Route 66: Illinois to California – The Road Trip of a Lifetime! (part one)

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My name is Dave Sullivan, and this story is about the trip of a lifetime I took with my dear wife Mary Jo, traveling Route 66, from Pontiac Illinois to Santa Monica California last October in our 1967 Firebird convertible.  First let me tell you a little about myself and Mary Jo. We live in Pontiac Illinois and are both retired. I grew up in Odell, Illinois and I worked at two separate Route 66 gas stations while in high school in the 1960s. The gas stations were located at the intersections of Rt. 66 and the main street into Odell and there were 3 stations and a restaurant at that location.

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A section of Route 66 Auburn Illinois south of Springfield Illinois on the 1926 Alignment.

Growing up in a small town on Route 66 in the 50 and 60s was the most perfect life a person could imagine. Mary Jo grew up in Pontiac next door where we currently live just 3 blocks for one of the Route 66 alignments and the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. We are 5 blocks from the Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum. I volunteer at both Museums and with the City of Pontiac Tourism Department.

NATIONAL ROUTE 66 MOTOR TOUR – 2016

As the 90th birthday party was being planned across the nation for Historic Route 66 on November 11, 2016 Mary Jo and I had decided that 2016 was the year we would make the trip to Santa Monica and originally, we looked at a September departure. As We were researching the trip Mary Jo found information about a group of old and new cars that had traveled the historic highway together the previous October. I looked over the website that outlined the trip and it was an interesting 16-day plan. I called a couple of the people involved and it seemed to be the perfect plan for Mary Jo and I and our almost 50-year-old Firebird.

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Day One of the trip, at the Route 66 Sign in Pontiac, Illinois.

The motor tour would leave Joliet Illinois October 2, and pass 4 blocks from our home as they headed off to California. There would be a “Meet and Greet” the night before at the hotel in Joliet and then a driver meeting in the morning as the group started the “Motor Tour”. We traveled with some friends from the Chicago area and they were in a new car and the trip was based on 250 – 350 miles of travel each day.

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Many came a day early, exploring Route 66 from Chicago to Joliet.

The trip was headed up by Craig Parish from Michigan and he had identified all the towns for the overnight stays and it was perfect as this was his 3rd year and the plan had most of the bugs worked out. About 35 cars and 60 people started the trip with us and several joined along the way and some did not stay for the entire 2,300 miles. About 35% of the cars were vintage vehicles.

MJ and I had discussed before the trip that our 8-track player and 1970 vintage radio were not very good while traveling with windows down. With no A-C I had considered installing a new XM system with speakers. We chose to listen instead to the purr of that new 400 cubic inch Pontiac motor. Mary Jo would read from the Route 66 book, the Triple A travel book and the awesome map system that was an option to purchase as a trip guide. So on the entire 5,000 plus mile trip we did NOT have the radio on at ALL.

The Hot Dog Statue is in Atlanta, Illinois just south of Bloomington.

 

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The first overnight was scheduled to be in Litchfield, Illinois which is home to the Route 66 Drive in Movie Theatre and a special tour was planned at the new Route 66 Museum & Welcome Center.

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Mary Jo & Marge visit with Susan (middle) from Juno Alaska who was on the trip and became friends with everyone she met. She was a true “Viking” who took over the trip with her vibrant personality & awesome leadership.

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This Ford custom ended up going home early to Texas and being replace with a beautiful first generation 1969 Camaro.

 

As we traveled south out of Litchfield Route 66 passes through Mt. Olive where a historic Shell Gas Station was visited by most the group. Sitting behind my Firebird is a wonderful group of Mustang Owners from far west in Canada. I had so much fun with this group, and they were well organized and had an absolute ball on the trip. I believe they drove over 1,600 miles to arrive at the starting point and arrived 2 days early to tour the Chicagoland area before the trip started. One of the high-performance Mustangs broke down near St. Paul Minnesota on the way to Joliet. The owner arrived with his friends but he was driving a little Ford Focus. After the dealership acquired the parts and repairs were made the Mustang was shipped to New Mexico and was awaiting the owner and his friends for the rest of the trip. At Mt. Olive the Shell station is a wonderful place to visit.

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At the picturesque, Mt. Olive historic Shell Gas Station. Notice the Firebird in its proper place, in front of all the Mustangs!

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As we leave the Shell station we headed around St. Louis as the Chain of Rocks Bridge is not open and we have driven cross it many times over the years. Many of the out of state visitors did go into the downtown area of St. louis and many rode up into the Arch. Mary Jo and I had been up in the Arch before so we kept moving to sites south of St. Louis in Missouri.

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At the Route 66 Visitors Center there is a bridge where the deck has been removed and the use of the structure for a walking & bike path is being planned at the park.

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There are many wonderful sites for photo opportunities. The old Fourway gas station is now a restored café. The giant Rocking chair is very cool.

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At the historic Munger Moss Motel, in Lebanon Missouri, the owners and our guide Craig Parrish sponsored a pizza party on the deck and about 50 tour participants attended and the local car club was invited and welcomed us to town. At most of the classic hotels on the tour there was a negotiated discount price and most everyone on the tour stayed at one or 2 of the pre-selected hotels.

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After the Munger Moss motel we stopped at the Gay Parita Sinclair gas station that is a world-famous station similar to the Odell station and Dwight Ambler-Becker Historic station in Illinois.

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In Kansas, we stopped at one of the famous markets that sits along Route 66.

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Kansas has a very short section of Route 66 but is primarily know for the famous concrete bridge. Along the way people want to get photos of the classic cars.

As we departed Kansas and headed into Commerce Oklahoma there is a historic old drive-in/gas station at the end of the block near where Mickey Mantle grew up. It’s a great town for a visit & ice cream. In the photos below Don & Bruce visit with the shop owner and learn of the history of the little store.

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Brad joined us on the tour in his 1959 Corvette and it was by far the most valuable car on the trip. $$

Overnight # 4 Was in Tulsa Oklahoma and was after a meet and greet with the Claremore Ok Route 66 Car Club. They met us at the Will Rogers Museum and hosted a great show for all the members of the Motor Tour. At Tulsa I had set up a dinner with some friends from Tulsa and Claremore. It was fun to re-connect with them. We had a great dinner and the hotel car show was canceled due to a rainstorm with possible hail. On the entire trip it was the only hotel we stayed at with a parking deck. We all moved our cars to the deck # 4 or 5 and the storm passed with no damage.

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The famous Blue Whale in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

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Oklahoma has some cool places to visit and wonderful history on Route 66.

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After the night in Tulsa it was off to Shamrock Texas.

 

This is the end of Part one of Dave and Mary Jo’s fantastic Road Trip of a Lifetime. We’ll pick up the next section with them in Part two as they travel from Texas to California. Stay tuned!

(Story and pictures by Dave and Mary Jo Sullivan.)

Midwest Firebirds

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