Day 1: May 14, 2005
No Custard



The plan was to meet Pat & Jennifer at The Diner on US-40 around 6:30 AM. It's something like a two hour drive and there's an hour time difference. I figured that if I was on the road by 5:00 my time I'd be in good shape. But the predicted severe weather (T-storms, hail, tornados) threatened to really stretch the drive time so, finding myself awake and more or less ready, I headed west a little ahead of 4:00 AM. Fears about driving conditions seemed to be immediately confirmed by flashing lights near the end of the expressway entrance ramp. A huge wrecker and tilted semi-trailer were in the median. Rain was non-stop and sometimes heavy. There were even a few lightening flashes but no hail. The scariest moment came about halfway to Indianapolis when I saw headlights coming my way. My guess is that the driver became confused in a large orange cone populated construction area and ended up in the wrong lanes. The car made it past me and the three semis behind me and was, I believe, dramatically aware of the error. No harm but that will really get your heart pumping. I reached The Diner around 6:00 and immediately dived into some bacon & eggs. Conversation with the waitress, California transplant Yvonne, helped pass the time until P & J arrived.

The rain was lightening up by the time we hit the road but it was far from gone. I followed Pat as he followed some of the old alignments of the National Road. Occasionally, we popped out of the cars for some pictures but the rain discouraged any extended exploration. The Clabber Girl sign marks the east side of Terre Haute which nearly marks the west edge of Indiana. The row of buildings is in Marshall, IL. It is the same row appearing in George Stewart's 1953 U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States and T & G Vales, U. S. 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America. Frank Brusca provides a great way to compare the 1950's version with his own 1996 version here.

In Vandalia, some sort of festival was in progress but it was well before noon and rain had stopped not all that long ago. Not yet much of a crowd. The young fiddler was part of a group performing bluegrass on the porch (portico?) of the old state capital building. You'll note that she does bring the group's average age down a few years. Stewart & Vale also photographed Vandalia's Madonna of the Trail. Trees were responsible for much of the difference between their two photos. I have even more trees, a lower angle, less skill, and more people. The base of the Madonna was being used as a backdrop for the sale of raffle tickets. Prizes were identified by numbers on the bottom of plastic ducks in the blue pool at her left side. It's for a good cause and she's probably seen worse.

Randy and Melody joined us in Vandalia to make it a three car caravan. The rain was but a memory by the time we reached the Luna Cafe in Mitchell, IL, where we met up with a much larger group. A few were there just for lunch or to say hi but most were joining our little caravan for the drive up Route 66. I've been by Debbie's Custard twice in the past but both were in the early morning and, naturally, the place was closed. No one else in the group was really interested in a visiting Debbie's since they had all been there before and it was about three miles in the wrong direction. Or, maybe they knew something. Agreeing to meet the group in Staunton, I headed solo to the frozen custard stand. No cars, no people, and sure enough, an orange "Closed" sign in the window. It's two o'clock on a Saturday afternoon! It's early spring!! It's 75 degrees!!! The place sells frozen custard!!!! It's closed!?!?!?

I entered Staunton on the wrong Sixty-Six alignment to pass Henry's Rabbit Ranch but eventually got there with help from some residents. I stopped here in the fall of 2003 but the Muppet's Electric Mayhem was parked outside and I spent so much time admiring it and chatting with its owner that I forgot to get even one picture of the ranch itself. Rich and Linda Henry operate the place and have plenty of rabbits around. Some with four feet; Some with four wheels. That's queen of the ranch Montana with Rich.

On the way to Springfield, Kent Sanderson guided us along several older alignments including that fantastic stretch of brick near Auburn. Sure, there are some black clouds and the wind was blowing but it was a dry wind.

Our overnight stop was the Route 66 Hotel & Conference Center in Springfield, IL. This place has really gotten with the Historic 66 program and even offer a $66 rate for groups. Right up the street is the world famous Cozy Dog where we headed for dinner. Kip handled the camera to capture some "I was there" evidence. Back at the motel, I joined the group for a couple of beverages in "Jane's Lounge & Conversation Pit" but finally had to put an end to my long day (by my count, about seventeen hours driving - off and on). Conversation and lounging were both going strong when I left.

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