Ride the jackrabbit in the bunny graveyard.
Ride the jackrabbit in the bunny graveyard.

Henry's Ra66it Ranch

Field review by the editors.

Staunton, Illinois

With its front yard on Route 66, Henry's Ra66it Ranch hops over countless other self-referential Mother Road attractions with its population of live bunnies. Owner and chief rabbit wrangler Rich Henry is outnumbered by a fuzzy populace that peaked at around 50 in 2003 (a love explosion) then gradually diminished to a more manageable 20 through careful neutering. "Back then people were saying, 'You oughta go for 66!" said Rich. "I couldn't handle that."

Despite its name, the Ra66it Ranch is not a stockyard whose animal residents are raised for food. In fact, anyone asking for rabbit meat at the Ra66it Ranch is apt to get a gentle but stern rebuke from Rich. "I ask them, 'Do you have a dog at home?' And if they answer yes I say, 'Can I buy it from you? It'd probably make a nice Sunday dinner."

Owner and chief rabbit wrangler Rich Henry.
Owner and chief rabbit wrangler Rich Henry.

Rich grew up on Route 66 in Missouri, but the Mother Road had been decommissioned and mostly forgotten by the time he bought the future Ra66it Ranch property. Rich didn't even know that Route 66 ran past his front door until his aged neighbor dragged him onto the pavement, stomped his foot, and said, "This is Route 66."

Cautious at first, Rich opened Henry's Old Route 66 Emporium. "It was okay," he said, "but it was also kind of bland." Four years later, Rich and his wife visited the goofy Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In on Route 66 in Arizona. It was an inspiration. "I said to Linda, 'I want to do something like that, something different,'" Rich recalled. A few weeks later the Henrys got a frantic phone call from their daughter: her two pet rabbits had multiplied into 15. Rich, the dutiful father, intervened. "I never had any intention of having a rabbit," he said. "I just told her, 'I can take care of them here for a while, during the day.'"

Volkswagen Rabbit tribute to Cadillac Ranch.
Volkswagen Rabbit tribute to Cadillac Ranch.

That was in 1999. By the end of the year the bunnies had burrowed their way into Rich's heart, and the Ra66it Ranch was born.

Rich's air conditioned gift shop/office was filled with rabbits and rabbit smells on the hot day that we visited; he keeps them indoors during uncomfortable weather. Outside, Rich took us on a quick tour. The back ends of a half-dozen Volkswagen Rabbits jut from the ground, a tribute to Cadillac Ranch further west on Route 66. The cars are packed tight, Rich said, as if they're huddling like real rabbits.

Parked a few feet away is another Volkswagen -- not a Rabbit -- that once belonged to legendary Route 66 wanderer Bob Waldmire. Bob was an occasional guest at the Ra66it Ranch, and the car was given to Rich after Bob's death. Rich is especially proud of the hand-built carrier box strapped to the roof, a Bob original that was only reunited with the car in 2012. "When we put it on the car, it wasn't just another rusty Volkswagen," said Rich. "It was Bob."

Bob Waldmire's Volkswagen, not a Rabbit.
Bob Waldmire's Volkswagen, not a Rabbit.

A short walk takes visitors to a sit-on-me photo-op of a saddled fiberglass jackrabbit. Rich saw a similar colossus at Wall Drug, looked over every square inch until he could find the manufacturer's nameplate, then had one made for the Ra66it Ranch. Next to it, along an outside wall, stretches The Tale of Ears, a graveyard complete with tiny tombstones for the Ranch's 30+ former residents. Rich keeps track of which bunnies bonded in life so that they eventually can be buried together. A Tomb of the Unknown Bunny, still a work in progress, is for wild rabbits that become Route 66 casualties.

"I've never added up our vet bills," said Rich. "If I did, and my wife asked me how much we've spent, then I'd have to tell her."

Rich feels that years of taking care of rabbits, and watching them take care of each other, has made him a better person. Even though bunny duties keep him from driving Route 66 himself, it's a sacrifice that he clearly enjoys making. "Sometimes people will want to know if we'll sell them a bunny," said Rich. "I tell them, 'This is our family. Would you sell your son or daughter?'" Rich laughed. "And sometimes they'll say, "Yes I would!"

Henry's Ra66it Ranch

Henry's Route 66 Rabbit Ranch

Address:
1107 Historic Old Route 66, Staunton, IL
Directions:
I-55 exit 41. Drive west on Staunton Rd. Take the third left onto Old Route 66 and follow it southwest. Ra66it Ranch will be on the right, just before Madison St. Look for the semi trailers parked in front.
Hours:
M-Sa 9-4 (Call to verify)
Phone:
618-635-5655
Admission:
Free.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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July 27, 2017

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