|Get your hits on Route 66
Baseball road trip from St. Louis to Chicago is laced with history of the Mother Road
|Published: Mar/Apr 2002
By Deborah Reinhardt
Tie an American flag to your convertibles antennae, grab the leather glove and a few old Beach Boys tapes, then hit the Mother Road for an all-American adventure.
St. Louis and Route 66
Whether motorists start or end in St. Louis, Route 66 sites in the city will tempt taste buds and stir memories.
Since 1929, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (6726 Chippewa) has served delicious concrete shakes (vanilla custard thickly blended with fruits and candies) to people from around the world.
Although the Route 66 Brewery isnt located on the historic highway, the microbrewery in St. Louis Union Station is decorated with original route pictures, maps and postcards. Try one of the brewerys hand-crafted beers made on site, such as Lake Shore Light Ale or River City Red Ale. Theres also root beer for folks with non-alcoholic taste.
Now that taste buds are satisfied, its time to find Route 66 history. Traveling west on Interstate 44 from downtown, take Interstate 270 north to the Dougherty Ferry exit. The Museum of Transportation (3015 Barrett Station Road) boasts almost 300 vehicles in its collection of trains, planes and automobiles, trolleys, boats, and tractors.
Check out singer Bobby Darins 1964 dream of a car that contains diamond dust in the apple-red paint. The Route 66 exhibit, with a rebuilt portion of the locally well known Coral Court Motel, features photos and text covering the impact of the car culture on America.
For more route history, drive west on I-44 from the museum to Route 66 State Park in Eureka. The 409-acre park opened in 1999 where the town of Times Beach once stood. Wiped out by the interstate in the 1970s, flood and toxic dioxin contamination in the 1980s, Times Beach gave itself back to nature.
Trails and picnic sites are there, but the main attraction is interpretation of Route 66 at the visitor center, housed in the Bridgehead Inn (a 1930s restaurant). Photographs and memorabilia tell the routes history in Missouri. A great gift shop allows visitors to take part of the lore home. Future plans for the park include additional trails, shelters, and a boat ramp with access to the Meramec River, and a vintage-styled café. An improved picnic site and pavilion should be completed sometime this year, said park superintendent Diane Warhover.
The park will host an Old Tyme Picnic from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 20. Music, childrens games, food and vintage cars will be featured.
Crossing the river
Route 66 followsand sometimes joinsInterstate 55 as it crosses the Mississippi River from St. Louis into Illinois. About 30 minutes from downtown St. Louis, travelers can stop in Litchfield, Ill., for two great diner experiences.
A long-time fixture on Route 66, the Ariston Diner serves lunch and dinner, but is best known for homemade pies. Should you reach Litchfield prior to the lunch hour, dont despair. Next door is Jubelts Bakery and Restaurant. Try the biscuits and gravy. Sour cream donuts are great when paired with hot coffee.
Shea, 82, has one of the most complete gas station memorabilia collections along the route. Since 1955, Sheas Finest Truck Covers has been at 2075 Peoria Road (Route 66 inside Springfield).
His collection of gas station equipment has earned him a spot in the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame. Visitors come from as far away as Australia to view the old pumps, trinkets, caps, photos, and rare oil cans. Outside, see a rebuilt Philips 66 gas station Shea and his son salvaged and filled with more memorabilia.
He has no idea how many pieces are in the collection, but I know if somethings been moved, he says with his famous grin. When asked where the stuff came from, his eyes twinkle and Shea says, Im not at liberty to say. Actually, most of it I stole.
For Shea, its the best semi-retirement anyone could have. For his wife, it keeps the stuff out of their house.
Ive enjoyed every minute of it, he said. When I come in each morning, it makes my eyes light up.
Sheas told his children they may sell the collection after his death, but he hopes they wont do it.
For one reason, I dont think Ill ever die, Shea says with a wink and a smile.
In addition to automotive nostalgia, Springfield serves up another slice of Americanathis one dipped in a different kind of grease.
Cozy Dog Drive In, 2935 S. Sixth St., has been a route favorite since the late 1950s. Ed Waldmire created his delicacya hot dog dipped in his special batter and fried goldenin 1945.
Not much has changed in 50 years. Mauve and turquoise booths welcome diners who munch on a cozy dog, fries with vinegar or ketchup. Rock music blares from the kitchen as teen-aged cooks dish up the fast food fare.
Springfield hosts the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, Sept. 2729. The event will feature car and motorcycle club exhibits, entertainment, childrens activities, food and more. For more details, call 1-866-RTE-66IL (866-783-6645) or click on www.route66fest.com.
Its a great day; lets play two
After a wonderful nights rest in Springfield at the Inn at 835 and delicious breakfast, the next stop was McLean, Ill., home of the Dixie Truck Stop and its Route 66 Hall of Fame. Shea, Waldmire and others important to the routes story were part of the display. The exhibit lined both walls that lead to the restrooms, but its worth a stop.
On Nov. 11, 1926 in Chicago, the ribbon was cut to open this fabled highway. Fourteen years earlier, the Chicago Cubs won the 1908 World Seriesthey havent won the series since. The friendly rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinalslike Route 66will never go away.
On this July afternoon, Chicago fans were sitting pretty. Their first-place Cubs were beating up on the Cardinals. Still, an afternoon at Wrigley Fieldeven if your favorite team losesis a great place to be.
Folks from Chicago and St. Louis meet at the Cubby Bear Lounge or Sports Corner on West Addison. Bernies Tavern and Sluggers World Class Sports Bar are on North Clark. The neighborhood atmosphere in Wrigleyville cant be topped.
For folks driving up to the game, leave the car at your hotel and take CTAs Red Line L train to Wrigley. The train stops at Addison Street, next to the park. Youll avoid parking fees of up to $40.
Cub great Ernie Banks, who made the phrase Its a great day. Lets play two famous knew his business. Baseball in St. Louis is also special.
Friends often meet for a game at the feet of Stan, a statue of Cardinal legend Stan Musial thats in front of Busch Stadium. Other places for socializing before or after the game include the St. Louis Marriott Pavillion, across from the stadium on Broadway; Paddy Os bar south of the stadium on Seventh; BBs Jazz Blues and Soups on Broadway; Shannons Restaurant located downtown across the street from Kiener Plaza. After the game, sportscaster and former Cardinal player Mike Shannon often pays a visit, and hosts sports radio talk shows from the restaurant.
To fully appreciate what baseball means to St. Louis, visit the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum, across the street from the ballpark on Stadium Plaza Drive. Among many treasures, see the 1982 World Series trophythen dream about the promise of a new season.
Also see: Cards/Cubs rivalry always delights