's considerable collection of state capitol photos by bagging two of them here - both the old and new capitol building. Then it was time for "cozy dogs" (the original corn dogs) at the stand on the south side of town, then off across the prairie on old 66 toward St. Louis. In St. Louie, Suzanne stayed a few hours at the President Casino on the sleek but now stationary Admiral riverboat, while Richard visited Code 3 Inc. to meet with some of their staff and see some new innovations in response vehicle lighting technology. After rejoining under the Gateway Arch, we then got our feeding priorities happily mixed up by stopping first for frozen custard at Ted Drewe's, and then grabbing dinner at a Steak & Shake in Webster Groves. Off again on old 66 through the Missouri countryside through Stanton & Cuba, and then settled in early at Finn's Motel in St. James, a motel that easily passed the "cool sign out front" test, plus it matched Suz's heritage!
Finn's to the left, Finn's to the right
We didn't get on the road until late, as we took some time at the motel to catch up on e-mail, repacking, and other minor concerns of life on the highway. Stopped briefly near Rolla to admire some fine examples of 50s-era automotive design at a roadside store, and then we continued along the route of old 66, seeing Devil's Elbow and other out-of-the-way places long since bypassed by I-44. Approaching Lebanon, we once again fell under the spell of the innumerable "WALNUT BOWLS!" signs, and stopped to inspect these fine examples of American craftsmanship. After leaving these woodgrain wonders, we left Route 66 and wandered southward along the Missouri backroads to the small town of Mansfield. This is where Laura Ingalls Wilder set up her "little house in the Ozarks" after leaving the prairies, and is where she wrote all her classic books. We toured her home and farm, and Suz picked up many more books in the "Little House" series. There's more than we thought - authors working with permission of the estate are strip-mining every branch of the family tree for inspiring stories. We then went into Mansfield to see Laura's bust mounted in the town square, and then visited the gravesite on the edge of town (we're visiting lots of dead folks on this trip). We followed this up with a very hearty & satisfying meal at the Little House Buffet, then westward along the US 60 expressway (seemed as busy as the Superstition) into Springfield, where we again picked up old Route 66. We drove along through the twilight on this quiet and scenic road, thankful we weren't tussling with the semis and RVs on I-44. We drove into Carthage, and Suzanne spotted the green & pink neon of the Boots Motel, where we found perhaps the nicest lodgings of our trip so far (except for her mom's, of course) - soft beds, a clean room, and classic old-time motel ambiance.
Put up our boots at the Boots Motel
We dawdled briefly in Carthage to circle the town square and grab breakfast and yet another cute cow at Braum's (too early for ice cream, though). Then westward through Webb City and Joplin, and before we knew it, we were in Kansas, where we made the obligatory stop at the Eisler Bros. store in Riverton. Then before we has a chance to become Kansanized, we were into Oklahoma. We stopped for a quick break and foot-long hot dogs at a store/food stand in Chelsea, and then a few miles later spotted the legendary Blue Whale of Catoosa happily residing by the road. We stopped to get some pictures of this friendly leviathan, and to look at the abandoned water park he calls home (no fishing, don't ask!) We then followed 66 to and quickly through metropolitan Tulsa, and then continued to save our sanity (and spare change) by skipping the turnpikes and cruising on OK 66. We followed old 66 right up to the circle around the Oklahoma Capitol building in Oklahoma City, where we photographed the seventh state capitol we've spotted on this trip. We then went downtown to visit the memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing, where they've set up a very appropriate remembrance to the victims of the Murrah Building (but downplay the fact it was done by fellow Americans). It almost succeeds in making government bureaucracy look like a sacred calling. Then back on 66 through Yukon and El Reno (where's the Big 8?), and another very successful souvenir & stuff stop at the Cherokee truck stop, where Suzanne bought some Mexican jumping beans. We promptly dubbed our beans "Alan, Orson, and Roy", and Suz adopted them as her "bean-ie babies". The clicking of the beans accompanied us as we wound through the night along old 66 as a thunderstorm caught us, watching the seemingly infinite trusses of the South Canadian River bridge take form in the darkness as we passed. We pressed on in the rain past Hydro, and found an inexpensive place to stay at the Glancy Motel in Clinton.
Big happy Blue Whale swimmin' by Route 66
We stopped first this day at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, where we were treated to a very good couple hours of highway history - although the anti-Interstate bias did get a bit heavy-handed at times. Then again westward through Elk City, and a stop at a near-perfect early 60s Phillips 66 station in Sayre. Attendant: "yeah, it's nice - want to buy it?" Then the eyes of Texas were upon us as we crossed the Panhandle, stopping in Groom at the world's largest cross (yes, it's big), and then a great Texas-style lunch at Beans & Things on old 66 in east Amarillo. We then stopped for more automotive fun posing among the classy chassis plunged into the Texas dirt at the Cadillac Ranch. We entered New Mexico for the second time, and on old 66 in Tucumcari, we found a large sign saying "DOOFNAC XEMI" on the roof of an interesting little shop. Tucumcari also proudly displays an amusing public sculpture celebrating US 66 - great tailfins! Then on into Santa Rosa for dinner at the Silver Moon Cafe, and then through another Southwestern thunderstorm as we pulled in wet, tired, and very very late into Albuquerque, where we found room at the inn - the La Puerta Inn. Here we found rest under the colorful neon and hand-carved woodwork of this Route 66 landmark.
The La Puerta beckons
We hit the road early on this final day, hoping to get home before nightfall in spite of those frequent but fun delays we inevitably find while exploring on the road. West of Grants, we found the well-preserved remains of a Whiting Bros. station & motel (remember those?) and then had our obligatory Stuckey's experience of the trip, loading up on useful items and lots of GooGoo Clusters. Then along old 66 between Grants and the state line, admiring the old highway and its rugged scenery. As we crossed into Arizona (home!), we stopped at Chief Yellowhorse to say hi to the buffalo. Then westward across the Painted Desert, where we caught the final 50% off sale at the Meteor City Trading Post. While we're sad to see that this Arizona landmark is closing, it's nice to know the owners will be enjoying a well-earned retirement after serving travelers for many years. After loading some half-price Arizona stuff up, we rolled west into Flagstaff, where we left Route 66 with smiles and fond memories. Then the final leg back down I-17, as we reminisced about all our adventures over the past two weeks and began mentally preparing ourselves for once again becoming productive members of the working world.
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Latest Historical Revisionism 24 April 2005Scripting: Richard C. Moeur