Our first photo stop along Route 66 was just south of Chicago in the quaint Midwest town of Pontiac, Illinois. We arrived too late to check out the Route 66 museum there, but the back of the building sported a great mural with a convenient place to park and take a picture.
From Chicago through St. Louis, what's left of Route 66 is now the frontage road along I-55. It veers off here and there to become Main Street of the small towns along its path. We found this completely deserted stretch of the Mother Road south of Bloomington, Illinois.
On the western side of Springfield, Missouri, Route 66 departs I-40 and runs far enough asunder that it becomes more genuine. This is the start of the old Route 66 that the world has bypassed. From this point on, we really experienced the history and people tied to this historic road. Rob and I also saw a fair amount of this: local business that didn't survive the Great Depression or the many other economic crashes since Route 66 officially opened in 1926.
Robert and I kicked back at the Boots Hotel in Carthage, Missouri, one of the best restored hotels from the period along the route. Ron Hart was busy restoring one of the rooms when we arrived, but took the time to show us everything including the rooms that Clark Gable stayed in when he would visit.
We pulled over in Caterville, Missouri, to shoot photos of relics sitting roadside at the Bulger Motor Co. and Auto Body, when owner Mickey Bulger came out to invite us in and show us pieces of history he's been collecting. The business was started by his dad and uncle in 1946.
John Hargrove runs a custom upholstery shop in Arcadia, Oklahoma, but you wouldn't really know it if you stopped in. He was stitching up an interior in a Model A when we visited, but what drew us there was his incredibly ecliptic collection of automotive collectibles strewn throughout his buildings and the surrounding grounds. He gave us a lesson in forming aluminum body panels in front of his B/A '34 Ford that has been converted back to street use.
Not far from Bulgler Motor Co. is the Route 66 drive-in. By far the best restored drive-in we saw during our drive, it had been converted to a junkyard during much of its recent life. It reopened in 1998 as a drive-in and plays movies for tourists and locals alike from spring through fall.
The Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, New Mexico, was our favorite period-correct motel. The current owners moved from Michigan to take the reins of the historic property, bringing their vintage Pontiacs with them. Another great aspect of traveling Route 66 is meeting the people who live there as well as the people traveling. Unlike staying at Holiday Inn Express, no one is there just for a pillow and a shower.
We talked the park ranger at Lake Valley, New Mexico, into letting us stay and shoot just one more photo in front of the abandoned Conoco fuel station on the edge of the ghost town. This town is completely unchanged from when I visited it 25 years ago.
As soon as the sun rose over the mountains in Pahrump, Nevada, the Optima challenge competitors were at the track and in line to get teched. This was the most thorough tech inspection the Chevelle had been through since I started road racing and autocrossing.
It was pretty hard to stay in one place for all of the SEMA Show after driving 3,207 miles to get there. From Facebook posts about the adventure, we had people from as far away as Australia stop by to see the car, and most people who were not familiar with our drive found it hard to believe that this car had just driven so far to get to the show.
Laps on the road course were akin to a fighter pilot trying to keep his plane airborne while still trying to take out a few enemy craft. An inconsistent loss of engine power kept us from pushing the car to its limits. After spending weekends throughout the year beating on the car hard at racetracks, this was not what we expected.