Louise Speaks: Day 12: August 7, 2015. What a great place to stop last night. Turns out there is a “City Park” right along the river that allows overnight RV parking. There is electricity and restrooms and it only costs $10 a night. I wonder if every state has city parks that allow RV camping? Anyway, it was a great stop and today we are off to do the 13 miles of Kansas. Our first stop is the Kan-O-Tex- Service Station in Galena. This is a vintage service station of the 1930’s on the original alignment of Route 66. The service station sold regional brand gas in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, hence the name Kan-O-Tex. The brand’s logo was a sunflower set behind a five pointed star. It was previously known as “Little Service Station” The boom truck that sits outside inspired a character in the movie “Cars”. This station is situated on the main street of Galena and in 1937 a repair shop and garage were added to the service station. In 1961 the new four lane Route 66 moved from main street to 7th street leaving the service station far from the flow of travelers. When I-44 bypassed the town and the entire state of Kansas the service station went out of business until it was restored in 2007. The restored station now services as somewhat of a visitors center. We spent more time here and got more information than you could imagine. It still has the facade and gas pumps but now includes a diner and a souvenir shop. A definite must stop, and make sure you talk to the old timers inside.
You would thing with Route 66 only covering 13 miles of Kansas we would just breeze through the state….but not us. After talking to the guys at the Kan-O-Tex we found a few other places to stop. Going through Riverton, KS we came across a unique country store. Williams’ Store is a historic store located along Route 66. Leo Williams built the store in 1925, the year before Route 66 was designated. The store sold a variety of goods; while it was mainly a grocery and general store. Williams and his wife Lora sold chili and barbecue beef to travelers on Route 66, and the store also had a gas stations. The store even had a croquet court at one point, which hosted local tournaments; the court was eventually removed to add the parking. Leo Williams leased the store to Lloyd Paxon in 1945. Leo died before the lease expired, so after it did Lora ran the store until 1970. The store is now known as the Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store. It is still in operation and serves as the headquarters of the Route 66 Association of Kansas. This place was the inspiration for the Route 66 songs for the Pixar movie Cars. We spent quite a bit of time in here as it is almost a museum with all the old stuff they have. Seems odd saying “old stuff” when I can remember buying this stuff when I was a kid. The store was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 29, 2003.
Also in Riverton is the Marsh Arch Bridge of Route 66. This is just on the outskirts of Baster Springs. The Rainbow Bridge is an old bridge over Brush Creek approximately two miles west of Riverton on Route 66. It is now a county road, but we still found it. The bridge is a single-span concrete Marsh arch bridge and is the sole surviving bridge of this type on the entire length of the former highway. It was built in 1923. The bridge has often been covered with graffiti, but was recently re-painted white. The bridge has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places (as the Brush Creek Bridge) on March 10, 1983, due to its connection with Route 66 and is also a Kansas state landmark. The bridge is fairly narrow, and due to traffic on the road, a replacement bridge has been built. The bridge had been listed with the National Register, which prohibited condemnation of the old bridge. In the year 2000, country singer Brad Paisley performed “Route 66” on this very bridge for the TLC special, “Route 66: Main Street America”.
Our last stop in Kansas, is another gas station. It seems that is the most common building left on Route 66, but I guess that’s what lined the road…places to get gas, to eat and to sleep. We came across a 1930 Phillips 66 gas station. With the depression going on, companies used marketing strategies to blend into the towns scenery. The service stations had a pleasant cottage design to sooth locals and to provide a sense of security to travelers. Some towns have really gone way out to restore and bring back to life these remaining buildings from the 1930’s and Route 66.
We crossed the state line going into Oklahoma. Since we have been through Oklahoma before, it was going to be fun to see the smaller towns versus the larger cities. First stop, Commerce, OK. Here we found an old Conoco Service Station and an old Dairy Queen. The service station followed the cottage look like the one in Kansas. This little shop is still serving ice cream, but we just knew it used to be a Dairy Queen.
Moving west along Route 66, we reach Miami, OK. This is a more historic town that has a remarkable theater. The Coleman Theater has a very art deco design and the stories I’m sure that building could tell. The 1600 seat Theatre was built by George L. Coleman Sr. and enjoyed a festive grand opening on April 18, 1929. At a cost of $600,000 to construct, the elegant Louis XV interior includes gold leaf trim, silk damask panels, stained glass panels, marble accents, a carved mahogany staircase, a pipe organ, decorative plaster moldings, and bronze railings. In 1983 the Coleman Theater was placed on the National Register of Historical Places. Miami is also home to the Waylan’s Ku Ku Burger. Everybody goes nuts for the hamburgers at this Route 66 landmark, famous for its giant yellow fiberglass cuckoo bird emerging from the front wall and a huge, green-and-yellow neon sign. Here you can soak up the unique atmosphere, and treat yourself to a fantastic, cooked-to-order burger. Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger is one of the best burger joints, and burger experiences, anywhere on the Mother Road.
Continuing West we go through the town of Afton, OK where we found yet another gas station and an historic walking bridge. From there it was Vinita, OK, home of the Clanton’s Cafe. Chelsea, OK is home to the Chelsea Motor Inn.
Next we had an attraction to find. It is suppose to be the World’s Largest Concrete Totem Pole. We arrive in Foyil, OK and we didn’t see any sign or any directions on how to find this attraction. We asked a few people and everyone said it’s on the outskirts of town. What does that mean??? We did finally find it but it is several miles off the original Route 66.
Ed built other sculptures on his property, but none as big as the Totem Pole. An Indian arrowhead sticks up out of the ground; stylized birds and smaller totem poles are spread across Totem Pole Park. Ed also built the Fiddle House to show off his handmade fiddles. It is supported inside and out by 25 concrete Totem Poles. At one time it contained Ed’s handmade furniture, and portraits of all U.S. Presidents up to JFK. Ed worked every day on his creations. He was up at 5 a.m. and continuing past sunset right up until his death of cancer in 1962. In the decades following Galloway’s death, all the sculptures began to deteriorate from weather and neglect. The bulk of the pieces in the Fiddle House were stolen in 1970 and never recovered. In the 1990s, a large restoration effort was undertaken by the Rogers County Historical Society. The outdoor sculptures were restored and repainted, and the Fiddle House was brought back from the brink of collapse.
Totem Pole Park is a quiet sloping expanse of lawn, with stands of trees and concrete picnic tables. Regarding the “World’s Largest Totem Pole” claim, there are some current competitors. The World’s Largest Totem Pole (carved from a single tree) is claimed by several towns. But Ed’s probably continues to be the World’s Largest Concrete Totem Pole. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
One of the funniest, stops was in Catoosa, OK. Here is the home of the Blue Whale. The Blue Whale of Catoosa is a waterfront structure, located just east of the town. It has become one of the most recognizable attractions on Route 66. Hugh Davis built the Blue Whale in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift to his wife Zelta, who collected whale figurines. The Blue Whale and its pond became a favored swimming hole for both locals and travelers along Route 66 alike. Originally, the pond surrounding the massive Blue Whale was spring fed and intended only for family use. However, as many locals began to come to enjoy its waters, Davis brought in tons of sand, built picnic tables, hired life guards, and opened it to the public. Just by looking at it you can tell it was quite the place when in full operation.
Originally called Nature’s Acres, Mr. Davis continued to add to the roadside attraction until it eventually included The Fun and Swim Blue Whale and the A.R.K. (Animal Reptile Kingdom). The attraction also featured Hugh’s brother-in-law, Indian Chief Wolf Robe Hunt, a full blooded Indian who was famous, in his own right, for his Indian paintings and as a highly skilled silversmith. By 1988, the Davises were not able to continue managing the attraction, so they closed it to the public. In January 1990 Mr. Davis died followed by his wife Zelta in 2001. The park soon fell into disrepair, crumbling from neglect and weather. However, after a decade the people of Catossa and employees of the Hampton Inn launched a fund-raising and volunteer effort to restore the Route 66 landmark. The Blue Whale was restored and repainted to its original brilliant blue. The adjacent picnic area has also been restored. Today it is in need of a face lift. Although it has been restored, it still needs to be cared for and updated regularly. The gift shop on site is taking donations to help save the whale.
We finally made it to Tulsa, OK but that wasn’t our stopping for today….but it requires it’s own blog entry….so onto the next blog.