Of all the Springfields I could have visited, the one in Missouri ended up being a great choice. In this update we eat in a quonset hut, walk with Wild Bill, frolic with butterflies and finish our sentenc. (Sorry I ran out of space.)
(A full discussion of why I chose this Springfield will be included at the conclusion of this post)
Thursday, June 20th, 2019
I was still basking in the comprehensive hospitality of my friends Adam and Natalie. We decided to do a day trip to take care of place 71 of 92, Springfield. I left a little earlier than my support vehicle and had a leisurely ride down old Route 66. Nice to know you can still get your De Soto fixed along the way!
I doubt there will ever be another traveler who takes such a roundabout way to ride Route 66. I did Chicago in 2017, flew through St. Louis in 2018 and will be chipping away at sections of it all throughout Chapter 4.
Springfield touts itself as the “Birthplace of Route 66.” Indeed it is where the highway first received its numerical designation in 1926. This road was a major thoroughfare for those traveling west during the Dust Bowl years. It continued to be a prominent route until it was eventually bypassed by interstates in the 1980s. Tourism has revived this route and it is now perhaps the most well-known highway to non-Americans.
It was patched onto my friend Pablo’s riding jacket in Buenos Aires:
I saw multiple signs for it in the biker clubhouses of Brazil:
(I’ve been waiting to post these pictures for a long time!)
Brazilians seemed especially drawn to the mystique of this road. I often had questions about if I had ridden on it.
My first stop was the history museum which is located in the town square.
I was welcomed very warmly here and everyone was very interested in my story. The museum is actually under major renovations so only a fraction was available to go through. I’ll just have to come back.
My new friend, Don, walked me out into the square and showed me the site where “Wild Bill” Hickock shot Davis Tutt in 1865.
The disagreement began over a gambling debt and Tutt shot first from the other side of the square. Hickock returned fire to here:
Lucky shot? Maybe. But it’s probably never wise to fire on someone whose first name is “Wild.”
There was a lot of history about Springfield and Route 66 which will be interspersed through the rest of this post. The old theater is still in great conditions and plays a film on Route 66 history.
After my visit, I felt well informed about other things to see and do while I was there.
During the 1950s the Ozark Jubilee, which aired from Springfield, was one of the most popular TV programs in the US.
Johnny Cash was a performer on the show in 1956. Hank Snow was actually the most prominent country music star who didn’t perform on the show. He gave his sole allegiance to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. This seems like a very “Hank Snow” thing to do. 🙂
The museum sparked an idea for an iconic Springfield picture, of this recreated sign:
This sign sat in front of the Route 66 stop which is recognized as the first drive thru restaurant in the world. The story goes that the owner, Red, made a false measurement and could not fit the “er” in the word “hamburger.” He posted the sign as it was and it became a unique and memorable site.
The restaurant operated from 1947 to 1984. This recreated sign was put up in 2013. I just love this story and the photo. This may well represent “Springfield.” My photographers were a couple of nice guys named Steve and John. One of them was a local and had eaten at Red’s many times. He recalled how efficient their system was, with Red coming right out to the waiting cars with his notebook. By the time you rolled up to the window, your order was usually ready to go. Thanks for sharing the stories!
Adam, Natalie and the girls caught up with me here and we made a stop into the visitors center. They gave me some more good ideas and a new sticker for my trunk lid.
Natalie researched lunch options and was confident that we should go to a place called Casper’s. When we got there, I could tell why she was so sure this should be our eatery. I’ve never eaten anywhere like this before:
This little building, known as a quonset hut, contained unspeakable treasures inside.
Casper’s began in the back of a fruit shop in 1909, moving to this location in 1948. It is a true Springfield original.
Where else can you go to buy a gallon of chili?!
Their motto of “Eat, Pay, Tip, Get out!” sounds a little harsh, but there are only about 25 seats in the whole establishment. The wonderful waitress, Marcie, is responsible for all of them. She flits around like a figure skater performing a routine, keeping the tables moving but also taking time to interact with everyone.
The prices are really reasonable and beer is actually cheaper than pop. There have probably only been a couple of times during my life when I thought, “You know what, I could use a Schlitz right now.” In this occasion, it seemed like the only logical choice.
Even the bathroom was full of personality.
I will definitely be back the next time I pass through town.
I challenged Adam and Natalie to write haiku poems describing our visit to Casper’s. They both turned in some gems.
A greasy cheeseburger meal,
In the quonset hut
Springfield’s secret stash,
Sipping Schlitz scintillating,
Swedish Stallion’s soul
I thought I would declare a winner, but both of these are great. Natalie, it kind of feels like you are pandering to my love of alliteration. I’m not sure whether I should count this for or against you. 🙂
We found a good city sign and I decided I should be “springing” into Springfield. These photos don’t always turn out too well. Sometimes you get this:
…but every once in awhile you get a good one:
After a quick stop to the hospital to repair my now torn meniscus, it was time for another fun connection. My cousin, Tracy, lives in Springfield. She took time out of her afternoon to show us some of her favorite things of the city.
Tracy is a botanist and has always had a fascination with butterflies. She took us to the Butterfly House at the Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park.
I learned so much here. I had a fun time reminiscing about my trip to see the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, Mexico (This Post).
We spent some time just leisurely strolling through the park and chatting. It is a pretty area. After that, we headed to a Braum’s restaurant for some ice cream. I asked Tracy if she would be the one to cross Springfield from my sign.
It was so great to see her!
Please notice the framing by Natalie of the word “hamburger” in the photo above. This is some next level photography!
There was one more stop for us to make. You can’t really go to Springfield without visiting Bass Pro Shop.
This store began in 1972, when young Johnny Morris started selling fishing lures in the back of his father’s liquor shop. It has now grown into one of the leading outdoor retailers in the world. They now have over 200 locations and recently bought out Cabela’s, a Nebraska company, to nearly double their size.
The stores themselves are tourist attractions, with countless stuffed animals, fish and activities.
Adam and Natalie had given me a giftcard for me birthday. I used it to purchase a new camping towel. I left mine in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico the same day that I crashed. I made it through the rest of Latin America using a hand towel to dry myself. This is still one of my proudest accomplishments.
The End of the Trail sculpture. More on this in a later post:
Adam, Natalie and the girls left town and I ran around a little more. A couple of places were closed and I didn’t find much else worth sharing. Part of me wishes I would have had some more time here to make a couple of more connections. My second grade teacher lives there as well as a guy I had met in DC. It’s close though, so I’m sure I will be back.
I did make one more stop along Route 66 on the way home.
Sometimes I see a building like this and just have to know what the inside looks like. I actually got a pretty good photo out of it.
No nose grease required. 🙂
Thanks again, Adam and Natalie, for your amazing hospitality! You two have been such an integral part of this journey. I look forward to more adventures together.
21 to go.
Stay bouncy, everybody
Realtime update: Still in Ardmore, OK. Getting lots done. Hoping a plane won’t land where I am camping. I might make some miles tomorrow and hit Texarkana on Thursday.
So why did I chose the city in Missouri to be my official “Springfield?”
Depending on the source, there are somewhere between 30 and 40 Springfields in the US alone. Lacking sufficient time to visit them all (next trip?), I had to choose one. Here is a summary of that process:
I narrowed it down to three Springfields pretty quick: Missouri, Illinois and Massachusetts. I eliminated Massachusetts as it is in the same metro area as song place 30, Chicopee. When duplicate places exist, I intentionally choose places that are further dispersed to follow the theme of “traveling every road in this here land.”
Comparing Missouri and Illinois, Missouri has a larger population both in the city proper (168,000 to 117,000) and metro area (466,000 to 207,000). Illinois gains some points for being a state capital and temporary home of Abraham Lincoln. Missouri has Route 66 and more 20th Century history.
Another way I like to compare things sometimes is by using Google Trends. This is a free service (for now) from Google where you can enter any terms and see how they compare in search traffic. Here are the global numbers for the three Springfields from the last five years;
Missouri leads this metric by a wide margin. Ultimately, it just seemed like Missouri was the right choice. We’ll never know exactly where Geoff Mack was looking when he selected Springfield, but I feel like I’ve done my due diligence to try to choose the correct one.