The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 27, 2013

SLIDE SHOW: ‘Tin can tourists’ explore America along historic route

JOPLIN, Mo. — What do Bonnie and Clyde, the Rainbow Bridge in Southeast Kansas and the Route 66 Drive-In near Carthage share in common?

They are the old things bringing new life to area towns by the busload — including tourists from Europe and Asia, who are taking in America along its historic Main Street: Route 66.

The Joplin area is in a prime location to benefit.

“The original route went through the heart of all of our communities, which is Carthage, Webb City, Carterville and Joplin,” said Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex. It continued through Galena and Baxter Springs, Kan., and Quapaw, Commerce and Miami, Okla.

“It really captivated the motorists driving at 15 mph through our communities so they got a slow look, a real intimate look, at the inside of our communities. It’s not like today on Interstate 44 where you skirt around and don’t really see the inside of the communities,” he said.

Route 66 formed a 2,500-mile corridor of opportunity. Gas stations, restaurants, motels and attractions all snugged up against the Mother Road.

Now it’s happening again.

“I’m really amazed at the national appeal and international appeal to the people who are interested in traveling the route. They are trying to go back in time to see what the history is,” Belk said.

International festival

All of it will be celebrated this week as the Route 66 International Festival is held. Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 4,000 to 8,000 people are expected to come.

The festival opens Thursday evening with a showing of “Cars” and an appearance by Michael Wallis — the voice of Sheriff in that movie — at the Route 66 Drive-In at Carthage. That event is sold out, but there will be a car cruise at 5:30 p.m. from Joplin to Carthage along the historic route to the drive-in that is open to the public.

A formal opening ceremony and dedication of Joplin’s new Route 66 murals will be held at 10 a.m. Friday near Seventh and Main streets.

The city of Galena, Kan., will dedicate its new murals at Seventh and Main streets at 3 p.m. Friday. There will be a car show, a concert and other activities at Galena on Friday night.

A Route 66 market also will be open Friday in Joplin. There will be 40 vendors with Route 66-related products and art, literature, collectors and route associations at a show in the Christman Building at Fifth and Main streets. Food concessions and craft books will be set up in the 400 block of Main Street.

“If you don’t know the uniqueness and the history of the route, visiting the vendors in the Christman Building is really key,” said Tuttle. “Guests coming are encouraged to visit with locals about it. There are important preservation and education pieces to this event.”

There also are 200 cars expected to be displayed at a car show in the 500-600 blocks of Main Street and behind City Hall.

The Grass Roots will headline a concert on Saturday night in downtown Joplin.


Work to pave a continuous highway from Chicago to Los Angeles was started in 1926. The Route 66 identity was born at a meeting held in Springfield.

Missouri’s part of the route — 317 miles — was finished in 1932, Joplin’s stretch was designated in 1927.

By then, travelers were packing their Model T’s, Dodge Depots and Nash Coupes with tents and heading out, camping alongside the road.

Joplin’s Schifferdecker Park served as one of those early-day camps. The city even supplied free fuel, water and police protection to those who took advantage of the hospitality.

Travel magazines were born to tout the places where the Mother Road’s travelers could be fed, housed and entertained. The road also gave birth to the recreational vehicle industry, as some folks would strap handbuilt shacks or car bodies onto truck bases or trailers as a form of shelter and take off. They were referred to as “tin can tourists,” and the name stuck. There are organizations today composed of people who like to travel in vintage trailers and other RVs.

Worldwide appeal

The newer tourists, though, are those in the buses and motorcycles that come from all over the world.

In Baxter Springs, Kan., Route 66 shields outlined in red neon beckon today’s broods to Steve and Cathy Bolek’s antique store, SACS 66, 1141 S. Military Ave.

The Boleks keep a guest registry that reads like a travelogue. People who have signed it hail from all over the world. The Boleks say foreign visitors want a glimpse of how Americans have lived and they find that on the route. The Boleks have met travelers from the Czech Republic and Belgium who are such devoted 66 fans that they belong to clubs that have clubhouses decorated with photos and memorabilia from the route.

“I think they find it interesting to see things from the past,” said Cathy Bolek. The store has its original 1928 pressed tin ceiling still intact along with the antiques and Route 66 memorabilia it sells. Those are hits along with their practice of taking the photographs of visitors in front of the store and posting them on Facebook.

“It’s just like the old-time small town. They like the small towns,” Steve Bolek said.

And the No. 1 topic of interest about this area?  

“They want to hear about the outlaws,” he said.

Charles Duboise visits with those on the pilgrimage who stop in at his family’s business, the Dairy King in Commerce, Okla.

The Dairy King went into business in 1980 in a former Marathon Oil gas station built in 1927. Hamburgers and shakes have made it a local mainstay, and 8-year-old Ayden Miller is a regular who helps the restaurant keep up its reputation.

While Treva Duboise, the mother of Charles, cooked a hamburger and coney for Ayden to take home, he slurped his favorite — a peanut-butter shake.

“She makes the best hamburgers in town,” he confided.

Charles Duboise also has made it his business to give visitors a side of local history with their burgers. He concurs with the Boleks that outlaws are the favorite topic of discussion.

While the town is the birthplace of famed Yankees hitter Mickey Mantle — and some of the international visitors know about him — “everybody in the world knows who Bonnie and Clyde were,” Duboise said.

Bonnie and Clyde shot their way out of Commerce in 1934, killing the town’s constable, William Calvin Campbell. They had killed two lawmen in Joplin a year earlier when they were found to be holed up in a garage apartment at 34th Street and Oak Ridge Drive.

Duboise hands out photocopies of a news story about the Commerce rampage to those tourists who are interested.

He, too, is amazed by the zeal of overseas travelers for the old American route.

“The road is literally like going to Mecca for some of them,” DuBoise said. “They will save for two years to come.”

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