American roadways have long shared a special relationship with roadsigns. They have ranged from advertisements painted on the sides of barns to billboards dangling boats, motor homes, and even plastic cows. Signs along the roadway not only entice motorists, but also entertain them along their journey. Historic Route 66 in Illinois preserves the road signs of the mid-twentieth century, and with them the culture and humor of America.
From its creation in 1926, Route 66 has boasted creative and entertaining signs. In several locations along the Route, Classic Burma Shave sets consisted of five signs within a hundred yards that formed a poem about shaving or road safety, with the fifth as an ad for Burma Shave. An example of a Burma Shave series: On curves ahead/Remember, sonny/That rabbit's foot/Didn't save/The bunny/Burma-Shave. Two Burma Shave signs have been restored on Lexington's Memory Lane, a pedestrian section of the original road decorated with period signs.
After World War II, the glow of neon signs lit the night, radiating color from roadside restaurants, motels, and attractions. While cost and negative connotations have removed many neon signs, several historic establishments along Route 66 have preserved theirs. Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket is one such place. As a Blue Bird Bus stop, the restaurant served as a main transportation hub and eatery, even flooding the roof in the winter at times to create an ice-skating rink. Those memories are preserved in the neon glow of their logo, a well-dressed chicken inviting visitors to sample the roadside cuisine.
Perhaps the most memorable sign along Route 66 is the cuddling corn dogs outside Springfield's Cozy Dog Drive In. While in the Air Force, Ed Waldmire perfected his recipe for the Crusty Cur: a battered hot dog on a stick. His wife, Virginia, suggested that they rename them Cozy Dogs, and designed the cuddly sign. The Cozy Drive In grew from a beach stand into the restaurant it is today, and still sells cozy dogs baked with the original family recipe.
The signs along Route 66 remind America of the humor, culture, and even the quirks of life during the mid-twentieth century.
- Copyright © May 2003 Doug Knight.
- Copyright © May 2003 Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project.
- Copyright © March 2004 Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project.