Upon waking in Chicago to head west on Route 66, the weather was perfect. Not one cloud in the sky and a cool breeze broke through the 78 degree temperatures. It didn’t take long to hit our first Rt. 66 landmark—one that has since been moved. Bunyon’s Hotdogs in Cicero had a fiberglass roadside giant standing on the side of its joint. The square-jawed Paul was cradling a giant hotdog, paint faded and peeling in the heat. Bunyon’s closed down and the giant moved to Atlanta, Illinois, greeting Route 66ers in the quiet downtown where not much happens anymore. However, it’s a better home for him because he is well taken care of.
Atlanta, Illinois, was born of the railroad—like many towns/cities in the United States—and when the railroads went, so did Atlanta. With a population hovering around 1,600 for the past few decades, Atlanta is not a withering city, but a small town welcoming visitors with a yellow smiley face painted on their water tower. Back in 2001, I remember driving through the town and seeing nothing but empty, rotting buildings, with the exception of the grocery store on Vine Street that had no signage indicating what it was. Today that market is still there with its front glass window subtly painted with the words “Country Market,” and it’s been joined by a few businesses that have not only been revived, but have a steady (though small) flow of customers daily.
A few years ago, Atlanta started reshaping its downtown to entice Route 66ers, and when Tall Paul was planted in the middle of Main Street it provided the first of many photo-ops as well as landed Atlanta on the very small map of towns/cities home to a fiberglass Muffler Man, here known as Tall Paul.