In part one of the Mustang USA road trip, I drove straight from Brooklyn to Chicago to pick up papa Burnett and we headed down Route 66 in search of fun and/or saturated fats. In part two, we continue into the Land of Lincoln where we’ll pet some bunnies, be reminded not to shoplift, and ultimately end up in rural Kansas at the burial site of our civil-war fightin’ ancestors.
I mentioned in part one that things were about to get even more Abe Lincoln-y, and you won’t be disappointed. Unless you thought you were going to see his actual house in Springfield. In that case, you will be completely disappointed, for by the time we waltzed into the visitor’s center, the tours were sold out for two hours. Uh, yeah… No. So we walked on up the street and toured the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, where Abraham Lincoln learned and subsequently practiced law.
My dad is a bit of a law buff (to put it extremely mildly) but I was as interested as he was to learn about Lincoln as a prairie lawyer. Lincoln practiced law for 16 years in Springfield. He even filed a patent for a floatation device for boats after representing a bridge company. Where’s your patent, Stephen Douglas? Thought so. This museum was interesting mainly for the history lesson, but unfortunately all the furniture is a mish mash of period antique props. All that was original to Lincoln’s law practice are the hardwood floors.
Across the street is the Springfield Old State Capitol, built in 1837-40. Abe Lincoln would have seen this from his second floor law office’s window. Like a lot of other antique buildings in Springfield, it has got a unique dark caramel color, thanks to the locally quarried yellow Sugar Creek limestone. In the 1930s the creation of Lake Springfield flooded the quarry, so good luck getting more of those rocks. In the 1960s, workers took this building completely apart, brick by brick, and fully restored it.
The old Illinois House of Representatives chamber on the second floor is beautiful.
Eventually my head exploded from historical facts and we headed on down Route 66. Didn’t take long to stumble across this awesome restored Shell station in Soulsby.
Back in 1926 when this station was built, this set of ramps would have been the professional’s choice for gaining access to your horseless undercarriage. That tree looks like it grew there later.
I went inside, the door was unlocked. The place is tiny, maybe 300 square feet. There was not a soul inside. Without any other tourists or people around, standing in there was an especially vivid glimpse into what old Route 66 must have felt like.
I still can’t believe that no one is watching all that stuff inside, but it sure made for a cool moment. All we took was pictures.
Things got decidedly weirder from there. In Staunton, Illinois you will find Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, which is an explosion of trucking memorabilia and rabbits. Both the furry kind and the Volkswagen kind.
The owner is a guy name Rich Henry and he drove trucks for a long time. His dad, “Hammerin” Hubert Henry, had his own trucking company.
All rabbits, of course. A funny nod to the famous Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, Texas.
What’s that Volkswagen squareback doing here? Evidently it belonged to acclaimed Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire, who also had a thing for Volkswagens.
ERMAGURD WIDDLE BUNNY WABBIT SO FUZZY, SO SOFT!!! Ahem. Sorry. I liked petting him. Rich introduced him repeatedly as the “world’s smallest kangaroo”, the reason for which never revealed itself. Maybe he jumps around? Has little boxing gloves? Maybe kangaroos like to sit on countertops motionless? I don’t know, I’ve never met a kangaroo.
Rich really loves all the rabbits he takes care of, and he’s been doing it a long time. Stop by this place. It’s super unique.
New state: Missouri. After all the action in Illinois today we had worked up a fierce appetite. With the sun starting to drop, we stopped in at Missouri Hick barbeque in a town called Cuba. Cuba is known for its folky murals you can find everywhere downtown.
The decor and atmosphere at Missouri Hick writes a awfully big check that their actual barbeque can’t quite cash, but I can’t argue with a local craft brew in a frosted glass. I’ll eat a plate of horseshit so long as I have a frosted glass of beer. Thumbs up.
The Fanning 66 Outpost is a nice gift shop and also boasts the Guinness world record’s largest rocking chair. Of course, it’s fully welded to the ground and doesn’t rock, because that would be terrifying.
A mural on the side of the Outpost. We had just refueled, so sadly I didn’t need to take advantage of Danny’s Gas Hole.
Speaking of a man’s anus, here’s all the deterrent you might need if you’re thinking about using the five finger discount on some Route 66 swag.
The Munger Moss is one of many classic Route 66 motels. We didn’t stay here, but the sign is exceptional.
That night we stayed in a town called Carthage at the Boots Court motel. The Boots is a classic motel built in 1939 (by a fella named Arthur Boots) and in its day hosted famous actors like Clark Gable (who stayed in our room, we were told).
A big effort is underway to fully restore Boots Court. There’s no television in the room, just a radio softly playing the local classic hits station, antique furniture, knitted duvets, and really nice hardwood floors. The woman who kindly waited up late for us to arrive was so pumped about the work that they had done that she showed us all five rooms, which were all equally fantastic. Funny thing happens when there’s no TV. You sit there and talk.
I haven’t talked much about the Mustang, because it’s been a champ on the trip, except for one thing. A little annoyance manifested itself on the ride into Missouri. Something in the BOSS side exhaust was intermittently rattling/whistling, always at 2,000 rpm, right behind my left ear, and it was driving me nuts. I got under there and loosened the side pipe and tightened it back up and it solved the problem…. for half a day. I was convinced it was the bolt under the rocker panel getting loose, so I went nuts and torqued it in there with some red Loctite, hoping that it would be cured overnight. Well, it didn’t work. After we checked out of the Boots we headed for coffee and that damn tick/rattle/whistle was still there. I knew I would have to get the car on a lift and check it out.
Right across the Garrison Avenue from Boots Court I saw a muffler shop called United Muffler. These guys rule. Gary, on the left, and his guy Chris helped me problem solve for an hour, even fabbed up a custom replacement hanger for the side pipe just to see if it would work. Ultimately they thought it was a flutter of some kind, not a mechanical rattle, and after repositioning the brackets for the side pipe and carefully lining everything up, they nearly solved it. It’s not gone, but it’s much better. I had to get out of there but I’m sure if I had more of the day they would have been happy to work on it until it was perfect. Shout out to United Muffler, they’re good people.
We hit the road and headed for Kansas in order to find and visit the gravesite of my father’s father’s father’s father, Levi Burnett. My dad had done a lot of research on his life and believed he was buried outside of Parsons. We fought through a downpour to get here, some of the blackest skies I ever saw, and at the end of some gravel roads, we found him.
Levi Burnett fought for the Union in every single significant battle in the Civil war. Legend has it that he once ran across a live battlefield and found bullet holes in his long coat when he got to the other side. He lived to be nearly 80 years old. His wife is buried at his side.
My dad and I are now the only living Burnett descendants to have seen Levi’s grave. Who knows when anyone else will come here to visit. Driving across America, particularly Route 66, you find yourself being in awe of the cultural history around every corner. So it was very special to have my dad show me a link to our own family history on the same trip.
After such a heavy morning we took the rest of the day and just blasted through Oklahoma on the interstate to make up time. (Sorry, no Oklahoma content! Next time.) Up next: Amarillo, Texas, and the Cadillac Ranch. Stay tuned.