Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac IL. – City to rural area

  • Post last modified:June 8, 2020

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Here we go! Today, let’s go from Chicago to Pontiac IL on the first day on Historic Route 66. (Again, my trip, not yours. You may want to go further or stop sooner.) While there is a lot to see in Chicago, that isn’t the purpose of this trip. Need to get on The Mother Road and head to Pontiac and eventually toward Santa Monica! Of course, a picture stop takes priority over all else. After leaving the hotel, drove about 6 – 7 blocks to the start of the Mother Road. And it cost me $12 parking just to get this picture! I found a link to a detailed explanation of Route 66 “start changes” over the years. Interestingly, I parked near the “L” (Chicago’s “elevated subway”) and have a picture of that also. (Post rewritten in May 2020.)

Day 1 - Chicago to Pontiac IL
OK, let’s begin the trip!

Chicago to Pontiac

The wind blew and the temperature plunged in Chicago. But, the “Windy City” lived up to it’s name! Someone also named it the City with Big Shoulders!  But, let’s not concern ourselves with Chicago, I’m on the road again! From Adams Street, looped around to Lou Mitchell’s about 7 – 8 blocks from the start. The Mother Road starts on Adams Street and the restaurant is on Jackson St (both one way streets). Lou Mitchells iconic restaurant maintains it’s considerable presence on Route 66. Actually, the restaurants pre-dates Route 66 by three years!

When Route 66 started, Jackson had two way traffic and originally it started at Michigan Avenue. Later they moved the start back to Lake Shore Drive and then made Adams and Jackson one way streets. But, there are signs saying Route 66 ends on Jackson Street at Michigan Avenue. Likely, for historical purposes, Route 66 historians consider Michigan Avenue as the end. After 2400 + miles, what’s another block! So, let’s continue on Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac IL.

Lou Mitchell’s

Lou Mitchells Chicago
Lou Mitchells on Route 66

Route 66 then becomes Ogden Avenue (after leaving Adams Street) for about 10 miles through some economically troubled areas of Chicago. The now defunct Castle Car Wash consists of very unique castle-like architecture. Entering Cicero and then Berwyn, the economic climate begins to improve. Much of the drive was still business/industrial until more residential in the southwest corner of Berwyn. Took additional pictures but too numerous to post on here. I didn’t post my picture of Henry’s Drive In, but it still serves people in Cicero. A giant hot dog adorns the outside on the sign. And the sign says “It’s a meal in itself!” Just one of many “giants” to come.

Berwyn also hosts a former Route 66 museum. Currently, a gift shop occupies the space with museum pieces in storage, in hopes of reopening the museum. The drive became more suburban and Route 66 was largely replaced by I-55. Had to drive a few miles on the “big ugly road”.

Joliet Jake

Day 1 - Chicago to Pontiac IL
The old Joliet Prison

Off the Interstate again and came into Joliet. Now, we find outer suburbs with some small lakes and rivers. Decided to take a side trip to see the Old Joliet Prison. It’s where “Joliet Jake” from the Blues Brothers got his name as he was just released from there as the movie began. Jake would be happy to know that the prison closed in 2002. The Elwood Blues character draws his name from nearby Elwood IL. Joliet also houses the new Illinois Rock & Roll Museum. It’s scheduled to open in 2020 so I couldn’t have seen it. The historic Rialto Theatre still provides entertainment in the form of concerts, plays, and stand up comedy.

Near Joliet, Route 66 went through one of the dozens of re-routings of original Route 66 that happened in so many places, this one through Plainfield. Interestingly, a short stretch of road around Plainfield (less than 10 miles) received the designation as Route 66 AND the Lincoln Highway! (The Lincoln Highway, mentioned in the beginning post, became the first federal highway back in 1912.) Really, the two highways crossed here, but ran together for a short distance. A historic sign marks the temporary merging of the two famous highways. The original Dairy Queen location became an insurance company office so not much to see but stop if you must!

Lyons IL – from Chicago to Pontiac

Chicago to Pontiac
Hofmann Tower in Lyons IL

The Hofmann Tower stands in Lyons IL, next up as I continue on Route 66. The Tower, built in 1908, currently comes under city ownership. Anyone want to buy it and live there? According to research, it’s just been used as part of the park. Of course, it looks like a castle for some rich people to live with their servants! And soon after Lyons, original Route 66 disappears so it’s on the Interstate for a few miles.

McCook IL is next to Lyons and has a sign that says “Welcome to Fabulous McCook” which looks like the famous Las Vegas sign. A historic Steak ‘N Egger restaurant occupies a prominent location as well.

Chicago to Pontiac Giants

Gemini Giant
Gemini Giant in Wilmington IL

The Gemini Giant standing by the Launching Pad restaurant in Wilmington joins the giant hot dog sign on Henry’s Drive In as a Route 66 giant in this area. The Gemini Giant becomes the easternmost of the “Muffler Men” statues on Route 66. Are only Americans fascinated with giant “everything”? I think human nature finds giant images (or larger than life images) interesting (or fascinating or odd or….). Certainly, giant sizes (of many things) appear many places in my travels. Back to Route 66, look for the restored Sinclair Dino at G&D tires nearby.

Also in Wilmington, is a car dealership that’s called Classics to Klunkers, capitalizing on Route 66 location. Route 66 signs and various pictures and old license plates adorn the building. And, continuing on Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac….

Braidwood & Gardner IL – Chicago to Pontiac

Day 1 - Chicago to Pontiac IL
Old two cell jail – Gardner IL

Here’s an old two cell jail in Gardner. Next door to the jail is a restored street car. We are clearly in rural areas here. Starting to see John Deere tractors! The towns are small and the land is flat as you enter Braidwood. In addition, The Polka Dot Drive In with it’s ’50’s decor “awaits your viewing and eating pleasure” should you be so inclined. Braidwood also offers a restored 1939 gas station and the Braidwood Motel from the hey-day of Route 66.

Dwight IL

Dwight Illinois restores Texaco station
Restored Texaco Station

And, here’s a completely restored Texaco station. It’s on the National Registry of Historic Places. Again, to show that I’m The Driveby Tourist, I positioned the car so I didn’t have to get out! Of course, not able to visit the inside (due to the holiday) disappointed me.

Old Route 66 Family Restaurant

Chicago to Pontiac
Old Route 66 Family Restaurant

Across the main road (from the restored Texaco station) was the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant. Had a meatloaf dinner with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. And I had carrot cake for dessert so I could have more vegetables!  More than I could eat and it was only $12. Prices sure beat Chicago!

Further along the route in Odell IL is a beautifully restored Standard Oil station. Again, closed for the holiday, but the pictures are great! Beyond Odell is an abandoned section of Route 66’s two additional lanes from back in the day when there were many four lane sections.

In this area, you can also view a restored “Meramec Caverns” sign on an abandoned barn. At one time, there were more of these painted barns. The other one is near Stanton MO, near where the Meramec Caverns are located. Legend says the Jesse James gang used the caverns as a hideout. Very little history supports that. Side note: Deciding on pictures to post was very difficult. I took so many….

Pontiac IL – End of day

Chicago to Pontiac
Famous mural painted by Route 66 artist

This is part of a mural in Pontiac IL where I’m spending the night. I used a photo-processing setting to give it the rounded look on the bottom to emphasize the panoramic view. While this is where Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac IL ends, continue to read. You’ll find suggestions for attractions I didn’t see.

Artist Living Quarters
Route 66 artist bus

Somebody really got “creative” with this school bus! He made a lot of customization that most people wouldn’t think of doing. Artist Bob Waldmire bought this 1966 retired school bus (and a link to Bob’s story). He did most of the work himself and referred to it as his “road yacht”! Actually, he lived in the bus for a time. He used it until near his death from cancer in 2009. Inside the museum, his beloved VW micro-bus serves as a centerpiece of the displays. The museum conducts tours of the bus upon staff availability during May through September. Call ahead for an appointment.

Chicago to Pontiac and I’m here!

So, Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac comes to an end. I’m thinking about a theme for my trip. When my wife and I went to Boston and Maine in 2016, we had “On the Road Again” as our theme. I was going to use “I did it My Way” for the Great River Road trip in 2017 but didn’t for some reason. Maybe I’ll use that one. See what happens by end of trip.

Trying to keep the cost down by staying in hotels that aren’t “quite” as high end as the Wyndham Grand in Chicago. I bought some air freshener and I’m sure I’ll use it. The room here looks good and clean, just an odor handled by the air freshener. It’s a Super 8. If I check-in at 8 PM and out at 8 AM, I really don’t need much. Everyone’s travel needs differ so take your pick. All the way from high-end hotels to camping along the way. (If you stay in some of the smaller towns, which I suggest, there aren’t as many options.)

Other places to see – Chicago to Pontiac

When you go…

Of course, taking the time to see every place on the route occupies too much time. Unless you allocate “months” to make the trip! I missed these, partly a choice. Of course, it was Easter Sunday and early in the season. So, many were closed. (There are others to see as well. So many books about Route 66…) If you do as I did, and Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac is what you do, here (below) are additional places to see on this section of Route 66. In future posts, I’ll continue to list places recommended by my research sources, but that I didn’t see for one reason or another.

Chicago / Berwyn / Cicero / Joliet / Willowbrook / Elwood

  1. Lulu’s Hot Dogs – At Taylor Street – good review but I only eat so often!
  2. Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket – Willowbrook – Often featuring live music and continues to provide great food as it has for years.
  3. Montana Charlie’s Little America Flea Market also in Willowbrook opens weekends from April through October (but not on Easter Sunday!)
  4. White Fence Farms not only offers food but also antique cars and machinery as well as rides and games. (Again, not open and I regret missing it.)
  5. McCook-Hodgkins Quarry right on Route 66 provides another attraction, should you be interested.
  6. Route 66 era Manor Motel in Plainfield at Exit 248 on I-55. It’s likely just an old motel but some might want to see it.
  7. Kicks on 66 Park in Joliet. The “Blues Brothers” dance atop Rich and Creamy.
  8. The Joliet Museum contains a Route 66 Welcome Center and gift shop. Jerry McClanahan’s Mural of Route 66 hangs from the wall.
  9. The Milano Bakery still serves baked goods with posted hours from 5:30 AM until 1 PM.
  10. Blues Brothers Car in Elwood right on the Route.

Wilmington / Braidwood / Gardner /
Dwight / Odell / Pontiac

  1. A former Army Ammunition Plant still stands but now provides a home to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington
  2. “Route 66” Mural in Wilmington is definitely a place I should have seen.
  3. Memorial to Christian Christiansen who helped derail the Nazi’s use of heavy water for their atomic bomb effort in World War II in Gardner.
  4. Dwight also has a downtown depot museum and other attractions. Lions Lake Park provides a walking/running track and various park activities.
  5. Arrow-Strufe Motel in Dwight. No longer operating as a motel. It became a small apartment complex in recent years.
  6. Odell Subway Tunnel in Odell. Actually, it’s a pedestrian underpass because Route 66 was so busy.
  7. Route 4 Marker Bridge in Pontiac.
  8. Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum. This was also closed and I didn’t take the time the following morning as I saw two other museums. I regret missing this one as well.
  9. Historic Swinging Walking Bridge in Pontiac.
  10. Route 66 Gas Pump Tree in Pontiac. An old fashioned gas pump carved from a tree. It’s on private property. You are welcome to visit and take pictures, but please don’t bother the residents.

That’s it for now, take the rest of the day off!

Or, you can jump ahead to Day 2 here. If you want to take another look at the cornerstone post, here’s a link as well. And, that’s it for Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac IL.

Oh, one more thing before I leave you for the day. I found the following on the internet in an article about Route 66 from Post Magazine: “Life on the open road might not be the experi­ence it was 70 years ago but the 50s were also a time of cheesy bad taste. Kicks on Route 66? Kitsch on Route 66, more like.”

Also in the article: “As Scottish comedian Billy Connolly put it, while filming a television docu­mentary, “There’s a tackiness about Route 66 that out-tacks any tackiness I ever saw anywhere.”” While taken as a whole, I don’t agree, but there are certainly plenty of kitschy attractions on the road. But, lots of history, beauty and reminders of despair as well. It’s America, it’s history, it’s legendary.

“On the Road Again” by Canned Heat

You know the first time I traveled
Out in the rain and snow
In the rain and snow
You know the first time I traveled
Out in the rain and snow
In the rain and snow
I didn’t have no payroll
Not even no place to go

Written by: Floyd Jones & Alan Wilson
Except for the title, not a typical song for a road trip. But had to talk about the road and wanted a tip of the hat to Willie Nelson. Couldn’t use his to kickoff this trip as I’ve called it Rock and Roll! And actually Canned Heat was more blues than rock and roll. But, that’s it for Day 1 – Chicago to Pontiac.

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  1. Stan Wiebe

    Trying to post as a visitor

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    trial post

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