The old Meramec River Bridge at Route 66 State Park. (Judy Hinckley)
One week ago today we bid adios to Connie Echols and Cuba, Missouri after a delightful weekend and set out on a leisurely drive to Route 66 State Park. Straddling the Meramec River this beautiful and historic park is rather symbolic of the multifaceted challenges faced by the Route 66 community.
On the west side of the Meramec River, the park is a stunningly beautiful nature preserve on the former site of Times Beach, a small resort community along Route 66. Contaminated by dioxins, in the 1980’s the town became an international poster child for the dangers of environmental degradation and land reclamation.
The east side of the park consists of a section of Route 66 and the visitor center housed in what was once Steiny’s, a roadhouse and hotel. Linking them is the superstructure minus decking of an historic Route 66 bridge.
An exhibit at Route 66 State Park.
As a result, to visit both sides of the park requires a loop drive of miles. It also drastically limits the number of visitors. Partial demolition of the bridge also drove a spike in the areas development of a Route 66 based bicycle trail system. All of this has resulted in an ongoing battle between the State of Missouri, an array of special interest groups, and preservationists.
After making my presentation at the parks open house, answering questions, and signing books, everyone was treated to a complimentary cup of Ted Drewes frozen custard, a St. Louis specialty since 1929. It was late in the afternoon when we said goodbye to friends and set out on the long journey home.
The issues with the Jeep and the late hour led us to follow the interstate highway to Lebanon. The bland and sterile adventure across Missouri came to a very abrupt end when we arrived at the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon.
As always, Bob and Ramona, proprietors of the motel since 1974, gave us a warm reception. And as often happens on a Route 66 adventure, the couple met at the Wagon Wheel Motel gift shop early that morning, Jan and Martin Miller, were also checking in. Now we had dinner companions.
An argument could easily be made that the Munger Moss is the most authentic vintage motel on Route 66. With origins in the 1950s, the motel has been maintained rather than restored. As a result it shows its age here and there but it is spotlessly clean and the atmosphere is without equal.
As Mike and Sharon Ward were also staying at the motel, our dinner party continued to expand in number. We selected Dowd’s upon the recommendation of the Ward’s and no one was disappointed.
Delightful conversation, friends new and old, and excellent food made for a perfect end to the day. Without reservation, I can highly recommend Dowd’s in Lebanon as the food, service, and atmosphere were very good.
The following morning, after checking the oil level in the front differential, my dearest friend and I resumed the homeward journey. Before leaving town we decided to give The Elm Street Eatery a try for breakfast.
This restaurant also receives a hearty recommendation. It was dated but clean, the staff was very professional and friendly, and the food was quite good. Even better, a breakfast for two was less than ten dollars.
The oil leak became rather series with higher speeds. As a result, we were forced to cut the pace which added hours and necessitated adjustments to the schedule as well as travel plans.
We followed the interstate to Joplin, and Route 66 into Galena. We missed Melba but were able to meet with Renee Charles, her sister, of the Kansas Route 66 Association.
In Miami, I succumbed to my craving for another buffalo burger. Waylan’s Ku Ku Burger is more than a local institution, it is an absolute treasure, a true time capsule that hearkens to an era before generic burger stands dominated the roadsides of America.
The adjustments to the travel plans included skipping Afton Station and a stop at Jerry McClanahan’s. We did, however, have an opportunity to explore some of the astounding J.M. Davis collection in Claremore even though we could allow for only a one hour visit.
The facility houses the largest private firearms collection in the world (more than 13,000 pieces, some dating to 1350). That in itself makes it a worthwhile and interesting stop that could easily consume hours.
However, this amazing museum houses far more than just rare, unique (a jackknife pistol, a hand cannon, a ski gun?), and historically significant firearms. It also houses a staggering collection of World War I recruitment posters, Native American artifacts, musical instruments, presidential campaign materials, beer steins, ornate and intricate music boxes, an interesting gift shop, and model railroad display.
This is another stop that I can highly recommend. Even if your not a fancier of guns, I am rather confident you will be fascinated.
The destination for the day was Weatherford. As it was almost 4:30 when we left Claremore, there was little doubt that we would once again be making a late arrival.
Fortunately Lucille’s Roadhouse was still open for dinner when we arrived. We have stopped here on numerous occasions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have yet to have a bad meal.
After a pleasant nights rest at the Best Western Mark Motor Hotel, an older property that has obviously been recently refurbished we were ready for another day. An interesting twist to what seems to be the standard breakfast in the lobby at most motels was the issuance of a breakfast voucher upon check in.
The voucher was good for one of three items from the restaurant next door. Having breakfast with the locals is always a great way to start a day.
As the days destination was Albuquerque, and the schedule called for meeting with Larry Clounts of the Texas Route 66 Association in Shamrock, and Dora Meroney in Amarillo we set out on the road rather early. Still, we found time for a few discoveries and a bit of exploration but that part of the story will need to be told in the next posting.
Jim Hinckley's America is a grand adventure on the back roads and two lane highways. It is an odyssey seasoned with fascinating people, and memory making discoveries. As made evident by the publication of fourteen books on subjects as diverse as diverse as Ghost Towns of the Southwest, The Illustrated History of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Travel Route 66, Backroads of Arizona, and The Route 66 Encyclopedia, I enjoy sharing adventures and helping people plan for their own memory making journeys.