The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 28, 2007

Unfinished tourist center already attracting crowds

By Roger McKinney

GALENA, Kan. — Melba Rigg on Wednesday was talking up Galena and its Route 66 connection to visitors from Palm Springs, Calif.

“I’m bound and determined to get Galena back on the map,” Rigg told them.

Rigg is one-quarter of 4 Women on the Route, who are refurbishing the former Little’s Service Station at First and Main streets to serve as a stop for Route 66 tourists. They plan a gift shop, Route 66 memorabilia and a snack bar.

The other three women are Judy Courtney, Renee Charles and Betty Courtney.

On Thursday, C.H. and Donna Harvey and their son, David, from Texas, stopped by in a 1995 Mustang Cobra made to resemble Lightning McQueen, a character in the Disney movie “Cars.” C.H. Harvey pulled the car up beside the truck that inspired the Mater character in the movie. The truck belongs to the four women.

“When you put smiles on kids’ faces, that’s what it’s all about,” C.H. Harvey said.

Word spread around Galena, and dozens of people gathered with their children and grandchildren to see Lightning McQueen.

Lou and Jo Ann Molinar, of Joplin, Mo., were in Galena to talk with Rigg about scheduling an appearance by the truck at their Fourth of July party at their house on Schifferdecker Avenue. Lou Molinar said they decided to hang around and see the car.

The crowd at the gas station caught the attention of Harold deBock, 61, director of a market research firm in Holland, who is motorcycling Route 66. He stopped and took a few photos of the scene.

“It’s been a dream for a couple of years now,” deBock said of his trip. “This whole Route 66 thing in Europe is pretty big.”

The women began working on the station in March, and there is still more to do, said Judy Courtney, who owns the building.

“There’s people coming in every day,” she said.

She said the women are relying on donations for the project.

Charles said the corner once was the location of the Banks Hotel, but she found a Joplin Globe story from 1933 stating that the hotel had to be removed because it obscured visibility for motorists along Route 66. She said she thinks an old photo of the Little’s Service Station on display in the building dates to the late 1930s or early 1940s.

“We’re really wanting to get Route 66 through Galena improved,” Charles said. She said the viaduct and some of the culverts have been preserved, but are in disrepair.

Rigg said recent visitors have included a group of Norwegian women on motorcycles, a Belgian photographer, and tourists from France and Germany. Rigg said she is considering studying foreign languages to assist international visitors.

She said she was surprised one day by an Irish television crew filming a Route 66 documentary.

Down the road

Members of the Baxter Springs Historical Society had a work day Wednesday to refurbish a former Phillips 66 station as a tourist center they hope to open this fall.