During a trip home in January to see the old homestead in Illinois, I decided to drive most of my way back to Tulsa on U.S. 54 and see what old motels, old neon and roadside kitsch I could find.
U.S. 54 is about 1,200 miles. Its western terminus is at El Paso, Texas, and goes through New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. I started at the beginning, at Interstate 72 near Pittsfield in western Illinois.
I stayed overnight at the Green Acres Motel in Pittsfield, which is a clean, comfortable place built in the 1960s that goes for about $40 a room. And it has a fabulous neon sign. The desk clerk said a film crew had shot the neon sign some years ago, but she couldn't remember what movie.
One of Pittsfield's other jewels is the Cardinal Inn Cafe, which boasts not one, but two terrific neon signs. I ate a hearty breakfast there after a restful night at the Green Acres and found the cafe populated mostly by early-to-rise farmers.
Pittsfield also has the Zeno Theatre in its town square. It doesn't look prosperous, but it is being restored by a nonprofit group of volunteers. I think the group took its inspiration from the restoration of the Roxy Theatre in Shelbyville, Ill.
Heading west on U.S. 54 out of Pittsfield on a cold, cloudy morning, I encountered in the middle of nowhere the Clark 54 Drive-In, which is still operating (217-285-2805).
Below is the narrow bridge over the Mississippi River that goes into Louisiana, Mo. My father hauled farm implements over the bridge on a flatbed semi. The bridge was so narrow, it had to be barricaded to oncoming traffic for a couple minutes until he was able to drive to the other side.
Here are the remnants of the Shady Rest Motel in Laddonia, Mo.
In the main business district of Vandalia, Mo., I found the Vandalia Hotel. It's not only used as lodging (nine rooms), but as a restaurant.
As I approached Interstate 70 at Kingdom City, Mo., I saw some Route 66 flags flying next to a big retail development that resembled an Old West town. This was Nostalgiaville, which describes itself as "the coolest '50s and '60s store anywhere." Here is its Web site.
The sky started to clear and the sun came out. Unfortunately, this was about where U.S. 54 turns into a four-lane highway. Except for some scant old alignments, there was little to see until you went south of Jefferson City. Development from Jefferson City commuters also had obliterated much of the old road landmarks.
Around Eldon, Mo., you started to see the kitschy influence of the Lake of the Ozarks. Here is the Randles Court, which is a motel and a restaurant (573-392-5661).
At Lake Ozark, you are practically assaulted with roadside kitsch. Here are two Muffler Man specimens.
West of Lake Ozark, I was rounding a bend near the small settlement of Weaubleau, Mo., when I was stopped in my tracks by a bunch of well-kept motel cabins. This is the Weaubleau Motel, which was built in the late 1940s. I spoke briefly to the co-owner, Ron, who said he had done a lot of fix-up work on the cabins in recent years. The cabins go for $37.50 a night or $160 a week. It gets filled by many lake vacationers, he said. The phone number is (417) 428-3516. Places like the Weaubleau Motel are becoming increasingly rare, so check them out while you can.
I saw a few more old neon signs and old motels along the rest of my stretch of U.S. 54 across Missouri, but nothing too special.
But entering Fort Scott, Kan., I found the well-maintained Azure Sky Motel, which rents for $26.95 a person and $36.95 for two. The Lads have run the motel for 25 years (620-223-6410).
I continued on U.S. 54 through Kansas until I turned south on U.S. 169 to head home to Tulsa. I'm hoping I'll complete another long stretch of U.S. 54 soon.
7 thoughts on “A trip on U.S. 54”
i love the randles motel sign since my maiden name was randles
I enjoyed a quick look and will return .
~ am pursuing Laddonia , Missouri , due to an image of the
Main Street Cafe there that appeared in The New York Times ,
Week in Review ; Section 4 ; Sunday 11 February 2007 .
7 River Styx Road
Ashburnham , Massachusetts .
I immigrated the US from Canada as a child in 1957. We crossed the border at Detroit.The route my parents drove was 54 and then 66 all the way to Santa Monica. on the now historic highway .I am researching for my memoirs and woud like to know where route 54 joins 66? Did 54 come out of Detroit? I’d appreciate any information.
Palm Desert, Ca
54 joins 66 in Tucumcari NM
U.S. 54 joins Route 66 in Tucumcari, N.M.
U.S. 54 originally started in Chicago, but was shortened in 1972 to start in Griggsville, Ill., which is west of Springfield.
ohhh, you just hit me with a wave of nostalgia. I could see the Weaubleau Motel neon sign at night from my grandmother’s bedroom window. It was kind of like a beacon, always there through the years. During the few overnight stays I had, I would sit in the dark, leaning my forehead against the screen to breathe the cool night air (Grandma didn’t have air conditioning) and look out the window at the Motel light until I was sleepy enough to climb in bed and go to sleep. My brother and I were ornery and we’d climb up the bluff right off of 54 and throw sandstone clods down onto the highway (we were careful to do it when no cars were coming) because we liked the pattern the sandstone would leave on the pavement. The last time I did that was when I was aged 11, in 1973, because I went tumbling down the hill and landed dangerously close to the highway. My guardian angel must have been with me that day, because there were absolutely no cars anywhere near. I still have a scar on the back on my right hand from that fall. That was just a hop and a skip down the road from the motel. Thanks for stirring up some youthful memories!
Rt 54 is still on other side Soringfield, still goes to Chicago, I lived apartment over Gas station on Rt 54 check you pavements still there