For a long time now, I've dreamed of taking a Route 66 road trip. Gina and I made serious headway planning one back in 2005. Sadly, it became clear that it would take a prohibitively long time to drive in both directions, yet be prohibitively expensive to rent a car one way and fly back home. We settled for an abbreviated California road trip on Highway 1, which was wonderful. Still, Route 66 beckons.
On my drive from Peoria to Wisconsin last Friday, I spotted a Route 66 museum ad on an exit sign. I was conflicted: stop in Pontiac, IL on a whim to see what it had to offer, or scoot past Chicago before rush hour? You probably don't need me to tell you that whim carried the day. Click below for a photographic tour...
I followed the signs off the highway, eventually arriving in historic downtown Pontiac. The Route 66 museum is housed in Pontiac's old City Hall building, and shares space with various antique shops and an upstairs war museum.
Admission was free (donations accepted), and two older women greeted me enthusiastically inside. They'd been sitting at one of two authentic booths from the very first Steak 'n Shake restaurant:
The ladies were very helpful, explaining the museum layout and providing pamphlets. I received personalized explanations of interesting items, and a brief tour of the murals on the alley walls out back. The Route 66 mural above is painted on the back of the museum building. This Roszell's Soda Fountain mural is on a facing wall across the alley:
The first floor of the museum is devoted to memorabilia from Route 66 in Illinois. Much of it, of course, relates to food joints. Check out this postcard from White Fence Farm:
I want to go to there. I also want that postcard for my wall at work. It's got the classic "Eat me; I'm delicious - I'll even cook myself for you!" chicken chef logo pointing out the name of the restaurant, which is a big plus. And if you ask me, too few postcards these days prominently feature a big plate of fried chicken. It's a work of art. Anyway, great news! A quick Googling shows that White Fence Farm is alive and well. They even have a petting zoo. It's not that far from Chicago, and I am going at some point this summer. For sure.
Speaking of places I want to go:
I want to go to there, too. Just the name is delightful: Pig-Hip. The hyphen makes it a tad inscrutable. Was it named for the hip region of the pig? Or by some fortuitous turn of events, did two people with the last names Pig and Hip decide to go into business making delicious pork sandwiches? (Nope, the owner was named Ernie Edwards.) Can't you just imagine stopping by in the 1960's and being handed a steakburger and pig-hip sandwich - with lettuce and tomato - in that white paper bag above?
The man in this photo (Ernie Edwards, I presume) is exactly the person I want to run a restaurant called Pig-Hip. Zoom in and look at the part of the menu you can see on the side. I wish I'd gotten the whole thing. They are fresh Baked Ham!
Tragically, when I progressed further in my museum tour (upstairs to the photo exhibits), I learned that Pig-Hip was destroyed by fire in 2007. Here's a bit of detail about the blaze. It seems that even before that happened, Pig-Hip was a museum and no longer serving food. Alas.
After my exploration of the museum and antique shops, I headed outside to see a few more of Pontiac's new murals. The Route 66 one has been there for awhile, but many were painted just last year.
I also strolled by the Livingston County Courthouse, checked out the Abe Lincoln statue, and visited a thrift shop where I bought three pairs of shoes for a total of 75 cents. I wanted to see the swinging bridges, too, but by that time I really had to get going. Pontiac was definitely a worthwhile stop, even if I paid for it later in Chicago traffic. I love road trips. This was a good reminder that any drive - even a drive home from a business trip - can be made interesting if you're simply willing to waste a little time.