Route 66
Travelling the Main Street of America


We'll sleep to the west of the city, from where an evening run downtown is an attractive option - calling of course at Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard Stand on the way. It's easy to drive and park in central St Louis, and a walk around the wonderful Gateway Arch (with its superb Museum of Westward Expansion) and along the banks of the Mississippi is a must. The friendly folk at the excellent St Louis Transport Museum are also keen to welcome our group, and when you see the railway and motoring icons they've rescued, you'll be very glad we've led you to their suburban oasis.

There's a bit of ducking and diving to do west of St Louis. The old road basically parallels I-44, but it comes and goes. I had two guide books and an annotated map to follow, but each said something different and indelicate words were said from time to time! Your Road Book, will of course iron out all the lumps as you make your seamless westward progress. The Meramac Caverns at last come up on this stretch having been heralded for hundreds of miles by their famous barn signs. The run in to the Caverns is through very attractive country and the whole experience is a classic of opportunistic roadside tourism. Did outlaws really stash their loot here? Who cares! It makes a great story. And on the way back to old 66, check out the Jesse James and Antique Toy Museums in Stanton. There's no end of these living testaments to free enterprise along the Route!

A little further on, after Cuba's famous Wagon Wheel Motel, you'll find Route 66 Motors and General Store ("Investment Motor Cars at Hobby Prices"). This was closed when I came past, but it should be open for you. The stock of spare parts looks like a job lot from Dodgy Brothers Inc, but amongst the assorted paraphernalia there are bound to be real treasures. Some of the cars lurking around the site looked extremely interesting, so stop by and talk turkey.

Just where the Big Prairie country ends and you strike into the Ozarks is Rolla. The most interesting thing about the town is its name. Apparently, its founding father, a railroad engineer, wanted to name it after his birthplace, Raleigh. In his deep Southern drawl, he told his survey clerk to write this name on the map, but as he pronounced it "Rawl-ai", and the clerk had a limited grasp of linguistics, the spelling became fixed for ever as Rolla. Impress the natives by pronouncing it correctly as "Rawl-a". Talking of names to conjure with, there's also the Memoryville (!) Auto Museum to visit in Rolla. As for the town itself, it's a chaos of jumbled neon and exuberant, unplanned commercialism - charming and horrifying in equal measure. Each fast-food joint and tyre shop competes with its neighbours in a visual screaming match. Like generations of motorists, you will have to run the gauntlet of these feverish attempts to lasso your wallet.

One of 66's earliest sections of dual carriageway runs through "Hooker Cut", once one of the Route's engineering marvels. All those multiple lanes of traffic-ready concrete now glide peacefully through their man-made canyon, well clear of the new Interstate's distant thunder. It's a wonderful piece of ghost-road and so beautiful in the warm October sunshine that I just had to go back for a second run at it. It gets even better as you swing into the Devil's Elbow loop of the old single-track; a twisting, scenic plunge through dark woods and across the Big Piney River on a decrepit iron bridge. You wonder why this pretty stretch struck such fear into Mother Roaders, until you try to imagine what it must have been like in the dark or on a foggy day with the relentless crush of roaring traffic that once surged through this inadequate gap. Utterly terrifying!