Extraordinary things began to happen on a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of Illinois’ prairie in classic X-Files fashion. The truth is still out there for you to witness. This is my story.
Dad and I had changed places in the decades since then and now, but adventure was still our destination, Pontiac, Illinois our current means to a familiar end. Except as serendipity would have it, time and the extraordinary were not what they seemed just off Interstate 55 close to exit 197.
Dad, Jim and I were 100 miles south of Chicago on a lonely stretch of this now National Scenic
Gasoline prices dropped to post World War II prices.
No, I thought, I didn’t know that. Just when you think you know someone they surprise you with something extraordinary. Extraordinary was shaping up to be the new normal.
“Wasn’t that dangerous, dad?” I queried, enjoying the role reversal after years in the spotlight.
Lately, spending time with my father was like mining for gold. Every once in a while a nugget of insight into the young man on the back side of the father I only knew would surface in the midst of the stony rubble of childhood memories.
“Didn’t have much choice,” my father offered. “I had very little money and a week to report for duty at Camp Pendleton clear across the continent. I wore my uniform, which got me enough attention and respect to get me safely to Rochester so I could see my mom before reporting for duty. Your grandmother bought me a bus ticket from Rochester to Chicago, where I was meeting up with a buddy who was driving a new car to Los Angeles for a customer. Route 66 took us all the way.”
This small Midwestern town of 12,000 seemed to be the epicenter for the quake that cut through the 21st century, rendering everything in its wake a relic from the past. The Livingston County Courthouse at the center of town was constructed in 1874, a good 50 years before Route 66 put it and all of Pontiac on the map.
I did run into a real live president, this one the President of Livingston County’s awesome War Museum, housed in the same historic firehouse (circa 1900) as the Route 66 Museum.
Actually, remarkable was Illinois’ collection of Route 66 memorabilia. The collection represents the cultural and historical significance of this iconic highway: the sense of adventure reflected in Bob Waldmire’s 1972 Volkswagen Microbus; America’s newfound mobility at the turn of the century seen in the massive collection of license plates and automobile artifacts, including road maps and road signs; the passion and spirit of Main Street America depicted in the neon signs, photographs and souvenirs from many of the diners, gas stations and shops that sprung up along the 400 miles of Illinois’ Route 66.
Truth is Dad, Jim and I came to Pontiac for the Route 66 Museum. We had no idea we’d become part of the history this entire town embraces, part of the adventure and opportunity this special ribbon of highway has promised for generations, part of the strange and the unexplained.
I just kept kissing anybody I could get my hands on.
Bottom line on Route 66 Museum:
- Verdict: I never get to see and do all I'd like to when I discover a gem. I'd go back again.
If you grew up in Illinois and your first automobile would now be considered a classic, this
museum will definitely take you down memory lane. The town of Pontiac has gone to great
lengths to capitalize on their connection with this icon of American life. The charm and
friendly folks were a breath of fresh air.
- How to Get There: From Chicago, head south on Interstate 55 to I-23 exit (#201). Follow
signs for Pontiac/Streator. Follow IL-23 south to Ladd Street, then Ladd to Howard (IL-116).
Museum is 116 W. Howard Street, Pontiac, Il 61764.
- Ideal for: Baby Boomers, for sure, especially those who traveled this road (or one like it) as
a kid, although any kid, young or "better" who enjoyed the Disney movie Cars would delight
in the small cars parked throughout the town. History buffs won't be able to get enough of
this entire area and all it has to offer. Veterans especially will enjoy the War Museum
adjacent to the Route 66 Museum in the same building. Staff are all veterans and history
enthusiasts willing to share their passion and wealth of experience.
- Insider tips: Stop at the museum first (admission is free) and be sure to ask for your VIP
visitor's button (free also). Wear it with pride and receive special treatment (discounts at a
few local businesses) during your visit in Pontiac. Be sure to allow time to see all the city
murals and cars (we missed a few). It's a perfect walking tour of this quaint Midwestern
town. Be sure to stop in at the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum and Resource Center on
Mill Street adjacent to the Town Square. If you love crowds and antique cars, Pontiac hosts
a "Cruise Night" that brings out the classic car buffs from all over the country in their
- Nearby Food: We of course asked the locals where to eat, and they directed us to the
Apple Tree Restaurant on the northeast corner of the town square, one block up from the
museum, on Main and Madison. Food was great, so good the locals had devoured all the pie
available for that day by the time we stopped for lunch at 1:00 pm.