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Route 66’s lifeguard March 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History, People.
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The Bloomington Pantagraph recently published a profile about longtime Illinois state trooper Chester Henry, who patrolled Route 66 and Interstate 55 in the Pontiac area for more than 25 years and wrote an estimated 50,000 speeding tickets.

Henry, now 84, has been retired for about 30 years. He still drives his old beat from time to time.

Some tidbits from the Pantagraph’s story:

 

  • He once wrote 238 tickets in one month.
  • His record for issuing speeding tickets in one day was 45, just before Thanksgiving.
  • Over the years, he walked a total of 150 miles walking the distance from his squad car to the front window of the vehicles he stopped.
  • Some days were so busy, Henry and his partner would prefill parts the tickets to save time.

 

Henry didn’t write all those tickets just to be a stickler, either:

Patrolling a stretch of asphalt that was so accident-marred in the post-war dawn of the super highway that it became known in this area as “Bloody 66,” a key part of Chester’s job was simply this: cut down on death by trying to curb the speed-demons who were taking kindly to the new, wider, smoother, more open roads.

“We didn’t waste much time on motorists who were only going 10 (mph) over,” says Chester. “There was enough traffic out there that we could wait for the better ones.”

Until the ’70s, highways like Route 66 cut through hundreds of small towns, wedged amid a patchwork of family-owned gas stations, diners and Howard Johnsons. [...]

Highways, Chester says, were a much more personal, friendly place. He knew all the great places to dine, sleep, take a break and he told anyone who asked.

In a way, he was like a Route 66 lifeguard — friendly, helpful but also stern and mindful.

“Everything went up and down the road,” says Chester, “but it was always the people that made the work enjoyable.”

Henry is the member of two halls of fame, including the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. He was inducted there in 1993.

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