Route 66, the iconic “Mother Road,” winds its way from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. If you don’t have the time to drive the entire route, why not take on this icon of American transportation history in bite-sized pieces? We’re going to help you do just that with a series called Get Your Pics on Route 66 in hopes that you’ll capture some great memories and images as you explore this little slice of Americana. Here’s the Western Missouri installment:
Route 66 runs about 300 miles across Missouri from St. Louis to Joplin, but because it still houses so many attractions and stops from the Mother Road, we will be covering the western half of the Show Me State today.
We left off in our trip along The Route across Missouri in Rolla. Today we’ll head west to a hilly, forested section of the Ozarks called the Devil’s Elbow. Named for a particularly sharp bend in the Big Piney River where logjams frustrated local lumberjacks, this section of Route 66 used to be a resort community, with cabins and plenty of peace and quiet. It was such an idyllic place that in 1926 the Missouri Planning Commission called Devil’s Elbow one of the seven wonders of the state.
The town’s population grew as tourists along the new highway stopped to see Devil’s Elbow Bridge and purchase Ozark novelties and postcards. Fishermen flocked to the area’s rivers and several businesses grew up in this flourishing environment, and with the growth of Fort Leonard Wood nearby, the community thrived.
But once Route 66 was moved one mile north, the businesses moved as well, and Devil’s Elbow began to see the writing on the wall. It’s really the story of so many communities along this iconic road across America.
Today’s explorers will find that some of the old highway still exists meandering along Interstate 44. The community of Devil’s Elbow, however, was hit hard by flooding in 2017, but the historic bridge crossing the river and many of the structures are being renovated. It is still well worth a stop along our tour.
Just down I-44 lies the town of Lebanon, Missouri, home to one of the first motels to open along the Mother Road. Camp Joy offered tent camps at $.50 per night, adding cottages and a gas station at a later date.
Lebanon is also home to a wonderful Route 66 Museum, where visitors learn about the history of the entire highway system through maps, dioramas, postcards and posters. And you certainly won’t want to miss the Munger Moss Motel, just north of the interstate. Still touting “Refrigerated” lodging and “Telephones,” it has been run by the same family since 1946 and continues to offer spotless rooms and Midwestern hospitality.
Across the street from the motel is another preserved relic from America’s Main Street—Wrinks Market. It stands empty but is in fine condition as an example of the businesses of yesteryear.
Springfield is the largest town in southwestern Missouri and holds several relics from The Route, including the Rail Haven Motel. Travelers were told to “look for the rail fence” as they came into town, and vintage advertising suggested that the motel was “a popular haven for women and children.” It still is! Today’s motel is thriving within the Best Western chain.
One beloved attraction that no longer exists, but still lives in infamy, is Red’s Giant Hamburg. Red and Julia Chaney purchased a motor court and gas station in 1947, but they soon tired of running that business. Deciding that a restaurant was more lucrative, they opened up Red’s on the property and became the first eatery with a drive-through. With an old white Buick parked permanently out front, the restaurant was immediately recognizable along Route 66 until Red decided he’d had enough and retired. The building was razed shortly after closing, but a new generation of Red’s Giant Hamburg lovers is in the process of opening a new restaurant a couple of miles away. A replica of his famous sign has also been placed in the Route 66 Roadside Park west of town.
Speaking of food, one of the original Steak ‘n Shake restaurants still serves up hamburgers in Springfield, delivering their orders via carhops!
Three miles west of Halltown on the original Route 66 lies Gary’s Gay Parita—an historic gas station with all of the accouterments of car lovers everywhere. Enamel gasoline signs, antique fuel pumps, and cars abound, and in the middle of it all is Gary Turner. He has a vast knowledge of The Route and loves sharing it with fellow travelers. This is definitely a stop worth making!
Follow old Route 66 to Carthage and discover an authentic American town square, complete with the requisite Victorian courthouse. The town just oozes Americana, and what better place to find the retro Boots Motel, where Clark Gable stayed more than once! The motel still has its neon sign, and preservationists brought the property back to life, providing rooms for rent again to road-weary travelers.
Just west of downtown is a blast from the past. Catch a flick at the 66 Drive-In Theater on any weekend. Even the ticket booth is stylish! Get there before dark to pick out the perfect spot, but enjoy the neon signage as you leave in the darkness.
You can drive the rest of Route 66 with our other “Get Your Pics on Route 66” articles. Read the entire series.