The scenery east of the Little House Museum remained steady and unremarkable until we navigated our way to famous Historic Route 66. Originally connecting Chicago and Los Angeles, the formerly cross-country thoroughfare that inspired a TV show, a Pixar film, and innumerable road trips was ignobly decommissioned decades ago when it found itself superseded by the newfangled interstate system. Many sections were downgraded, renamed, or scuppered altogether. A few segments across America retain the original name, shape, and celebrity, including a few miles’ worth in southwest Kansas, leading east into Missouri.
Some locals still cherish the heritage of Route 66 and cheerfully commemorate its legacy and impact on pop culture. Galena, for example, is a rare small town that can justify boasting about a life-sized stand-in for the one and only Tow Mater.
This faux-Mater stands guard in all his Cars-inspired splendor in front of a restaurant called 4 Women on the Route, so named for the four women who bought this erstwhile service station and maintain its new incarnation out of a sense of Route 66 pride.
I understand that inside is a retro-decor full-service restaurant and souvenir stand. We wouldn’t know. They were closed upon our arrival due to malfunctioning air conditioning. All we could do was stand outside and note the fan art papering their windows.
Visitors who need more vintage vehicle than humble ol’ Mater can walk down the same block and examine the partial remains of what I think was once an antique fire truck. If you take your kids here for vacation, you can pretend he’s a forgotten Cars character called Smokey Joe.
The dedication level of the surrounding businesses and structures varied. Some were tended and well-kept. Some residents had their own ideas about how to display their Route 66 kinship.
Across the street from Mater…um, suffice it to say that not all of Galena is tailored to optimistic tourism. If only Smokey Joe could’ve saved the day.
If you’re new to road trips, it’s important to keep in mind that when you make plans to visit a famous roadside attraction, sometimes they’re the only attractive construct in the vicinity. We’ve had similar experiences in West Virginia, southern Wisconsin, Manhattan, Metropolis, and even the area of Denver surrounding the Buckhorn Exchange. Tourism dollars that flow into a specific business don’t automatically translate into a trickle-down effect for every adjacent city block. Time will tell if Galena and Route 66 can find more ways to draw in the crowds and host a year-round appreciative audience for Mater and Smokey Joe.
To be continued!
[New readers and completists: be sure to check out the 2012 Road Trip checklist for the ultimate reading guide, still in progress. You can also add your name to the new MCC Facebook page to receive notifications of new posts (if you know the proper workaround) and lend your voice and support to MCC in general. Thanks for reading!]