We set out on old Route 66 from the Springfield KOA in Missouri a little later than planned but after two days of very little sleep, a real campground was a gift. We were not disappointed. This section all the way from Springfield, through Kansas to Oklahoma is jam packed with great old buildings that lined the sometimes narrow trail cut by Mother Road.
Our first stop was the ruin of an old casket making factory at Plano. We paused at the crossroads and wandered through the stone walls that contained more brush than what surrounded it. The wind and the occasional passing car were the only sounds.
We continued on to Halltown and Paris Springs and found ourselves at Gary Turner’s replica of the old “Gay Parita” Gas Station. The old garage on the same site is original to 1929 and built of the rough stone that was to become more an more common as we approached Oklahoma. We pulled up in front of the Station and we were immediately greeted by Gary himself.
Gary started by handing us each a bottle of “Route 66” soda in Black Cherry and “Route” beer, took us into the garage and started talking about his cars, local artists including well known Jerry McClanahan, whose acrylic and watercolour paintings are famous for their depictions of classic Route 66, past and present. The walls were full of classic signs and photographs from the heyday of the Mother Road; the floors covered with old refrigerators, gas pumps and a lovingly restored Ford F-5 which Gary wants to convert into a ‘wrecker’.
Gary, by his own admission, is a true “Hillbilly” and he has tried his hand at many interesting things. His kindness and willingness to greet and share his wealth of knowledge with every visitor makes him the best “must see” stop on a trip down Route 66.
He invited me to sit in his Model “A” with “Bonnie” and took my picture. He showed us how to make memories on our trip down the Mother Road by getting the autographs of those that touched us. Gary was our first.
As were were getting ready to leave, Gary insisted we visit Spencer and the old steel bridge over the creek. The road through Spencer is hand troweled concrete and was in the best condition of any of the roads we traveled, including the Interstate.
It was easy to slow our pace and really get into the rhythm of the Mother Road. We forgot we had any particular destination and got lost – sometimes literally – along the winding pavement that was old Route 66. On one of the rare occasions that I was behind the wheel of our 36 foot rig, I ended up on a road that was only wide enough for me. My husband was trying to rest, but I think he ended up more stressed watching me navigate around other traffic that he decided to take over again.
Just before leaving Missouri, we entered the beautiful city of Joplin. Joplin is now known across North America, not for its position on old Route 66, but for the massive tornado that swept through it in May 2011. We lost our way and accidentally ended up in the middle of the path the tornado had taken. The city seemed to abruptly end and what had once been dozens of streets and a school were now empty fields and a few ruins. The community is still struggling to clean up and the rebuilding process is only just beginning. Many volunteers were still on site, five months later, and lots of free supplies were being handed out. A group of residents were sitting on furniture in what had once been their living room. Only a single tattered wall remained. The resilience and determination of this community is very evident. Hats off to them.
Just outside of Joplin, back on Route 66, we stopped at an old grocery. We didn’t realize it at the time, but it is an original stop on the Mother Road. The tiny entry patio and tin ceilings welcomed the traveler seeking a few supplies for the journey. It was late afternoon when we crossed Kansas border and followed Route 66 into Galena where a truck like “Mater” in the movie Cars sits in front of an old gas station. We lingered in Galena. A brick garage sat across the road, long abandoned like most of its neighbours. Faded paint covered the wall that sat in shadow not unlike the majority of the old road itself, now shadowed by the Interstate. We quietly entered Oklahoma.
The sun was setting when we finally reached Miami, Oklahoma and our last stop. The Coleman theater in Miami is a marvelous piece of architecture that opened its doors in 1929, months before the beginning of the Great Depression. Will Rogers and the Three Stooges were seen on the stage of the Coleman over the years. It has been beautifully maintained and is still active.
An RV is not always the best way to travel the Mother Road. Not only are some sections of pavement not as wide as our rig, but the conditions of that road vary widely. Had we known that in advance, we might have taken another route past Miami. Our tires straddled the pavement and we rattled so badly, we had to turn around. It took us an hour to figure out how to get back on the Interstate in the dark and I was never so relieved to pay a toll to head to Tulsa.
The darkness burst the bubble of our journey thus far and we were reminded that Jeff had to be at work in the morning. We stayed on the Interstate the rest of the way to Oklahoma City. This journey, however, is only on pause. There will be a weekend trip in the near future to finish this section of Route 66 up to our home. You see, our new home is in Yukon – a Route 66 town – and our house is only a mile distant of the Mother Road herself.
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