Exploring Route 66


Over the years Route 66 crossed the Mississippi River at many places and so there are many alignments of the old road in the Saint Louis area. A word about that word. In all the books we've read about Route 66, 'Alignment' seems to be preferred term to describe the various locations of the road. Once you leave the river area it's not very hard to follow the old Route 66 in the city. Very little of the old road has fallen to freeways.

Chain of Rocks Bridge

The Chain of Rocks bridge was the latest of the many alignments of Route 66 across the Mississippi River. I remember crossing it back in the '50s, before the Interstate highways were built. The bridge is now open only to pedestrians and cyclists, sunrise to sunset. (This isn't the best part of town.) We first stopped at a state Tourist Information park, just north of the interstate highway to pick up some brochures. The old bridge is just south of there, with parking and more information on the bridge.

We walked out on the bridge only as far as the famous bend. The bridge has that 22 degree bend to allow riverboat captains to align their tows with the current and slip between the bridge supports. Although it helped river traffic, the bend was a headache to truckers, especially as truck became bigger and longer. The roadway is only 40 feet wide so making that turn and staying in your lane was difficult. Part of the way in from the Missouri side is a display of memorabilia and facts about the bridge.

Chain of Rocks Memorabilia
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

One all-time Saint Louis Route 66 favorite that is a must see (and must taste) is Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Not just ordinary frozen custard, this stuff is frozen solid, like concrete. And that's what they call it -- a 'concrete'. We ordered two, pulled our folding chairs and table from the trunk, and sat back and enjoyed the treat in an empty parking place. As it was a weekday, the place wasn't crowded.

West of St. Louis at Stanton is a stretch of the old Route 66 pavement that is not just a frontage road for the Interstate. Near by are the Meramac Caverns, which are responsible for all those barnside billboards. Jesse James also hung out in these parts, so there are lots of tourist attractions with that theme.

But one attraction is accidental but nontheless a delight to tourists. It's this water tower in the town of Bourbon. And no, it's not filled with 100 proof spirits, just plain water.

Bourbon Tower
Wagon Wheel Motel

Continuing west on the old road we entered Cuba. A feature of this town are the murals painted on the sides of many of the local businesses. And on the west side of town is the famous icon of Route 66, the Wagon Wheel Motel. It's still in business today. The town also has numerous 'cottage style' gas stations plus an operating drive-in theatre just north of town.

At exit 169 of I-44 is an interesting four lane section of Route 66. I remembered traveling on this section of Route 66 many years ago, one of the last stretchs of Route 66 to be bypassed by I-44. It took some monumental construction work to level and straighten the road through the Missouri hills. To the right is a picture of Hooker's Cut, a slash through a ridge that's over 200 feet deep. It may be modest by today's standards but in the '50s it was a major undertaking. The cut was made to avoid a portion of the old road that twisted and turned along the Big Piney River and the Devil's Elbow.

Hooker's Cut
Devil's Elbow Bridge

The road to the Devil's Elbow is just about a mile west of Hooker's Cut and very easy to miss. It takes you on an older two lane alignment of Route 66 and across the Big Piney River on this classic truss bridge. Devil's Elbow is a sharp bend in the river and it's said the name was given to it by lumberjacks who were plagued with many logjams. No doubt they also had a few more colorful phrases. I'm sure motorists were glad to see it was bypassed.

But while the motorists were happy, some of the businesses on the old road were sorry to see their places bypassed and many closed. One Route 66 favorite that managed to stay in business was the Elbow Inn. It's changed little since the fifties, offering food, drinks, and canoes to those intrepid enough to try the Big Piney river. We decided to skip the canoeing and instead continue to an early "senic overlook".

The Elbow Inn
Devil's Elbow Overlook

From the Elbow Inn cross the through truss bridge over the Big Piney river and follow the curving road as it climbs to this senic overlook, a good stop for lunch or just to stretch. That's a railroad bridge crossing the Big Piney.

From Devil's Elbow to Lebanon, Missouri try to stay on the old Route 66. That last stretch into town has a Lebanon street name, "East Route 66 Street". And that's where the Munger Moss Motel is located. It was our stop for the night. The motel was built in 1946 and has been a favorite of travelers ever since. Owners Bob and Ramona Lehman have done a great job of restoring and maintaining it.

Munger Moss Motel
Coral Cove Room

They have many 'theme' rooms. Ours was the Coral Court room, named after a famous, or infamous, motel near St. Louis. The Coral Court Motel was torn down but it's memory remains in the photos of Shellee Graham, prints of which line the walls in the theme room.

Just accross the road from the Munger Moss motel is Wrink's Store, another Route66 icon. It closed in 2003 after the founder died, but just recently was reopened. We picked up a couple of souvenirs.

Wrinks Market
Museum Gas Station

Lebanon has a lot of Route 66 attractions and one of the best is a new museum in the LaClede county library. Besides memorabilia they created life size scenes of typical roadside business. This Texaco service station is very lifelike and looks just like those travelers found in the '50s and '60s.

And those travelers might need a good nights sleep. This is a room typical of a '30s or '40s era motel. No high speed wireless internet connection, but they do provide a typewriter!

Museum Motel Room
Musemu Diner

The typical diner scene looks very real, but that cook in the kitchen is actually a painting. The museum does have a real '50s diner and we ate supper there. Very good food.

I mentioned 'cottage gas stations' a page or two ago. This is what an old one looks like. It's located just east of Marshfield, Missouri. That town is the birthplace of Dr. Edwin Hubble, astronomer and namesake of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Cottage Gas Station
Rest Haven Motel Sign

After Marshfield it's not far to Springfield and we stayed on the old highway, entering the city and following what was a later alignment of Route 66. It bypasses the downtown and has a lot of the old roadside businesses. This is one of the best maintained old motels and it's still in business. Even has free internet access!

Continuing on the old road takes you through old towns that were completely bypassed by the interstate. Carthage is one of them. But this beautiful old courthouse is certainly worth the drive. It's just a few blocks off of Route 66 and is still the working seat of government for Jasper County.

Carthage Courthouse

From Carthage it's only a few miles south to Joplin. Joplin and Springfield to the east have many icons of Route 66 and make an excellent day or two of exploration from a base of a motel or RV park between. We haven't done so yet, but it's "on the list".

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