Join Host Meredith Hoenes for Part 2 as she guides visitors down Route 66 in Missouri from Lebanon to Joplin. Discover a drive-in theater, where Bonnie and Clyde hid out, some great eats, and a ghost town that came to life.

By Pamela Clifton

Route 66 has been the epitome of the All-American family vacation for more than 50 years. Sightseers have experienced many places along the way, from food to motor courts and hotels.

In Season 5, Episode 4, Missouri Life Adventurer Meredith Hoenes continues her travels down one of the nation’s most iconic roads on a voyage to experience the nostalgia and resurgence of classic Americana. (This is Part 2 of a 2-part series. You can find Part 1 here, as well.)

Restful Retreats & Good Eats
Route 66 covers nearly 2,500 miles of road from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, and connects rural communities along the way. This episode first begins with unique architecture and landscapes, followed by snacks and an overnight stop at Lebanon’s The Manor House Inn. This restful retreat opened as a motel and has been in operation since the 1930s.

Camp Joy was a popular motor court option back in the day. First built in 1927 in LaClede County by Charles and Leta Spears, it opened as a campground full of tents. Quaint cabins were later added, followed by amenities such as TVs and AC. After business slowed and some cabins were converted to monthly rentals, the business was sold in the 1970s.

“I think Route 66 is connecting us back together,” says great grandson Craig. “People drive all over to experience Route 66.”

Family-owned staples like Wrink’s Market in Lebanon are dotted along Route 66. Glen Rink Wrinkle established his business in 1950, and that same friendly service continues today when travelers stop for delightful deli sandwiches and homemade fried pies.

Memorable People & Places
After passing the majestic and castle-like courthouse of Jasper County, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the next stop is Route 66 Drive-In.

The Carthage theater opened in 1949 but closed in 1985. The site opened as a junk yard in 1996 before reopening as a drive-in theater a year later.

Owner Nathan McDonald says the experience is more important than what’s on screen at a drive-in.

“The playground down front where the kids play, the smell of popcorn popping, it’s the carefree environment where you can put your phones down and leave everything at the gate,” he says. “Come in here and just enjoy the atmosphere and true Americana, the way it used to be.”

Like Nathan, the late local artist Lowell Davis believed in preserving local history. He recreated his abandoned town Red Oak by relocating original structures and founding Red Oak 2, a pleasant remembrance of the quaint small-town beauty from early Route 66.

Both sides of Lowell’s ancestors pioneered the town, but when World War II broke out, they moved to defense plants, never returning to Red Oak after the war. Slowly, the area turned to a ghost town and fell apart.

Lowell pieced together history in the form of buildings. He lived in Belle Star, named after a female outlaw who once lived in the home. The home and others, like the Dalton Gang House and his grandmother’s house, were relocated to Red Oak 2.

The final destination for this episode of Missouri Life TV is Joplin. The local landmark is the garage apartment where Bonnie and Clyde hid from local authorities for two weeks. After a shootout ensued and two officers were killed, the pair left in a hurry. Bonnie left her camera behind, which contained film the local newspaper developed.

Bright Lights
The last stop in this two-part Missouri Life TV series on Route 66 is to follow the neon signage to Wilder’s Steakhouse. The restaurant has been in operation and a staple in Joplin since the dawn of the iconic roadway.

The building dates back to 1908 but didn’t become a restaurant until 1932. The landmark is located five miles from Route 66, so the owner added a very large neon sign on top of the building to lure travelers to the restaurant.

With the construction of the nation’s interstates, Route 66’s momentum declined, yet the resurrection of the iconic road’s communities continue to captivate travelers.

Route 66 has been immortalized as classic Americana for generations to come. And though it might be more efficient to take the interstate, consider taking the leisurely and more memorable route to your next destination to relive the past.