My little nostalgic journey up U.S. 51 continues, because I kept screwing up the formatting of the previous post as I tried to get the text to wrap around the photos properly, LOL.
As I drove north from Ramsey, I passed through the little place called Oconee. I smiled, because I’d nearly forgot about the day, about 45 years ago, when Dad called from Oconee and said his pickup truck had caught fire! He called home, and knowing my mother was at a downtown shop, I called the business number to tell her. Life is so much easier now with cell phones. The day became an impromptu adventure as we drove to the 25 miles or so to Oconee to fetch Dad. I’m sure this little station was the same place where Dad’s truck (a ’69 but I forget the model) was parked as it awaited repair.
When I was very little, we attended a family reunion at Kitchell Park in Pana, IL. I don’t remember which of our families’ met there; our reunions usually happened in Vandalia, so perhaps it was a Carson family gathering. That’s the family name of his my dad’s mother’s side of the family, including the two Decatur aunts. I played on the playground but a couple of older kids played too vigorously, I fell, and ran crying to my mother. To console me, she walked me to this 1910 bridge. I’ve always thereafter felt a fondness for ponds or streams with lilypads (like those beneath that bridge), and of course the paintings of Monet. I took some pictures of the park and bridge but they couldn’t compare with this great old postcard I found on eBay a few years ago.
I love how two-lane roads follow the streets of towns and cities. As you take U.S. 51 through Pana toward Decatur, you turn right, then left, then right again for a long stretch, and finally left again as you turn north. Like so many small towns, Pana’s business district is forlorn, but I did notice an awesome “ghost sign” on the side of one building (I wrote briefly about ghost signs at https://paulstroble.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/favorite-roads-iiimusical-road-trips-ii/).
For some reason a lazy pair of curves, just north of Pana on 51, appealed to me as a kid on those Saturday drives. They’re not far south of the turnoff to the village of Dollville. They were my primary destination this trip. U.S. 51 is slowly being turned into a four-lane road (it’s been in process and under discussion for years). I wanted to revisit those curve before construction altered the landscape.
When I was little, I didn’t think about why I liked those highway curves. Something about that particular landscape and the short curves in the highway made me feel peaceful. I was happy because I had a new toy to play with from our Decatur shopping time, and I watched out the car window as scenery passed by. Many years later, that landscape still warmed my heart. So it was no big deal to drive nearly 100 miles from my current home, just to see that section of highway before, eventually, it becomes upgraded to four lanes.
I didn’t drive further north on U.S. 51. The pair of gentle curves was the main thing I wanted to revisit. A few miles to the north is the village of Assumption, and a little further north from Assumption is the village of Moweaqua, which I remember fondly from childhood Decatur trips because it had a wonderful restaurant along 51 through town. One day, when we’d stopped in Moweaqua, we were amused to see a small gaggle of barefooted teenage girls walking along the main street. Where were they headed? Where are they today (now in their early sixties)? Highway 51 once passed through Moweaqua, but now the four-lane road bypasses the town, and the abandoned alignments (which you so often see at small rural towns where the highway has been modernized) approach the town in grassy places at both the north and south sides of town.
I returned home not via U.S. 51 but Illinois 16, headed west to Interstate 55. I’d once written a story about a small town along highway 16, for reasons I explain here: https://paulstroble.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/a-story-of-providence-and-community/ Such tiny little villages along 16! But if you lived here, I suppose you’d either hate it or your life functions around the small sights of the village. I’ve always been fond of trackside grain elevators, though; my hometown has them along the Illinois Central tracks. I took a picture of those, plus a pretty scene where the road passes through a cluster of trees.
I stopped by a coffee shop along the way. I asked the barista if it was okay that I was barefooted, and she laughed and said, “As long as the state doesn’t see you.” Down old Route 66 a ways, I visited a wonderful antique mall. One of the clerks happened to be outside on cigarette break. She said it was okay that I was barefooted so I went in and padded around the numerous displays on three levels, my feet free for a pleasantly long time upon the soft carpet. An old road sign caught my attention, so I purchased it and took home an addition to my collection.