Route 66
Travelling the Main Street of America


Springfield places the dedicated Mother Roader on the horns of a dilemma. From here to our next over-night stop near Carlinville there are two valid Route 66s. The post-thirties road-bed is a great stretch of straight old concrete and a delight to drive, but the earlier ducking-and-diving 1926 route is crammed with interest. I would honestly have to recommend that you firstly zip down the later alignment, where you'll find, amongst many other unmissable things, Our Lady of the Highways and her prayer signs inspired by the immortal Burma-Shave advertising boards. Then, dash back up the Interstate the thirty-odd miles to just south of Springfield and do the older route. This will take you through some remote little towns, and it includes sections of original red-brick paving and narrow 'twenties concrete where the ghost of many a T-model Ford lingers to live again the feeling of that first sealed surface beneath its battered chassis. It's also the only way you're going to see Carlinville itself. This was one of the real surprises of my trip. It was an important and wealthy town in the nineteenth century, and having been by-passed by "new" Route 66 in 1939, it has preserved the splendour of its old heart. The wonderful town square comes upon you without warning, and I was so startled by this thing of beauty in the middle of nowhere that I shot straight through it on my first trajectory and had to turn back. The fortress of a jail suggests a troubled past, overlooked as it is by the most imposing and grandiose Courthouse you're likely to see anywhere outside a capital city. Another charming spot, Sugar Creek covered bridge, can be reached from either of the two alignments and is a rewarding side-step.

Even doing the double journey between Springfield and Carlinville, you'll find this 200-mile day a gentle cruise - as long as you don't linger too long over its myriad wonders. I know you're going to find it hard to tear yourself away from some of them, but it's worth checking into your overnight accommodation just outside Carlinville by early evening, because there's more to come! Litchfield is a few minutes away. It lies on tomorrow's route, so you'll see the sights then, but this is a Route 66 culinary Mecca and should be visited at dinner time. Nick Adam runs the Ariston, one of the best of the few surviving one-site authentic Route 66 diners. I engineered three visits during the recce run, drawn back by an irresistible combination of good food, friendly service, great atmosphere and Nick's store-house of Route 66 stories. He's seen it all since the family moved the business to its present site in 1935 and has many a tale to tell any willing listener. In 1996, he even had a swarm of Trabants through on their way to California, so if they can do it. . .

Litchfield is also home to the Route 66 Café, just up the old road from the Ariston. This is a smaller and more basic establishment, but again full of atmosphere and totally unspoilt. I'd strongly recommend it as a breakfast stop, if you feel able to give the hotel's breakfast a miss. When I went there, I was the only non-local in the place and got a friendly welcome as well as an excellent traditional American breakfast.