Day 1: March 2, 2012
Rain & Fire
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I've been in Vandalia, Illinois, a time or two since the National Road Interpretive Center was established there but never at a time when it was open. I would be using Friday to get myself into position for Saturday's cruise and could also use it to visit the center. All I had to do was time the drive to be in Vandalia between 10:00 and 2:00. I guessedimated that, with the hour gained by the EST to CST drive, leaving home by 9:00 would be sufficient. To be safe, I planned on a departure nearer 7:00 but, when I awoke at 4:00 with everything ready to go, I went. I was on the road a few minutes after 5:00. This put me in Indianapolis around 7:00 when the sun was due.

The sun arrived on time but the heavy cloud cover kept it from being obvious. Bad weather had been predicted and killer tornados would rip through southern Indiana later in the day. At the time, I didn't realize how lucky I was to encounter only a few minutes of hail mixed with pummeling rain.

I would see plenty of wind throughout the day along with occasional, sometimes heavy, rain but no more hail and no tornados. Things actually looked pretty good when I reached the Illinois line and decided that I had time to escape the interstate for some National Road/US-40. Fragments of abandoned road lie beside the current US-40 through much of eastern Illinois. Beyond Martinsville, or there abouts, these fragments appear to be all concrete but most of them east of there are brick. It's possible that closer examination of those more western fragments would show them to be concrete over brick. I'll check that out on a dryer day or let someone else do it.

The second and third pictures are of the first segment seen inside Illinois. The car in the third photo is on the current US-40 with semi-trucks on I-70 in the background. That first segment is separated from active roads by a small ditch. I walked out to it but there is evidence that others, on dry days no doubt, have driven on it somewhat recently. The last picture is of a segment a bit further west which is connected to active roads and on which I drove. The old road fragments are a real mix of isolated fragments and drivable bits connected to active roads.

In Vandalia, the National Road Interpretive Center was indeed open and Debby, who drove the classic Mercedes on last year's Bicentennial Caravan, gave me a great tour. That's Debby right in front of me here.

Some original National Road "pavement" is among the displays at the center. The bricks are from Vandalia's Gallantin Street and the log is from a section of corduroy road a few miles to the east. A nicely done video gives an introduction to the road and includes a national overview along with the Illinois related goodies. The center's highlight is probably the volunteer designed and built interactive map that hangs on the west wall. Using a simple touch screen interface, visitors can select an Illinois National Road community, see where it is physically located, and view photos and other information. Good stuff.

I first happened upon the Kaskaskia Dragon in 2007. He was apparently already breathing fire in those days but I didn't know it and he wasn't yet sporting that informative shoulder tattoo. But this time, thanks to Roadside America, I came fully informed and went straight to the liquor store for some tokens. I even got a little video.

Part of me wanted to spend the night in Vandalia so I could see some fire breathing in the dark but I really had other plans. From the instant I committed to this trip, one goal was to see the newly restored neon sign at the Luna Cafe. In October, the sign was turned on for the first time since I've known of its existence. Route 66 News has a good report on the event here. I initially stopped by in the afternoon and got some pictures of the fresh neon tubes in the daylight. I also met owner Larry Wofford for the first time and had a few Stags (not for the first time). The signs look good in the daylight but look fantastic in the dark. At night, the Luna can now be spotted well up the road thanks largely to the motion of the chaser lights. I recorded a few seconds of that, too. It's here.

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