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MCLEAN, Ill. -- Open almost since the day the sign went up designating U.S. Route 66, the Dixie Truckers Home has changed hands, after 75 years of ownership by the same family.
Chuck and Charlotte Beeler stepped away from Illinois highway history on what is now Interstate 55 when Providence, R.I.-based Phoenix Management Group II took control Thursday. "It's been a wonderful journey," Chuck Beeler, now 74, who began working at Dixie in 1950 fueling trucks and changing tires, told the Associated Press. "It's an emotional thing to give it up."
Charlotte Beeler's grandfather, J.P. Walters, and her parents, Viola and John Geske, started serving hamburgers to truckers out of a mechanic's garage at the site in 1928. They soon had a restaurant and gas station that served hundreds of thousands of wanderlust-bitten motorists traveling the famed Route 66, the pathway that spanned 2,400 miles and eight states.
"Things change and things move on, but it's a loss; it's another icon on the 'Mother Road' that's gone," said Kathy Miller, recording secretary of the Illinois Route 66 Association who brought her sister on a three-hour drive from their home near Chicago for a final Dixie lunch on Wednesday. "No matter who takes it over, it will never be the Dixie again."
A 1965 fire destroyed the original building but the Geskes kept flipping burgers and mixing milkshakes, using one of the roadside cabins they had added to the site. The current building opened in 1967, facing the opposite direction -- to the east - toward 66's new alignment, which I-55 replaced around 1970, the report said.
The Beelers took over from Charlotte Beeler's father in 1982 and later stepped aside for their son. They came back in 2001 to run the business when the corporation filed for bankruptcy. The building and land remained in receivership and the Beelers unsuccessfully tried to buy it back last year. Chuck Beeler credits "good, loyal" employees for his family's success. And he marvels at the way people remember Dixie. One man stopped in on July 4 and said he'd been there that day 35 years before, without money, and the Dixie fed him and filled his car, keeping his driver's license until he later mailed payment.
"Before we had all the communication we have today, mothers and families knew that dad would be at the Dixie at such-and-such a time and they'd call and ask for him," Beeler said.
The Dixie also has housed the Route 66 Hall of Fame since 1990, featuring photos and memorabilia from people and businesses associated with the highway. Illinois Route 66 Association president Jeff LaFollette said the group would meet with the new owners this month in hopes they'll agree to continue hosting the hall.