Our plan today was to follow Old Historic Route 66 from Wilmington in Winnie to Carlock, IL where we are going to spend the next 5 days. Since it was a relatively short drive, we figured we could stop at all of the Route 66 landmarks along the way. We didn’t count on temperatures getting into the upper 80’s. After all of the cold weather we’ve seen on this trip, today was a real switch and made stopping and starting really uncomfortable. We made stops in Gardner, Dwight, and Odell. Each has some unique attraction to visit. When we got to Pontiac later in the afternoon, we decided to push on to Carlock. Pontiac has quite a bit to see so we’ll head back tomorrow in the car.
Gardner is a whistle stop on the rail line from Chicago to Saint Louis. It’s one of several old coal mining towns along old Route 66. We stopped this morning to see the old 2 cell city jail and the Streetcar Diner. The jail was built in 1906 and didn’t close until the 1950’s. Its spartan furnishing including a honey bucket in each cell was a powerful incentive to be on the straight and narrow when in Gardner. The Streetcar Diner is over 100 years old and is an old Kankakee, IL street car that was moved to Gardner in 1932 to serve as a diner along Route 66. In 1937, the streetcar became a cottage and playhouse. It was moved behind the Riviera Roadhouse in 1955. After the Riviera burned down in 2010, it was moved to Gardner next to the 2-cell jail. It was restored by the Illinois Route 66 Association.
An interesting tidbit of history that has nothing to do with Route 66 happened in Gardner during WWII. Christian Christiansen, a Norwegian who moved to the United States in 1881 and settled in Chicago. He worked in the city for $1.50 a day while he attended a Lutheran seminary. Once he was ordained, he became a circuit rider between York and Gardner until around the turn of the century he accepted a position as pastor of the church in Gardner. During WWII, he read an article in the Chicago Tribune about how the Brits were trying to bomb a Nazi heavy water plant in Norway. The plant was important in the effort by Germany to develop an atomic bomb. Christiansen had grown up near where the heavy water plant was located and his friend the newspaper publisher suggested they call his friend at the Department of Navy in Washington. Next thing you know a bunch of naval officers were in Christiansen’s house going over maps of the area on the floor. He was able to provide actionable information that allowed the British Navy and commandoes to do enough damage to the plant so as to force Hitler to move it to Germany. He succeeded in doing this, but a Norwegian ferry loaded with precious heavy water mysteriously exploded in late 1944. The specific impact of the Reverend Christiansen's contribution to the war effort has never been detailed due to its classified nature, but he did receive a letter from the King of Norway thanking him for his providing of “valuable services” during the war.
Our second stop was Dwight. We got there about lunch time so we decided to eat in one of the local restaurants. We selected Station 343 Restaurant. It’s a fire fighting themed restaurant to honor the 343 brave New York City firefighters and paramedics who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and to all the policemen, paramedics and firefighters who have and continue to serve today. There is a vintage 1917 Seagrave fire truck that was used by the Pontiac, IL. Fire Department and lots of firefighting memorabilia including a brass fire pole that helps establish an atmosphere of a fire station. There is a glass ‘flame’ wall in the center of the first floor separating the bar from the dining area. It was removed from the second floor, but we’re not sure why they had a glass floor. There’s a dated signature wall that reflects past employees from as far back as 1897. The building, built in 1881, has been home to many retail businesses from 1892 to 1998. The food was even good, but no pictures today.
Dwight is the home of the only operating bank designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The railroad station is made of stone and dates back to 1891. It still serves as an Amtrak stop for the Texas Eagle running from Chicago to St. Louis and on to DFW and Austin. Across the street is the Fox Development Center building. In 1879, Dr. Leslie Keeley opened the Keeley Institute, which was the first medical institution to treat alcoholism as a disease. By the turn of the century, Keeley Institutes were located in nearly every state in the nation and many overseas. By 1900 the so-called Keeley Cure, injections of bichloride of gold, had been administered to more than 300,000 people. When Keeley died in 1900, his partner and friend, John R. Oughton, became president of the corporation. Oughton renovated a building that was used as the Keeley Club House where patients often stayed, made it his home, known as “The Manse.” The Keeley Institute continued to operate until 1966 when hospitals began to deal with the disease of alcoholism. The Institute was a major factor in the growth and development of the village. Today the building houses the Fox Developmental Center.
Our last stop of the day was Odell, IL. We spent some time in an old Standard Oil gas station that has been partially restored after a fire. They’ve done a nice job based on some of the post fire pictures. While we were there people from different parts of the country as well as foreign countries stopped for a visit. Outside was a 1953 Winnebago travel trailer. I’m not sure when Winnebago stopped making travel trailers, but the started again in 2011 or 2012. The trailer sure was primitive, but it had all of the things you need to camp. Sleeping would be tough because of the width of the trailer. Odell also has a pedestrian tunnel under old Route 66 that leads to a Catholic Church across the highway. Apparently in the 1930’s and 40’s, before the bypass was built, the traffic was so on Sundays that the parishioners had trouble getting to church so the tunnel was installed. I remember seeing another tunnel on Route 66 in Oklahoma, or Kansas or maybe Missouri when hit that part of Route 66 in 2012. Given the sparse traffic today, it hard to imagine why the tunnel would be needed.
After passing up Pontiac, we drove to the Kamp Komfort RV Park and Campground just off I74. As we were driving to the park, the road looked familiar to me and when we pulled in to the park I realized I had stayed here in 2012 on the Wild Western Tour. It’s a nice family park with lots of shade. The only draw back is there is a rail road track that runs by about 100 yards from our site. It appears that the rolling pipe lines from the Bakken pass through the area on their way to refineries along the Gulf or in the east. We’ll be here for a while as we visit some of the Route 66 sites within an hour or so drive.