Road Trips

Photos my son made on our 2013 Route 66 trip

After I shot my Kodak EasyShare Z730 recently I found a couple folders on the SD card that I didn’t recognize. They turned out to contain a whole bunch of photographs my older son made. I forgot that I had given him the camera! When he grew up and moved out he gave the camera back to me. What young adult has any use for an old digital camera?

I was thrilled to find all of his photos from our 2013 trip down Route 66 on that SD card. It was wonderful to relive that memory and see it through my son’s eyes. I am amused to find a number of photographs clearly made from a few feet to the left or right of me while I was making a similar photo.

Let’s begin in Wilmington, Illinois, with the Gemini Giant at the Launching Pad restaurant. I wrote about the giants of Route 66 here.

We stopped at the old jail in Gardner, Illinois. It was wide open; we just walked in. Somewhere around here I have a photo of my boys behind these bars.

We lingered for a long time at this restored Standard station in Odell, Illinois. I wrote about it here. Our trip had only begun and every new sight was exciting. That would wear off after a couple more states!

I’m an old-road infrastructure geek, and I just loved this stretch of restored brick pavement near Auburn, Illinois. Except for a recent “single frame” post, I’m surprised I haven’t written more about it. I’ll have to fix that.

We stopped to photograph this sign near Villa Ridge, Missouri. The hotel didn’t appear to be operating, but the sign looked fresh.

We stayed the night at this motel in Cuba, Missouri. It is several clusters of stone buildings each with several rooms, all of which have been very nicely restored.

This was easily the best place we stayed on the whole trip. I shared a photo of the little stone building we stayed in here. This is a different building on the property.

John’s Modern Cabins was surprisingly hard to find, as it is on an abandoned and nearly cut off section of the road near Doolittle, Missouri. But find it we did, and my son made a photo that bested any of the ones I made here.

There isn’t much to Spencer, Missouri; you’re looking at a great deal of it here. This onetime service station was partially restored just to be a Route 66 attraction.

I was pleased to find this image of me in Spencer. There are precious few photos of me from the times I shared with my sons. I made the lion’s share of the photographs, and I didn’t have a smartphone yet to make selfies. That’s my trusty Canon S95 in my right hand.

We paused just to make a photo of this iconic scene in Carthage, Missouri. If I remember right, it was spitting rain. It was the only bad weather we encountered on the trip.

The four women who operated 4 Women on the Route had closed things down when we visited their shop near Galena, Kansas. They reconfigured things and this place is now called Cars on the Route, after the Pixar movie Cars. Apparently, a tow truck with eyes in the windshield was the inspiration for the Tow Mater character in the film.

Near Miami, Oklahoma, we stopped to photograph this nine-foot-wide strip of pavement known as the Sidewalk Highway or the Ribbon Road. This pavement dates to 1918; it wouldn’t become Route 66 until 1926. In the early days of highways, there were some experiments with one-lane roads like this. As you can see, the pavement has been augmented with gravel on either side to make it wide enough for two oncoming cars.

In Catoosa, Oklahoma, we stopped to see the Blue Whale. This is a swimming hole, and you can jump into the water out of the whale’s tail.

We were starting to run out of steam as we reached the middle of Oklahoma. We were headed toward Oklahoma City where I looked to grab lunch when Pops swung into view. It was great fun, we had a lovely lunch, and we got a boost that pushed us through the rest of our planned trip.

It was a good thing, because Oklahoma had some wonderful old-road infrastructure to share with us yet. This concrete was poured in the early 1930s. It’s part of a long section of concrete that begins its westbound journey at El Reno and runs most of the rest of the way to Texas.

I am thrilled to have this photograph of the William H. Murray Bridge, which my son made from the front seat as I drove. This bridge carries US 281 today and was quite busy when we visited, so it’s not like I was going to step out onto it for a photo. It was challenging enough to get the photos I did make from its south end.

Route 66 was the last major Spring Break trip we made together. After the divorce, my sons spent every other Spring Break with me and we always traveled. The first trip was the Indiana History Tour to a whole bunch of historic and scenic sites around our state. Two years later we traveled to Washington, D.C. for a few days, and drove the National Road home (until we totaled our car in Ohio). Two years after that, we rented a cabin in the central Tennessee woods, where we hiked a lot and rested a lot. Then two years later came Route 66. We made it almost to Texas before we ran out of time and had to double back. Two years later my older son was a senior in high school and because he was busy and involved he asked for an abbreviated Spring Break trip. We spent a couple days in Kentucky to see Mammoth Cave. Then two years later my younger son was a senior in high school and he, too, wanted a short trip. We spent a few days in Cincinnati together.

When my boys look back, they talk most fondly about the Washington, D.C., trip. I liked the Route 66 trip best by far, but the boys’ chief memory of it is spending far too much time in the car.

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Brick Route 66

Brick Route 66 in Illinois
Canon PowerShot S95

When you follow Route 66 west in Illinois, when you reach Springfield you have to decide which of two alignments to follow to St. Louis. The newer one hugs I-55 — or, more accurately, I-55 hugs Route 66, as 66 came first. The older alignment is a little farther west, generally following what is now State Route 4.

That old road was routed around farm boundaries, creating a number of sharp turns. Over the years, the state rebuilt sections of that road to make it straighter and smoother. The old sections of the road were left behind so farmers on the road could still reach their properties.

Sometimes, the original pavement remains. This is one of those times. Thanks to a restoration, this is brick in wonderful condition. This is the typical Illinois brick highway, with bricks fitted inside a wide-U-shaped concrete pad. I wrote about how these roads were built here, with diagrams from old Illinois Department of Highways documents and photographs of one of these roads under construction.

I made this photo at the north/east end of this 1.4-mile segment, facing toward Chicago as the road goes. The road used to curve left here to flow into the current alignment of State Route 4.

This is a truly gorgeous segment of old brick road, and gives the best feel I’ve ever encountered for what these roads were like when they were new. If you’d like to visit, you can find it on the map here.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Brick Route 66 in Illinois

A restored section of brick pavement on Route 66 in Illinois.

Munger Moss Motel

The Munger Moss Motel
Canon PowerShot S95

This starts a short series of neon signs I’ve photographed. I enjoy finding them on my road trips! I especially enjoy finding them lit.

When my sons and I toured Route 66 in 2013 I booked us in classic mom-and-pop motels as much as I could. Most were good, a couple were great. The Munger Moss was great.

Owner Ramona was delighted that I brought my young sons out to experience the Mother Road. She took my hand in hers and said that people like us were keeping its memory alive.

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single frame: The Munger Moss Motel

The great neon sign of the Munger Moss Motel on Route 66.

Film Photography, Road Trips, Travel

Landmark restaurants on Route 66 in Chicago

Route 66 begins — or ends, depending on your perspective — in Chicago, in the Loop. Two key landmark sites remain on old Route 66 in downtown Chicago. Both are restaurants with glorious neon signs: The Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s.

First, some history about where old 66 ran in Chicago. When it was new in 1926, it began/ended at Jackson St. at Michigan Ave. In 1937, that terminus moved east two blocks to Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson St. was made one way eastbound at Michigan Ave. Westbound Route 66 moved north on Michigan Ave. for one block, and then onto one-way-west Adams St. So it remained until Illinois decommissioned its portion of Route 66 in about 1977. (Signs came down on the rest of the route state by state through 1985.)

The Berghoff

The Berghoff’s roots trace to about 1870 when German immigrant Herman Berghoff came to America and began brewing beer in Indiana. He moved to Chicago in 1893 and opened his beer hall’s doors in 1898. With Prohibition he converted the place to a restaurant. After Prohibition, the Berghoff won Chicago’s first ever liquor license and beer was back. The Berghoff has been at 17 W. Adams St. for all these years.

The Berghoff

My first experience with The Berghoff was in 1983, as a junior in high school. All of us who learned the German language — ich spreche immer noch genug Deutsch mich verstanden zu machen — made a field trip to Chicago. We capped the day with dinner at the Berghoff. It was the nicest restaurant I’d ever visited — and this blue-collar kid was not prepared for Chicago restaurant prices. The least-expensive meal on the menu was beef tips in gravy with potatoes. That and an insultingly thin tip tapped me out.

I visited it for a second time on a business trip in 2018 with a few of the engineers who worked for me. We stopped in here for dinner and a beer after our business was done. We lived a little higher on the hog than I did in 1983, especially since we could all expense our meals.

My wife and I had our Chicago getaway weekend in January. A bartender at the Palmer House Hilton, where we stayed, recommended a place called Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast the next morning. It’s on Jackson St., about a mile and a quarter west of Route 66’s beginning. You cross the Chicago River on the way.

Lou Mitchell's

Compared to The Berghoff, Lou Mitchell’s is a Johnny-come-lately to the scene, opening in 1923. That predates Route 66 by three years. But the restaurant plays up its Route 66 heritage, even posting a replica of an original Route 66 sign on a lamp post outside.

Lou Mitchell's

Our breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s was a wild ride. We were greeted with a donut hole as we entered — which neither of us took, as both of us must follow gluten-free diets. There was a small box of Milk Duds for my wife, too.

Our chatty, entertaining waitress at one point sat down next to me in our booth and talked with us for several minutes. She revealed that she’d worked at Lou Mitchell’s since the early 1990s! She also marveled in mock frustration at the rest of our dietary restrictions — my wife is allergic to egg whites, making breakfast a challenge. I have to avoid onions, garlic, and beans, which thankfully isn’t challenging at breakfast time.

Lou Mitchell's

I ordered the gluten-free pancakes and two scrambled eggs. While we waited, our waitress brought each of us a plate with a prune and an orange slice. What the heck; down they went.

I regretted it when breakfast came. The two pancakes looked to be a foot in diamater. The mass of eggs was as big as of both of my fists together. I couldn’t eat it all — and let me tell you, I can put away vast quantities of food. Our waitress told us that Lou Mitchell’s serves nothing but double-yolk eggs. I can’t imagine how they manage that! Then she revealed that when you order two eggs Lou Mitchell’s serves you four or five.

It’s a point of personal pride that I eat all of the food served me, but I just couldn’t manage it at Lou Mitchell’s. I left about half a fist’s worth of eggs and half of the pancakes behind.

May the Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s prosper for many years to come. Being able to enjoy landmark places like these on Route 66 in Chicago or beyond is what makes following the Mother Road rewarding.

Olympus XA on Kodak T-Max 400.

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Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge on Route 66 in Kansas
Canon PowerShot S95

Route 66 passes through exactly one county of Kansas on its way from Missouri to Oklahoma. Kansas makes the most out of its 13 miles of this famed road. I’d tell you more, but I’d rather you go see for yourself!

I will show you one thing: this 1923 March Rainbow Arch bridge, designed by James Marsh. Marsh held the patent on this design. Hundreds of Marsh Arch bridges were built from the 1910s through the 1930s primarily in Iowa and Kansas, but also in a few nearby states. 17 are known to still stand. All of them are in Kansas and only one is not still open to traffic.

This one is still open to traffic, although one way westbound. A new bridge was completed 50 feet away in 1992 to handle modern traffic volumes.

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: The Rainbow Bridge on Route 66 in Kansas

A Marsh Rainbow Arch bridge on Route 66 in Kansas.

Canadian River Bridge

38 spans on Route 66
Canon PowerShot S95

This wonderful bridge is on old Route 66 in Canadian County, Oklahoma. At 3,944.3 feet, its 38 Camelback Pratt pony trusses undulate mesermisingly as you drive through.

This bridge’s future is uncertain. As I wrote here, this 1933 bridge didn’t fare well at its last inspection and officials recommend it be replaced. This isn’t like many other old Route 66 bridges, on some long ago alignment carrying only local traffic. This bridge is still part of the US highway system, carrying US 281 over the South Canadian River. While I stood here to make this photo, many semis whizzed by me.

Options on the table include building a new bridge nearby to carry US 281 and leaving this one in place for Route 66 drivers to continue to enjoy. I hope that option wins.

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: 38 spans on Route 66

This famous Route 66 bridge is endangered.