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Traveling the Very First Blue Carpet Corridor

When a new Route 66 event launches in Illinois, even ominous rainy weather does not hamper the enthusiasm. The inaugural Blue Carpet Corridor, with events and sites to see in 18 southern Illinois communities, was a perfect example. The event had been in discussion for some time, when the late Stan Barker "pulled the trigger" and history was made last weekend, June 13th & 14th, 2015. Stan didn't live to see his dream come true, but incredible volunteers from the communities and key leadership roles taken on by Cheryl Eichar Jett from Edwardsville and Dave Tucker from Gillespie made sure the event still happened, and in a big way.

Bill Kelly at Virden Opening Ceremony on Saturday

My journey began in Virden on Saturday, which had a terrific downtown display of antique cars, vendors and at 10am kick-off presentation, including a moving tribute to Stan Barker and a keynote speech by Bill Kelly, executive director of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, who also provided invaluable input as the liaison at the many Blue Carpet Corridor planning meetings. Virden was one of the many communities where I also spotted the new Illinois Scenic Byways bike racks. Right away, I began finding myself obsessed with getting all the stamps from each participating community in my passport book, and I heard a lot of other travelers to the event were very focused on that fun task as well. One of the other things I noticed was how well this large multi community event was signed, which was invaluable for the trip.

Whispering Joe & Abraham Lincoln at the Brick Road

Next, I back-tracked to Auburn to take the brick road and meet up with the folks at the passport stop, including Whispering Joe, performing on guitar and vocals and Abe Lincoln too. In what has become a tradition, Joe always invites me up to sing our interpretation of the classic Troggs song, "Wild Thing". After that, it was back up to Chatham to visit Again Antiques, the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge (for the first time), the old train depot and take in some of Chatham's Homecoming festival as it was getting underway for the day.

New Illinois Scenic Byways Bike Rack at Doc's Soda Fountain

Thayer was the next stop, with a classic car and bike display at Pudock's Hideout, which was the passport stop as well. Then I was off to Girard for the passport stop at the famous Doc's Soda Fountain and the antique tractor show downtown. Next stop was Nilwood, where I had a great time at the passport stop, Iron Sleds Motorcycle Club. I also dropped in to see Ziggy at Zig Zag Leathers. Both establishments told me of the many travelers along Route 66 that stop in, some from as far away as the Australian continent. I also had to stop at Nilwood's two famous attractions, the Turkey Tracks and the 13 Star Flag Barn Painting.

Iron Sleds Motorcycle Club in Nilwood

The passport stop in Carlinville was at the gazebo in the beautiful historic downtown square, and the town was also celebrating their Rib cook-off and mud bogs at Macoupin County Fairgrounds and tours of the Sears Homes among many other activities.

The awesome dinosaur display at Gillespie

At Gillespie, I caught up with Dave Tucker and Cheryl Eichar Jett, and got the guided tour from them of the incredibly cool dinosaur display, which was a big hit, and a major stop for the Route 66 Association of Illinois "Miners, Mobsters & The Mother Road" Motor Tour on Sunday. I also got to experience the Museum of Illinois Coal at City Hall. I even caught a picture of a rainbow - a bright spot from the sporadic rain throughout the weekend.

Karen Wiesemeyer, co-owner of Weezy's with Cheryl Eichar Jett

Cheryl and I decided to make our way down to Edwardsville, and I followed her as we stopped in Benld for the passport stamp and to see the new Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Interpretive Statue display honoring the Coliseum Ballroom, to Staunton for their Wingfest celebration, to Hamel for our passport stop at Weezy's, where I got to meet the owner of the famous bar & grill. We also caught the tail-end of the Edwardsville Route 66 Festival and enjoyed a meal at Stagger Inn...Again, a famous hangout in town.

Passport stop at Carlinville Gazebo on a rainy Sunday

On Sunday, I was back on the road getting passport stops, concentrating more on the I-55 corridor as compared to focusing on the Route 4 corridor the day before. Nevertheless, I did make my way down IL 4 to start the journey, and found that Auburn, Girard and Carlinville in particular had a good Sunday presence. I caught up with Motor Tour travelers along the way, including those heading to Gillespie for the dinosaur park. But, it was time to head over to Litchfield and continue the trek from there.

The volunteer staff at Litchfield Route 66 Welcome Center & Museum

Litchfield's classic dining stops, Jubelt's and the Ariston Cafe were very busy as I pulled into the Litchfield Welcome Center and Museum. I had a terrific time, and Martha Jackson as always was a gracious host. I noticed several new displays since being there only a year or so ago. The museum is amazing and a must-see stop for certain. After that, I headed down old 66 to Mt. Olive and stopped at the Mother Jones Monument and Soulsby Service Station for my passport stamp. The town was already ramping up for their sesquicentennial celebration the next weekend.

The Wesa's at The Winery at Shale Lake on Sunday

Next was The Winery at Shale Lake in Williamson, where I was warmly greeted by owners David and Susan Wesa. From there I jaunted down to Glen Carbon, where despite the pouring rain, I had a great time meeting the folks at Yanda Log Cabin, the Heritage Museum and of course I had to drive the covered bridge. The Collinsville passport stop was at the Miner's Theatre, which is being revamped, and when done, will be an amazing attraction for the home of the Brooks Catsup Bottle water tower. I was so caught up in the day's activities, I forgot to stop at White Castle in Collinsvllle for some sliders. The rain persisted as I arrived in Troy to view both of their murals.

Cheryl Eichar Jett & Geoff Ladd at the book signing in Edwardsville

My final stop of the Blue Carpet Corridor was in Edwardsville at Afterwords Books, for my last passport stamp, and to purchase my autographed copy of "Route 66 in Illinois" by Joe Sonderman and Cheryl Eichar Jett. Cheryl also signed my passport. It was the perfect finish for an amazing weekend! 


Submitted by Geoff Ladd