Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

a Route 66 primer

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

The Gemini Giant of Route 66

The Gemini Giant of Route 66

Here is one of the many kitschy delights to be found along Illinois’ Route 66: the Gemini Giant in Wilmington.  He is a 1965 Muffler Man, now stationed at the Launching Pad Drive-In.  This is the first of three giants I’ll see in this state, apparently.  (…lookit his face!  It’s creepy!)

For those of you who don’t know much about Route 66, maybe I should give you the Coles Notes.  In 1926, Route 66 officially opened, connecting a network of city streets, dirt roads and wagon trails that crossed eight states, all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles.  John Steinbeck named it “The Mother Road” in his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath.  In the 1930s, over 250,000 people (largest migration in American history) fled the Dust Bowl Era and made their way west to a new life along Route 66.  In the following decade during World War II, military troops and equipment were transported from across the country along the Route to training grounds in California.  These heavy loads took a toll on the route, which was not built for such vehicles and weights.  After the war, Americans were optimistic and wanted to travel!  Route 66 became the primo road trip, and millions took to the road to see the wonders of the west (Grand Canyon, Vegas, Hollywood, etc.).  All of this use and traffic on the road was ultimately too much for it.  The interstate system came into being and between 1977-1984, interstate highways were built to bypass Route 66.  In 1984, Williams AZ was the last town to be bypassed by the interstate.  Business owners said it was like a tap suddenly being turned off: one day there were hundreds of Route 66 travelers to serve – the next, maybe only a handful.  Most had to either move their businesses to where the new traffic flowed, or close up shop altogether.  The abandoned evidence from those bright times that lies along the deserted stretches was what initially drew me to this road.  The history, the stories, the quiet isolation… I am finding, though, that the areas where the original Route passes close to the interstate are not so empty after all.  What’s more, Route 66 associations are very active in keeping the history alive, and more and more restorations are popping up along the road.  Just last night I passed two beautifully restored gas stations in a matter of minutes.
OK, so: the internet is truly amazing.  I have only been on the road for a couple of days, and already people I don’t even know are contacting and following me.  I received a very nice call today from a company called “Campfire in a Can”.  They saw the blog and want to support me, and are sending me a portable propane campfire to use on the trip!  My first sponsorship – I certainly hope THAT trend continues.  (… now, how can I get sponsorship from Speedway, or BP?  Or Budweiser??)  Thanks to Maureen in St.Louis for agreeing to have it delivered to her home – and thanks to Lisa at Campfire in a Can for her support!

But as great as the online networking is, it takes a lot of time – and a lot of battery power.  I have been fighting with my trailer battery all day, trying to keep it charged enough to run the laptop, lights and water pump.  I spent the day getting caught up with emails, starting a Twitter account, installing the 2TB backup drive on which I’ll be storing the thousands of time lapse photos, etc. etc.  By late afternoon I had packed up to do some more of the Route, but realized that the gnats from hell were starting to come out again.  They aren’t horrible right here, but along the Route last night they were so incredibly invasive, I decided it made more sense to stay put, make a good meal, and get a decent night’s sleep… then I can get onto a more early schedule and get more shooting/driving done before the swarms descend (she says, writing a blog entry at 1:00am).

So I cooked in the trailer for the first time.  Went great.  Lovely Sharwood’s Indian chicken korma with… MINUTE RICE!  (That cracks me up.)  A nearby RVer loaned me his portable water tank so that I could refill the fresh water tank on the Aliner.  I’m loving how supportive people are being!!  It really is a community, isn’t it?

…Heavens to Murgatroyd, I can’t get Neil Diamond’s “Play Me” out of my head !!!  I don’t know what’s worse: that, or the troublesome buzzing noise my laptop’s power supply is making.


Comments are closed.