Route 66: Springfield, IL to Chicago, IL

September 13, 2015 Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: ~430

I started a little late today, but I wasn’t too worried since I was so close to the end. I hit the road and made my first stop in Atlanta, Illinois at the Tall Paul statue that used to be located in Cicero at the Bunyons restaurant. These are the kinds of stops I like because they’re so odd. “Hey, here’s a giant man holding an even more giant hotdog… so come visit Route 66.”

I made an unscheduled stop in Dwight, Illinois at a really cool Route 66 information/welcome station. These are some of the best looking old gas pumps I’ve seen on the entire trip.

Another unscheduled stop was in Gardner at an old two cell jailhouse that was built in 1906. I have a hard time believing the exterior walls are original and I’m sure they’ve been replaced. They look in too good of shape to be from 1906. The interior looks as I would expect. You can see the wear and tear of 100 years of time.

Next stop was another “muffler man” – the Gemini Giant in Wilmington. It’s located at the East end of town, but I didn’t know that before I got there. I just kept driving hoping to see it and when I was almost out of town, there it was.

I didn’t stop again until I reached Chicago. I really don’t like big cities, so I didn’t stay there long. I drove until I was close to the Route 66 Begin and End signs, then parked on a nearby street. At $6.50 for a mere hour of time, I found the parking fees a little too outrageous. I only fed in enough quarters to give me time to walk to the streets with the signs, get pictures, and walk back. The “Begin” sign is on Adams St near the corner of Michigan Ave and the “End” sign is one block South on Jackson Blvd, also near the corner of Michigan Ave.

I was going to check out Millennium Park while in Chicago, but didn’t want to waste more money on parking. Parking is just something I have a hard time paying for. Instead, I just headed home to Wisconsin and made it back with enough time left in the day to play a game of cards.

I started Route 66 in California 10 days ago and ended in Chicago today. Granted, I lost two days of travel in the beginning getting the van worked on before the motor blew up, so really it took me eight days to travel the entire 2,448 miles – that’s an average of 306 miles per day. I don’t actually recommend doing it that fast, as I was pretty tired by the end of each day. It was still a fun trip, despite all the bad luck I had on it. I’d like to do it again someday, but in the correct direction (Chicago to Santa Monica). Either way, I can now cross Route 66 off my bucket list.

Route 66: Springfield, MO to Springfield, IL

September 12, 2015 Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 307.8

I’ve been in two Springfields today and I’ve yet to see any of the Simpsons. Granted, I didn’t see much of anything today. The only stop I made in Missouri was in St. Louis at the Arch. I’ve seen the Arch before, but today I went to the top of it. It’s $3 to get in, or free if you have an annual National Park pass (which I do). If you want to ride to the top of the Arch, it’s an additional $7 that the annual pass doesn’t cover. The entire park is currently under construction, which ruined some of the ground-level views, but once the construction is done, the park is supposed to look pretty snazzy.

The “elevator” up to the top of the Arch is quite unique. There are eight little pods (and I do mean LITTLE) that form somewhat of a train that climbs vertically up the Arch. The pods are barely four feet tall and are round-ish, so I had to tilt my head forward the entire ride up to avoid hitting it (a second time) on the wall/ceiling. They cram five people to a pod.

Once at the top, the view is amazing. You can even see some of the construction that’s going on in the park down below.

Seeing the Arch took a couple hours out of the day. The rest of the afternoon was more driving without any stops. The next stop I know I wanna make is 30 or 40 miles North in Atlanta, followed by a stop in Wilmington, and then finally Chicago. Hopefully I can do it all tomorrow and still make it out of Chicago before the traffic gets too crazy.

Route 66: Elk City, OK to Springfield, MO

September 11, 2015 Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 449.4

Today was a long day and my brain was completely shut down by the time it was over. I made a big push to get all the way to Springfield, Missouri today, but I honestly wanted to stop by the time I got to the end of Oklahoma. I only have the rental car for four more days and I don’t want to pay to keep it for any longer than I have to, so I’m trying to make as much mileage as possible each day.

I liked Oklahoma because it had some of the best roadside attractions that I had seen so far. I also liked it because gas was insanely cheap. Most places in Oklahoma (and Texas) had gas for $1.99 and near Oklahoma City I saw one place that was $1.84. Too bad it’s not like that everywhere.

My first stop today was at Pops in Arcadia, just East of Oklahoma City. Pops is a gas station, restaurant, and “soda ranch” all in one. They’re well known for having the most soda flavors available anywhere – over 700 different kinds – and for their iconic, landmark soda bottle that just so happens to be 66 feet tall. I couldn’t help myself from laughing at some of the soda names and I decided to buy a make-it-yourself six pack. I think the Kickapoo Joy Juice has the best name.

Not too far down the road in Arcadia is a rare, round barn that’s been there since 1898. There’s supposedly only 20 or 30 of these barns in existence anywhere.

My highlight of the day was gonna be Tulsa, to visit the Route 66 museum, but as it turns out there isn’t one in Tulsa… yet. Somehow I got confused about its location and it’s actually back in Clinton (about 150 miles in the other direction). I feel like an idiot because I actually saw the sign for the museum in Clinton, but didn’t stop because I wanted to go to the Tulsa one. So, the only thing I stopped at to check out in Tulsa was the Golden Driller statue, which is the fifth largest statue in the US.

My last stop was at the Blue Whale in Catoosa. Next to Pops, this was the coolest stop of the day because of how random it is. It’s free to walk in and there’s a small gift shop at the entrance. The entire whale is a dock that you can walk on (and apparently fish from). You can also climb up inside the whale’s head and look out the port holes. I really enjoyed this stop.

From there I drove to Springfield without stopping and had dinner with a friend. I passed through Kansas on the way, but there’s only 13 miles of Route 66 there and nothing I found worth stopping at.

Route 66: Santa Rosa, NM to Elk City, OK

September 10, 2015 Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 334.2

Today was focused on Texas. I enjoyed the sights in Texas, but I hated how they have the road set up with I-40. Route 66 is basically the frontage road that runs parallel with the Interstate, but the on/off ramps are directly connected to the service road (Route 66). So, while driving along on Route 66 you’ll suddenly see a yield sign when you approach Interstate exits. And you better pay attention, or else you might have a semi barreling down the road directly at you going 65mph. It wasn’t bad when Route 66 follows the service road on the North of I-40, as you can see the West bound traffic coming at you and making the exits, but I really didn’t like when 66 was on the South service road because it was much harder to see if cars were coming at me.

Anywho, my first real stop today was in Adrian, Texas at the MidPoint Cafe. Adrian was the exact halfway point between Chicago and Santa Monica, but I’m sure that it might not be anymore due to how much the route has changed over the years. I bet it’s still close, though. Either way, they have a cool sign letting you know you’re in the middle.

Just down the road from the MidPoint Cafe are the remnants of an old gas station that I thought looked interesting. It would be so incredibly awesome if that coke machine was a functioning one.

About 50 miles East of Adrian is Amarillo, where the famous Cadillac Ranch is located. Some things I learned today about Cadillac Ranch: 1) It’s not actually located on Route 66; it’s a few miles South of it. 2) It’s in the middle of a field (I always thought it was directly next to a road). And 3) There are only 10 cars that make up Cadillac Ranch; I always thought it was a lot more.

It was difficult getting pictures due to how many people were at this stop. Almost everyone there was spray painting the cars to leave their mark. Even as I was taking pictures, some old lady (not joking, she had to be in her 60’s) came up and started spray painting right next to where I was crouched down taking the photo below.

I continued on and stopped again in Groom, which is about 40 miles East of Amarillo. Just past the town area, on the opposite side of the freeway, was the well known “leaning” water tower. As simple as it is, this is one of the coolest looking things of the day.

After 20 more miles East, I stopped in Alanreed at this 1930’s Texaco “66 Super Service Station”. I actually drove by it and had to turn around to get pictures, as it just snuck up on me.

Shortly after that was the town of McLean. I thought this motel sign looked neat.

But this is what I drove around McLean looking for; a restored 1930’s Phillips 66 Station. The road is divided into one-way strips through the town and has a block in between them, sometimes with buildings in the way blocking the view and sometimes not. The Phillips Station was on the West bound side of the road and I couldn’t see it at first going East bound. I made a loop around the town, driving both sides of the road to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I stopped for the night in Elk City about 40 miles after crossing into Oklahoma. I’m hoping to be in Springfield, Missouri by tomorrow, but we’ll see how that goes.

Route 66: Flagstaff, AZ to Santa Rosa, NM

September 9, 2015 Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 438.3

I managed to drive almost twice as far today in the rental car as I normally did in the van. Being able to go more than 65 mph was a big help with that. I’m also loving how cheap it is to fill up the rental car, as it only has a 10 gallon tank and gets 350 miles per tank. By comparison, the van had a 31 gallon tank and maybe got about 240 miles per tank. It’s insane how different those numbers are.

Since I’m on a more limited timeline now, I’m trying to stop less and focus on the places I know I want to see. The first stop today was at the well known Jack Rabbit Trading Post near Joseph City, Arizona.

I pushed on to Holbrook to stop at the Wigwam Motel, which is probably the stop I looked forward to the most in Arizona. I think the rooms are insanely cool and they have an awesome display of old cars around the parking lot. There’s another one back in San Bernardino, California, and I think there is (or was) a third one somewhere else, but the one in Arizona is the one I wanted to see. The others are just imitations.

Most of New Mexico’s Route 66 is basically the “frontage” road that parallels I-40. Not a lot of excitement along the way. There were plenty of cool signs in some of the towns, but the only one I stopped and took a picture of was Grants Cafe in the town of Grants. It’s just a sign in a parking lot; there’s no building associated with it that I could tell.

I got slowed down by traffic going through Albuquerque and then hammered by a hail storm shortly after passing through Moriarty. I had to pull off the highway because it got to the point that it was impossible to even see the road anymore. It reminded me of the white-out rains during summer in Pensacola, except this was hail/rain mixed. Eventually it let up enough that I pushed on to end the day in Santa Rosa, staying at an old school Route 66 motel that has metal keys on plastic tags for the rooms. It’s, like, legit.

Route 66: Kingman, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ

September 8, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: ~200
Engines exploded: 1

Today was interesting. I’ll begin at the end, because that’s how all stories are told, right? No? Well, too bad. Around 1pm I was driving on I-40, as Route 66 in Arizona jumps on and off the Interstate for a good portion of the state. I was about 40 miles past Flagstaff and I hear this clinking sound. I had my music on, so I didn’t even notice it at first, but I did think the van felt a little sluggish getting up to speed. Once I noticed the noise, I paused my music and listened to try to figure out what it was. You see, the van is kinda beat up from when I got it, so there’s some metal around the driver’s wheel well that I thought may be rubbing on the tire or something. It’s done it before and I just hammered it back in place, so that was my first thought as to what was happening. Then I thought, “I hope that’s not a piston misfiring or something”, at which point my engine light started blinking, a loud noise happened, and smoke was everywhere. Luckily I was able to steer the van off the road and it promptly died.

Now, I may have said a couple words of profanity immediately after I got off the road. I got out of the van, opened the hood to a waft of smoke and oil smell, and then looked underneath to see oil spilling everywhere, including a massive trail of oil behind the van where I got off the road. Upon a closer inspection, I saw what appeared to be a complete piston rod sitting on the cross-member and a massive hole blown through the oil pan.

I’m not sure exactly how a piston rod exploded through the motor or what caused it, but I can only imagine the amount of damage that it caused and know that the motor is essentially non-repairable. I have to imagine that the camshaft and/or crankshaft are destroyed and the cylinder that piston rod shot out of probably has gouges torn into the sides. The cost of a new (or used) motor and to pay for someone to install it would be more than the cost of a cheap used car, and probably more than what I paid for the van to begin with, so I decided to abandon it and take whatever little cash a junkyard would give me for it. During the hour I waited for the tow truck to arrive, I started ripping out what I could.

I talked to the junkyard people to make sure they didn’t start “picking” through the van as I went to the nearest rental car place and got a vehicle to come back and load up as much as I could. Anything that was attached to the van I chalked up as a loss and basically grabbed all my personal stuff, which is worth quite a lot. I had almost my entire tool collection in the van (about $2k worth), all my backpacking/camping equipment ($4-5k), my camera gear ($4k), and my laptop ($2k), among other things. I was gonna rip out what I could from the electrical system, but the rental car I got was pretty packed from everything else and it would have been a lot of work to take the electrical system apart, as I built the bed around the bulk components.

Surprisingly, I found the van exploding to be more funny than upsetting. Yes, it sucks I just spent a lot to fix the cooling system, but that’s part of what makes it so funny. If it exploded three or four days ago, I would have saved a lot of money, but of course it had to wait until today to do it. On top of that, just three months ago I bought brand new tires and had the radiator and transmission flushed. Oh, and I got an oil change five days ago. I mean, come on, how funny is that? I have to laugh; there’s just not much else to do about it.

On another plus side, if I build another van, I know what I used and didn’t use in this one that would just be a waste to do again. For example, I pretty much never used the stove, the fridge, the microwave, or the water heater. I enjoyed having running water, electricity, and a large bed. I loved the “cabin” feel inside the van, but I realize that it made the van weight a lot. In fact, the van weighed in at 7,800 lbs on the junkyard scale, and the base weight is only 4,816, so all the stuff I added weighed a ton and a half! Even though I loved the “cabin”, I wouldn’t do it again; that way it would weigh a lot less. Regardless of what I decide to do next, the van was a fun project and I enjoyed building it and learning from it.

Ok, now that the end is covered, lets go back to the beginning, before things went bad. My first stop was at the Hackberry General Store not too far North (66 East) of Kingman. It’s a pretty cool store with a lot of old Route 66 collectibles, old fuel pumps, and old cars on display. I was looking at some Route 66 photos yesterday that were taken in Arizona and wondering where they were taken at specifically, and today I immediately realized it was the Hackberry General Store. Definitely a place worth stopping at.

I kept driving until I saw the Grand Canyon Caverns and the giant metal dinosaurs out front that were one of the things featured on my Arizona Route 66 map. I’m glad I stopped. Other than the metal dinosaurs, they have a bunch of old cars on display and a lot of it is modeled after Radiator Springs from the movie Cars. Coolest thing there is definitely Herbie, the #53 Bug. Makes me wanna watch some of the old Herbie movies.

One of the last things I got to see today was the Twin Arrows Trading Post. It’s no longer functioning and there isn’t even an area you can “legally” stop to see it and get pictures. Something like this is too awesome to not get pictures, so I parked anyway (directly in front of a No Parking sign) and did my best to hurry. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Not too long after that is when I started hearing the clinking sound and the van engine exploded.

All things considered, today was still a pretty good day. Sure, the van exploded, but I got to see some cool stuff. I was hoping to make it to New Mexico today, but oh well. A huge chunk of Route 66 is on I-40 for a lot of Arizona, so I don’t think it’ll take that long to get there. I only rented a car for the next seven days, so I may have to be picky about where I stop and how often if I want to make it to Wisconsin within that timeframe. I already have a feeling I’m gonna extend the rental by a couple days.

For sure I wanna stop at the WigWam Motel in Holbrook, AZ; Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX; the midpoint sign in Adrian, TX; the Route 66 Museum in Tulsa, OK; the Golden Driller of Tulsa; the Blue Whale of Catoosa, OK; Pops in Arcadia, OK (largest soda selection anywhere); Springfield, MO to see someone awesome; St. Louis, MO for the Arch; the Gemini Giant Muffler Man in Wilmington, IL; and Tall Paul, the Muffler man in Atlanta, IL. Other than that, I’m just gonna stop when I can.

Hoover Dam, Nevada

September 7, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 231.6

Today I made a little side adventure back to Vegas, but only because that’s the closest Midas and the work I got done the other day on the van is all under warranty there. I’m glad I made the trip because the leak I saw yesterday was because they didn’t tighten a hose completely. It sucked that Vegas was the closest Midas, but at the same time it was cool because I stopped by the Hoover Dam on the way.

I’ve been to Vegas a few times now and had never made the short trip over to the dam before. It’s quite massive (that’s what she said).

I’m back in Kingman, Arizona again tonight so I can head back out onto Route 66 tomorrow where I left off yesterday. To make it a little easier, I backtracked through town a little tonight so I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning, as there was a short section of 66 that I skipped and was gonna do later… and now later has arrived. I really like the Mr. Magoo thing.

Route 66: Barstow, CA to Kingman, AZ

September 6, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 242.3

So, I didn’t drive yesterday. I took the van to a shop and had them check things out. I was right, the thermostat was shot. On top of that, the water pump was leaking and so was the intake gasket. The leaks are obviously why the coolant was low, and it’s probably because the coolant was low that the thermostat became damaged. While they were fixing things, they said my ignition coil was also damaged, which wasn’t honestly a surprise to me. I had them fix everything. I spent more money in one day getting everything fixed than I spent for the first two months of traveling. Frankly, I wasn’t happy about it, but I have a long drive to make and don’t want to get stranded.

Today began perfectly; I wish I could say it ended that way. The drive East from Barstow was my ideal Route 66 experience – simple road, vast landscapes, and almost no traffic. In fact, I only saw four cars in the first three hours of driving today. It was beautiful. It wasn’t until I reached Amboy (about two-thirds of the way through California) that traffic started to pick up, but even then it was only a handful of cars at a time.

Due to a road closure, I missed a pretty large chunk of the Route today not too long after Amboy. I didn’t get to drive through the towns of Chambless, Summit, Danby, or Essex and instead had to take I-40. I think I missed 20 or 30 miles of the road because of that closure.

The weirdest part of today was driving through Oatman, Arizona, as the streets were completely filled with people and donkeys. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. There were jackasses everywhere – some on four legs and some on two. There were too many people there and I didn’t wanna stop. I took a picture, but it was almost out of town and most of the people had cleared away.

The first section of Route 66 in Arizona wasn’t the most fun to drive. It’s apparently the original Route and wasn’t used after the 50s; lots of sharp curves, narrow road, and slow going. It was nice scenery, though.

It was close to 50 miles before I reached Kingman and stopped for gas, at which point I noticed coolant below the engine. I stopped a few times during the day and hadn’t noticed anything prior to that. After spending so much money yesterday getting it “fixed”, I’m not that happy today to see another possible problem. I’m pretty concerned because of how rusty/murky the coolant looks, especially since it’s only a day old. It’s too dark now to get a good look, but I’m gonna check the oil in the morning to see if it looks like there’s any coolant mixing in there and vice versa. I swear if I have a blown head gasket, I’m just gonna set the van on fire. Things are not going my way.

Route 66: Santa Monica, CA to Barstow, CA

September 4, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 196.4

Today was the first day of driving Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago (yes, I’m doing it “backwards”). I’ll warn you now: all the pictures from today are pretty crappy. Today was mostly driving through the really congested areas of California and the majority of it doesn’t even have the old-timey look or feel that I think is worth stopping for. I think I spent more time hitting the brakes than the gas pedal; it was constant stop and go. My mileage is the equivalent of three and a half hours of driving, but it took me nine hours to travel it.

In case you’re not aware, Route 66 cannot be traveled as a continuous road anymore. It’s been a mostly defunct road since the 60’s and officially decommissioned in 1984 after the town of Williams, Arizona lost a final legal battle. All that remains are a few segments of the original highway pieced together by access roads, local highways, and parts of the Interstate. Traveling the road can be quite tricky and confusing and that’s why awhile back I bought a set of maps created by Jerry McClanahan and Jim Ross. There’s a map for each of the eight states Route 66 goes through and each map has (simplified) driving directions for both Westbound and Eastbound travelers. I also bought the EZ66 Guide by Jerry McClanahan, which has more detailed directions, as well as attractions and historic details. For the most part, I’m just using the maps because I like that they simplify the directions. If you ever drive Route 66, I’d definitely recommend buying yourself at least the set of maps, as they are amazing.

I started this morning by driving the 34 miles from where I was to get down to Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica where Route 66 ends. Since I was on Santa Monica peer just a few days ago and got a picture of the sign indicating Route 66’s end, I didn’t walk back out there this morning. I “cheated” and began driving where Ocean Ave and Santa Monica Blvd meet.

Not too long after getting on Santa Monica Blvd, I saw a Route 66 Museum so I thought I’d stop and check it out. However, it was just after 9am and it appeared to be closed. I didn’t see a sign stating the hours, so I took a couple pics from outside and got back on the road.

I followed the map, sticking to Santa Monica Blvd and driving through West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and shortly thereafter turning onto Sunset Blvd until I reached the Pasadena Freeway (110) which I took North to Pasadena. It was 10:40 by the time I got to Pasadena and finally I saw a Historic Route 66 sign. Of course, I had to take a picture because it was the first one I’d seen so far.

There’s a section of Route 66 after Pasadena that follows Foothill Blvd. Eventually Foothill changes names and the map says to take a left on Citrus, then a right back onto Foothill, drive a short ways, then turn right and head back to the exact same road you started on. I did not do that. Looking at an actual map, I noticed Foothill simply became Route 66 and so I just stayed on that road. The road itself had Route 66 painted on it and there were signs in the median saying it was Route 66, so I don’t feel like I missed anything. This was also the first area I started noticing business with the Route 66 logo, which was pretty cool.

Around 11:30 I noticed the van’s temperature gauge fluctuating, which it has never done before and it only went up when I stopped. Now, normally I’m not in city traffic playing red light, green light for four hours so my first thought was that the van was just not used to the stop and go driving and wasn’t getting enough air flow, but I decided to stop at the nearest Autozone and let the engine cool so I could check the antifreeze level just in case. I let it cool for an hour and a half before opening the radiator. The coolant definitely looked low, so I bought some more and filled it up, hoping that was all that was wrong. However, the gauge was still fluctuating after that and I’m a little worried that I might need to have the thermostat replaced. Since the temperature gauge hasn’t gone above 220 yet, I’m not completely worried; I just kept an eye on it all day.

I stopped and got a picture of the highway after leaving San Bernardino and traffic cleared up.

I arrived in Victorville at 3:48pm and made my way to the Route 66 Museum that’s on the road out of town. I didn’t get to the museum until just after 4pm and apparently they close at 4, so this was the second museum of the day that I didn’t actually get to go inside. I got pictures from the outside, though.

After Victorville, the road becomes the National Old Trails Rd and goes through Oro Grande, Helendale, and Barstow. I got to Barstow around 5pm and walked around the Main St area to get pictures, as it was the first town that seemed to have historic buildings. In the EZ66 Guide, it talks about how the El Rancho was built from salvaged railroad ties.

At the El Rancho Motel, there was also this Route 66 display. Check out the different state signs along the top. Does it bother anyone else that Kansas and Missouri are in the wrong order? It should be Illinois, Missouri, then Kansas; not Kansas then Missouri.

I’m camping out in Barstow tonight and should easily make it into Arizona tomorrow, but I’m debating on stopping at a car shop along the way to see if they agree that my thermostat might be bad. I really don’t want the van to get worse and overheat in the middle of nowhere, especially if I can prevent it from happening now.