Another Rambling Artist on Route 66

19 Dec

Today we made our way from Chicago to St. Louis and it seemed everywhere we turned we were being shadowed by giants. The first one was in Wilmington, IL, where the Gemini Giant resides. If you have been following the blog and the Project so far you already know this attraction was high on my list of things to see, and he did not disappoint. Little did I realize that giants would appear further down the road in Atlanta, IL and in Springfield. All three are made from fiberglass “muffler men,” a common fixture at Goodwrench garages in the 60s. The originals were dressed as service attendants and held up a giant muffler. The Gemini giant holds a rocket, his brother in Atlanta is dressed as Paul Bunyon and holds a giant hot dog, and the one in Springfield is still in front of a garage but he holds nothing at all.

Another presence who kept appearing during our trip was the late artist Bob Waldmire. Bob was a fixture on Route 66 for over 50 years, traveling up and down the route in his orange VW bus. Bob was also the inspiration for the character Fillmore,, voiced by the great George Carlin, in the first Cars movie. In Pontiac, IL, we had our first ”encounter” with Bob at the Illinois Route 66 musuem where a lovely lady named Pauline showed us the display of his van, which is filled to the brim with buttons and toys and general debris – as she said, “he was a real hippie, you know.”  She told us that Pixar offered Bob 3 million dollars to be the voice of Fillmore in the movie, but he found out one of the biggest sponsors was McDonald’s and he was a strict vegan so he refused the check. Talk about sticking to your principles! Bob used to doodle maps and postcards all along the route, and some of you receiving postcards will get his designs – you’ll know if you do because they are rendered in “vivid black and white” and take a magnifying glass to read.

One of our last stops of the day under less-than-ideal weather conditions was the Cozy Dog Cafe, which – as it turns out – was started by Bob Waldmire’s father and is supposedly the birthplace of the corn dog. They have a ton of 66 memoribilia and it was fun to rest a while and enjoy a beverage before getting back on the road.

We arrived in St. Louis in really heavy rain, but that did not deter us from visiting Ted Drewe’s frozen custard, where we waited outside in the rain with about 50 other people to get one of the famous treats. JJ’s cousin Brenda met us there and explained that it is custard, not ice cream. The difference, according to Brenda, is that “it’s way worse for you – has a higher fat content.” So there’s that. It was quite delicious and I can see why it is a fixture on the route. St. Louis has some of the most beautiful houses and buildings I’ve seen and I would love to come back when we can spend more time and see it in dry weather – I am sure seeing it in the rain at night was not the best way to experience things.

Tomorrow we are off bright and early to Oklahoma City!


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