Peeling The Onion
Kinda funny how life works sometimes. We are so busy most of the time that we get consumed with things to make our life easier so we can become more efficient, we do more in less time, we find ways to streamline the process. Instant email, texts, in-vehicle navigation, express routes to save a few minutes, bluetooth, Siri, Google Maps … I’m getting dizzy.
I’m concerned with all our modern conveniences to make our lives “easier” and more productive that we’ve become so focused and wound tight, if we ever start to unwind we will screw ourselves right into the ground!
It’s like a freeing of our spirit embarking on this adventure, no schedule and only a general direction and end goal. I didn’t expect our journey of discovery to include “self-discovery”, to take a look inside as well as outside. But maybe that’s how this is supposed to work. Like peeling back the layers of an onion to discover what’s underneath…for me, finding an unknown peace with a simpler time, discovering the Americana found on the cover illustrations of the Saturday Evening Post, maybe life a bit more genuine and honest. Now I’m not saying that I hear a throng of Angels descending and singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the background, but I might have just seen Pharrell singing “Happy” on that last corner.
I’m not sure I want to come back? I wonder if this is where technophobes come from. Those who can’t seem to embrace technology? You know the type, those with flip-phones who don’t monitor Facebook or Google everything in life? Perhaps it’s not that they can’t embrace it, maybe they can embrace it fine and choose not to. Maybe, just maybe, they’re really much farther down the road to discovery …. NAAHHH!
It seems the farther I go down Route 66, the farther back in time we’re traveling. At this section of Route 66 we’ve been finding rural beauty with the occasional old remnants of a simpler time on this byway. But upon arriving in Pontiac, Illinois we seem to have hit the motherload of the Mother Road in Illinois. This town is so quaint and picturesque. It’s like a painting by Norman Rockwell ~ that’s alive.
Right in the center of town is an elegantly restored Courthouse. This is the county’s third courthouse. Construction was completed on the building in 1875, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The architect, J.C. Cochrane of Chicago, also designed the Iowa State Capital. The courthouse was built at a cost of $75,000, which in today’s economy would be about ten million dollars. It was originally heated using wood or coal burning stoves in each room. Electricity and steam heat were added to the building in 1891, and the clocks which sit in the center spire of the building were installed in 1892.
Pontiac also abounds in museums to capture moments in time worth saving, both Route 66 Museums and War Museums, and then ~ there’s the “Walldogs”. The Walldogs are painters of nostalgic scenes on the sides of buildings. The self proclaimed Walldogs coined the nickname because they “worked like dogs in the heat of the day” to create their wall art. Here are some examples:
(click photo for larger image)
Among the most prolific of the Walldogs was Bob Waldmire
In addition to being an unbelievable talent, Mr. Waldmire was a hippie, an environmentalist, animal rights activist, anti-nuclear activist and a free spirit. He lived for some 50 years in his homemade version of a motorhome traveling Route 66 and applying his craft along the way. He drew the icons on 66, motels (like the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, Calif.), restaurants (Steve’s Cafe in Chenoa, Ill.), gas stations (Soulsby’s Shell Station, Mt. Olive, Ill.), weird places (the Edsel graveyard in Shamrock, Texas), whole towns (Needles, Calif.), even stretches of the “Mother Road” still in existence (in Hydro, Okla.; Halltown, Mo.; Dwight, Ill.).
Bob passed in 2009 but his VW Microbus and his unique homebuilt motorhome, which he called his “Road Yacht”, are enshrined at the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac, Illinois. Of course, his wall art is still alive and well, for now, but soon as weather takes it’s toll, I imagine it will be relegated to photos. There are many other Walldogs worthy of mention like the Diaz Family, Mike Battistello and Tang Dongbai.
Along the way we’ve already been discovering the “quirky”, too. For example, on Route 66 there are 3 statues, giant fiberglass statues made by the same company that created the large Michelin Man. One is a Giant Spaceman at the now closed Launching Pad Diner and another is a Giant Paul Bunyan holding a Hot Dog.
The Gemini Giant stands along Route 66 (down the road from the Polk-a-Dot restaurant). It’s in the parking lot of the Launching Pad Diner, but the restaurant is now closed and for sale.
During the heyday of Rt. 66, travelers passed hundreds of signs, murals, and other forms of roadside advertising, each hoping to grab its share of attention. Among the more famous of these stood the fiberglass giants created during the 1960’s by International Fiberglass of Venice, California.
Originally designed to hold an axe, the first of these was a “Paul Bunyan” figure, done for the Paul Bunyan Cafe on Rt. 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona, in about 1962. Most of the statues were derivatives of that one mold. As the retail attention-getters became popular, many of them were placed in front of service stations, holding such things as automobile mufflers and tires. They soon became known as “Muffler Men.”
In 1965, H. A. Stephens purchased one of these giants, swapped its original axe for a hotdog, and placed it in front of his restaurant on Rt. 66 in Cicero, Illinois. Mr. Stephens purposefully misspelled the name of his business “Bunyons” in order to avoid a potential trademark conflict with the Paul Bunyan Cafe. A legend was born, and over the next 38 years, “Bunyons Statue” became a Rt. 66 landmark.
Bunyon’s Statue is now on loan to the community of Atlanta, Illinois, where he graciously welcomes all Route 66 travelers and children to this friendly, hospitable community.
Weird at first blush, but maybe not when you think about the giant inflatable roadside “attention getters” that we have today hawking “Today Only”, “Best Sale in Town” and giant gorillas in yellow polka dot underwear.