Day 1: Sep. 26, 2003
Mid-Mississippi Left Turn



I surprised myself by reaching the Missouri line without feeling the need to stop for the night. As I bedded down just a few miles from the bridge I figured I might try visiting a nearby Lewis & Clark historical site if I woke up in time. Waking up wasn't a problem but a couple of other things were. The first was the rain that had arrived as I slept. The second was that the site was behind a gate that was locked at night. The building, which houses Lewis & Clark related displays, was not yet open and the closest I got to the actual site was this very wet gate.

I decided that I now had time for breakfast and started searching for a roadside diner. After I had no luck finding a mom & pop sort of place, I settled for this Waffle House that was, at least, on old 66. I've long thought that Waffle House has done a respectable job of packaging the diner feel with gas fired grills visible behind a counter and cooks & servers that even chat with one another.

Here is the morning's main attraction; the Chain of Rocks bridge across the Mississippi. Even with an unhurried breakfast, I arrived well ahead of the official meeting time but at least a dozen cars were already there. That's tour leader Ollie Schwallenstecker's '65 Mustang at the head of the pack that numbered about 100 by the 10 AM departure time. The collection of cars was about as varied as you can get. I parked behind the 2003 Anniversary Edition Corvette of Wes & Dee from Virginia and there were plenty of autos from previous decades and other states. I really enjoyed the lot full of "collector cars" (e.g., Studebaker Grand Tourismo, Continental 4 door convertible) being used for their intended purpose.

The on and off rain was "on" when we started across the classic bridge and I followed a 1955 Chevy over the river. The bridge was built in 1929 and the mid-span bend is due to a problem discovered only after construction was well underway. It was retired in 1967 then reopened for foot & pedal traffic in 1999. I visited the bridge during that first year but, until I reached it, was totally unaware that it was open at all. At that time, it was only open on weekends and closed fairly early. I just managed to walk out on the bridge for a picture before it was locked up for the week.

I knew that the Electric Mayhem would be parked somewhere along the road and, though it wasn't a scheduled stop, just had to pull over when I saw it. That's owner Roger by the bus that appeared in two Muppet movies and the beautiful beach buggy also belongs to him. Roger is a joy to talk with and I really wish I had been able to hang around longer. By failing to keep in close contact with the official tour I was way behind schedule so left before I was ready. The bus was parked at Henry's Rabbit Ranch which is quite interesting in its own right but, in my hurry to get going, I forgot to grab even one picture.

I'm sure that anyone who knows me would be disappointed if I didn't include that famous advertising slogan inspired by this very vehicle: "Two all beef Pattys, special Ross, cheatin' Lester picking bunions, on a Sesame Street bus." Sing along.

After getting lost in Staunton, I regretfully missed the planned stop at Country Classic Cars but did manage a couple of pictures of just a few of the 500+ cars and trucks. If the green & white '53 had the bracket from a missing visor stuck on the roof, it would be a dead ringer for my own very first set of wheels.

I actually caught up with the group at the Mother Jones Monument at the Union Miners Cemetery. There was no rain but the sky was still quite overcast and, along with the unusual collection of vehicles, prompted someone to compare the stop to a funeral from The Godfather. Lunch was at the Ariston in Litchfield where the staff did a great job of dealing with an extra hundred or so diners. Sharing a table with a group that included tour-master Ollie was a treat and enabled me to meet Ariston owner Nick Adam. The restaurant actually predates Route 66 by a couple of years having opened in 1924 at another location and Nick's family has owned the Ariston through all 89 years. I can attest to the quality of the food.

Our table was, voluntarily, the last to be served and, since the remaining distance required little guidance, the rest of the group headed on without us. This resulted in the sky having enough time to clear while we ate. Even more surprising than that was the fact that my roof was actually dry. Together, these events lead to this remarkable photo op. Since it was being lead by the official tour guide, this four car (5/8 Chevrolet) group must now be considered the official caravan and, even though I had frequently been the last car, my normal separation from the lead was tens of cars - not just two. The reward is a picture of the "entire caravan" under a blue sky. That's Ollie chatting with Dee & Linda during our stop at Our Lady of the Highways Shrine. The shrine was established by the Marten family in 1959 and continues to be maintained by them.

Along with that drive over the Chain of Rocks, a visit to Springfield's Cozy Dog was on the list of personal attractions on this trip. On two previous Route 66 drives through Springfield plus a visit to Bloomington Gold during the years it was actually Springfield Gold, I had somehow missed this Route 66 icon. I wasn't about to let this happen this time and today I finally got to sample Ed Waldmir's invention.

The good weather held out until I checked into the hotel but no longer. With the top still down, drops of rain appeared on the windshield just as I pulled into the covered parking area. Predictions were for even worse and both tornadoes and hail were considered possibilities. This bespectacled van was one of several cars to come out despite the predictions but all of the evening's plans were canceled. No parade, no stage performances, and no vendors. I walked around an area that felt a little like a party with no guests. The building in both pictures is the old capitol that was used between 1839 and 1876. In the nighttime shot, there are actually two towers behind it. The furthest is the Hilton with my room about halfway to the top behind the other building.

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