By Jennifer Wimmer
Judy Priest celebrated her sixty-sixth birthday on June 25 of this year by taking another trip down the historic highway Route 66.
She and her husband, Eddie, departed Hancock County in her blue, 2019 Dodge Charger on Thursday, June 23.
She enjoyed a stack of pancakes with bacon on Saturday morning for her birthday along the way, at Little Nashville. Breakfast is Judy’s favorite meal. “It was very good,” she said. “I really enjoyed that. It was great, we enjoyed it.”
When Eddie asked her what she wanted for her birthday this year she said, “He figured I was going to say I wanted to go to Graceland, because I’ve been down there 22 times. And, I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. I want to go out Route 66.’ And, he said, ‘Seriously?’ And, I said, ‘Yeah, I want to turn 66 on Route 66.’ So, that’s how we ended up out there.”
After her birthday breakfast, they headed to their favorite spot on Route 66, where they have enjoyed visiting on their other trips – “Gary’s Gay Parita.” It is a re-creation of a 1930 Sinclair gas station that stood on that site from the 1930’s until 1955 when it burnt down.
Gary G. Turner, rebuilt the gas station, and turned it into a very memorable stop for those traveling down the highway. He passed away 2 years ago, and his daughter and son-in-law keep the place looking exactly as he always did, Judy said.
There are old Sinclair gas pumps, vintage license plates and signs, a 1928 International 6-speed Special, and an old Roadster in the back of the property with Gary’s picture on it.
There is an old outhouse, cigarette machine, wood cook stove, old Frigidaire ice box, vintage Coca-Cola signs, and a gift shop that sells memorabilia, such as t-shirts.
“I made sure we were right there,” Judy said. “I told Eddie, ‘I want to turn 66 right here on Route 66.’ That is what we did.”
The photo you see here, was taken on Judy’s birthday next to one of the vehicles that Gary restored at his place on Route 66, in Ash Grove, Missouri.
Judy and Eddie have always stopped at this spot on their trips, and became friends with Gary before he passed away.
Eddie had taken many trips with friends on Route 66, and they would always tell Judy what the experience was like. She was intrigued and asked Eddie to take her.
Just the two of them took her first trip in 2011, and it has become her favorite route. She’s also driven her 2010 Dodge Challenger on a couple of their trips.
They usually get on Route 66 at St. Louis, Missouri, and continue on it until it’s time to stop for the night or get gas, and then turn back onto the interstate. The next morning, they get what they need, and then re-enter the route.
Many of the little gas stations and restaurants along the route are still standing, but have been abandoned, Judy said.
“Eddie and I have been out there on that route probably about 5 times,” she said. “This time it was kind of a disappointment to me, because they had sold properties and they tore down what was on them, and built new homes, as far as we went this time.
We have followed it all the way into New Mexico and all out through there. We didn’t do that this time because the weather has gotten so hot.
It’s a real interesting ride. It really is….Everything was still just exactly the way it was when we went out there before (at Gary’s place).
It’s so interesting, this one spot there where he’s at. They haven’t changed anything about it. Everything still is exactly the same as it was, every time Eddie and I have ever went out there. They have kept it the way he had it.”
Eddie and his friend, Donnie Phillips, Jr., were friends with Gary, and had known him before he refurbished the old gas station on Route 66. They said he even gave lectures due to his extensive knowledge of the history along the old highway.
“Donnie has bought vehicles from him,” Judy said. “Gary could fix any vehicle up and make it look brand new…He had everything. It is totally amazing. I advise anybody to go out there, and if they don’t go anywhere else, go to Gary’s place.”
There are many signs on the property that read: “Get your kicks at Gary’s 66.” Judy describes it well, “It’s basically all for tourism. There is nothing at the pumps, it’s just there for looks – for nostalgia. He sells t-shirts and all different kinds of things. They have kept everything going there the way Gary had it.
He raised his own watermelons, and they kept that up to. They have a refrigerator there, and they keep the watermelon in the refrigerator, exactly the way that he always did. It’s just something that – it’s a routine, and once her dad started it, she and her husband just kept it going. They never let it die out. It all looks just exactly the same as it has.”
One of the old signs at Gary’s reads: “Gas 15 cents.” Judy said, “I don’t ever remember gas at 15 cents a gallon. A person doesn’t really know the history of everything until you get out there and see it for yourself.”
She and Eddie have followed Route 66 into Las Vegas, on previous trips. “It goes all the way into Los Angeles, California, but we’ve never followed it that far,” she said. “This time, we were headed out to Amarillo, Texas, because Eddie wanted to go out there and eat at The Big Texan, but it just got so hot. It was 104 degrees.
We turned around, and went back into Oklamhoma and spent the night. We got home on Tuesday, June 28.
You couldn’t walk around and look at anything like you really wanted to do because of the weather being as hot as it was.”
It took them about 2 days to get to Oklahoma, on their way out there. They both enjoyed the drive and took their time looking out the windows at everything, she said.
They left out on Thursday, June 23, and stayed in Mt. Vernon, Illinois the first night. They got up the next morning and started driving on Route 66.
“We didn’t hit that spot, until June 25 (on her birthday), where I wanted my picture made, so I could have my birthday right there,” she said. “It was perfect timing.”
Judy said that she knew as soon as she saw this one particular bridge on the way, that it had changed a lot since their last trip.
She told Eddie, “They made too many changes now. They are doing away with history.”
She said that a lot of the area along the old highway looks like a ghost town now, and it doesn’t feel good to see any of the historic small town America spots disappearing.
“The interstate just shut them all down,” she said. “They knew there wasn’t any sense in trying to do anything out there, with the interstate, because there wasn’t going to be anyone going through there anymore.”
She says she hopes that some of the old motels, stores, and restaurants along Route 66 are still up and running the farther down west you go into Texas, and New Mexico.
On September 19, Eddie and Judy will be celebrating their Forty-Sixth Anniversary. Judy says they plan to make another trip to Graceland to celebrate.