We have driven from Chicago to St. Louis and back, countless times over the years. Before sitting down to write this, I actually tried to calculate how many times we’ve taken the mind-numbing drive. It has to be at least a thousand times between the two of us. Dave more than me, as this is his “normal” commute to work. Yes, he used to drive roughly 300 miles every couple of days… for the past eleven years!
Typically, our drive is pretty monotonous – corn fields and farms – nothing too exciting. This week we decided to spice it up a bit and take a jaunt on the Mother Road, Route 66. The trip was full of so many surprises, we had no idea we were passing one-of-a-kind places all these years.
Beer nuts anyone?
The first surprise we encountered on Route 66 was in Bloomington. The college town is home to the Beer Nut Factory! You know the pretzel-peanut mix that they put out at bars to go with your beer? They don’t have tours, but the factory has a store that sells various items and offers free samples.
It was just us in there since it was a weekday or maybe because we were in the heart of the Prairie State, but either way we had the place to ourselves. The employees were super nice and it seemed we could have unlimited samples or at least that’s what we thought since they let us munch on whatever we wanted, for as long as we wanted. The store is inside the main doors to the right. We almost didn’t go in because it looks like you are entering an office. It was a fun stop to pick up snacks for the rest of our road trip.
What do you mean Sirup with an “i”
Every time I have passed the sign to Funks Grove, a farm on Route 66 selling maple sirup (my computer is even trying to autocorrect now), I wondered why the business left the sign up with a misspelled word which is their main product! After our visit we are now in the know. They spell it like that on purpose!
The Funks family has been making sirup for almost 200 years. We stopped in the salesroom to hear about their history, the process of tapping trees, and for a sample. The sirup (still cannot get used to that spelling) was delicious. It was so smooth, buttery and light, obviously not processed with thick corn syrup. We are not sirup connoisseurs or anything, but I’d have to say it was the best sirup I’ve ever had. We’ve sampled some in Michigan and recently on a New England trip, and this one was right at the top.
Muffler Man Holding a Hot Dog? Sure let’s stop!
The quiet little town of Atlanta was the third surprise on our Route 66 road trip. First of all, we pulled into town only to see a giant man holding a hot dog. Can it get any better than that? It drives Dave nuts that I get such a kick out of goofy roadside attractions. I can’t help it, but I really enjoy taking pictures next to weird things! Yet again, the Yin and Yang of Dang. The town had a few interesting attractions including a public library founded in 1873, wall murals, a cafe, and a Route 66 memorabilia shop.
Illinois has the Largest ‘Something’ in the world?
The town of Lincoln has two claim to fames: the world’s largest covered wagon and the only town named for Abraham Lincoln before he became president. He was actually quoted saying, “Nothing bearing the name of Lincoln ever amounted to much.” Boy, was he wrong!
The town was bigger than we expected, with the Logan County Courthouse smack in the middle of the square surrounded by boutique shops, buildings with painted wall murals, restaurants, and a movie theater. The domed stone courthouse, built in 1905, was quite impressive for such a small town.
Classic Cozy Drive In
What is a road trip without greasy fried foods? We stopped for a late lunch in Springfield at the Cozy Drive In, known for their famous hot dog on a bun, aka corn dog. The reviews said everything from a waste of time to the best corn dog ever. Our thoughts: The food was good, not great and the inside was full of Route 66 nostalgia so definitely worth the stop. The corn dog was crispier than any other corn dog we’ve had with a light fluffy coating. I wouldn’t say the best ever or a must-taste, but fun to try the self-proclaimed first corn dog ever.
A Cannon and Muskets at Lincoln’s Tomb
Since we were in Springfield, we decided to stop and see Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery. To our surprise, they were having a flag lowering ceremony performed by civil war reenactors. At first we thought they were filming a movie or something because we saw people dressed up in Civil War uniforms and women in dresses from that era. We asked around and found out that every Tuesday night from June till August, the 114th Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Civil War performs Civil War drills, firing of muskets and flag lowering events in front of the Lincoln Tomb. You can experience part of the ceremony on our YouTube Channel. We just happen to be there that day!
The Illinois Capitol Building
Our final stop on our cruise down Route 66 was the dignified Illinois State Capitol when we were driving out of Springfield. Fun trivia: In the late 1800’s, Secretary of State Henry Dement was known to hunt pigeons from the roof of the State House with a shotgun. Can you imagine?
The side trip added time to our drive, but what a great experience. We’ve only lived in Illinois all our lives, I think it was time we explored Route 66! We dream of one day jumping in our car (or van as Dave’s real dream is to live in one) and drive over 2,000 miles to California to, as the saying goes, get our kicks on the entire Route 66.
Tips: We’ve made the stop in Springfield numerous times over the past 10 years. It has so many other interesting things to explore: Lincoln’s Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln’s Home, Lincoln’s Memorial Garden, and Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery.
If you are taking a road trip, Route 66 or not, check out our post about Best Road Trip Apps