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Route 66 by Motorcycle - This is a must if you plan to go on a bike.
Since then, I've seen some reruns on local channels and Nick at Night, and thought about how "Route 66" was never on Route 66. How odd, I thought, to name a program after a road and yet never be on it. But the more I have learned, the more I realise the series was not about the road Route 66, but the spirit of that road, the spirit of adventure and the love of the open road to somewhere new.
Many Route 66 books I've read have stories about people who grew up on Route 66, so it holds a special meaning to them.
I grew up on Route 66. Not by living next to it, even though it originally passed through Edwardsville, roughly 7 miles from my home in South Roxana, and ByPass 66 went through Mitchell and across Chain of Rocks Bridge, about 5 miles south of me. At that time, Route 66 was running the newer 4 lane alignment where I-55 is located now, so it was farther away.
I mean I grew up on it. We drove Route 66 to California and Disneyland, as so many others did. But by that time, my grandparents had moved into Missouri and the trip there every few months was on Route 66 across the Chain of Rocks Bridge, through its toll gate, and around St. Louis, down Lindberg to Crestwood and out across the hills of Missouri. The three lane highway in Pacific was notorious for its automotive carnage and most cringed each time a car would make a pass. Some divided sections were out of sight from the other direction, beyond the trees and hills, leaving you feeling like this road truly took you in one direction only.
As the interstate came, we each watched the huge earthmovers lumber across the hills, providing the daydream material for adventure, wondering where that new and yet uncharted highway would lead us.
So even while we now strive to travel Route 66, remember that the spirit that was part of those travelers was striving to travel other roads. Traveling Route 66 is not about driving a road. There are plenty of pieces of pavement to drive that are much better. It is about following a dream, a sense of adventure. Do not set out on this journey with a map and a timeclock to record your progress, because driving Route 66 is about going back in time, about finding a simpler way of life, and about finding the adventure that can be a part of finding a giant puzzle of broken sections of the road that has become known to many as "the Mother Road".
Many places are marked with Historic Route 66 signs today, but often these are not in areas you really need them. Anyone can follow the open road, but in town where the route twists and turns through city streets, you often can get lost. Either have some route instructions along, some books with maps of 66, some old highway maps, or just adjust to the situation and "read" the road as best you can, finding your way in the process. You may get lost, you may make wrong turns, but enjoy that as part of the adventure, and see what you can find.
To you, this is an adventure. To people who live along the way, it is their home, and often nothing any more special than that. Remember that there is no magic about Route 66 that will protect you in bad areas, make the weather sunny and beautiful, or make everyone want to pour out their life stories to you. The trip will be what you make it, but don't go blindly along wearing rose colored glasses. If you would worry about being mugged in some areas of the country, then those same types of areas along Route 66 offer the same threat. If you would be worried about traveling alone or at night in some areas of the country, then you should worry about those same type of areas on Route 66.
Route 66 starts in Chicago, on a street that is now one way the wrong way. So you can be true to the route, and cause a lot of trouble, or you can fake it by being close and being a block over. Personally, I'd go for causing trouble, as Route 66 was about being free, traveling, and being different from all those you passed by its route.
Chicago has good and bad sections. The part going through Cicero and other areas are best taken in midday with traffic. Of course, too much traffic and you could find yourself trapped. Always leave half a car length or more in front of you when stopping in case you need to drive away from the area. Night is not a good time, both from the viewpoint of the residents of some areas and streets and from being able to spot pot holes and other bad sections of road. As you get close to I-55, the road is in very bad shape near the quarry.
Sections of the old four lane near Pontiac, IL have been repaved on one set of lanes only and the other section has been disrupted at intersections, so that there is a paved, maintained two lane road again. The other lanes are still intact except at intersections and blocked to travel.
At Springfield, just past the southbound weigh station, an exit takes you along Route 66 through the heart of town and out the south side. You will pass the Illinois State Fairgrounds on the north side of Springfield, the home of the Springfield Mile for dirt track racing fans. Springfield is the home of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the US. His only home that he owned is located here, as well as his tomb. His home in New Salem is preserved today as a park that lets you step back into history.
From Springfield down to almost Hamel, there are several routes. The oldest travels far from I-55 to the west, and is basically marked as ILL 4 today. It is very old two lane and takes you to some interesting towns such as Beneld, where the Colliseum Ballroom is located. Many do not realize this is the original Route 66.
The 4 lane route, which is the Route 66 most people today remember, is mainly frontage road down to Hamel. Just north of Litchfield you can get off before the weigh station and follow old 4 lane Route 66. Sections of the old four lane near Litchfield, IL have also been converted to two lane operation, this time the south bound lanes. At Hamel, the first of several choices begin. Around St. Louis, there were Route 66, Business Route 66, Bypass Route 66, and Alternate Route 66.
If you take the exit just before Hamel, you can get on the west side frontage road, which goes past the church so many include in their books, and follow that through Hamel and down to Edwardsville. Just Prior to I-270, Bypass Route 66 follows the northside frontage road to Mitchell, where it goes to the south side frontage road at the railroad tracks. It is a little confusing as you must jump on I-270 to cross the tracks, but the whole journey is a puzzle of finding the past. The south side road takes you to the Chain of Rocks Bridge (closed) to cross the Mississippi River. You have to take 270 across, but you can still walk out and see the bridge, which had a kink in the center.
One alignment of Route 66 jumped south at Mitchell at the railroad tracks and today's ILL 203. You can follow 203 south to the Veterans Bridge (toll). This is a trip best in the mid day and watchful of rough roads. The toll bridge is in very bad shape. Once across into St. Louis, you need to find your way south to Gravois, which is the most easily done by following I-70 East (south at that point) past the Gateway Arch.
If you decide to not follow the exit at Hamel, follow I-55 down to Troy. You will find a place to pick up Route 40 - 66, although not marked. Remember that this is a discovery and you have to "read" into the roads you find whether or not you are right. Route 40-66 was four lane undivided so it stands out. It will take you right past Cahokia Mounds State Park, one of the largest Indian burial sites in the US.
Eventually, you will end up in East St. Louis. since I can't remember what is open as far as bridges, if you do not make it here in mid day and reasonably brave, I'd suggest getting back on I-55/70 before I-64 as the downtown area is rather rough.
Alternate Route 66 turns south from the first Missouri exit on I-270, actually it turned from the Chain of Rocks Bridge) along Riverside down to the Halls Ferry circle.
If you followed the newer route or the I-55 route, take I-55/70 across Poplar Street Bridge and follow I-55 south to Gravois and follow it out to Crestwood. I recommend a good St. Louis street map, such as the backside of a good state map. The path of Route 66 is fairly obvious as it zig-zags to Crestwood. Ted Drew's Frozen Custard is an old landmark, usually noted in almost every book ever written about Route 66.
Evidentually, any route you take gets you to the Crestwood area. Lindbergh and Watson Road were the intersection where they all came together. Watson Road west then takes you into the mess of I-44 and I-270. This area is a mess since a total reconstruction of the road system to I-44. Best bet is follow I-44 out to Eureka, where Six Flags Over Mid America is, get on the south side frontage road and follow it to Pacific. The old road is pretty obvious at this point. Before Eureka, you will drop down a hill with a sweeping right had turn. You are approaching Times Beach on the Meramec River, a modern day ghost town. In the '70s, dioxins were mixed in road oil to pave the streets and have resulted in a huge federal mess ever since, which involved evacuating the town and restricting it from the public. You can still see the old restaurant and bridge at the river that was Route 66.
There is one exception to the above paragraph. The original alignment, as best can be determined, followed what is now Manchester Road or Hwy. 100 west through Ballwin, Ellisville, and on out to Gray Summit. This is a real time machine once you get past the suburban sprawl of West County. Some rerouting of Hwy. 100 has left finding the old road hard, but if you can find it, you'll love being on a Route 66 few know exist.
From the Six Flags exit, you find Route 66 on the south side of I-44. Interesting part of this section is that it was a three lane highway. The center lane was used only for passing, which made for some spectacular car wrecks. They later remarked it as four lane, although the width was not increased and made driving hazardous. There are some very old sections in Pacific a few blocks over, although I am not sure of the slignment or years. There are a couple of old bridges dated in the '20 on the west side of town that you will see on the left.
Follow this through to Gray Summit. While you are still on the south side of I-44, you will come to a restaurant called the Diamonds. This well-knownstop for Route 66 travelers is not in its original location, having moved to take advantage of the better access. Originally, it was overlooking a large valley which I-44 now cuts across. The four-lane Route 66 left the old Diamonds restaurant sitting, as the restaurant was right in the roadway, practically. If you continue to follow the old route pass the Diamonds, you will cross back to the north side of I-44 and on to the old restaurant site.
Continuing past the old Diamonds restaurant site, now a truck stop, you will begin a slow descent to the river and cross to where Route 50 and Route 66 originally divided. Route 50 still exists and goes north toward Washington, so don't fall under the spell of the old road appearance into thinking that is old Route 66. Route 66 was covered at this point by its own four-lane version and continues more southwesternly. Sections of the old Route 66 and frontage roads covering the original road have gained some help in Historic Route 66 signs to point the way. From Gray Summit to Cuba, Historic Route 66 signs are up, with ones occasionally telling where to turn to follow the route.
Reaching Sullivan, you will no doubt notice the signs to Meramec Caverns. These signs once covered the sides and roofs of barns in many directions and hundreds of miles from here, however, most have faded away into relics of the past. The caverns are still here, the famed hideaway of Jesse James and his gang. These are a must-see item on your list of things to do. If you enjoy camping, the Meramec State Park campgrounds are close by and provide a relaxing time in the river for canoe trips and swimming.
Meramec Caverns are not the only ones, as when you get to Leasburg, you will find Onadoga Cave. It is also worth the trip.
The Wagon Wheel Motel and Restaurant was originally in Cuba and then moved east to be located between Cuba and Leasburg between the east and west bound lanes. It has relocated into Cuba on the original and eastbound lanes, roughly a half mile east of Hwy. 19. The former buildings between the lanes still stands and houses a winery. There is also an exit off of I-44 now at the old location. The newest location is cashing in on the Route 66 fad, with a big sign welcoming all Route 66 tours and travelers.
Devil's elbow is still there, with the bends in the road.
The road going into Springfield drops south and goes into the center of town, unlike the interstate. A good city map helps. Signs are also up west of Springfield along the old route heading to Carthage. Some have been up since '91, far pre-dating the signs in many locations. Just west of Springfield, you will find that a highway leads off slightly north of I-44, headed almost due west. If you haven't eaten, you have a chance to find something. The road is marked by the Missouri Historical Society as Historic 66 and leads into Joplin.
Joplin is another city that you will need the old maps. There are several routes that Route 66 took, depending on Alternate, Bypass, City, or Truck. Most of these were only a few blocks from each other, as I found when trying to locate it without an old map. From Joplin, you travel into Kansas, for a short stretch through the corner into Baxter Springs. This section was one of the first to be paved a places as you approach Baxter Springs, KS, you will find signs indicating the original route, so finding it is easy, but the road is in terrible condition in many spots so driving it is not as easy.
Almost any good state map of Oklahoma will show enough of Route 66 for you to find it easily.
Two points that will cause some trouble will be Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The problems are typical of all cities in that roads change, new roads are added, and belt highways slice across roads that formerly had direct access. Inside the city, the streets all look the same, rarely having "the Look" of an old US highway route.
The cure, of course, is to have a '60s or early '70s map that shows some detail of these cities and a newer map. Always plan to stop just before reaching the city to plan the route in your head so you are anticipating what to look for, instead of trying to read the map as you go along.
Tulsa is really devoted to Route 66. SW Boulevard and 11th Street are the Old Route. You will find lots of stuff, some of it's modern 'nostalgia', but a LOT of Route 66 stuff.
Oklahoma City wasn't well marked in '91. The bike was great because I could just stop anywhere and look, without getting out, to see things like old signs, covered RR tracks, etc. that were tell-tale of the old route. I found "the look" of the old road in three places, but since I forgot my old Oklahoma map, it wasn't until I got home I found there were three routes, a business route, the regular route, and a "truck?" route, all about 5 blocks apart.
Unfortunately, I-40 buries much of the newer route going in so you can't find much of the old pavement. Of course, each little town along the way still has its downtown section so you can get off and wander around. Some unfortunately do not have exits at both ends so you have to backtrack to get on and off the interstate.
Equally unfortunate is that I came into Amarillo about 11 at night, since I felt I wasn't making good enough time on my trip and decided to push into the night longer. Sad mistake, looking back now. I wish I had been following the original route out of Oklahoma City and spent the night in one of the old Mom and Pop motor courts along the way.
Learn from my mistakes.
Cadillac Ranch is outside of Amarillo. That is the famous (or infamous) place where some guy stuck a dozen Cadillacs nose first into the sand as art. It is supposedly the inspiration to Bruce Springstein's song.
Also, I was wearing the rear tire out faster than planned. The coarser pavement wore the tire more than the pavements in Florida and I had planned that the tire would be almost bald in LA, where I would replace it. Normally, the 2000 miles would have been a good estimate, but instead, I found myself looking more for a tire in Amarillo than for the old highway.
I bought a new rear tire in Flagstaff at the Honda dealer in July '91. I was impressed by the helpfulness of the employees but the manager needs to be fired. I recommend not even stopping here if you can help it.
This section has many steep hills so be sure of your speed and brakes. Following this will eventually take you to Kingman. Kingman is pretty well documented in most books so you can read them to find out about Andy Devine's home.
Thanks for visiting.
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