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.
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.
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.”
JOPLIN, Mo. —
What do Bonnie and Clyde, the Rainbow Bridge in Southeast Kansas and the Route 66 Drive-In near Carthage share in common?
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Billions of dollars are on the line when Missouri voters head to the polls on Tuesday to consider Amendment 7.
The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
“The whole idea that money is flowing into the campaign, of course it is,” said Sen. John Lamping, a St. Louis Republican who is opposed to the measure. “It would be a smart business decision to do that.”
Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.
Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
“Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
“We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”
“The ads don’t mention any of the ballot language,” said Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs. “We figure Missourians will see the language when they go to the polls.”
Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
“There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
If approved, Amendment 7 would prevent an increase in the state’s fuel tax, a funding boost opponents of the amendment like Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and some of the state’s social welfare groups have said would be more appropriate because it could pull in revenue from people who use the roads — like the state’s trucking industry.
The Missouri Truckers Association’s political action committee has contributed more than $27,000 to the effort to pass the measure. Tom Crawford, president of the association, said his members support the amendment because they see the problems on the road and deal with them every day. And passage of the measure does not mean anyone will stop paying fuel tax.
“We overpay our fair share on the fuel tax,” he said, pointing to statistics by the American Transportation Research Institute that show truckers have accounted for about 14 percent of road usage while paying for 39 percent of all taxes and fees owed by motorists. “We pay sales taxes just like everybody does on goods and products that people buy in the stores.”
Crawford said truck companies do not pay state sales taxes on the purchase of trucks, but they do pay a federal tax. “So, we won’t be impacted on new equipment purchase, but other areas of our business will be impacted just like every other taxpayer in the state will,” he said.
Thomas Shrout, who is helping lead the campaign against the tax hike, said that is not good enough and that Amendment 7 lets truck drivers off the hook. “Under Amendment 7, they wouldn’t have to pay any more,” he said.
Shrout’s opposition campaign has raised just over $27,000 — less than 1 percent of the total money raised by its supporters. They are targeting their opposition at the state’s urban core by spending money on direct mail and targeted robocalls in the final week.
“We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
Shrout said the Missouri Department of Transportation and its supporters should go back to the drawing board and consider some of the other options like campaigning for toll roads or a gas tax increase — both based on road usage.
Representatives for APAC and the Heavy Constructors Association declined requests for comment.
Amendment 7 is one of five measures voters will consider when they head to the polls on Tuesday. Statewide, local election officials reported to the Missouri secretary of state that it was their estimate that about 27 percent of the state’s 4.06 million registered voters will show up to vote, including 25 percent of registered voters in Jasper County and 30 percent in Newton County.
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