History, Preservation, Road Trips

Finding excellent accommodations on Route 66

It’s not entirely true that I didn’t plan our Route 66 trip. I did book motels in advance. I wanted to stay in independent motels as much as possible, and Route 66 boasts several that are well known because of their connection to the Mother Road.

Two of those motels really stood out. The first was the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri. Dig that incredibly awesome lighted sign! It’s too bad that some of the neon tubes were out, but I’m sure that the scourge of neon is keeping it in perfect working order.

Munger Moss Motel

When we checked in, we met Ramona, who owns the Munger Moss with her husband. Making friendly conversation, she asked what brought me and my sons to her hotel. When I told her that we were driving Route 66, her eyes lit up. She reached out and took my hand and said that she was so happy to see families driving the route and that people like us were keeping its memory alive.

Munger Moss Motel

Ramona placed us in room 66 to honor our trip. It was decorated with framed covers from books by Michael Wallis, who has written extensively about the Mother Road. I didn’t think to photograph the room’s interior until after we’d junked it up with all of our stuff, but it was large and clean and bright. The bathroom was straight out of the late 1950s with coral fixtures and floor tile and turquoise tile on the wall.

The other standout motel was the Wagon Wheel, in Cuba, Missouri. It’s only about 80 miles east of the Munger Moss – far too close for us to stay in both on consecutive nights. So we stayed at the Wagon Wheel on the way home from our trip.

Wagon Wheel Motel

I came back after dusk to photograph these signs lit.

Wagon Wheel Motel

The Wagon Wheel’s office fronts Route 66, but the rooms themselves lurk well back from the highway in several small buildings, most of which are faced in stone. We stayed in this building, in room 11, which is the second door from the left. That’s our car out front, on its first road trip since I bought it last year.

Wagon Wheel Motel

Our room was small, and looking at the number of rooms in each building I’m sure ours was typically sized. But it was a very pleasant space, with every detail obviously carefully chosen.

Wagon Wheel Motel

Many old independent motels won’t give you experiences like we had at the Munger Moss and the Wagon Wheel; they are simply a cut above most of the old independents. We stayed at two other independent motels on our trip, and both were adequate but not memorable. Worse, some old independents are in terrible condition and have shady clientele – or so say reviews on the various Internet travel sites, which I used extensively to choose our accommodations. It sure beat rolling into some town after dusk and choosing a motel sight unseen.

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Like neon motel signs? Check out
some great ones in Columbus, Ohio.

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22 thoughts on “Finding excellent accommodations on Route 66

  1. ryoko861 says:

    That Wagon Wheel motel with the stone faced buildings is gorgeous! You definitely have to check the internet before deciding which place to stay these days. I’ve stayed at some really disgusting motels in my time with the kids and they were even AAA approved! When I tried to call AAA and tell them that this one motel was just appalling it went on deaf ears. And it was nearly impossible to get in touch with someone. The place is still there. I guess it’s more for the truckers. I’m also leery about “Hourly rates” type places. Stay clear of those!

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    • Even the travel sites aren’t always completely up to date. I booked a particular motel in Oklahoma that the travel sites generally recommended. But when I posted my itinerary on the American Road forum (a place for roadies like me), one fellow said that that particular motel would be a poor choice as in the past year or so it had declined seriously and began advertising hourly rates. So I canceled there and booked elsewhere!

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      • ryoko861 says:

        Ah, true. There’s a place in Lancaster we stay at alot and when I go to the website, I can tell they haven’t updated because they’re still using images from about 15 years ago!

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  2. This brought back memories of traveling with my grandparents out west! Great article and I love the signs…maybe if I put my phones in the refrigerator I would get more peace and quiet!

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  3. Michael says:

    I know modern cell phones get hot, but do they really require refrigeration? :P Or is that how they advertised A/C in the old days? Sad that it’s also missing tubes just 3 years after the restore.

    The Wagon Wheel reminds me of the gas station on 40 they moved to Rose.

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    • I have to think that “refrigerated” means “a/c.” And yes, it’s sad that the tubes are already out. I hope the motel has/finds the funds to repair them.

      The Wagon Wheel has a little gas station out front in the same style; I’ll blog about that in a separate post. IIRC, this whole complex is from about the same time as the Rose gas station, which was a time when gas stations were deliberately built to look like little cottages.

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  4. Lone Primate says:

    The Mugger Moss sign looks strikingly like one of the old Holiday Inn signs. Do you suppose they adapted it to a new purpose?

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    • I don’t think so. It was made up the road in Springfield, MO and is a twin to a motel sign in that city (photo not uploaded yet so I can’t show it here). I think that perhaps there was some copycatting going on somewhere.

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  5. Its nice that you can share these places with your sons. Hopefully they will catch the road bug too and help preserve some of these places. I think think that accommodations on the road always were unpredictable. I remember that was one of the reasons people started liking the various chains so much. They were willing to give up the local color for something that was more predictable.

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    • I talked to my sons all along the trip about the significance of this road and the things alongside it, trying to give them a sense of these days gone by. I asked them to compare and contrast with our trip home along the Interstate with all of its sameness. You are quite right about our willingness to give up local color for a known, consistent quality. It’s why the mom-and-pop restaurants waned in favor of fast food and Denny’s.

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  6. As I’m sure you know, the Wagon Wheel lays claim to being the oldest operating motel on Historic 66. It’s current condition is the result of a lot of work and money from owner Connie Echols. Before her complete renovation, the place received some very negative reviews.

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    • I’m so glad this gem got restored by an owner who cares. It makes me sad to think that it ever fell into disrepair and got bad reviews. I regret that my path didn’t cross with Connie’s while we stayed there; I’d have liked to meet her.

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  7. Neil says:

    I have just spent 30 minutes clicking from link to link to link to different blog pages and photos. I do remember traveling 66 at least part of the way from Chicago to Oklahoma when I was a kid. We used to stay at a great little motel in Rolla that was all little houses. It was great! And my mom always wanted to stop at this big-deal bus station in the Ozarks that had a really tall sign. I just can’t remember the name or location of that stop. Thanks so much for all the time and effort and love you put into your blog.

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    • Neil, thank you! And I’m glad this post sparked memories in you. If you ever figure out which motel that was in Rolla I’d be interested to know.

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    • John’s Modern Cabins is a place with “all little houses” that was not far from Rolla. It has been closed since 1970 or there abouts and is slowly making its way back to the earth. Is this possibly in the right time frame?

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      • Neil says:

        Thanks, Denny.
        I felt challenged to try to find out what the name of that place was in Rolla. I did find John’s Modern Cabins, but those aren’t them. My main time frame would be closer to 1960. It’s possible that it’s Schuman’s Tourist City, but the postcard I found was a view across the fronts of the cottages. A view from the road would help immensely. It’s probably out there somewhere.
        On the other hand, I did identify the big-deal bus station, but it wasn’t a bus station. It was a restaurant that the buses stopped at. It was the Diamonds Restaurant. It was in Villa Ridge and apparently was once the largest road restaurant in the world. Can’t put a photo here.

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  8. Jim, Thank for the trip down memory 66 lane. When I traveled Rt. 66 in my teen years, it was in my folk’s Kenskill travel trailer. We did stay one night in a quaint little bed and breakfast inn, but after racking my brain I still can’t remember the name of it. This really makes me miss the old days of white line fever; out seeing the sights and meeting the colorful people of America. Great Post.

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