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The Satillite Cafe and John Glenn’s First Orbit of the Earth

Satellite Cafe, Photograph, 1981

Loren and Norma Alloway and her husband, owners of the grocery in Sleeper, a small town off F Road north of Route 66, celebrated John Glenn’s orbit of the earth on February 20, 1962 by opening the Satellite Cafe at the junction of F Road and U.S. 66 in Laclede County, Missouri.

Satellite Cafe

In 1965 they built a simple concrete block building, set a large sign in the shape of a cross that encouraged travelers on 66 to stop and EAT. They set a rocket on the roadside that no one could miss.

The Alloways operated the cafe and service station  24 hours a day for 14 years, hiring older women who knew how to cook to run the kitchen. At this link you will find an image of the Satellite in its heyday.

Alloway Grocery, Sleeper

Sleeper is an unincorporated village in Laclede County. The Atlantic and Pacific (Frisco) Railroad went through Sleeper as early as 1874. Then it became a station on the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. In 1889 it was a town with two general stores,  a blacksmith shop, and a railroad section shack. It was named for Mr. Sleeper, the construction gang foreman who laid the tracks. At first it was called Sleeper’s Switch, for the spur that connected the mainline to a coal chute.

More recently two trains on the BNSF collided in Sleeper. Read the article. It’s very funny.


No Wait for a Blood Test to Get Married in Miami, Oklahoma

Drive Route 66 into Miami, Oklahoma and you will find the roadside franchised into oblivion: all those fast food joints and little in the way of memories of Route 66. That was not the case when I started documenting the roadside in 1979.

In 1979, as now, there was no requirement for a blood test. No requirement for a blood test meant no wait. There was no residency requirement for a license. No residency requirement meant folks from southwestern Missouri and southeastern Kansas could get married on the spur of the moment.


The Cherokee Motel had a wedding parlor for folks from out of town. Get married at the Cherokee and check in for the night. The Cherokee is gone, but Lavern’s Marriage Parlor is very much still in business.

Laverne's Marriage Parlor

Off the beaten track, if you consider Route 66 the beaten track, Lavern Harris opened a Marriage Parlor on B Street in 1954 , right across the street from the courthouse. Pop into the courthouse, get your license, pop over to Lavern’s Marriage Parlor, get married. It all took less than an hour. Even now it all takes less than an hour.

Lavern had a preacher on call. She still offers a preacher’s service for $60.  And for a few dollars more the flowers, the garter, and the sign for the back of your car. Check out her website.

The Riviera Roadhouse

Riviera Roadhouse, Gardner, Illinois

Riviera Roadhouse, 1926


I am late to this reporting. On June 8, 2010 the Riviera Road House in Gardner, Illinios burned to the ground.

In 1996 Burt Parkinson, the newspaper editor in Gardner, told me the little of what I know about the Riviera:

In 1926 Jim Girot quit the coal mine in South Wilmington, and opened the Riviera, a roadhouse, on U.S. 66 two miles north of Gardner. It was rumored that Jim offered gambling at the Riviera. Actually, Jim offered a little bit of everything: a little bit of gambling, a little bit of booze, and a little bit of prostitution. He cobbled it together from a little bit of everything: part of a church, part of a school, part of a tin store, and part of the payroll office from the mine where he had dug coal. The final assemblage was several typical Illinois buildings patched together, similar to the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century houses that lined the streets of towns served by 66 in Illinois.

The Riviera went through several owners after Jim Girot. When Bob and Peggy Kraft decided to quit in 2008, that wasn’t the end of the Riviera, but it was the beginning of the end.

Bob Keller leased the building from the Krafts and fought with the fire officials in Gardner over fire safety in the building and fought with the Illinois Route 66 Association over access to the old streetcar diner behind the Riviera. Even without all the fights, restaurant work is hard work and Keller finally backed out of his lease with the Krafts and left the restaurant empty.

However, the Riviera lives on. It  has its own Facebook page. Willem Bor has photographs of his model of the Riviera on his Facebook page.


Bill’s Station Phelps, Missouri

Bill's Station, Phelps, Missouri

Thirty years ago, when I was first exploring the idea of writing a book on U.S. Highway 66, I made this photograph of Bill’s Station in Phelps, Missouri. The old station sits on one of those sections of the road, which at the time, could be considered a Route 66 museum. Between Springfield and Carthage I-44 had completely abandoned U.S. 66, stripping away the economic viability of the business in between.

When I wrote Along Route 66, I learned what I could about Bill’s Station. And all I could learn was Bill’s last name: Bill Tiller.  He built this little building, finished it in stucco, and added a wooden lean-to at the rear. Bill may have had a canopy over service area which may have met a bad end. The little mansard roof supported by steel poles must have been added to the front later. A few steps to the east he built a small, wooden garage. And the stucco building to the rear may have been a small motel.

Bill's Station, 2010

Rich Dinkela, who had been documenting what is left of the roadside buildings, posted this image, along with my image on my facebook page. Bill’s Station is well on its way to disintegrating.

Rich’s image brings to mind Alan Weisman’s great book, The World without Us, in which he examines what is happening in built places we humans have abandoned. What he wants to understand is what would happen if humans no longer roamed the earth. Nature, he concludes, would take it all back. This is what is happening to Bill’s Station.

I suspect what is happening to Bill’s is happening to many of the wood frame and stucco buildings that line this section of the old highway. Nature–wind, rain, and vegetation–is taking them back, bit by little bit.

The Blvd. in Duarte

The Blvd Cafe, Duarte, California

I did not realize that when I started this blog that I would be marking the passing to the architectural landmarks along Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles, landmarks I spent 20 years documenting. But as my husband said a year ago as we drove through Miami, Oklahoma, where Route 66 has been franchised into oblivion: “Someday soon all that will be left of Route 66 are your photographs.”

An article in the Thanksgiving Day issue of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reintroduced me to Susie Tomasian.

Susie and her husband Tommy came to Foothill Boulevard and opened the BLVD in 1946, at a time when many ex-GIs were opening businesses along this American highway and others and at a time when Americans were traveling for fun. The BLVD was a place where you could pull in, have a burger at the service counter in the open-air lean, and get on your way. Or, if you wanted something at tad more elegant, you could sit down in the restaurant in the little stucco house that serviced as the back wall of the lean-to.

When Susan Croce Kelly and I were interviewing people, along Foothill for Route 66: The Highway and Its People in June 1982, we pulled up to the BLVD and were lucky enough to find Susie behind the counter. By 1998, when I returned to Duarte to work on Along Route 66: The Architecture of America’s Highway, many of the small businesses Susan and I found in 1982 had given way to franchises and strip malls and the occasional big box store with a massive parking lot. I don’t remember if the BLVD had survived or not, but I do remember Susie and her burgers and her genuine warmth.

Susie Tomasian, The BLVD, 1982

The Diamonds, aka Tri-County Truck Stop

Tri-County Truck Stop, Villa Ridge, Missouri

When I was a little kid, the round-fronted facade of the Diamonds on Route 66 at Villa Ridge, Missouri intrigued me. When I decided to write a book on the architecture of the American roadside as built along U.S. Highway 66, the Diamonds, now the Tri-County Truck Stop, was the landmark that stood out in my mind. How grateful I was to find it still standing, as I drove 50 miles west of St. Louis to see if there were enough roadside buildings to even write a book on Route 66 architecture. That was 1980.

When I learned that that the Tri-County had an all-you-can eat Alaskan crab dinner every Friday night, I organized a group of friends to go. One brought along Susan Croce Kelly, who understood all my chatter about Route 66. Several, weeks later I invited her to work with me on a book on the old highway. Together, we produced Route 66: The Highway and its People from the University of Oklahoma Press. Susan wrote the text to the book, a text drawn from oral histories we did together, using the buildings to identify our informants. I would identify a building, we would go in and ask for the original owner. If it was not the person behind the counter, we learned we could find him or her some where nearby. We were careful to talk to people who had come to the roadside between 1926, when Congress passed the highway act that funded the federal highway system and 1956 when Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act that funded the roads that replace Route 66 and the other federal highways. These were the people who invented American roadside tourism. And, we were very lucky, because so many were still around to tell their stories.

Route 66 is the definitive book on the old highway, from its routing as the only diagonal federal highway to its replacement by the interstates.

The other day I drove past the Tri-County and found it shuttered, bordered up. New, fancier trucks stops have sprung up closer to the I-44-Missouri 100 interchange.

Below is the caption to the photograph at appears in Along Route 66, the book on the architecture from the University of Oklahoma Press.

The Diamonds, 1948-1973

Villa Ridge, Missouri

Spencer Groff housed the first Diamonds in a wooden building at the Y where U.S. 66 split from the Old State Road, picked up the Old Wire Road, and headed west. After it burned in 1948, he teamed up with Louis Eckelkamp to build a second Diamonds. While Eckelkamp lured families into the Gardenway Motel with a homey American Colonial architecture, Groff and Eckelkamp projected an aura efficiency to travelers and truckers with a Streamline Moderne architecture at the Diamonds. The great curved front of the beige brick restaurant overlooked the intersection of the Old State Road and the Old Wire Road. While families were welcome at the Diamonds, Groff and Eckelkamp isolated them from the truckers a separate dining room. They provided truckers with sleeping rooms and showers on the second floor. They directed civilians to the Gardenway

The Diamonds was one of the rare businesses to survive the coming of the interstates. When I-44 replaced 66 in 1973, Groff and Eckelkamp took their sign in the shape of a diamond, moved to the interchange at Gray Summit and built a motel and restaurant that catered to tourists. The Tri-County Truck Stop, which had lost its building to I-44 in Sullivan, twenty miles west of Villa Ridge, took over the building, and mounted a sign that stretched the length of the roof line.[Endnote #11] Photograph, 1980.


Along Route 66–The Landscape–The Chicago Portage National Historic Site

The Chicago Portage

The Chicago Portage National Historic Site

“We could go with ease to Florida in a bark and by very easy navigation. it would be necessary to make a canl, but cutting through a half league of prairie, to pass from the foot of Lake Michigan to the Des Plaines River.” –Louis Joliet, 1673

The only impediment to navigation between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River was the Chicago Portage, a low continental divide just west of Chicago.

Native Americans recognized that the Chicago Portage was the shortest route between the St. Lawrence River, which drains to the Atlantic, and the Mississippi, which drains to the Gulf of Mexico.

Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet returned to Lake Michigan after their discovery of the Mississippi, a trip which took them as far south as the Arkansas before they turned back. They began their trip in Green Bay, which took them to the Fox River, across a divide to the Wisconsin, and down the Wisconsin to the Mississippi.

They returned to Lake Michigan via the Illinois River, the Des Plaines River, and the Chicago Portage.

The Des Plaines is the northern branch of the Illinois and flowes from southern Wisconsin south parallel to and five miles west of the Illinois shore of Lake Michigan. The river turns south west two or three miles east of a swamp known as Mud Lake, which fed both the Des Paines and the south branch of the Chicago River, which flowed into Lake Michigan at the future site of Chicago.

Native Americans and pioneers in canoes could portage from one river to the other across Mud Lake, but travelers in larger boats could not. When Marquette and Joliet crossed the swamp in 1673, Joliet noted that a canal could connect the two rivers and make passage to the Mississippi from Lake Michigan easy. Several, years later LaSalle, who traveled down the Mississippi to the Gulf, noted that the upper reaches of the Illinois River were unnavigable to Peru, Illinois and any canal that connected the Illinois to Lake Michigan would have to bypass that section of the Illinois.

In 1848 the Illinois and Michigan Canal did just that.

The canal that connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi cut a channel through solid rock from the south branch of the Chicago River to the Chicago Portage, which separated water which flowed to the Atlantic from that which flowed to the Gulf of Mexico. It crossed Mud Lake and ran parallel to the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers.

If you are traveling Route 66 out of Chicago, Ogden Avenue runs west to Illinois 43, which travels south to Joliet Road, where 66 picks up again. A little south of that intersection is the entrance to the Chicago Portage National Historic Site, which sits on the divide between drainage to the Mississippi and that to Lake Michigan.

A Lock and Dam at Lockport, sluice gates at Chicago Harbor,  a Lock and Dam on the Calumet River, pumps at Wilmette harbor control the flow of water through the system.

In 1900 the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, 28 miles long, replaced the Illinois and Michigan Canal and connected Lake Michigan to the Des Plaines River. Before its construction, Chicago dumped its sewage into Lake Michigan, from which the city also drew its drinking water.

In essence, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River, made a second cut through the divide, and sent Chicago’s sewage to the Mississippi. In 1907 it was extended to Joliet. In 1910 a second canal, the North Shore Channel, was added to the system, and a third, the Cal-Sag Channel was added in 1922.

I have this fantasy that should any or all of the dams failed, the Great Lakes would drain to the Gulf of Mexico.

World Monuments Fund

Pop Hicks, Clinton, Oklahoma

Pop Hicks, Clinton, Oklahoma

The World Monuments Fund posts watch list of places in the built environment that are endangered from neglect. The Los Angeles Times suggested that Route 66 should be nominated as such a site.

Pop Hicks, a classic Route 66 restaurant in Clinton, Oklahoma, is long gone. It burned to the ground in 1999. The owner could not afford fire insurance and could not rebuild the business. This is a form of neglect.

The great Coral Courts is gone, razed because it was falling apart in spite of its renown on Route 66.

Coral Court Motel, St. Louis

Coral Court Motel, St. Louis

The Coral Court was on the National Register of Historic Places, but that didn’t save. The bottom line is economics, and not even those of us who have traveled 66 for years stay in these old motels.

The Shamrock, Sullivan, Missouri

The Shamrock, Sullivan, Missouri

It would be nice if places like the Shamrock could be turned into successful Bed and Breakfasts. The Shamrock already has a dining room.

Gardenway Motel, Grey Summit, Missouri

Gardenway Motel, Grey Summit, Missouri

The Gardenway is still in business, but few know, unless you have read Along Route 66, that it was named after Henry Shaw’s Gardenway, an attempt to plant Missouri trees along the highway between St. Louis and Grey Summit.

Trails End Motel, Springfield, Missouri

Trails End Motel, Springfield, Missouri

The Trails End is to Springfield as the Coral Court was to St. Louis. It is a classic architecture, practiced only in the Springfield area.

Route 66, Halltown, Missouri

Route 66, Halltown, Missouri

Ten years ago Halltown, and intact road town, was thriving as an antique center west of Springfield.

There are others. What is left out there? Could Route 66 be a viable World Monument site? I am open to suggestions.

Mojave Desert, Solar Farms, and Water

Mojave Desert along Route 66

Mojave Desert along Route 66

BrightSource Energy, Inc. cancelled its plans to build a solar farm on 600,000 acres of railroad land donated to the Department of the Interior for conservation. BrightSource builds, owns, and operates solar plants.

This is the land by Sen. Dianne Feinstein would like to see transformed into the Mother Road National Monument. If that happens, the land would connect the Mojave National Preserve to the north with the Joshua Tree National Park to the south, and the Colorado River to the east.

It is my long time interest in Route 66 that draws me to alternative energy and the Mojave, and how energy extraction changes landscapes.

For my first book on Route 66, Susan Croce Kelly and I took oral histories from poeple who built gas stations, motels, restaurants, and trading posts along the road after it was established in 1926 and before the passage of the Interstate Highway Act with funded the roads that replaced 66. The book Route 66: The Highway and its People is the basic text on the founding of the road and the creation of roadside tourism.

My second book, Along Route 66, is about the architecture of their buildings. Again, I drew on the oral histories Kelly and I had taken in the 1980s and on additional interviews taken by phone in the 1990s.

Now, I am interested in the landscapes the old road crossed from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, the coal fields and oil fields that lie under the landscape, and how we change the landscape when we extract energy from it.

This idea blossomed when I visited Moraine State Park, near Bloomington, Illinois, where Route 66 crossed the Bloomington Moraine, laid down by the retreating Wisconsinan glacier 15,000 years ago. The Twin Groves Wind Farm occupies soybean and corn fields just north of the park.

Twin Groves Wind Farm, Bloomington Moraine, LeRoy, Illinois

Twin Groves Wind Farm, Bloomington Moraine, LeRoy, Illinois

So if I seem preoccupied with things not Route 66, forgive me, but this is a new role the old road can play in my life and work.