Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

The Mother Road Lives Forever

The Munger Moss motel is somewhat of a Route 66 icon -- much like the the Blue Swallow was back down the road in Tucumcari.  It's an old haunt, redone to cater to us roadies.  Their reader board said "The Mother Road Lives Forever".  And indeed, both in Missouri and in Illinois it does.  Both these states have made great efforts to cater to roadies and to make the Old Road well marked and easy to find.  There was a time after Route 66 was decommissioned as a Federal US Highway back in 1974, and once the Interstate system replaced it. that it lay forgotten.  Cities and towns and counties took over the road that was still left and renumbered it into their system.  But roadies never forget and over the years, the cult of Route 66 has made the States sit up and listen, and most if not all have done a great job of marking it as a "historic" route, and Illinois and Missouri have done the best.
They have even gone so far as to mark the different alignments of the Old Road -- since it got rerouted over the course of it's life.  Because the era I best want to experience in my fantasy time travel would be the years around WWII, I stick with alignments of the 1940s.  

Today started out warm with some clouds but mostly blue skies as I motored out of Springfield, MO heading towards Illinois and as close to Chicago as I could get.  I ended up in another Springfield -- Illinois, 200 miles shy of the end of the road.  Riding out of town with my feet up on the travel pegs, wind on my bare arms in a sleeveless shirt,  cruising along at 45-50 mph with my I-Pod as I ride the Mother Road -- well it doesn't get better than this.   The road was quiet as it's Sunday and a holiday, the church parking lots full of morning service worshipers.  I gassed up before leaving town and an older couple that were on a Harley Trike pulled in to the next pump.  The wife reminded me of Ma Joad, very round and stout, about the size of a fireplug -- her husband the same.  Kinda like toy weebles.  She asked where I was going and I told her -- she grinned and asked about how the ride was. Her deep southern accent wasn't from Missouri, so I asked where they were headed.  "Home to Tennessee".  We wished each other happy travels and I pulled out onto the open road.

I've actually driven this section of Route 66 before -- its where I first got the bug in fact, since Missouri was the first state to mark up the historic road.  It was as I remembered it -- playing tag with I-44, rolling through the Ozarks on a windy two lane, ducking through old bridges and past the relics of a bygone age, including a billboard for Meramec Caverns -- first one I saw in MO.
In Lebanon, MO there is a Harley Dealership and the bike needed some oil so I swung by -- it's a bit off the Old Road.  There I was very interested to learn that it's apparently illegal in Missouri to sell a vehicle on a Sunday.   There was a big sign posted on the door saying that MRS 578.12 states: Notwithstanding any provision in this chapter to the contrary, no dealer, distributor or manufacturer licensed under section 301.559, RSMo, may keep open, operate, or assist in keeping open or operating any established place of business for the purpose of buying, selling, bartering or exchanging, or offering for sale, barter or exchange, any motor vehicle, whether new or used, on Sunday.  OK -- that's interesting.  I've heard of "Blue laws" before, but regarding vehicle sales?  I'm sure there was some sort of religious reason.  I mean we are sort of in the overhanging muffin-top paunch of the Bible Belt after all.  But the dealer did a brisk business in parts and t-shirts (and oil for me) -- just no bikes today.

Along this stretch of the Mother Road, because of the population I think, many of the relics of the old road still exist in one form or another as still used buildings -- either as their original purpose or as a garage or storage or store.  A lot of the motels are still in business (most now branded as "American Owned" -- another "so????"  Guess we don't want to stay in no motel owned by no furriner.)  But you have to be somewhat of an architect to find the clues of what the signs along the old highway -- sometimes they aren't as obvious as they are further West where the population is few and far between and there isn't a need once the original use is over.

Southwest of Rolla, MO is an original stretch of four-lane Route 66.  It was built in the 1940s to bypass an area known as "Devils Elbow" -- which sounds horrible, and probably scared the bejeebus out of more than a few naive travelers.  In reality it's a sharp curve in the river, with a somewhat sharp curve in the road as well, but its not terribly dangerous.  It's kind of hilly though, so it made sense to do four lanes so trucks could go slower and other vehicles could pass.  I really liked this section -- as usual I had it to myself, but you can see by the grass growing in the cracks that it's not used at all, but there the road sits in all it's glory, showing how much traffic once did pass here.  Also note that they engineered the "latest" thing back in the 1940s -- a small "curb" designed to push a car back into the road if it strayed too far either side.  From what I've read though it actually increased accidents by causing cars to flip!
The Old Road runs parallel to and cris-crosses I-44 almost the entire way across Missouri.  As I motored up what is a frontage road in some cases, it's clear how much faster the freeway drivers are going than I am.  I'm lucky to go 50 while they whiz along at 70.  I don't mind though -- I'm happy as a clam, rolling along the old road, seeing things they aren't seeing and enjoying my ride while they are rushing through theirs.  I like to have a good time -- not necessarily to make good time.

I did have to jump on I-44 outside St. Louis -- the old road has been obliterated here, but in the outskirts you can pick it up again as it runs into the city and past another Route 66 icon -- Ted Drews frozen custard.  They have been selling the most wonderful concoctions since the 1950s, and I had a peach concrete -- very thick custard with peaches in it.  It was 90 something and I was hot on the bike so it was most welcome.  The place was packed as always, and while I was in line I saw a guy looking at my bike and taking a picture.  After I got my ice-cream I went back over and he said in a very thick accent -- "nice bike - I like", and his wife said "you very lucky".  I asked where they were from -- "Bosnia".  I asked if they were on the tour bus parked on the side street, but they weren't -- that was apparently for the horde of Japanese folks taking pictures of each other ordering custard.  He asked me about my license plate -- C2C-B2B, so I told him "coast to coast, border to boarder", and it's for where I've gone on the bike.  His wife then wanted a picture with me and her standing by it, so I obliged.  I have to wonder how they'll explain that back home in Bosnia.
The highway is just another city street in St. Louis after Ted Drews.  It's very cool -- I love the old red bricks, the row houses that remind me of the homes Archie and Edith lived in on TVs "All In The Family".  Folks were sitting outside on their porches, the kids playing in the small yards, trying to keep cool with water fights while the parents fanned themselves on the porch.  

I had to jump on the freeway again at the Mississippi river just past the St. Louis arch and the big Bud brewery  -- the Old Road went across a now condemned bridge. Once in Illinois I exited off and worked my way Northeast as the sun started to go down.  It cooled off and riding was wonderful out through the farms on the other side of the river.    I pulled up to a stoplight in the middle of a corn field where two county roads crossed and there was another biker in front of me on what I call a "Lhasa Apso" -- a Harley that has fringe around it's fender, floor boards, and bags, so it looks like the small dog with all the fur.  As the light turned green we went through and his bike sputtered and died and he pulled over.  I didn't want to leave him stranded so I pulled over too and went back to see if I could help.  The poor chap had run out of gas so I ran up a mile or so to a station, filled up a water bottle with gas and rode it back.   It got him enough to get to the station and fill up himself, so I'm hoping the karma rubs off -- rule one of the road is never leave a fellow biker stranded.  I often get bikers to ask if I'm OK when I'm pulled over having a drink or looking at my map. 
But the karma thing wasn't with me -- as the sun went down I got on I-55 for the last few miles into Springfield and I blasted past a cop who pulled me over and gave me a ticket.  Oh well, first one I've ever gotten on a bike.  I was tired, very sunburned despite four coats of sun block and ready to turn in -- but he wasn't hearing any of my excuses.  

So now I'm on the downhill run -- 198 miles to Chicago.  From one Springfield to another -- 356 miles today.  I'm going to make it.  I'll have done all of Route 66.  Sunburned and tired -- on the road for 12 days now, and ready to go home. 

More pictures are on FaceBook:

  • Latest Magazine Column

    For over ten years I've been writing a monthly column in Quick Throttle Magazine -- a regional biker publication. The confluence of the changes…

  • May/June QuickThrottle Column

    With the pandemic shutdown, the loss of revenue, and everyone staying at home, the publisher decided not to put out a May issue and put out a…

  • April QuickThrottle Column

    This whole pandemic thing, in addition to being very trying, has delayed a few things, including the publication of my column. I just got the April…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.