Route 66 in the News

Pumped About the Mother Road

2009-02-20 22:37:22

GALENA, Kan. - Think of Route 66 and several names come to mind: Bobby Troup, who wrote "Route 66"; John Steinbeck, who proclaimed it the Mother Road in "The Grapes of Wrath"; Will Rogers, whose face appears on plaques and is carved in granite memorials all along the old highway.

But those are all guys. How unfair.

At long last, it's time to tie some ladies to the legend. Renee Charles, Melba Rigg, Betty Courtney and Judy Courtney are the forces behind 4 Women on the Route -- the diner and gift shop they lovingly transformed from a 1930 gas station. Their work is bringing new life to a corner of the fabled highway in Galena, Kansas.

At Front and Main streets, where the original 1926 alignment of old Route 66 makes a turn into downtown Galena, the service station sat empty for decades. Today, it buzzes with visitors, sizzles with burgers on the grill and rings with the calculations of a cash register.

I was walking around outside, taking pictures of the restored Kan-O-Tex gas pumps and a tow truck that looked suspiciously familiar, when Renee swung open the front door and invited me in.

A Pair Of Cartoon Eyes

I entered a gift shop filled with Route 66 souvenirs. In the attached garage, a countertop and grill occupied the space where Studebakers and Packards were once repaired. The old garage door has become an oversized window, allowing diners to look out onto The Route as they consume road food. Melba was hard at work behind the counter, warming up the grill for the lunch crowd.

Renee directed my attention to a scrapbook at the counter; she'd rather tell a story than ring up a sale.

She showed me pictures of the station before the restoration work began. It looked just like so many of the forgotten buildings I had passed on my drive from St. Louis. All the work -- the painting, the cleaning, the installation of gas pumps outside -- had been done in the past two years.

Renee pointed to a picture of the truck I had seen outside and asked, "Did you recognize him?" Yes, I had.

Thanks to a pair of cartoon eyes in the windshield, the old truck looked a lot like Tow Mater from the 2006 Disney/Pixar movie "Cars." It turns out, it was. This charming hunk of rusted metal inspired the kind-hearted Mater's clanking, hitching backfiring look. How cool.

When the Pixar folks were doing research for "Cars," they took a trip down Route 66, Renee said. As they passed through Kansas, they spotted the old truck with its boom up, and a tree growing through its middle. Just like that, Tow Mater was born. In 2007, the women held a contest, asking local children to name the truck. Of all the names they received, the one they liked best was Tow Tater (since, after all, Tow Mater was already taken).

That wasn't the only inspiration Galena gave the Pixar people.

Signs Of Westward Progress

Renee directed my attention to the old building across the street and told me to be sure I walked around to the side. Stretched out on its big brick wall is a "ghost sign" -- the faded remnants of an old advertisement. This one touted five-cent cigars and a local lumber yard.

A similar sign in "Cars" welcomes visitors to the town of Radiator Springs. In the movie, Radiator Springs is home to all of Route 66's most famous buildings, including the Wigwam Motel in Arizona (the Cozy Cone Motel) and the U-Drop Inn Conoco in Texas (Ramone's Body Art). "Cars" brought so much attention to the Mother Road, many souvenir shops, including this one, offer movie memorabilia alongside their Route 66 souvenirs.

Just before I walked out the door of the 4 Women on the Route gift shop, Renee advised me to watch for some of the sights ahead. The Rainbow Bridge is a rare Marsh Arch bridge that, until a few years ago, was covered by graffiti and at risk of demolition. Look for the Spring River Inn's old neon sign, she said, adding that she was married nearby.

In Baxter Springs, check out the often-robbed banks and look for the one-lane-wide pavement of Route 66's "sidewalk highway" after crossing into Oklahoma.

I left with a souvenir, of course, and a better understanding of Kansas' share of the Mother Road. The 13 miles of Route 66 that run through the Sunflower State suddenly meant a lot more to me. It's good to know that Renee, Melba, Betty and Judy are keeping their little corner of it alive.

4 WOMEN ON THE ROUTE

WHERE: 119 N. Main St., Galena, Kan.

DIRECTIONS: Follow the Historic Route 66 signs and you can't miss it.

WHEN: The gift shop and grill is open seasonally and will re-open March 1; hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; the grill is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tow Tater is on display 24 hours a day, outside.

MORE: You can call the women at (620) 783-1366 or visit their Web site at www.4womenontheroute.com.

~Daniel Woodrum, for Tampa Bay Online

 

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