Where We've Been: Cozy Dog
Transplanted Route 66 drive-in serves a delicious corn dog, whether or not it’s the original
By Ted Cox
Springfield’s Cozy Dog Drive-In may not be the original maker of a corn dog, but decades after it developed its own version it remains one of the best.
The batter is a little lighter than that used on most street-fare corn dogs. Regular hot dogs are battered, then deep fried, served on a stick for convenience. For $2.10, it’s one of the best fast-food bargains in the state.
Ed Waldmire Jr. told the story of the Cozy Dog’s invention to his eighth-grade son in 1959 in an origin repeated on the restaurant’s website. According to Waldmire, he first came across a “corn dog” in Muskogee, Okla., in 1941, describing it as “a wiener baked in cornbread.” He brought that tale back to Knox College, where he told fellow students about it. Five years later, at the end of World War II, one of those students, Don Strand, wrote Waldmire in the Air Force that he’d arrived at a batter that would stick on a hot dog while it was French fried.
Waldmire got some in the mail at the Amarillo, Texas, Air Force base he was stationed at, and he cooked them as instructed and served them up to the boys. They were a hit his buddies labeled a “crusty cur.” When Waldmire got his discharge the following spring and returned home to Springfield, he and his wife immediately embarked on selling the dogs, although she rejected the “crusty cur” as a name. Eventually, they settled on “Cozy Dog,” and the rest is history.
The Cozy Dog was introduced at the Lake Springfield Beach House on June 16, 1946, and was served at the State Fair later that year. Vose’s might have since established itself as the corn dog of choice at the State Fair, but Waldmire and Cozy Dog were busy going year-round at their own locations, first at a couple of different spots in Springfield, then beginning in 1949 at their most famous location on South Sixth Street along what was then designated Route 66.
In 1996, long after after Interstate 55 came through and left Route 66 little more than a memory, they moved to their current site at 2935 S. Sixth St. in Springfield, but the connection to the “Main Street of America” and the “Mother Road” remained strong.
Bob Waldmire, the eighth-grader who took down that origin story in 1959, was charmed by what he even then perceived as the romance of “the most famous road in America.” Later, as a free spirit and “hippie artist,” he nevertheless made Route 66 one of the essential inspirations for his work, and spurred nostalgia for what had been irretrievably lost, the road that once winded past his family dog stand.
Bob Waldmire was an artist who created the design for a massive Route 66 map mural in Pontiac, completed shortly after his death in 2009. He and his Volkswagen bus also inspired what became the character of Fillmore in the Pixar animated feature “Cars.” He also created an homage to his father: a bookcase filled with novels, histories, photographs, and various other memorabilia — much of it focused on Route 66 — that still stands in the Cozy Dog Drive-In as the “Edwin Waldmire Memorial Library.”
That alone would make Cozy Dog worth the visit in Springfield, but it doesn’t hurt that this is an exceptional hot-dog stand, still under family ownership, with crisp fries that also bear the stamp of good, clean cooking oil to complement the Cozy Dog, a lighter, but flavorful take on the corn dog.
So, no, it might not be the original corn dog, but it’s still one of the best, and at the same time it serves to keep the romantic memory of Route 66 alive.