The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 10, 2006

Riverton man inspired 'Cars' character

By Scott Meeker

Globe Features Editor

There's no cracking of bones or unnatural popping of joints as Dean Walker's legs are turned backward.

But that's not to say that he doesn't need a little help getting them that way.

As the Riverton, Kan., resident leaned back against a pole Friday inside Joplin's Northstar Cinema, Dale Crane, a lifelong friend, delivered a few solid kicks to Walker's feet to help get them turned the wrong direction.

"You're getting stiff, Dean," Crane laughed. "You're not limbered up yet this morning."

Walker, the president of the Kansas Historic Route 66 Association, says that he's also known as "Crazy Legs Walker, the Ambassador of Crazy Feet on Route 66."

"I'm famous for turning my feet around on Route 66," he said.

It's an ability that the makers of the new Disney/Pixar film "Cars" took note of when they met Walker five years ago, and they have incorporated it into the film. Walker appeared at the theater Friday morning to sign autographs and talk about the "Cars" character called Mater.

Voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, Mater is a "good ol' boy tow truck" and the "self-proclaimed 'world's best backwards driver,'" according to the film's production notes.

Historian and author Michael Wallis - who also provides the voice of Sheriff, a 1949 Mercury police cruiser - led "Cars" director John Lasseter and other members of the movie's production team on a nine-day trip along the Mother Road in 2001.

"Dean is one of the great characters of the road," Wallis said in a phone interview Friday.

"Whenever my wife, Suzanne, and I go out on the road, people will ask, 'Don't you get bored?' But you know, it's never boring," he said, "because two things happen. We see the familiar and the comfortable. I know I'm going to see the storefronts of Galena (Kan.). I know I'm going to see Wilder's in Joplin. I know I'm going to see that sweet little arch bridge near Baxter Springs (Kan.). I know all that's there. But I'm also going to find something or someone new every time.

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