By Andy Ostmeyer
With gas at more than $3 a gallon, the romance of the open road is, well, road kill.
But there was a day when motoring across the country with the top down was part of the American experience. While the romance may be gone, the nostalgia isn’t, at least in communities from Carterville to Miami, Okla., where a half-dozen former filling stations are being preserved and restored.
“There is new life coming to these places,” said Rod Harsh, a Route 66 promoter who recently acquired a 70-year-old filling station at 401 W. Main St. in Carterville.
In Miami, city officials have submitted grant applications to the National Park Service and to Marathon Oil Corp. for the restoration of a former Marathon gas station along the old Mother Road. The station, at 331 S. Main St., was built about 1929.
Daryl Buckmaster, the building’s owner, said: “It’s got the old tin ceiling. ... It’s a sound structure. It just needs some tender loving care. What we’re trying to do is preserve it like it originally was. It is largely unaltered. It still has its original slate roof.
“As far as we know at this point, it’s the only Marathon (gas station) still left in the United States.”
Costs for the restoration are projected at $15,589, with the grant to cover half, and the rest coming from Buckmaster and the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Restoration would include installing replica pumps, placement of a historical marker, repairing and painting the exterior, and adding period signs out front and on the sides of the building. The gas station would continue to function as a beauty salon after the restoration.
“We know that every day, 40,000 cars pass by Miami, Okla.,” said Larry Eller, community development and grant coordinator for the city. “If we could just capture a small percentage of that, it would be really huge.”
Joplin site for sale
In Joplin, Dale’s Ole 66 Barber Shop, at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Utica Street, recently was designated a historic landmark by the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission.
“It was a Shamrock station,” said owner Dale Holly. He said the station was built in the late 1920s and closed in 1959. He bought it in 1962 and ran it for 40 years.
“It’s on the market,” said Holly, who is asking $110,000 for the building and a couple of lots, as well as an adjacent storage building.
“I’d like to see it left there, but if somebody buys it, I’d like to encourage them to donate it to a museum,” he said. “I don’t want to see it torn down.”
As for the romance of the open road, well, Holly has some perspective on that, too. Some years back, when he was remodeling the building, he found an old price chart. Gas was 8 cents a gallon.
“It’s pretty unreal,” Holly said.
Stations also are being restored in Baxter Springs, Kan., and Galena, Kan.
The National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program awarded a grant of $26,202 to the Baxter Springs Historical Society to restore the exterior of an old Phillips 66 filling station for use as a visitors center. The station first opened in 1930.
“We have the inside all stripped out now,” said Dean Auman, a member of the board of the society and chairman of the station committee.
The first phase of the project, estimated to cost $10,000, will involve work on eaves, fascia, heating and air conditioning, and painting.
“It’s going to be attractive,” said Auman, who is always looking for volunteers to help with the work. The station at 10th Street and Military Avenue.
Renee Charles is one of a group known as 4 Women on the Route that is restoring an old station in Galena, near Main and Front streets. Front Street is the original Route 66. Larry Courtney is the owner of the building.
“We’re restoring it to be a Kanotex (station),” Charles said. “We’re going with the 1940s. We’re just restoring it ourselves. We haven’t brought in the historical society.
“It will be a welcome center. You just don’t know how many people come through this town and stop and take pictures of the old Route 66 signs.”
She thinks the station was built in the early 1930s.
Nearby, another gas station from the 1930s is under renovation. Scott Shockley wants to restore the filling station at Sixth and Main streets. He wants to give it the look it had in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Everybody around here remembers this building as Texaco,” he said. “I’m going to restore the whole front of it.”
He said he wants to use the building to customize and build hot rods.
Michael Taylor, manager of the nationwide Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, said Congress directed the study of buildings and remnants of Route 66.
The three sites most associated with Route 66 are motels/hotels, cafes and gas stations.
“The gas stations are the ones that are the most prolific,” Taylor said.
Many have served as incubators for other small businesses; some are being used as visitors centers.
Taylor said he was excited to learn about the Marathon station in Miami.
“We didn’t know about that property,” he said. “That is a property that was a really nice surprise to us.”
Gift shop planned
Harsh thinks the Carterville station that he’s restoring will make a great visitors center, too. In fact, he said it will be the only Route 66 gift shop and visitors center in Southwest Missouri.
Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 and took a dozen years to complete, and many stations date from the 1930s, he said. His is made of native limestone.
“To find one that was built out of native limestone is unusual,” Harsh said.
He, too, will apply for a restoration grant from the National Park Service.
“What I want to do is pay homage to what it was originally,” he said.
For Harsh, the romance of Route 66 is still strong.
“Route tourism is growing every year, especially since the movie ‘Cars’ came out,” he said. “It actually has caused a whole new generation of kids to learn about 66. ... They want to see what the move is all about.”
Harsh said the internationally strong dollar and the fact that gas prices are much higher in Europe make road trips look like a bargain, at least for Europeans.
“We can probably expect to see more international visitors than ever,” he said.
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe.
n Rod Harsh is planning a grand opening June 1-3 for his Route 66 gift shop and visitors center in the restored station in Carterville.
n Renee Charles, one of a group restoring an old station in Galena, said the owners are pushing for a June 9 opening.
By Andy Ostmeyer
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