June 3: Odell to Henry, Illinois - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 3: Odell to Henry, Illinois

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ODELL IS a delightful small town on what used to be Route 66. It sits in the flat, uninteresting countryside of straight roads that we have been crossing seemingly for ever but the run into town is leafy, airy and edged by neat houses of confident families. "Most people here commute to Pontiac and the other nearby towns," Jim Rebholz told us. He is a smiling, round-faced man who cuts the grass in the park. He is also the vice-president at the Odell Bank - a branch of the Bank of Pontiac but they kept the name to maintain local identity - and looking after the park is a paid hobby. "Some guys play golf and I do this," he said. In winter he coaches basketball.

There are farmers all around, "but really we are a bedroom community." The end of Route 66 when the town was bypassed by an interstate in 1977 affected some businesses but the town merely blinked. Other communities closed. Odell survived because its roots were widespread.

When Route 66 was at its peak, cars travelled bumper to bumper through the heart of the town and a tunnel had

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The underpass today.
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to be dug under it so children could get to school.

It would once have had bumper to bumper customers
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All that remains is a shabby shell of a Mobil station

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with cars parked inside, a collection of pumps and other artefacts outside a house a few doors along the road, and then, on the edge of the village, a sublime, restored gas station, built to a Standard Oil design of 1916 and

This magnificent filling station is now a national monument. Odell's current gas station, on the ring road that replaced Route 66, sells T-shirts and other memorabilia.
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opened in 1932. There were 10 gas stations along Route 66 in Odell. The road was then bypassed in 1946 and Route 66 itself vanished in 1977. The garage sold fuel until the 1970s and had only just stopped repairing bodywork when Odell bought it in 1999 and began to restore it. It is now a national monument. "People come from all over America and even from Europe to see it," Jim said, admitting that personally he had never stepped inside it. And a delightful place it is, looking much as it did back then, with a button to push to hear an account of the road, the filling station and the history.

Route 66 today
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Visiting it meant the highlight of the day came in the first half-hour. The rest of the day is barely worth reporting. We are still in this green desert of maize, soya and beans - we have lost the wheat - and we look forward to occasional small hills that take the strain off battered bottoms.

Tonight we are camping on the bank of the Illinois river, in a small public park with the river on one side and the grass bank that leads up to the swimming pool on the other. A tug has pushed huge barges of grain along the river, a few anglers are sitting hopefully and offering each other beer from plastic cases, and John Williamson of the city police has stopped by to offer his card and to tell us to call him if we have any trouble. "The kids in town, they're pretty good and they shouldn't disturb you, but you just call us if you need to and we'll be right along."

I was going to tell him that the last policeman we met in a city park had taken us home to a soft bed, but that seemed to be pushing my luck.

Tribute to a touching story of bravery and a man who went down with his boat
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NOVELTY OF THE DAY: a torpedo in the park. It's a tribute to a local man, John Cromwell, who captained the submarine Sculpin. She went into action against Japanese shipping in 1943 but, unknown to the crew, had a depth gauge that was 125 feet out. When the crew thought they were

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under the waves, they had bobbed to the surface and the enemy opened fire. Cromwell ordered his crew to abandon ship but stayed on board himself for fear that the Japanese would drag from him the secrets he knew. He drowned along with the man who should have known about the depth error, who preferred to die with his captain. Cromwell was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously and, in 1954, a destroyer was named after him.


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