by John Weiss
From the Summer 1997 issue of The 66 News
This article first appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of the “National Historic Route 66 Federation News.” It is reprinted here by permission of the author, John Weiss.
There it sits, a simple structure. Long past its prime. Long past the days when it served a useful purpose. A relic. Now it is just a silent sentinel of days gone by.
Those were just some of the thoughts I had one day as I looked at the old Standard/Sinclair station in Odell, Illinois. This little gas station has been closed since 1967.
Time has taken its toll. And yet it seems like everyone who gets involved with Route 66 knows about it. They photograph it, paint pictures of it, and talk about it. But no one does anything to help it. It is dying a slow, but graceful death.
Last summer a group of us talked about the little station. We all agreed, “Something should be done to save it.” I was asked to be in charge of this seemingly, improbable project. I reluctantly agreed. At the time there was no plan of action. So I figured, “Nothing is impossible, some things are just more difficult than others.”
The first thing we had to do was buy time. This was done by a group of volunteers dedicated to saving the little station. Using our own funds, we worked to cover the old roof with plastic. There were holes in the roof that were causing indoor and structural damage.
This direct involvement with the building, and the enthusiastic attitude of the volunteers was inspiring.
Finally somebody is doing something. I felt like we were the cavalry riding to the rescue.
Then I got an idea. At first it seemed a little far-fetched. But after more thought and study, I realized I actually had a plan.
In 1995 a report about Historic Route 66 In Illinois was authorized by the Illinois Department Of Transportation (IDOT).
It was prepared by Barton-Aschman Associates, Inc. of Minnesota, along with Archeological Research, Inc. of Chicago. The purpose was to identify and suggest ways to use and preserve natural and cultural resources along the Route 66 corridor. This 2 inch thick report mentions the Odell station many times.
The report had a number of suggestions. I believe one of their ideas can be used to save the Odell station. They suggest developing a Thematic Pull-Off. The description is quite lengthy, but in essence they say it “would evoke a sense of time and place.” The idea is to have an original facility along Route 66 somewhat like a time museum. One suggestion is a gas station.
I began to envision the Odell station as a Thematic Pull-Off. There is room for parking on one side. The station could be re-done, looking as it did in the 30’s and 40’s. A restaurant used to be on the other side. This would be a wonderful spot to build restroom facilities, interpretive displays, etc.
Yes, the Odell station has it all. It is very well known, and is just off an exit ramp of 1-55.
This may be a great idea, but first, where is the money going to come from? Who would run and maintain it?
Saving the station and providing entertainment to the public is not enough.
There has to realistically be more benefit. There is! Remember the saying from the movie, Field Of Dreams? BUILD IT, AND THEY WILL COME. I believe we can use that same concept. Let’s take a look at what will happen when this project is complete. First, even though no advertising is allowed of 1-55, we will now have a special, historic place. One that can be promoted at all rest areas. Signs on I-55 will direct you off to the Thematic Pull-Off onto Historic Route 66. Odell is in between Dwight and Pontiac, a
20-mile section that has already been declared a route for those wanting to experience Historic 66.
The town of Odell has been severely hurt throughout the past years. This idea should attract thousands of people yearly into town. It will be a tremendous boost to local businesses and the community.
I discussed my plan with the mayor of Odell. He too could envision the potential outcome of this project.
Recently I received a letter from the mayor that states “The Village Board is in full agreement.” They are
implementing a plan “…to purchase and preserve the building and land as an historic site.” The mayor will be meeting with the current owner to see how the village can acquire the property. Once the village has ownership, a not-for-profit board will be appointed to oversee the project. The mayor has also “…secured the 100% backing and support of the Lions Club.”
This is an encouraging beginning. But no guarantee of completion. It will be a long, tedious task. The help of everyone who cares about preservation and promotion of our Mother Road will be needed.
My wife, Lenore, has come up with the theme for this endeavor: S.O.S. – “SAVE ODELL STATION.”
Although we’re not set up to accept them yet, financial donations will certainly be required. But, also,
encouragement and compliments go a long way. Why not sit down and write a letter to the officials in Odell. Tell them you are behind their efforts. Offer your support and help. Write to S.O.S. c/o Mayor Bill Wilkey, 213 South Front, Odell, Illinois 50460.
This project is merely one of many along 66. With your help, a little vision, and a lot of work, they can all succeed!