Hall of Famer, Chester Henry, Writes Book About Route 66 Experiences

We are very excited to report that Hall of Famer Chester Henry, retired lieutenant of the Illinois State Police has written a book about his experiences along Route 66 in Illinois, both as a resident and an officer. Mr Henry will be conducting two book signings of his memoir, entitled, “Route 66, My Home Away from Home,” at our Hall of Fame and Museum, 110 W Howard St, Pontiac, IL, on October 25 and November 1.

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Now for some background on this Route 66 hero, a man who experienced and influenced Route 66 during his years of service, from 1957 to 1984. The following story appeared in the Summer, 1993 issue of The 66 News, announcing the induction of Chester Henry to our Association’s Hall of Fame:

The Illinois State Police was formed in 1922 to serve the people of Illinois on the "new hard roads." In 1942, District Six headquarters were established on Route 66 near Pontiac. In 1957, fresh out of the police training academy, 26-year old Chester Henry reported to work there for the first time. From then on until his retirement in 1984, Route 66 was a daily part of his life.

"I was out there on Sundays, I was out there on holidays and I was out there on the graveyard shift,” he said. Frequenting their cafe, gas station and truck stops, he soon became a familiar sight to the citizens of all the little towns from Dwight to McLean. In the early days of radar, he and his partner also became familiar sights to motorists along the route - they set a record one year for the number of tickets written. This made motorists wary when they traveled through District Six, but it also kept the number of accidents well below average.

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"Route 66 affected me by the lives of the people that I touched and the accidents that happened and the injuries I've seen," Chester said. "Sometimes the snow would come down and Route 66 would be packed with ruts like an old country road. Accidents would happen, sometimes even fatal ones. I would go home and sometimes not sleep too good for a night or two remembering what I'd seen. The next morning, the sun would come out and the snow would start melting off and you'd wonder why it ever happened.

"I've been there when trucks have turned over and closed the road and we'd have to run traffic both ways on the other side. That's dangerous practice, but we'd put up cones and direct traffic around them. Sometimes those loaded semis weren't too easy to move if they were upside down or had both lanes blocked. We had to caution everybody and stop traffic until we could get the road clear."

In 1967, Chester was promoted to corporal. In 1972, he became a sergeant. And in 1979, he was promoted to lieutenant and became administrative officer for District Six. He held that post until his retirement in 1984, not too many years after Route 66 itself "retired." During much of his career, his commanding officer was Captain Francis Mowery, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

"A great portion of my life was spent out there amongst the people - out on 66 - helping them and handling different things. We were right out there with them and we were out there all the time. I was glad to be there during those times and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Route 66 was a grand old road."

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Route 66 Association of Illinois website and newsletter editor, Gina Blitstein, conducted an interview with Mr Henry and his wife, Nellie, earlier this month and gathered a bit more information about this dedicated civil servant and his feelings about the route and the communities he - and it - served during that mid-century span of history. Here’s what Mr and Mrs Henry conveyed:

The Henrys moved to LeRoy, IL, which is located 18 miles east of Wilmington, in 1958 from Farmer City. The reason for their relocation was that Chester’s brother was already on the force in Farmer City and it was considered preferable that they serve in different jurisdictions. As a resident of the area, Chester helped neighbors and travelers alike as they made their way along the road. He appreciated the friendliness of the people he met and the relationships he cultivated, including service station and tow truck operators to funeral directors, saying that over time they felt like, “one big family,” in service to the public. And like a family, they shared a sense of loss and grief when those Route 66 signs came down.

Encapsulating his experiences as an officer in the Illinois State Patrol, Chester, now aged 83, recounts that he loved his work and that he thought of it as a, “home away from home.” In writing his book, he wanted to document and share his memories of that particular point in time and his very unique perspective of it. He hopes to provide readers with, “A glimpse of of the road from those who worked along and traveled it, for good reasons and for bad or sad ones.”

We hope you’ll pick up a copy of Chester Henry’s book, “Route 66, My Home Away from Home,” and, even better, stop by our Hall of Fame and Museum on one of those two Saturdays to meet the author himself and get your copy autographed.

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