A Trace Of Times

15 cozy dog overallLinda Burton posting from Springfield, Illinois – It was a time warp. Two just-up cozy dogs and a side of rings sat before me on 50’s-era formica, a squirt of mustard puddled beside them in the cardboard cup. Over by the door two eight-foot cozy dogs complete with hairbow and gloves stood in loving embrace. Over in the corner two cozy customers stood mesmerized by memorabilia plastered floor to ceiling on the restaurant walls. Outside, two cozy dogs atop the sign explained: Cozy Drive In Home of the Famous Hot Dog On A Stick. And beyond that, the highway once known as Route 66 15 cozy dogscarried the midday traffic on what is now Sixth Avenue. Times may change, but the past is safe in here. I swirled my corndog in the mustard, bit off the end, and began to read the back of my newly purchased map. Route 66 runs from the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica, California. Begun in 1926, it was built under several Federal Aid Highway Acts and was one of the largest public works projects to take place in the US. Route 66 helped create a distribution of America’s population from the areas affected most by the great depression to 15 cozy dog drawingnew areas in the west. From 1945-1965 many unique businesses opened along the route to service the increased travel prompted by the post-war economic boom. Restaurants, motels, and novelty shops created miles of neon signs that marked the way of Route 66. “And I’m in one of those restaurants right now,” I thought, as I unfolded the map to read about other spots along the route still there to offer nostalgic travelers a trace of times gone by.

15 route 66 sign 001Route 66 passed through eight states in all, beginning on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago and running completely across Illinois and then Missouri; clipping the corner of Kansas, then heading across Oklahoma. From Oklahoma City I-40 now parallels what was Route 66, all the way across the top of Texas, then New Mexico and Arizona to Barstow, California. I-15 and I-10 now follow the route the last miles to the Pacific. Route 66 passed through two capital cities, I realized, Springfield and Oklahoma City; the map showed a spur north from Albuquerque that took in Santa Fe at one time too.

15 mustang illinois 001The Interstate brought about the demise of Route 66; it was officially removed from the United States Highway System June 27, 1985. Portions of the road have been designated a National Scenic Byway with the name “Historic Route 66” and several states have adopted significant bypassed sections into their state road networks, keeping the legacy of Route 66 alive. On September 25, 2005 Illinois Route 66 was designated as a National Scenic Byway by the US Department of Transportation; there are over 400 miles of road including some of the original 1926 concrete segments. Historically significant structures have been preserved and many authentic businesses remain open; in fact, Illinois claims the highest density of kitschy-fun things to do between here and California. It’s a mecca of the 15 dogs on bike 001past; tourists flock to Illinois from all across America and around the globe, by motorcycle, car, and busload; looking for unforgettable experiences; their satisfaction coming not from big events but the accumulation of small pleasures.

Springfield has always been a significant tourist destination due to the numerous historic sites relating to Abraham Lincoln. Route 66 used to be the primary artery funneling travelers into the city, so naturally a diversity of diners, motels, and gas stations sprung up to serve their needs. Many of these facilities still exist; Springfield is the birthplace of the drive-thru window (Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop), Joe Roger’s Chilli (still spelled with two “l’s), Mel-O-Cream Donuts, the Horseshoe Sandwich, and the corn-dog-on-a-stick, the famous Cozy Dog; a tangible connection to the “Mother Road.” And here I sat!

The restaurant is a shrine to Route 66 and to itself, packed with mementos, clippings, and old signs, as well as Mother Road souvenirs. The famous “corn dog on a stick” was invented 15 old cozyduring World War II by Ed Waldmire when he was in the Air Force stationed in Texas. He fiddled around with various devices until he figured out how to efficiently fry a frankfurter dipped in cornbread batter; some of his earlier inventions are displayed on that corner wall today. He wanted to call his delicacy the Crusty Cur; his wife demurred (Who’d want to eat a crusty cur?) and suggested “Cozy Dog” instead. Officially launched at the Lake Springfield Beach House in 1946, the first Cozy Dog House was located on South Grand; a second at Ash and MacArthur; in 1949 the Drivein was born, built on Route 66.

To be really precise, in 1996 it was moved from next door to where I’m sitting today; but I’m assured that everything inside is original, with Ed’s family continuing to operate the business. 15 coz dog nhsAnd the recipe for the famous Cozy Dog is the same. A fun place, and a designated stop for tourists; the cameras and the gawking went on around me till I finished that last onion ring, now armed with a list of other Springfield sights, such as Bill Shea’s Gas Station Museum.

Just down from Bill Shea’s Museum, which is loaded with gas station and oil company collectibles, is Jungle Jim’s Café, where you can still order Springfield’s famed Horseshoe Sandwich (toast on a platter covered by meat and then cheese). On the north side of town sits the Pioneer Motel; it was built in the 1940s and consists of 12 units arranged in the classic L-shape style. The name has never changed and the classic motel sign tower still greets guests. The Lazy A Motel, built in 1949, was unusual for this part of the country; it was a “mom and pop” motor court with garages between the units and is the last remaining structure of its type on Historic Route 66. It has been converted into apartments, but the original style is maintained and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 15 gemini man 001original Route 66 Drivein Theater has been revamped too, but beginning at dusk in summer months you can still see movies there. Of course the Lincoln Home and Lincoln’s Tomb and the Old State Capitol were on that original route. And every September, Springfield hosts the International Route 66 Festival; hundreds of classic cars from Studebakers to Mustangs to Pintos are parked all over town.

Want more? Want to see an 18-foot fiberglass statue of Muffler Man, the World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle (170-foot water tower), the World’s Largest Covered Wagon, the Polka-Dot Café? Read about Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway @ www.illinoisroute66.org

  • Chicago – Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket Restaurant since 1946
  • Joliet – Rialto Square Theatre, Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center
  • Wilmington – Gemini Giant at Launching Pad Drivein
  • Gardner – Riviera Restaurant since 1927, Street Car Diner
  • O’Dell – Sinclair Station
  • Pontiac – Log Cabin Inn, Route 66 Hall of Fame
  • McLean – Dixie Truckers Home
  • Atlanta – Palm’s Grill Café, Bunyons Statue, Route 66 Park
  • Waggoner – Roadside Shrine “Our Lady of the Highways”
  • Litchfield – Ariston Café, Route 66 Café
  • Mt Olive – Soulsby Station
  • Staunton – Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, Country Classic Cars