It is no longer possible to drive historic Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica uninterrupted. In many areas, bypasses have caused abandonment of the old roadbed, which often runs right alongside the later versions. It takes on different local and state highway names as it meanders across the county, too.
Throughout the southern portion of Illinois, we saw corn fields to the right of us, cornfields to the left of us, and grain silos and milling companies to store and process the corn. That shouldn’t have surprised us, but how were these old crows to know that Illinois is the second in the nation in corn production?
Two of the highlights of the Illinois segments were Henry’s Rabbit Ranch & Route 66 Emporium in Staunton and the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield.
Old cars and gas pumps pulled us into Henry’s place for a photo opt. Henry was a talker. He pointed out the truck and trailers bearing the likeness of Snortin’ Norton, the camel mascot of the defunct Campbell 66 Express trucking line. He invited us inside the former gas station, which was crowded with his own Route 66 memorabilia, such as tabletop jukeboxes and scale-model toy trucks. He also had some souvenirs for sale, and it’s hard for Lucy and Ethyl to pass up a gift shop, as we’ve already established.
Lucy wanted a large Route 66 sign with thermometer, and Henry was out of them, but he removed one he had just hung outside his door and sold it to her. What a guy. With that purchase, Lucy’s shopping was complete.
Rich Henry started Rabbit Ranch, a rabbit rescue house, in 1999. His grown daughter had purchased two rabbits that did what rabbits are known for — they multiplied. She didn’t have room for 16 in her apartment. He had told her to get a cat instead of rabbits, but she didn’t listen to him when she lived at home, he says, so why would she after moving out? “Conditions were deplorable in that small space,” Henry says. “If it weren’t for the health of the rabbits, I would have left them there to teach her a lesson.”
He has rescued bunnies ever since, has four in what he calls “condos” instead of cages. Almost 60 former rescues are buried in marked graves beside the building, and Henry has a giant metal one with a saddle on its back and stairs to mount him. That was another fun photo opt.
It’s not just live rabbits he has rescued, but Volkswagen rabbits, too. Lucy and Ethyl would have missed that had not Henry pointed it out. The VW’s have their tail ends buried in the ground, like the Caddys at Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas.
In Litchfield, we took photos of the old Sky-View Drive-In. Ethyl thought it might still be in operation. After all, it advertised “$5 per car load. “Creature From the Black Lagoon” was on the marquee. It’s a horror classic, so who knows?
We stopped for lunch at the Ariston cafe, owned by the Adam family since 1924. The hostess, half of the husband-wife team running the place, seated us. She handed each of us a bundle of Route 66 goodies that included Ariston postcards, a luggage tag and an Ariston magnet.
The food was wonderful and the service was great. After lunch, Mrs. Adam had us pose under the neon Ariston sign behind the bar, and pretending to use an antique, upright telephone. We left that place stuffed and happy, needing an afternoon nap.
We got back to Streamwood Sunday night, two days earlier than planned, and bought a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. At Ethyl’s house, we collapsed on the family-room sofa. It was all we could do to pick up a fork to eat. Next day, we walked around in a daze, suffering road-lag. Lucy was glad she had a couple of days to catch up on her rest before flying home.
Yes, it was a tiring trip, but the experience was certainly worth it. We hope to do the second half of The Mother Road in the fall of 2019.