by Jim McCarty
While youre here
The wrecking ball
Is looming near
owner of John's Modern Cabins considered demolishing the site until
Emily Priddy, a member of the Friends of the Mother Road, convinced
her to reconsider. The old cabins were closed to the public not long
after Interstate 44 replaced Route 66.
The freshly painted
Burma Shave style signs bearing this epitaph stand in stark contrast to
the faded glory that was Johns Modern Cabins, a cluster of log and
frame structures near Newburg that once beckoned travelers along Route
66. Like many attractions along the Mother Road, as Route 66 is known,
the cabins John Dausch opened in 1951 and closed shortly after Interstate
44 came into being almost became a memory.
All along the Mother
Road, from Chicago to Los Angeles, drivers desperately search for some
reminder of Route 66. The old roadbed is there. But increasingly the delicate
curves of art deco diners, the glaring blaze of neon signs and the unusual
shapes of roadside attractions are disappearing.
While some towns embrace the
fact that Route 66 once passed through, elsewhere its difficult
to find any reminder of the most celbrated stretch of highway in America.
As the sign says, Johns
Modern Cabins were destined for the wrecking ball. Their dilapidated condition
posed a liability problem for the owner. But almost too late, the cabins
found a friend.
Mother Road crosses the Big Piney River at Devil's Elbow on a vintage
bridge with arched supports. In some places nothing but the old roadbed
remains of the historic road that was once portrayed in songs, movies,
television shows and books.
Emily Priddy, a Route 66 enthusiast
from Belleville, Ill., spent six months conducting research to write an
article on the cabins. When she learned of the cabins fate, she
posted a message on the Internet asking why the cabins should be saved.
She sent the owner a package
of materials that included 15 e-mailed notes from Route 66 enthusiasts
all over the country, printouts of seven web sites including one written
entirely in French that featured pictures of the cabins, a calendar featuring
the cabins and three mounted photographs.
The owner relented a
little, saying she thought maybe three of the cabins might be salvageable,
Emily says. We offered to raise money for a fence to put around
them while we tried to find funds and volunteers to repair the cabins.
Since then the National Park
Service has gotten involved through its Route 66 Heritage Corridor Program.
A photographer and an historical architect visited the site and a work
day is a distinct possibility.
things slow down inside, Gred Garlock keeps Route 66 clean in front
of the Tri-County Restaurant near Villa Ridge. This historic cafe
was once called the Diamonds. The second structure on the site, it
closed and nearly succombed to the wrecking ball but was revived as
a truck stop. The truck stop closed too but the restaurant lives on.
Out of this and similar efforts,
a new group called Friends of the Mother Road came into being.
The all-volunteer group is dedicated to saving whats left of Route
What weve been
doing, its almost triage, says Kip Welborn, a St. Louis attorney
who is one of the groups founders. One of these days you are
going to drive down the road and all youre going to see is the highway.
People drive along this road because it takes them back. Instead of driving
on four-lane monstrosities where you dont see anything you are driving
through towns instead of around them, driving past stores, restaurants
But saving 66 could be a daunting
task, and members of the group agree the rescue efforts are almost too
late. Unfortunately, we have little memoriums every once in awhile
because another one fell, Kip says.
Every town along the route
has its tale of woe. Gone forever are the stately oaks and streamline
moderne curves of the famed Coral Court Motel in St. Louis. Despite the
efforts of preservationists, the art deco masterpiece was demolished in
1995 to make way for a subdivision.
Another St. Louis landmark,
the Stanley Court-Tel, is also in the way of progress. Expansion at Lambert
Field will take out the motel where Apollo astronauts once stayed.
few Route 66 landmarks remain in Lebanon, one of the most famous is
the Munger Moss Motel.
The red deer of the Ozarks
Motel sign in St. Clair finally gave way to the elements. An historic
roadside park near Leasburg closed recently, victim of heavy dumping.
Springfields Cambell 66 trucking firm, with its famous Snortin
Norton mascot and Humpin to Please slogan is no
at a rapid pace, says Gary Adkins, a Route 66 enthusiast from St.
Louis. Land values are going up. A lot of these buildings, the old
mom and pop restaurants and gas stations and motels, at one time were
on the edges of towns and are now in prime real estate areas. They are
eating them up alive. We are getting car washes and quick shops and things
like that in their place.
Gary puts some of the loss
down to money. We can sit there and say, wow, this building
has a lot of history and it was really neat in its day, but now we can
put a gas station here and make a lot of money. So thats what
It was Interstate 44 that killed
Route 66. The highway bypassed the little towns that once relied on Route
66 travelers for support. And while some businesses like Meramec Caverns
near Stanton and Lebanons famous Munger Moss Motel found ways to
keep the tourists coming, other businesses like Johns Modern Cabins
At least one Route 66 businessman
thinks I-44 isnt finished with its damage. Ed Goodridge, who owns
Vernelles Motel near Newburg, has been in business along Route 66
for 40 years.
Route 66 gave way to Interstate 44 many motels were left too far off
the beaten path to survive. Vernelle's Motel made it past the original
transition, but I-44 may get him yet, says owner Ed Goodridge. Plans
to straighten the curves on the Interstate will leave the old motel
out of view of passing motorists.
He says Vernelles 12
rooms offer a little nostalgia to folks traveling the Mother Road. Weve
tried to persevere, he says of the motel, which ironically is just
a stones throw from Johns Modern Cabins. Its not
been easy. We replaced the whole ball of wax, added microwaves and refrigerators
so people can stay by the month. We put in an antique and curio shop with
Route 66 items.
But Ed thinks plans to straighten
the curves on I-44 in front of his motel spell the end for Vernelles.
Were going to be off the road, he says. No visibility
here at all. They are cutting our throats.
Further down the road in Lebanon
the towns movers and shakers have awoke to the fact that Route 66
is important to the towns economy. A committee has been formed to
preserve whats left, which isnt much.
Were too late to
save some of these places, admits Bill Wheeler, events coordinator
for the Lebanon Civic Center.
In Laclede County we
dont have much left except the roadbed itself. One of the first
things this committee is going to do is go out and look at these spots
and see if we cant stop time from taking out any more.
Up and down the great road,
the story is the same: save whats left, pick your battles, preserve
what you can. In Lebanon the preservation committee plans to make a survey
of Laclede Countys Route 66 sites. Old photos will be located and
paired with modern shots of the same site so visitors can relive some
of the roads glory days.
Plans are in the works for
a Route 66 museum and research center to be housed in the towns
new library. We have people come, average three or four a week,
and say, Where can I go see something? Wheeler says.
We dont have many places to send them other than the Munger
sign from Keys Cafe is one of the many artifacts on display at Route
66 State Park.
If all seems lost, there have
been some success stories. When the Friends of the Mother Road learned
the fate of the Stanley Cout-Tel, they scrambled to save some portion
of it for the future. They hope to salvage at least the motels sign
and put it on display where others can see it.
They discovered the city of
Eureka planned to tear down another 66 landmark, the Pacific 66 Liquor
sign, which features a huge 66 made from yellow light bulbs.
The group wrote letters and
appealed to the city of Eureka, which granted a six-month moratorium on
the sign. Out of this effort Kip hopes a model ordinance for sign preservation
will be created.
When the Coral Court closed
one unit of the motel was moved brick by brick to the National Museum
of Transportation in St. Louis County. One of the motels faded pink
signs was salvaged too and is on display at Route
66 State Park near Eureka.
The park holds great hope for
those who want to save Route 66s attractions. The nations
only Route 66 state park is located at what was once Times Beach. The
town closed when dioxin was found on its streets and a massive clean up
After the clean up ended the
state turned the site into a park which opened in 1999. Built in 1935,
the visitors center itself is a 66 attraction. It was once a rowdy
roadhouse known first as the Bridgehead Inn and later as Steinys.
A section of Route 66 that includes the Meramec River bridge passes through
new state park near the site of the once-condemned environmental clean-up
site Times Beach, honors Route 66.
While the park is still a work
in progress, it houses important artifacts from the Mother Road including
part of Gary Adkins extensive collection of Route 66 memorabilia.
Gary, a volunteer at the park, also loaned the Snortin Norton sign
he and his son salvaged from a pile of debris when the trucking firms
office building was razed.
Kip loaned an original Burma
Shave sign and the park also has an original Route 66 sign. Other priceless
items wait in storage until the building can be renovated.
Outside hangs the sign from
the defunct Keys Cafe in Villa Ridge. Efforts are underway to move more
threatened signs to the park, including the huge Arch Motel sign in St.
Relocating signs and buildings
concerns those involved in saving 66 landmarks. But often its the
only choice. It troubles me a lot, Kip says. But if
we cant save the place at least we can try to save part of it. If
weve got to move it, if theres no other way, then weve
got to move it.
He says the group plans to
document every aspect of landmarks before they are moved, so that later
an exhibit can be created that explains each locations history and
"Wrink" Wrinkle was born on Route 66 near Hazelgreen. You
can find just about anything at Wrink's Market, which has been in
business for 53 years on the Mother Road.
Other states have had tremendous
success in preserving their Route 66 landmarks. If Missouri is late getting
started, it still has great attractions worthy of the effort. Pacifics
Red Cedar Inn, a log structure dating to the 1930s, is a wonderful alternative
to fast food.
Tri-County Restaurant was once
known as the Diamonds. It survived a fire, was rebuilt and then moved
up the road several miles to what the owners thought would be a better
location closer to Pacific. Ironically the new Diamonds closed, but Tri-County
remains in business behind its curved-wall dining room.
In Lebanon, besides the world-famous
Munger Moss, Route 66 travelers can stop for a cold soda or lunch meat
at Wrinks Market, still in business after 53 years on Route 66.
If anything is in danger of being lost along the route its people
like Glenn Wrink Wrinkle, who predates the old road by three
I am its alpha and omega,
Wrink says of his little market. It was born with me and it will
die with me, I guess.
Stop by and Wrink will relate
tales of life along 66. Hell tell you of the time he traveled the
Mother Road himself in a Straight 8 Pontiac. For awhile you will be transported
back in time, and like others will recognize why Route 66 deserves to
If you dont it
will be gone forever, says Gary. If people dont understand
what Route 66 is and what its origins are, if the younger generation doesnt
get involved, then it will disappear.
For information on the Friends
of the Mother Road write to Kip Welborn, 3947 Russell Blvd., St. Louis,
MO 63110 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn about Route
66 State Park at www.mostateparks.com/route66.htm
or by calling (636) 938-7198. The Missouri Route 66 Association maintains
a web site at www.missouri66.org.