By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
GALENA, Kan. —
It’s official: Galena is becoming a mecca for fans of Pixar’s “Cars” movies.
Last week, a second rusty tow truck that is a replica of the Tow Mater character from the movie settled into its new home on the parking lot at Cars on the Route at the intersection of Old Route 66 and Main Street.
This one looks exactly like the movie character.
“This is just the first addition of many ‘Cars’ related vehicles,” Doug Gatewood, a consultant for developers Brian Jordan and Roger Hines, said Friday morning.
In coming months, a Hudson Hornet that closely resembles the movie’s “Doc Hudson,” a police car that closely resembles “Sheriff” and a fire truck that closely resembles “Red” also will take their place on the lot.
Rain didn’t keep a steady stream of visitors from across the nation and the world from stopping at the former filling station to buy merchandise, eat lunch and hear stories from Melba Riggs, who bills herself as a Route 66 expert.
“At any given time, you can see cars from all across the U.S. and the world here in Galena,” Gatewood said. “We used to think of Route 66 as the Mother Road, our own nation’s road, but it’s truly the world’s road. People get such excitement out of it.”
Several visitors Friday bought “Cars” themed toys for their children, and some waited for the rain to let up so they could take photos of the two trucks.
“We’re doing the whole route,” said Joe Baker, who with his wife, Sarah, and son, Adam, traveled from London, England along Route 66. They spent Friday morning at Joplin’s Museum Complex before crossing the line into Kansas.
“Adam’s a huge fan of ‘Cars’ and has been wanting to do this ever since he saw the movie,” Baker said.
After Adam got a photo of the two trucks — one a 1951 International Boom Truck 170 Series that was director John Lasseter’s inspiration for Tow Mater, and the most recent a 1957 Chevrolet renovated to look exactly like Tow Mater — family members added their names to the Cars on the Route visitor’s book.
In the last week, the book also collected signatures from as far away as Hungary, Mexico, Canada, Norway and West Germany, and from American tourists from Illinois, California, Ohio and Virginia, Riggs pointed out.
Baker noted he was caught between sadness and pleasure at what he has seen on Route 66 because many towns are all but abandoned and buildings are crumbling, but Galena wasn’t among them.
“It’s brilliant,” he said.
Gatewood credited investments by developers Hines and Jordan with helping save Galena from the fate of fictitious Radiator Springs, the home of the characters in “Cars.”
“It has really been beneficial to the entire community. A rising tide does float all ships,” he said. “It used to be that in downtown Galena, you had a choice of parking spaces at noon. Now, you have to look for a space. But it is well worth the search.”
Melba Riggs said she sees about 1,000 American visitors a year from her vantage point on Route 66, and between 3,000 and 4,000 visitors from Europe and other continents.