Oct 20

Historic Route 66 Small Towns … and more!

Leaving the Trailer behind at the RV Park, we spent a day driving through several small towns west of Joliet, traveling on Route 66 whenever possible and stopping at the sites that interested us. We were headed to Pontiac, Illinois (we didn’t realize there was another Pontiac other than in Michigan!) and the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum but there were several places to see along the way. Launching Pad

In the 1950’s and 60’s giant Muffler Man figures were used to advertise muffler shops and were a common sight on American Highways.  The town of Wilmington is known for the Gemini Giant. This particular figure has been personalized as an astronaut and is standing in front of the Launching Pad Drive-in Restaurant!  Great Photo Op and, since Priscilla had no idea who/what the Muffler Man was, we had to check it out!  (Remember, she came to the States in 1973!) Ambler Texaco

Our next stop was the small town of Dwight where we spent time browsing through the Ambler-Becker Texaco Station,  a 1930’s era gas station that also acts as the visitor center. This station is the longest operating gas station along Route 66, pumping gas for 66 continuous years until 1999, and is definitely worth a visit.  Bill was fascinated with the old tools — some of which he recognized as ones his Dad had used years ago!  True to the 1940’s, the inside has a potbelly stove, crates of tiny bottles of Coca-Cola, old 7 Up bottles and other nostalgic items.  He also found a Chilton manual opened to the repair page of a 1963 Plymouth – a car Bill had once owned!  What a coincidence!

While we were there we signed the Visitors Book and saw that the Australian family we had met outside the Prison in Joliet had been there a few hours before us.  We also learned that a Chinese couple were bicycling the entire Route 66, biking 70 miles a day!  Wow!  What a story they’ll have to tell when they get home!  This is definitely something to be done when you’re young … definitely not at our age!

The small town of Dwight has a charming downtown area, including a bank designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and a striking Romanesque railroad depot.  Thankfully, these buildings are being preserved for us to enjoy today.

Farm EquipmentThere is so much to learn about this country when you travel the back roads and can take in the landscape.  Neither one of us was aware that Illinois was such a huge producer of corn.  The farmland we saw as we drove across the state was more like what we had expected in Kansas. Mile after mile we passed by fields growing corn for cattle feed, stretching as far as the eye could see!  We passed one field where a giant green combine harvester was at work and, since Bill is fascinated with how things work, we turned around, drove down a side road and watched as this huge machine systematically harvested row after row of corn.  We wondered how it works.   For those with an inquisitive mind like Bill check out the link  – it’s fascinating!  Simply put, the machine is programmed (emphasis on programmed!) to cut the rows of corn, remove the kernels from the stalks and cobs, automatically place them in a large container, grind up the rest of the plant to a fine pulp and shoot it out the back!  In no time at all row after row of corn disappeared – with one man, a big machine with a fancy computer (picture a 747 cockpit!) and a built in GPS navigator doing the work!  Think back to the days before combine harvesters when corn was hand-picked and taken from the field to the barn to be shucked and stored!  The combine harvester is definitely a “modern marvel”!   We learned later that the state of Illinois grows 12 million acres of corn a year.

By the time we got to the outskirts of Pontiac we were ready for some lunch and made a point to stop at the Old Log Cabin Restaurant.  where we received a friendly welcome and a simple but good meal.  The restaurant has been in business since 1926 and had been built to attract Route 66 travelers.  According to the website,In later years, Route 66 was made four lanes and relocated to the west side of the Log Cabin.  The building was lifted up and turned around literally by horse power to face the new road.  It was such an extraordinary event that hundreds from town came to watch.”  No way were the owners going to lose their business due to the change of Route 66, a fate suffered by so many other business owners!

P1080061 Pontiac, Illinois,

Pontiac claims to be “A Small Town with Something for Everyone!” and we agree that they fulfill this promise! We arrived with the intention of touring the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum and the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum then take a walk around the downtown and see what else came along.  We never plan too much ahead of time because usually something totally unexpected happens and we get sidetracked!  There was plenty of parking across from the Visitor Center located in the same building as the Hall of Fame Museum.  When we walked in, we were asked if we would mind having our photo taken for the newspaper, the Daily Leader!   We felt just like celebrities!!

The Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum was established in 2004 and is housed in a historic firehouse.  Frankly, we found it a little overpowering!  Every State along Route 66 is featured and the displays tell the story of people and places that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Maybe it’s due to our age, but it all seemed to run together after a while! We did enjoy the excellent display of pictures by Michael Campanelli entitled “Route 66 – A photo Journal”.

As you know by now, if there is an automobile museum anywhere, Bill will find it!  Fortunately, the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum (video) was on the main square and easy to find.  To make it simple for visitors to find their way to the various attractions, the city has painted footsteps on the sidewalks! P1080051

The museum was opened in 2011 and before the opening Old Cars Weekly website had this to say: The Pontiac museum is the brainchild of car collectors Tim and Penny Dye, who will be moving their 18 Pontiacs, a rare buggy and various memorabilia from Oklahoma to Pontiac. Dye has more than 10,000 Pontiac-related manuals, advertising items and magazines.Camping Pontiac Planned displays include a rare 1931 Oakland Sport Coupe, a Pontiac horse-drawn buggy and a 1964 Parisienne Safari, along with vintage oil cans and a related collection of antique printing presses and printing materials. These items primarily come from the Dyes’ collection.

Although the collection is small, it contains some beautifully restored antique cars, and the volunteers who manage the museum enjoy sharing their knowledge of the exhibit with visitors.   This exhibit is not just for Pontiac lovers … anyone who is looking for a little nostalgia and appreciates cars of days gone by will enjoy a visit.  Bill was particularly interested since he had worked for Pontiac for a short time after graduating from High School in Michigan. P1080032

Pontiac, Illinois is a friendly, scenic small town that encourages visitors to walk around and enjoy the collection of 20 outdoor murals and attractive architecture.  At center stage is the Livingston County Courthouse built in 1875, featuring a statue of Abraham Lincoln who visited Pontiac many times between 1810 and 1860.  By no means did we see everything Pontiac has to offer but that is not what our journey is about.  We are not crossing things off a list!   We are looking to savor the diversity of the country by pacing ourselves as we explore the small towns along the way and, at the end of the day, returning to our cozy home on wheels for a relaxing evening.  So far we seem to be accomplishing that!

We couldn’t leave Illinois without a stop in Springfield … the Land of Lincoln … and we are looking forward to another inspiring history lesson! Click for


Joliet to Pontiac

Pontiac City

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1 comment

  1. Mike

    You’re really getting out there and seeing some interesting places. It’s funny to hear Bill’s voice when he talks about cars…mesmerized like a true car enthusiast!

    Have fun!

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