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Liz Hartley

4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

The Illinois Roadside Experience: Making Rubbings

Neither Wind, Nor Rain, Nor 90-degree Temperatures…

One of the most delightful things we did in Illinois as we traversed Route 66 was to seek out the Wayside Markers and the Experience Hubs. They provide a lot of information about a particular spot on the Route–such as a long time business, like Henry’s Rabbit Ranch–or a particular town, such as Lincoln or Joliet. Finding them is like being on a scavenger hunt. But it’s a bonus when the maker or hub have a plate inset in them especially for visitors to make their own rubbings.

I knew about these in advance, so I came prepared with sheets of paper and a graphite crayon. I developed a technique that almost embossed the design on the paper, so that the rubbing came out pretty clearly. They were fun to find and fun to do.

It rained. I got out and did the rubbing. The wind kicked up. I got out and did the rubbing. The temperature soared. And yessiree Bob, I got out and did the rubbing. Altogether, I think I did ten or eleven. I only include a sample here. They will be some of the most treasured souvenirs I take home from the Route.


2 In Liz Travels: Route 66

In the Land of Giant Muffler Men

The Muffler Men

The heyday of Route 66 came after World War II, when Americans, with cars in their garages, were looking for somewhere to go. With so many mobile customers, small businesses all along the Route tried to find ways to attract their attention and get them to stop–hopefully to spend money once they’d parked. One way to do that was to plant a giant in front of their business.

So-called “muffler men” became these advertising icons. Originally designed for a muffler company, the hands of the fiberglass giants are one hand held palm up, the other palm down, the better to showcase the mufflers.

…and more

But these giants were pressed into service to hold other items, like hot dogs or rocket ships. The hands might not exactly fit, but no one seemed to notice. Other businesses began to use their own giants based on the muffler men, but not made by the same company. Carl the Giant, for example, in Normal, IL, with his jaunty cap and welcoming smile, encourages everyone to stop for ice cream, because, as the marquee at the roadside says, “Life is better with sprinkles.”

Lincoln (Of course. We’re still in Illinois.)

The Railsplitter at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, is meant to be a very skinny Abe Lincoln (unlike the very buff muffler men), and he welcomes visitor to the beautiful fairgrounds.

For reasons only known to the designer, a more mature Lincoln has been drafted to helm “the world’s largest covered wagon” in Lincoln, IL.

And one woman

We’ve only found one female giant, that one at the Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Staunton, IL. She’s been dressed up with a blue skirt, and a Route 66 apron, but I suspect she may have started life as a car hop. (Anyone remember those?)

We’ve had fun tracking them down. And there are a few more left to find. I’ll post them here, when we find them.


P.S. Kat and Tish encounter a muffler man and his smaller, but no less impressive cousins, in Wilmington. Kat is enchanted by them. Tish is simply amused. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, see Chapter 25 of The Illinois Caper at The Route 66 Steal.

4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Summer Vacation

Dash and I just had a visit from the fairies–fireflies flashing in the shrubbery behind our evening rental. She’d never seen them, and I hadn’t seen them since I was a kid. It was a special gift on this special trip. Something I didn’t know I’d wanted.

Fireflies were magic we could, sometimes, if we were lucky, catch, watching them flash in the cupped cave of our hands. Summers and summer vacations were also magic, sometimes, when we were kids. Just the word “vacation” was special.

Yet I haven’t had a “vacation” in years. I’ve been on trips to other countries, of course, but I never thought of them as vacations. They’re journeys, almost as exhausting as the work or every day life they are meant to provide respite from.

Vacations, on the other hand, are filled with the days you sit by a lake or river and empty your mind of everything while your hook causes amusement in the fish below the waterline. Or even sit in your own back yard and read a book while hotdogs cook on the grill and while maybe someone more energetic bats a volleyball over a crooked net. Or you climb a large boulder surrounded by the scent of hot pine resin and feel you’re seeing the world in a way no one ever has before. Or walk down an empty country road with the heat a physical weight on your shoulders and the smell of new leaves and growth filling the air.

Or sit in the dusk and watch fireflies. Especially if you do it with a friend who has never seen them before.

Vacations are slow. There is time to talk. To think. To savor. To play. To make memories not just take pictures.

We have run into a heat wave that we didn’t expect. It is forcing us to eliminate things like visits to Civil War battlefields that we’d planned simply because we were here and we “should” see them. It’s forcing us to slow down, take time. Watch fireflies rather than fall into bed exhausted.


P.S. As vacations–and summer–are the time to read, this is a reminder to newsletter subscribers that now Chapter 12 of The Illinois Caper is available at The Route 66 Steal. Not a newsletter subscriber, but would like to read the first book in my new series? Simply fill out the pop up form that slides in from the right and you’ll receive a password when you subscription is confirmed. You can always unsubscribe.

0 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Note to confused blog readers…

Gabriel Millos via WikiCommons

My apologies…

…to readers who have been trying to follow my adventures on Route 66 who have complained that they don’t get images when they open their email.

Some email programs will not give you images in your email subscriptions unless you opt in for each email. Every program is different.

But what you can do is, when you get your email notification of a new post, click the link to That will take you directly to my website and you can see all the images.

If you do this on your phone, swipe the image left or right to see additional images. If you do this on a laptop, desk top, or tablet, you’ll see arrows on either margin of the image that will let you access additional images.

I hope this helps solve solve the mystery of the missing images.



4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

You Know You’re in Illinois when…

… you find yourself sleeping and canoodling with Lincoln.

It’s called the Land of Lincoln for a reason. There isn’t a town that doesn’t claim some connection with Abraham Lincoln as a youth, a circuit rider, a candidate or as president. (Even Oregonians can, apparently, claim him. The guide at Lincoln’s tomb told us that Lincoln had worked on soon-to-be-president Zachary Taylor ‘s campaign so diligently, that he offered Lincoln the governorship of the Oregon territory.) As a result, images of Lincoln and stories about Lincoln are just about everywhere. From places you’d expect them, like his tomb in Springfield, to places you wouldn’t, like, well, just about everywhere else.

A small sample…

You should be able to swipe the images above to see what comes next, or find a small arrow in the right and left margins of the picture above to see others. This is only a fraction of the plaques, pictures, bronzes, and associated Lincolniana that we’ve seen. You could spend a week seeing it all.

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

Oh. My. Goodness. This is an impressive facility with a remarkable use of technology to enchant and teach. The combined use of audio and visual techniques to present the turbulent years of Lincoln’s presidency are used to breathtaking effectiveness.

There is a room with one wall covered with images of people who played a part in the Civil War. Using a touch screen, you can learn who they are and what role they had. Another section is set up as the cabinet room during the discussion of when to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln is surrounded by his cabinet and the life-sized figures, in active poses around the table, the cluttered room, make you feel like you’ve walked into a tense and turbulent conversation.

A series of rooms lined with pretty vicious political cartoons, in in ever more distorted frames, creates the feeling of the kinds of nasty distortions of fact, and the personal assaults on politicians and their families that have become so much a part of political life. Voices surround you with more nasty comments.

But it’s the jaw-dropping presentation by a “historian,” who explains the importance and value of a presidential archive such as this, that will leave you mesmerized. The museum has pulled out all the technological stops on this one. It was the fitting cap to our stop in Springfield.


P.S. For newsletter subscribers, a reminder that Chapter 7 of The Illinois Caper, first book in the Route 66 Steal series, is now online.

5 In Liz Travels: Route 66

We Have Seen the Elephant… (edited)

And it is in Lexington, Illinois

Sharp-eyed Dash spotted this glorious piece of community-built folk art as we rolled by it in the rain. So cool we made a U-turn down the road about a half mile, came back, and took pics in the rain. There was no information on why it was there, or how it was built, but if you enlarge the images, you’ll see names and messages written on the individual pieces of recycled metal.

And look at the sheer number of pieces of scrap metal in this creature. Chains, hubcaps, pipes, and other bits of unidentifiable plumbing. I could have spent a half hour looking at this, but it was very wet, and we had an appointment down the road.

Please enjoy.


Correction: When I first posted this, I assumed, from the comments written on the elephant and the names, that this was a community project. I’ve since had a moment to do some research, and I was wrong. This was made by metal scrap hauler Kasey Wells, from Lexington, to promote his write-in campaign for president. You can see the story here at the Chicago Tribune. Obviously the elephant is outliving his ill-fated campaign. Thanks, Kasey! This elephant is literally a traffic stopper for travelers on Route 66.

7 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Fast Food Monday

Eating on the Road

We didn’t plan it this way. Really. But one of the things travelers on Route 66 think about is, well, the food. There are a number of quick bite options that the road is famous for. I think we hit most of them today.


First, was Henry’s Drive In in Cicero (Al Capone’s old town.) know for it’s hot dogs and fries–“It’s a meal in itself.” The lady behind the counter knew immediately that we were taste-testing Route 66, probably because we split one dog at 10:30 in the morning. But we had to try it, right? There’s a reason it’s lasted so long. Good dog, with onion, pickle, and mustard. Great, fresh, hot fries.


Not long after, we hit the White Castle, in Berwyn, once famous for it’s silver dollar-sized (when the US still used silver dollars) hamburgers. Essentially, they were making sliders before the world had discovered sliders. So of course, White Castle now calls it’s burgers sliders. We had the 1921 slider. It was great to stop at the first White Castle, one of the first if not the first chain fast food restaurants. But if you have to chose between Henry’s and White Castle, choose Henry’s.

Fried Chicken…

We absolutely had to stop at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket in for fried chicken. There is a darn good reason that this restaurant has survived, despite being passed over by the freeway, and darn hard to get to. This is fine fried chicken. And the fries (yes, more fries) were excellent. By now, we were waddling. But we had to try…

Soft-Serve Ice Cream…

In Joliet, Rich & Creamy soft-serve ice cream is what’s on offer under a roof graced by the Blues Brothers. And do these people know their transient audience. In addition to a long list of confections, they offer “baby” cones: $.80 cents for a few bites so you can say you tried it. They must know that you’ve already eaten at every eatery on the Route.

Any one for dinner?

You have got to be kidding. An early night, a cup of tea, and we are done for the day.


12 In Liz Travels: Route 66

It Has Begun!

Begin at the beginning…

Today Dash and I actually took the first steps on Route 66. And we started, as of course we must, with breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, a classic diner on Jackson. It was packed and with good reason: Great food. And we got free donut holes. I haven’t had donut holes in…well, a really, really long time. They were scrumptious. I would have been happy to have just a box of those for breakfast.

You can’t drive Route 66 and not stop at the “begin” sign. So we drove down to Michigan Blvd, parked only slightly illegally, dashed to the sign, got a kind Chicagoan to take out picture, and dashed back to the car before we were ticketed. As you can see from the picture, some people can’t help but leave a “sign” of their own that they have been on the Route.

The next destination, for two admirers of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, was the Wright home and studio in Oak Park. But of course, we first had to get lost.

Lost under the CTA

You see it in every movie filmed in Chicago, practically: the car chase under the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) “el”–the elevated train. We got ourselves trapped under the “el” on Lake Street. If you’ve seen those movies, I’m here to tell you the rattling and banging of the “el” overhead is actually louder, and the space under the “el” is narrower. Thank goodness we weren’t being chased. And thank goodness we weren’t driving the 1956 Buick convertible that stars in The Route 66 Steal.

By time we got out from under the track we were utterly confused, but somehow mostly on the right track. With only a few more wrong turns–and only a few expletives for the dispassionate electronic phone voice that wouldn’t talk to us when we needed her, we got there in time to take a walk around the neighborhood and see a bunch of Wright-designed houses. I’ve only included one here–no need to torture you.


I haven’t spent a lot of time in Chicago before, so have been awed and delighted by the vast variety of neighborhoods, and the dramatic way the city can change from block to block. I visited Chicago Costume, in the Lincoln Park area, as research for The Illinois Caper, and passed through a tunnel of old trees in front of old shoulder-to-shoulder homes of stone and brick, some of which were almost gothic. Then, cross a street, and it was all slick brick-fronted and boring buildings.

When planning this trip, Dash found us an Air B&B in the Pilsen neighborhood, an area once populated by my genetic “peeps”–Bohemians. (Those from Bohemia, not those who like to live a madcap lifestyle, though I guess I fall into both categories.) Over time, it shifted to a more diverse, though largely Latino population. The walls are covered with murals, and there are a bunch of restaurants within walking distance. We tried La Luna, and had great fish tacos. Pilsen is a neighborhood that has seen some hard days, but is now filling with carefully updated and cared for homes.

Returning downtown from Oak park, we avoided the “el” by taking Chicago Ave. A great choice, because it introduced us to a a variety of other neighborhoods, leaving us wishing we could stay in Chicago longer so we could move from one to the other and get to know each.

Fighting our way to Navy Pier

We had a great drive until we got close–we thought– to our destination of the Navy Pier. On a Sunday. A beautiful, sunny Sunday when apparently everyone in Chicago had the same idea. (We will not even discuss the cost of the parking…) We got stuck in horrific traffic, and then it was all worthwhile when Dash spotted the bunnies on the bikes–and managed to get a picture of them!

Having gotten to the pier, we took a ride around the harbor of the enormous and gloriously beautiful Lake Michigan. I was raised around the Great Lakes so this was coming home. I’m afraid I only heard part of the description of the city skyline of Chicago. I was steeped in amazement that we all travel thousands of miles to see inland seas like the Mediterranean, when we have these unparalleled bodies of fresh water snugged in between the US and Canada. I have promised myself I will come back and spend more time on the lakes.

We followed our google map-lady (once again speaking to us) out of the Navy Pier area, which was fortunate because the path out, as native Chicagoans well know, flows under the city through a maze of subterranean versions of the streets above. It was, for those of us used to Oregon, a bit of a scary experience. Just very glad I don’t do it every day.

It was a full day. And I’m sure we could spend many others here, but the road beckons, and we are off to Joliet in the morning.


P.S. For subscribers following the adventures of Kat and Tish (definitely NOT modeled on Dash and I), another chapter of The Illinois Caper has been posted at The Route 66 Steal site.