Route 66 in the News
Historic Trading Post Closes
ROLLA, Mo. - At 3:30 p.m. today, the doors will close on a Missouri tradition right here in Rolla.
The Totem Pole Trading Post is the oldest, continually operating business in Missouri along Route 66. Since 1933, it has been a stop on America’s most famous highway. This afternoon, Timothy Jones and his wife Alice will hand the keys to the Totem Pole over to a new owner -- but not the name.
Tom Ray, who recently purchased Memoryville USA in Rolla, will take over ownership of the building and all the merchandise today, but the business will no longer be known as the Totem Pole. For Jones and his wife, it’s the end of an era and the start of a new chapter.
“It’s time to try and live a bit,” Jones said. “Nobody can understand running a seven-day-a-week business. I’m going to try and enjoy life just a little bit while we’re not too old to be able to enjoy it.”
Jones said the Totem Pole Trading Post was originally six cabins located on Route 66. The cabins held a gift shop, Standard Oil gas station, a restaurant and pub and the fist coin-operated laundry mat in the state. The first owner of the business was a man named Harry Cochran, who sold the business to Jones’ father shortly after it opened. It was at this location that the signature Totem Pole was carved, though Jones knows little else about its history.
The cabins remained open and operating until 1967, when the business had to be relocated due to highway construction. The second Totem Pole location was on Interstate 44 just west of Rolla. Prior to the move, in 1964, the business stopped selling Standard Oil gas and began selling Shell gasoline. The Totem Pole would continue selling Shell-brand oil until 2004.
“We remained Shell for 40 years,” Jones said. “We were the oldest Shell station in the state of Missouri. We were also the very first of any station to have what you would call a convenience store.”
The Totem Pole stayed open at its second location until 1977 when construction forced the business to move again to its present local, which Jones remolded with the help of his sons.
“The highway got us twice,” Jones said. “We were the only ones that relocated and started over again. Most people don’t realize that myself, my oldest son, Scott, my son Jayder and a man by the name of Clarence Weise were the ones who remodeled this building. That means a lot when you build a place with your own two hands. You appreciate a lot more of it.”
Jones has owned the Totem Pole for 32 years, and worked at the business with his father for 10 years before taking over. Over the years, he has seen a lot and met many interesting people.
“I have seen so many people from all over the world,” Jones said. “This is a stop-off point for so many people on Route 66. They will be disappointed, I know, when they come and we are no longer here. I will miss seeing those people.”
One memorable experience for Jones happened several years ago when 42 pre-World War II cars from Europe made a stop at the Totem Pole. The cars, which were shipped to America, were being driven by people from Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria to commemorate the Battle of Normandy.
“They traveled Route 66 and this was one of their main stop-off places,” Jones said. “They were here and driving Route 66 as a tribute to the United States for the Americans landing at Normandy, which was the turning point of World War II in Europe.”
The Totem Pole has also been a stop for several celebrities, including country musician Buck Owens, former St. Louis Cardinal Ozzie Smith, singer and Broadway actress Pearl Bailey, country musician Janie Fricke and singer Tony Orlando.
“We should have had a camera over the years to take pictures of the different people who came in,” Jones said.
Jones also remembers when the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team stopped in at the Totem Pole when he was a child. He remembers the players had to duck to avoid hitting their heads on the low ceiling.
After all these years, Jones is sad to leave the Totem Pole, but is ready to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle.
“I have mixed emotions,” he said. “I’m so used to this and I will certainly be the same person, but in a new world.”
Finally, Jones would like to thank all of the people who have supported the Totem Pole during its more than 70-year run.
“We have been in business long enough to see all different types of businesses come and go on Route 66 and I-44,” he said. “Things have changed dramatically since the 60s and 70s, but we still have the same faithful customers who have been stopping by here year after year. We see people from coast to coast. We want to thank them for their patronage throughout the years.”
~Laura Ginsberg, Rolla Daily News