92-year-old gets kicks on Route 66

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat February 28, 2013 10:50 am

A 92-year-old man completed his journey from Maine to Angels Camp late last week, traveling alone for more than 3,000 miles and completing his navigation of the historic Route 66 along the way.

Camden, Maine, resident Robert Shotwell satisfied his curiosity about the legendary east-west route from Chicago to Los Angeles, combining the journey with a planned visit to see his son, Jay, of Angels Camp, and other relatives in California.

Raised in Southern California, Shotwell said he was already thoroughly familiar with Route 66 from the Las Vegas area to Santa Monica. So after driving down from the northeasternmost state in the Lower 48 to Chicago, he located Route 66’s eastern terminus and made his way southwest, breaking off near Vegas to utilize U.S. 395 and other roads en route to Angels Camp.

“I’ve been curious (about) 66 for a long time,” Shotwell said. “I was anxious to drive my new Mini Cooper S Countryman … and of course, to get the culture, you’ve got to meet the people. I love the people.”

Shotwell said he drove the back roads along the Mississippi River from north to south last year.

“My goal has always been to get a feel for the history of each area, the culture of each area and the food,” he said.

He hasn’t decided if he’ll make another lengthy road trip next year or if so, what route he will take.

Shotwell got that flavor for local culture, including food, that he craved at his first stop on Route 66 in Pontiac, Ill.

He said vintage posters, billboards and spark plug advertisements created the aura of stepping back in time.

“The ads for oil cans, the things we don’t really use anymore, really date the area,” Shotwell said. “It was the first place that really wowed me because it was so drenched in 66.”

True to his creed, Shotwell asked around, learned from locals the best place in town to eat and ordered the most-beloved special.

“Biscuits and gravy with chicken giblets and stuff on it,” he said.

He continued on to Springfield, Ill., and fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Abraham Lincoln’s one-time home, and St. Louis, where another son, Mike, resides.

Shotwell called the trip “a lot of fun” but said it certainly wasn’t easy.

“There was all kinds of weather but nothing so bad that it slowed me down,” he said. “But when you live in Maine, you don’t let a little snow stop you.”

He researched the route before he left and noted it isn’t always easy to follow.

“It’s marked but it’s not marked. It was originally called the Line Road because it followed the telegraph poles, which in turn followed the trains,” Shotwell said. 

The lines and tracks are still there, he said.

“One part was dirt. It was mud. It had just rained the day before,” he said.

He saw a sign noting that section of road had been decommissioned.

“It was at the end (of the road),” Shotwell said. “It wasn’t at the beginning.”

There were plenty of surviving saloons, restaurants and rest stops along the way, he said.

Preparing for a leisurely round of golf at Greenhorn Creek Resort earlier this week, Shotwell looked back on his trip as a success.

“There’s a sense of accomplishment. Geez, I actually did this thing,” he said. “Because you really gotta work at it.”

“He’s been quite inspiring to the people he’s run into,” son Jay Shotwell said.

Robert Shotwell has enjoyed talking to folks about his trip and is proud that his car makes for a great conversation starter. 

The yellow-and-black Mini sports a customized Maine license plate, “BEEEEE,” inspired by its color scheme.

“I just hope they keep (Route 66 markers) because it’s such a reminder of what people did to go east-west,” he said. “It’s something everybody should do in my view because it gives you a different perspective … we’re so used to superhighways and the modern conveniences.”

Shotwell plans to fly home. He lived for nearly two decades in the Bay Area and said he is using his connections to a Mini dealer there to have his car shipped to another dealer closer to his New England home.