Route 66 in the News

Postcards Keep History Alive

2011-08-28 18:16:37

AFTON, Okla. - Laurel Kane is quick to point out she's not a hoarder.

"But I love the TV show," she said with a smile, talking about the popular A&E network program.

Her bungalow in Maple Ridge is a far, uncluttered cry from the houses on "Hoarders," as we noticed during our recent visit. If she were to be on any show, it would be one about Route 66 memorabilia.

She led us to the guest bedroom, pointing out a Golden Driller-shaped Jim Beam bourbon bottle from the 1971 International Petroleum Expo in Tulsa. To the right, though, were shelves, from which she pulled a box with a little white label on front that read "New Jersey to Oklahoma."

Inside were about 300 postcards in protective, transparent sleeves, arranged by the state from which each came -- and only a fraction of the approximately 15,000 postcards in her collection.

Of those, around 5,000 are Route 66-related, she said as she flipped open a binder filled with postcards from eastern Oklahoma.

It was "the mother road" that led her and ex-husband, David, to Oklahoma from Connecticut 11 years ago, she said. You might know their names from Afton Station, a 1930s D-X gas station they restored into an unofficial rest stop and small museum at 12 SE First St. in Afton. It has a collection of Route 66 memorabilia, as well as vintage Packard automobiles.

But Kane's passion for postcards goes back before that. She grew up on the East Coast, the only child to a mom and dad who loved to travel.

"My dad was the perfect person to travel with," she said. "It was like having another kid in the car."

They would stop at all the cool tourist traps, take pictures, and of course, buy postcards to send to friends. One of those friends saved the postcards and recently gave them back to Kane.

She would attend postcard shows or sales, which were common on the East Coast, almost every week.

While living in Connecticut, she and David were avid recreational sailors. On one trip, they docked near an antique shop on the coast of Maine, and she asked the owner if he had any postcards. Not in the shop, he said -- but he had some in a barn.

They hopped in the bed of his truck, "and we drove and drove and drove and came to this barn that was rundown and leaking," she recalled.

The shop owner pointed to a pile of postcards, to which Kane said, "I'll take all the ones that aren't ruined" -- which were anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000. She paid him $50 for them, loaded the cards on the sailboat and went home.

Later, she discovered the cards were responses to a home showcase segment on "The Price is Right." She plucked one out of that box from the guest bedroom -- a postcard of the Clock Inn Motel in Oklahoma City, mailed from Ottawa, Canada. On the back, addressed to "Modern Showcase, The Price is Right," was a woman's guess of $1,554.13 for a home showcase.

Kane still has no clue how the thousands of postcards ended up in a dilapidated barn in Maine.

As she collected Route 66 stuff, and her husband had more than a dozen Packard cars, they decided to move to Afton, where they bought the gas station. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends, she drives from Tulsa to Afton to be at the museum.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, though, she spends nearly four hours receiving dialysis.

"It's not painful, they just stick some needles in you, the blood goes in, the blood goes out," Kane said.

But as nonchalant as she sounds, Kane has had major complications.

A seemingly minor infection led to her having to be put in a coma for weeks in recent years. Her kidneys failed, and after the coma, she spent three months in a nursing home, enduring physical therapy to learn to walk again.

"She is a survivor," said good friend Ron McCoy, who emailed to tell us about Kane and her collection.

"Her optimism, even through the illness she lives with daily, is the foundation for her ambitious and ongoing involvements in her hobby of collecting, writing a daily blog and her dedication to Route 66," he said.

That dedication is evident through her collection, pieces of which she has lent for displays, such as at the Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler.

In the binder on her dining table, she pulled out a postcard from the Dairy Ranch Diner, with a two-sided billboard -- and, according to the card, "the world's only trained buffalo," which stood on its back legs, the front two propped on the sign.

Although she has been concentrating lately on Route 66 postcards, Kane has other collections, like postcards from Miami Beach hotels. She traveled there as a kid with her family, and they would stroll Collins Avenue at night after dinner. In her collection, she has the cards filed in order of how she would amble past them on those walks.

She also has a collection of Victorian erotica postcards, and even one dealing with factories -- specifically, those with smoke coming out of their huge chimneys.

"If you had smoke coming out of your factory, you were busy," she said of the mindset companies had years ago. Now, factory owners would probably shudder at the thought of showing air-polluting smoke.

Kane even has a collection of postcards from places named Laurel, including some from Laurel, Miss. -- which she gave to us before we left.

Otherwise, she won't part with her prized possessions.

"No, they're going to go to the ground with me," she said. "I'm not selling them."

~Jason Ashley Wright, Tulsa World

 

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