In seven days, one short week in an almost ninety year history, the first month of the new year will become a part of the past. In this brief moment in time Route 66 and its community has changed dramatically and that is the subject of todays somber tinged musings.
At a small, relatively obscure roadside junction in the Ozark Mountains the entire evolution to date of the storied double six is encapsulated. As of this past week, it is also a window into that highways future.
By 1872, just two years after its formal founding, Paris Springs, Missouri, just a short distance from Paris Springs Junction, was a thriving community with a very bright future. In that year founder Eli Paris opened a hotel and spa to capitalize on the fad of basking in mineral rich spring water for better health.
The prosperous little community also supported a wagon manufacturing company and a broom factory. In the two decades since O.P. Johnson established Johnson Mills at Chaleybeate Springs on this site, a great deal had changed.
It was an attempt to decipher the history of Paris Springs and Paris Springs Junction during the research phase of The Route 66 Encyclopedia that first led me to Gary Turner and that subsequently led to a few fascinating and lengthy conversations.
We did not know Gary Turner of Paris Springs Junction station, a forgotten roadside oasis from the earliest days of Route 66 turned icon, well enough to call him friend even though he had a way of making everybody feel like one on the very first visit. Tragically, as often is the case, the daily schedule as well as distance prohibited visiting as often as we would have liked. Still, our lives were enriched by the short stops on our journey west that often turned to hour long visits, and the memories of fascinating phone calls intertwined with subtle words of encouragement as we talked history.
We lost Gary Turner this past week. Our condolences go out to Lena, his wife, his son Steve, and their family.
Gary, however, was a man of sincerity, a man of unpretentious warmth possessed of a charming dry wit. He was also a man with a dream that was transformed into reality in an obscure place named Paris Springs Junction, Missouri.
A man like Gary could never go through life in obscurity even if he transformed his dream into a reality in Vandercook Lake, Michigan or Wikieup, Arizona. Men like Gary change lives. The fact that his dream was linked to Route 66 enabled him to change and touch lives on an international scale.
Gary was not the only loss to the Route 66 community in the opening weeks of 2015. We also lost the irrepressible Becky of Becky’s Barn, who with her husband Rick linked a hobby and a dream to Route 66 and in the process created a landmark, a fun filled destination for a legion of international travelers.
Ironically, a topic of discussion with enthusiasts during our European adventure was the people that make Route 66 something more than just a mere highway with an interesting history. These would be the people that exude a vibrancy, an honest and sincere passion for the road, its culture, its history, and the people who travel this storied old highway, people like Gary Turner.
Even though they are more commonly found along Route 66 than almost any other road in the nation they are still a relative rarity. Without them Route 66 would be, at best, an interesting and perhaps fascinating old road that coursed through the heartland of America.
In the closing months of 2014, a battle to save the Gasconade River Bridge commenced. A number of bridges and other historic landmarks that ensure a sense of timelessness when motoring along the old double six are also endangered. However, I propose that the greatest threat to ensuring Route 66 remains a colorful, vibrant, exciting, fascinating, alluring, and intoxicating linear time capsule for future generations are the loss of people like Gary Turner.
Many of these individuals, the living icons of the road, are now quite advanced in age or are in poor health. Who will fill their shoes? Who can transform nothing into a destination by filling it with a tangible sense of their passion, their spirit, and their love for the people that travel the road as Gary and Lena Turner did?
Perhaps a vision of the roads future, and an answer to those questions, can be found in looking toward the Patel family in Rialto, the Engman and Mueller family in Tucumcari, the Greer’s in Truxton, and Melba and her family in Galena.
Adios, Gary and Becky. Thank you for your contributions toward ensuring this amazing old road remained a destination as well as an adventure.