Road News

Sign then

Sign now

Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket Neon Sign Restoration Project

The Chicken Basket began in the 1930s as a lunch counter attached to a service station in then-rural Hinsdale, Illinois. This mix and match of functions was typical for Route 66 establishments, which often operated on very thin profit margins that required them to be creative in attracting customers.

Legend has it that in the late 1930s, two local farm women offered a deal to original owner Irv Kolarik,who was looking to expand his food menu. They would reveal their excellent fried chicken recipe to Mr. Kolarik and his customers if he would promise to buy the necessary chickens from them. To sweeten the deal the women offered to teach him how to actually fry the chicken. Soon, the service station was history and the Chicken Basket was born.

The restaurant we see today was built in 1946 adjacent to the original location of the 1930s station. The one-story brick building was constructed in a no-nonsense, utilitarian commercial style of the immediate postwar period. Overall, the restaurant retains much of its original 1946 appearance and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The place has a flat, steel roof that did double duty in the 1950s; to attract customers, Mr. Kolarik flooded the roof in winter and hired youths to ice skate on top of the building. The eatery flourished, but like many other successful businesses along Route 66, the restaurant faced a serious challenge with the coming of the interstate in 1962. However in 1963, Delbert (Dell) Rhea, a savvy Chicago businessman, purchased the restaurant and turned things around through aggressive advertising aimed at Chicago’s expanding suburban population as well as Route 66 travelers. Today the restaurant continues to flourish.

NPS grant funds of $34,600 will assist with restoration of the neon sign.

Courtesy the National Park Service

Rio Pecos Ranch Partly Razed

The last egg was fried and the last gas pumped over thirty years ago at a Santa Rosa, New Mexico, truck stop. In mid-November 2016, the town lost a little piece of its history on the east end when the Rio Pecos Ranch Truck terminal, on old Route 66, was partially razed. Local officials considered the old truck stop to be an eyesore and red-tagged it four years ago for code problems. It remained a primary target for city authorities since then.

Demolished was the dilapidated main structure—once the truck terminal, restaurant, and Greyhound bus stop. Not touched were a shed and the main garage, which was in better condition, and the signs—the main one being the famous, smiling neon “Howdy” trucker.

The demolished structure had been drawing complaints from residents about its seedy exterior, and especially its interior, which had been drawing vandals and other varmints with two or more legs.

Established around 1960 by Bessie and Ira Boren, the truck stop was at its height during Route 66’s salad days of the 1960s. It went out of business in the 1970s, and according to one source, the problems were due to Interstate 40 coming through and competition from another nearby, newer truck stop.

The Rio Pecos Ranch, the town’s first truck terminal, has had several owners over the years. The current owners, Adam and Aaron Gallegos, bought the complex in the 1980s and put a new roof on the main building hoping to refurbish it. But over the years, the structure fell prey to more damage and demolition became the only viable alternative. On the upside, it’s hoped that what’s left of the site can be restored and put back into some kind of business within a year.

Courtesy Keith Kofford

Rio Pecos Ranch

Meteor City

Historic Route 66 Icon Purchased

Meteor City Trading Post has been purchased by Joann and Mike Brown from Jeffersonville, Indiana. The couple finalized the purchase on March 27th of this year and are looking forward to bringing back the location to what it looked like when it was in its former glory. The couple first saw the property while traveling Route 66 towards the west and they kept gravitating towards the trading post. Joann says her husband is a huge fan of Two Guns and the locations were very close to each other.

Plans for the Browns is to relocate at the trading post from Indiana and live there permanently while rehabilitating the trading post and surrounding property. “The first thing we have to do is to secure the property and get the majority of the place cleaned up. A lot of folks still stop out there to take photos and we want to make sure it is ready for them” Joann said.

Meteor City originally opened on Route 66 as a service station in 1938. The quirky trading post was another Mother Road casualty of the Interstate system. Located on the legendary highway near the Barringer Meteor Crater, the trading post still stands to see travelers from around the world stop, take photographs and relish in its history.

Courtesy Ron Warwick

It isn’t a “Walk On the Wild Side.” It’s a Silly Walk

Residents may have to learn how to properly do the "Silly Walk," or face a possible fine.The act is the latest effort by city officials to gain international attention as Wilmington becomes the first city in Illinois on historic Route 66, and possibly only the second throughout the 2,448 mile length of The Mother Road, with a designated Silly Walk crosswalk.

"We think North Water and Jackson streets in Wilmington is the perfect spot for a Silly Walk crosswalk," commented interim city administrator Frank Koehler. "It is the exact middle of the downtown district and it will be in front of the Route 66 mural that is already attracting Route 66 travelers. The key to getting people to Silly Walk though, may be enforcement." How much that fine will be for those who fail to Silly Walk has yet to be determined.

The Silly Walk gained international fame in 1970 when actor John Cleese performed it on the British television show "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Cleese is a bowler-hatted civil servant seen walking the streets of London in a very peculiar manner. His unusual gait takes him to an office called The Ministry of Silly Walks where he passes co-workers in the hallway doing their own little Silly Walks.

A man waiting in his office explains that he is there seeking grant money to develop his Silly Walk. He demonstrates his Silly Walk to Cleese who responds that his walk is not particularly silly and the ministry can't help him. Silly Walk skits were a Monty Python staple for years.

It takes precisely sixteen steps to cross Jackson Street at North Water Street. Wilmington residents would have to take twelve steps in Silly Walk fashion if they were to mimic those done on the show. "It would be up to each resident to decide," Koehler said. "They could take four regular steps first, then Silly Walk, or they could start with the twelve-step Silly Walk before walking normal through the rest of the crosswalk."

Mike Donovan at Two Hounds Antique store on the north end of the crosswalk thinks the Silly Walk designation is a terrific idea. "I can't wait to see people doing the Silly Walk by our store. Imagine how many people traveling Route 66 will want to stop here when they see that Wilmington has a Silly Walk. You can't tell me they'll pass up the opportunity to stop and take a photo of someone doing the Silly Walk."

Donovan hinted that there have been a couple of patrons leaving the local watering holes who probably already qualify with their own Silly Walks. But for those less inebriated, lessons for performing the Silly Walk properly will be given at the crosswalk.

The photograph shows Illinois Police Officer Matt Kiebles watches as Sam Madia from The Trinity Knot uses the silly walk being established in the downtown area,

Courtesy Eric Fisher, Publisher
the Free Press Advocate
Wilmington, Illinois

Silly Walk

El Vado Motel

El Vado Motel Renovated

One of the most iconic motels on New Mexico’s old Route 66, Albuquerque’s El Vado Motel, is getting a modern makeover to be turned into a small, and unique, boutique motel. Developers began moving dirt in January 2017 with the official groundbreaking taking place in early February. To mark the beginning of the project, there was a formal lighting of the restored El Vado neon sign. Both the motel and an adjacent former restaurant site will become a single development consisting of a variety of elements including an event center, a taproom, spa, pool, shops, and housing.

The motel was constructed in 1937 as the El Vado Auto Court Motel and sported gas pumps out front. Built in the Pueblo Revival style, it is one of the few remaining classic Mother Road motels and was branded as one of the best examples of 1930s and ‘40s style motels. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 it was also designated a city landmark. Closing down in 2005, the property’s last owner was planning to bulldoze the motel and build luxury apartments. After years of fighting the city was able to gain control and save the derelict property by buying it in 2010.

Albuquerque officials later transferred the properties to two private developers for design and construction work after five proposals for the project had been submitted.

Portland, Oregon-based Palindrome Communities was chosen for El Vado’s new construction and remodeling, while the local Family Housing Development Corporation has responsibility for the old restaurant site slated to have thirty-two units of affordable housing. Besides contributing the two sites, the city also kicked in nearly $3 million of the $18 million project.

The Mayor and city officials said the project will add to El Vado’s charm and it’s hoped the complex and area will become a popular tourist destination. The redevelopment project is intended to stimulate economic development, bring new life and opportunities, and enhance the city’s downtown and Central Avenue-Route 66 corridor.

The project’s completion is targeted for fall 2017 and just in time for the city’s famous International Balloon Fiesta.

Courtesy Keith Kofford

Route 66 Visitors Centers Attendance Increases 50%

The second year of operations at the Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center saw a fifty percent increase in attendance and new collaboration among sites along Route 66 in Central Illinois. From April 2016 to April 2017, the Visitors Center located on the ground floor of the McLean County Museum of History recorded 27,173 visits compared to just over 18,000 the year before.

"The Museum and Visitors Center welcomed guests from more than fifty countries, forty-five states, and communities across Illinois. Among the visitors who signed our guest book, eighty-two percent came from outside of McLean County,” said Visitors Center Manager Joe McDonnell. “We saw a four percent increase in our international traffic year to year.”

An economic impact modeling by Illinois Wesleyan University suggests this visitor activity generated $861,155 in spending across the community over the last year. The Museum's exhibit-building program also provided an $849,390 boost to the economy through local construction of three new permanent exhibits. The Museum plans to build two more by 2019 to complete its ongoing capital campaign.

“Heritage tourism dollars are a boost to our local economy through spending on meals, hotel rooms, fuel, and other activities,” said Museum Executive Director Beth Whisman. “We hope new activities along our portion of the Illinois Route 66 Red, White, and Blue Corridors will generate even more interest.”

The Visitors Center and Museum will use a pilot program to gauge summer traffic and interest from visitors for Sunday operating hours. Doors will be open each Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from May through September, the peak Route 66 travel season.

This new schedule will also offer new opportunities for weekend activities with the expanded “Lincoln’s Festival on Route 66” on July 14-16 which will feature existing Lincoln’s Festival events from the past and new additions such as an outdoor concert at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts and a Rock ‘n Rods on Route 66 event at The Chateau Hotel & Conference Center. That same weekend, Route 66 communities from Normal to Springfield will promote activities along The Mother Road to encourage travelers to explore the “Heart of the Illinois Route 66 Red, White, and Blue Corridors” including Shirley, McLean, Atlanta, Lincoln, Elkhart, Sherman, and Springfield. The weekend will complement similar events on the existing Red Carpet Corridor (to the north) and the Blue Carpet Corridor (to the south).

Photographs shows tourists waiting to board bus after a tour thru the Visitors Center exhibits.

Courtesy Joe McDonnell
Visitors Center Manager

People with bus

Restaurant staff

Restaurant Wins 2017 "Reader Choice" Award

The Illinois Country Living magazine, with a circulation of more than 189,000, has awarded Old Route 66 Family Restaurant in Dwight, Illinois, the “Best of Illinois” reader’s choice award.

Maria Ahmedi, owner of the restaurant, said, “I’m humbled and honored by this award. “It’s a pleasant surprise,” “I knew we always had good food. It’s just nice to see it on paper. The people have spoken,” she said.

This is not the first award for the restaurant. In 2016, the business was named one of the top ten restaurants along Route 66.

The eatery, located near the corner of Old Route 66 and Mazon Avenue, was originally opened in 1977 as Stark’s.

On November 15, 2001, the Ahmedi family purchased the business and have been running it ever since.

Displaying the award is Maria Ahmedi, restaurant owner, surrounded by her daughters (from left) Lindita, Maria, Brendita, and Malia.

Courtesy Eric Fisher, Publisher
the Free Press Advocate