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USA: Downstate Atlanta finds way on Route 66 map

ATLANTA, Ill. — Generations of roadies have gotten a charge out of Route 66.

But tiny Atlanta, Ill., about 20 miles south of Bloomington-Normal, sees the signals for the future. Literally.

Atlanta (pop. 1,649) is the first community on Route 66 — from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., — to feature an EV (electronic vehicle) charging station. The station is is the culminaton of a three-year effort led by Bill Thomas of Atlanta, one of the top Route 66 preservationists in America. Thomas put Atlanta on the map by facilitating the relocation of the iconic “Bunyon Giant” roadside attraction from a Route 66 hot dog stand in south suburban Cicero to Atlanta; the renovation of The Palms Grill & Cafe (opened 1934); and the opening of new arts and crafts store where I recently bought a weird WeBeJamming sculpture.

“We need to build an infrastructure of charging stations along Route 66 because Route 66 caused the development of the gas station infrastructure we now take for granted,” Thomas said in a recent interview. “Route 66 should spur the development of the next energy infrastructure needed by highway travelers. When people began traveling Route 66 what did they need? A place to eat. A place to sleep. And gas for their engine. At one time there were nine gas stations from the south end to the north end of Atlanta. Now we have one gas station.”

The free 24-hour EV station is at 204 SE Vine St., in the city parking lot adjacent to old Route 66 (exit 140 on I-55).

“The Route 66 Scenic Byway Association sees this as a tourism angle that can be worked,” said Joe Mikulecky, a member of the governor’s Electric Vehicle Advisory Council, during a break to charge his 2012 Nissan (73 miles per charge) in Atlanta. “Gas prices are volatile. People are looking to reduce their carbon footprint. The [foreigners] touring Route 66 see this as a friendly thing. They’ve seen it their countries.”

ast week Thomas met tourists from France, Brazil and England in front of the statue. And that was just one week on America’s mother road. And now tourists will be stopping in Atlanta to recharge their cars.

There are three levels of EV chargers, and Atlanta has the most common — Level 2 — which hovers around 240 volts like an electric dryer. “To fully recharge would be two, two-and-a-half hours, which is more than enough time to take in sites and spend a couple bucks to support the local economy,” said Mikulecky, engineering manager for the Farnsworth Group in Bloomington. (Level 1 is a simple plug in like you find in your home while Level 3 is 460 volts DC fast charge.) “Not too many places outside of a metropolitan area can support that demand,” he said.

Mikulecky added there are about 200 charging stations in Chicago and 29 DC fast-charge stations in tollway oasises. (You can find them all at He said, “The Electricification Coalition based out of Washington, D.C., said that per capita the Bloomington-Normal area is by percentage much farther ahead with charging station installation than anywhere else in the country.”

History is repeating itself. Thomas added, “Places like Cracker Barrel are installing charging stations just like the old hardware stores did in the 1920s on Route 66. The charging stations are following the same pattern.”

“The I-55, Route 66 corrridor is of interest because the state owns 1,500 (electric) vehicles,” added Mikulecky. “The main interest now is how people with electric cars can get from Springfield to Chicago. Atlanta’s placement of an electric vehicle charging station is unique as it is a nice midpoint. It’s great for us who have electric vehicles to do an ‘opportunity charge,’ then dine at the Palms, spend some time at the museums in Atlanta and go shopping.”

And there is a lot to do in such a small town.

Last summer the Arch Street Artisans Shop opened at 101 S.W. Arch St. (217-648-5077), in the former Wisteria Cafe and ice cream parlor (circa 1920s). The shop features the work of 18 regional artisans including handcrafted jewelry, paintings, quilts and homemade candies. “The majority of artists live in town or out in the countryside,” saidBill Thomas, 58-year-old CEO of Teleologic Learning Company, which makes online training programs for the United States military. “They were selling out of their houses or online. They didn’t have a central location, especially one that could tack into the ‘66 traffic. It went so well the first year we opened up a second room.”

One of the great things about car road trips is having ample room for souvenirs.


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