This day was a real treat indeed. Markus and I were stoked to see Bob Waldmire’s bus and van at the IL Route 66 Association Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac. We explored Route 66 as far as Mount Olive, IL, before booking a motel in St. Louis, MO.
Bob Waldmire and the Wild Buses
In case you have never heard of Bob Waldmire (1945-2009), you really should. He was a remarkable man who lived a life of genuine freedom and creativity. Bob was an American artist and cartographer known for his whimsical, unique and amazingly detailed drawings and maps celebrating Route 66. He lived the life of a nomad and toured the USA inside an old school bus that also served as his home and Route 66 information center. Perhaps that in and of itself is quite remarkable, but the way he lived and how he lived is even more so. In every sense of the word, Bob Waldmire was an American original.
Waldmire’s famous school bus is unlike any other vehicle I have ever seen. Like Bob, it is a true original and one cannot help to be in awe of his trippy, artistic and idiosyncratic life style. The interior of the bus is a marvel, one that could only take shape from the soul of free spirited American artist who lived life on his own terms and bucked the system. He drew deep inspiration from Route 66 and his art manifested a fun and almost child like innocence. There is nothing at all malevolent or depressing about the art and the bus and van he left behind. I find his story and life far more inspiring and enviable than people who are filthy rich. Oh yes, one more thing, the bus still has the lingering odour of marijuana.
The following video takes you inside Bob’s school bus. It is incredible to think everything he needed for his lifestyle resided in this one of a kind mobile home.
Waldmire was a man who lived life on his own terms. He had true integrity and was never a sell out to popular fashion or tastes. In other words, he was not for sale to big corporations. From wikipedia:
One of Waldmire’s modified vehicles, an orange 1972 Volkswagen Microbus, was the inspiration for the character “Fillmore” from the 2006 animated motion picture Cars. Pixar abandoned a proposal to name the character “Waldmire” as Bob was unwilling to sell marketing rights to Disney for a series of toys which would appear in McDonalds Happy Meals.
I also have to give a nod to the wonderful volunteers who help out at the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum. They are good people who are gracious, helpful and knowledgeable. Southern Illinois has some of the best people on earth and it is inspiring to see them preserving their folklore and history. The museum relies entirely on voluntary donations and as far as I can tell, the patrons have been relatively generous (myself included).
Swinging Bridges and Lunch in Pontiac
After the museum, Markus and I took time to visit the Pontiac Swinging Bridges and grab lunch at Bernardi’s Restaurant. I had an excellent Reuben sandwich that I washed down with a pint of Sam Adams Boston Lager and some iced tea.
Bunyon Giant aka Cicero’s Hot Dog Giant
Next stop was Atlanta, IL, home of another “muffler man”, the Bunyon Giant aka Cicero’s Hot Dog Giant. This roadside statue was originally situated at “Bunyon’s” a hot dog establishment located near Chicago that was in business for over 40 years until owner, Hamlet A. Stephens, closed the restaurant in 2002. In 2003, the statue was loaned to the quaint little town of Atlanta as a way to promote and celebrate Route 66.
Too bad there was no hot dog vendor nearby, the effect of this roadside attraction led to some food cravings. At our next stop in Springfield, there are corn dogs for sale at the legendary Cozy Dog Drive In, unfortunately, time was not on our side.
A Random Discovery of Vintage Stock Cars
As Markus and I made our way towards Springfield, we did our best to avoid the interstate and stay on old Route 66. It may have cost us time, but the rewards of a more relaxed road paid off. Along the way, somewhere near Chenoa, we stumbled upon a roadside collection of vintage cars, which were used in stock car races. It made for some interesting photos and some of these cars would seem right at home in a Mad Max movie. I did a bit of research and most likely, these cars once raced at the nearby Fairbury Speedway.
Shea’s Gas Musuem, a Route 66 Icon
We arrived in Springfield around 5 pm and paid a brief visit Shea’s Gas Museum. For years, I wanted to visit this quintessential Route 66 roadside attraction, unfortunately the owner, Bill Shea, had passed away in 2013 and the property was closed. Today, the property is fenced off and its future uncertain. The museum contains an eclectic mix of vintage gas station memorabilia collected over the last fifty years including the original gas pumps, wooden phone booths, signs, photos, and other mementos reminiscent of old Route 66 service stations. I had to settle for a few photos taken with smaller lenses poked through the fence links. I really hope the city of Springfield takes measures to ensure that this property is preserved as is and reopens for business.
Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb
In addition to being the capital of Illinois, Springfield is also the home of Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery. We agreed it was worth a stop to see the final resting place of this great President, who also happens to be one of my heroes. The tomb was closed to visitors when we arrived, but that made little difference to me. It was quite humbling and special to stand so close to the final resting place of arguably the greatest American President.
A long standing visitor tradition is to kiss the nose Lincoln’s bust. Apparently it is supposed to bring good luck to the superstitious and others do it, well, because everyone else does it. I have too much respect for Lincoln to engage in this low brow tradition. However, it does leave a nice sheen on his nose and makes for a good photo!
Markus suggested we stop in Litchfield to grab dinner at the iconic Ariston Cafe. It was only 45 miles away, so off we went.
Finding a Dinner Spot in Litchfield
The Ariston Café was built in 1935 and although the architecture of the building is utilitarian and does not reflect any particular style, it is noted for being the longest-operating restaurant along the entire stretch of U.S. Route 66. The Ariston Cafe was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on May 5, 2006.
Unfortunately, the Ariston is closed on Mondays, so we had to look elsewhere to eat. Markus and I found an out of the way “Ma and Pa” restaurant, the “Route 66 Cafe” where we had a few brews and some down home cooking. This place was so much better than the fast food chains we had to suffer the previous two nights.
Last Photos Of The Day
A fitting end to the day was Soulsby’s Service Station in Mt Olive, Il. It was already nighttime and the station was lit by a single street light. Behind it, a dark blue sky and a crescent moon peering through the trees. Markus and I grabbed our cameras and tripods and set about to make some long exposure photos, which produced very distinct, but somewhat eerie images.
The Soulsby Service station was the longest operating service station along Route 66. Originally built in 1926 by Henry Soulsby. After World War II, the station was owned and operated by Henry’s son, Russell. The station pumped gas until 1991 and was closed in 1993. Renovations went underway and today it operates as a museum and roadside attraction.