2014 Great Circle Tour travel blog

Some corn cribs in McClean County

Downtown Atlanta

Smiley face water tower in Atlanta, IL

Muffler Man holding a hot dog

The Atlanta Museum

Chemical fire truck built in Atlanta

Mattingly Automotive: Official Route 66 Mechanic

Deputy Dog

Atlanta Public Library and Clock tower

J. H. Hawes Grain Elevator - only wooden one in Illinois

Water fountain in the Atlanta Public Park

Concrete post used to mark farm property boundaries

Palm Grill neon sign

Inside the Palm Grill - the peach pie was awesome

Murals and signs in Atlanta, IL

Old railroad depot in McClean, IL with railroad graffiti from the late...

Railroad maintenance engines

Sue at Funk's Pure Maple Sirip store - not a misspelling

Wooden eagle in the front yard of the house at the sirup...

Maple sap holding tank

Funks Grove Country Store

Funk Rock

Funks Grove Church

Funk family patriarch and immediate family's grave

John Funk, Jr.'s tombstone being engulfed by a tree, John died in...

Monument to Irish immigrants who died while building the railroad

One of the many Stubblefields buried in the cemetery

Chapel of the Templed Trees

Some of the flowers blooming today - Flags and Peonies

Mowing the grass along one of the farm roads

Barn quilts of McClean County

We drove to Atlanta, a small town in central Illinois along old Route 66, not the big city in Georgia. Instead of taking the Mother Road to Atlanta we cut across country. It was a nice day for a ride across the rolling plains of south central Illinois. Most of the fields have what looks like a green fuzz of sprouting corn and soy bean plants. Since we saw the unusual oval corn crib in Carlock the other night we began to take notice of the number of corn cribs that can be seen on farmsteads. All are no longer functional and are in different states of disrepair. Before combines hit the fields, corn cribs were important to farmers for storing and drying corn. The farmers would harvest the ears of corn and put them in the sides of the corn crib to dry before shelling. With the advent of the combine, harvesting, shucking, and shelling took place in the machine and the corn was transferred to tanks or silos for drying.

When we arrived in Atlanta we passed a baseball field where it appeared that there was a Little League tournament going on. The downtown area is about 6 blocks square with the railroad running through it. For a pretty small town there are quite a few Route 66 themed attractions. The one that stand out the most is the Muffler Man holding a hot dog. His real name is the “Bunyon Giant” because he used to stand in front of a hot dog stand, Bunyon’s, in Cicero, IL. He was moved here in 2003. The other thing that stands out in town is the Smiley Face water tower. There’s a small park in the center of town that has a number of displays of items of historical interest including an old ticket booth from the Atlanta Fair Grounds. It’s an information booth now. The town had installed white porcelain water fountains at various locations around town in the past. The only one remaining is in the park and it still works. There was a story board accompanying it that documents early cases of “bullying”. It seems the older boys back in the day used to pick up the younger ones and set them down on top of the fountain to wet their pants. That’s tame compared to what some of the older kids used to do to a friend of mine in grade school. He was short like I was and the bigger guys would grab him by the ankles and hang him out the third floor lavatory window. He managed to survive Catholic grade school and go on to become a successful business man.

We popped into the Palm Grill, a 1930’s era restaurant that doubled as a Greyhound Bus stop. Apparently people who wanted to catch a bus would come in and flip a switch that would turn on a light on the sign to let the driver know he needed to stop. The Palm Grill operated until about the late 60’s before it finally closed due to lack of business caused when I55 bypassed the town and Route 66 was de-numbered. Featured on the menu are fried bologna and spam sandwiches, and the Horseshoe sandwich. As described by Wikipedia, it begins with thick-sliced toasted bread usually with hamburger patties, or ham, but other meat is also used, such as deep fried pork tenderloin, grilled or fried chicken breast, and pulled pork. There is also a "breakfast" horseshoe that uses eggs and hash browns. The meat is topped with French fries and smothered with a cheese sauce. The horseshoe sandwich originated in Springfield, IL and is considered a uniquely Illinois dish. I remember having breakfast horseshoes when I worked over in Pekin, IL in the late 70’s. I’m going to have to have one before we leave the state so I can take a picture to post. This time I only had peach pie that was delicious. Sue had a burger and fries that looked good because she didn’t eat breakfast or lunch today.

After eating we headed up the road on old Route 66. We stopped in McLean, IL at the old railroad depot. It’s now a model railroading store. We got to talking to the business owner about the building and found out some of it’s history. The McLean Depot was built in 1853 as the Chicago & Mississippi railroad built north from Springfield to Bloomington. It’s one of the oldest wood depots in Illinois and has withstood the ravages of time and weather. When they renovated the inside, they tore off the wall board to replace it only to find railroad graffiti written on the boards. Most of the writing seems to have been from the late 1800’s based on some of the dates of addition. One inscription that was particularly clear said “See you at the worlds fair”. No one is sure which fair the railroad employee was referring to but there were quite a few at the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century. I noticed the owner of the business was a Gold Star dad as he had a Gold Star Pennant hanging in the window and a picture of his son who died in Iraq in 2004. He was retired military.

Our last stop on Route 66 today was at Funk’s Grove, home of Funk’s Grove Pure Maple Sirip store. Sirip is not misspelled according to Funks. It’s spelled with an “i” when no sugar is added, but with a “y” when it is added. They also sell maple cream (whipped sirip), maple candy, and local honey. The Funk family has been making maple sirip at this location since 1824 and selling it since 1891. It takes about 40 buckets of sap from the maples trees to make 1 bucket of sirip. We bought some sirip, honey for Jared and a baseball hat for Ray. After dropping $50 for the purchases, we drove over to Funks Grove Cemetery and Church. They are in a maple grove and have been around since the early 1800’s. The Funk and the Stubblefield families are the predominant residents in the cemetery. They were among the first settlers in the County to put down roots in 1824. The church was built in 1864-65 by Isaac Funk, Robert Stubblefield and their sons. Across the street from the cemetery is the Chapel of the Templed Trees. The chapel was developed with the help of the Funk and Stubblefield families. The pews are logs made of American Red Elm, and the pulpit is a tree stump.

Driving the farm roads we also noticed that some barns had barn quilts. They are part of the Barn Quilt Heritage Trail of McLean County that celebrates our county's farming heritage and the talents of local quilters, artists, and poets. Area barns and farm buildings are decorated with 8X8-foot plywood quilt squares. Participating site owners work with the Barn Quilt Committee to select designs and colors for their barn quilts. We first noticed barn quilts during out travels in Ohio in about 2011. Since then we’ve seen them in other states. It appears that the concept of barn quilts began with Donna Sue Groves and her wish to honor her mother, Maxine, and her Appalachian heritage by having a painted quilt hung on her barn in Adams County, Ohio. Donna Sue was the inspiration of the American Quilt Trail and this simple idea has spread to 48 states and to Canada. Over 7,000 quilts are part of organized trails; dozens more are scattered through the countryside waiting to be discovered. You can learn more at Barn Quilt Info.

That’s enough for tonight. Stay tuned.

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