I woke up this morning with an itch to hit the road. This itch had been nagging at me since the middle of last week, when a Facebook friend posted a photo of an old filling station in Webb City, Missouri and mentioned it was going to be restored soon. I’m all for restoration of such buildings, especially on Route 66…but I love to capture them when they are worn, too. Samantha had an Indie Emporium meeting today, and since I didn’t know how long my road trip was going to take I set out all by my lonesome at about 7:30 AM.
I took I-44 out of Oklahoma and into the Show-Me State, driving to my farthest destination so I could take my time returning on the Mother Road. Although Webb City was my original goal, I decided to stretch my miles a bit and check out an old station in Spencer, MO since I would be relatively close. I toyed with the idea of going as far as Springfield, but I decided to exit the turnpike at Halltown. It was a tiny little town; I’d be surprised if it had 200 people in it. Still, they had a few Route 66 signs and antique shops at their one intersection. A few miles down the road I came across an unexpected delight: Gary’s Gay Parita service station.
The ‘Gay Parita’ is named that because it’s a re-creation of a 1930s Sinclair station owned by Gay and Fred Mason. Although it burnt to the ground in the 50s, there is now a lovely little time capsule in its place. The grounds have several restored old cars, an original stone garage, and memorabilia galore. There was an old woman sitting on the porch of an adjoining building, and we chat for a few minutes about the weather and such as I wandered around with my camera. It was a great little stop, and a wonderful start to my trip.
I drove on down the highway and found the restored Phillips 66 station in Spencer, next to an old steel truss bridge. I giddily toured the exterior, snapping pictures of the stonework and signage as a dog lazily watched my antics. The town of Spencer doesn’t appear to actually exist any more; this lone station is all that’s left. The gas pumps looked great and the building is also made up to look like a cafe and grocer. I wandered around for nearly half an hour and not a single car passed by. The only noises were my footsteps, distant cattle, and a half-hearted bark from the dog once in a while. It was peaceful and probably an accurate picture of what life was like in these parts. It’s now one of my favorite hidden gems along Route 66.
I passed through the dying towns of Phelps and Avilla before I wound my way into Carthage. Carthage is the Jasper County seat and it houses a breathtaking courthouse! It reminded me of the ‘Old Red Museum’ courthouse in Dallas, Texas. After circling the courthouse square (reminded as always of the one in Back to the Future) I headed toward the edge of town; there, I discovered the Route 66 Drive-In Theater. It was built in 1949 and is in FANTASTIC shape, thanks to being on the National Register of Historic Places. Although it was closed for the season, I wandered around the entry area & admired the original neon sign and the massive drive-in screen from the back. Several cars passed during my time there and every one of them slowed a bit as they drove past, no doubt also admiring this giant relic. I could’ve pulled up a chair and just stared at it for hours. Alas, I still had a lot of road in front of me.
I hadn’t planned on stopping in the small town of Carterville, but a sign signifying a Superman Museum/Ice Cream Parlor caught my eye. It was closed for the day, but I took the time to wander main street to see what else might interest me. There was a little streetcar pavilion with picnic tables and a row of concrete blocks representing all eight states that Route 66 passes through that I really liked. I was taking a picture of a fractured ‘First National Bank’ sign on the pavement when a local man walked by and told me the bank was actually the first City Hall for Carterville before First National bought it, though it was now closed and looked like it had been for some time. I glanced inside the dirty front window and gasped; at some point, the entire second floor had collapsed. It was probably only a matter of time before the outside, too, gave up the ghost and this entire stretch of town would exist only in pictures.
Finally, I arrived in Webb City. I wandered up and down main street, admiring the architecture, and realized I didn’t actually know where the service station was. I figured it was on Route 66 proper, so I continued heading west. A Victorian house caught my eye, and as I turned around to get a picture of it…I saw the station! It was a block off the route and I’d have wandered around for who knows how long trying to find it had I not stopped to look at that house. The old station had been a hair salon most recently, but it was totally closed now. The red and white color scheme, though faded, was still quite evident. I took as many pictures as I wanted as some folks down the street sat on their porch and watched, probably curious as to why anyone would be interested in a broken-down old building. Didn’t really matter; I was satisfied!
After passing through Joplin, I found myself on the small stretch of Route 66 in Kansas. Galena was a treat, filled with faded brick signs, small shops, and a real sense of pride in their Route 66 heritage. There was a great restored gas station, a park, a Will Rogers historical marker, and a few old vehicles mocked up in tribute to Pixar’s CARS film. On the other side of Galena was Baxter Springs, and even though I’d been there before I had to stop at the Rainbow Arch Bridge. Shortly thereafter, I found myself back in Oklahoma. I stopped in Commerce briefly to get some shots of the Hole in the Wall station and visit an old steel bridge, got a burger at Waylan’s in Miami, and then hopped back on I-44 to head home.
It was a great day; a full day. I have an energy that is unlike any other when I’m on the road with a loose itinerary. Route 66 is a relatively new passion in my life, only really taking hold in the last three years or so…but it feels like it’s been a part of me a lot longer. Will the time ever come when I feel I’ve adequately explored the historic highway and move on to something else? I hope that time never comes.