Route 66 News

Meet Mater’s inspiration

It’s been the victim of neglect. The odometer reads 99,372 miles, and there’s no telling whether they’re original. Rust covers the entire body, where it nearly obscures the letters “Tannou” and “Joplin, Mo” on the door. The seats desperately need to be re-upholstered. And it gets its fuel from a storage tank that resembles a beer keg.

But it runs. And the residents of Galena, Kan., threw a party for it Saturday on the 80th anniversary of historic Route 66.

The vehicle is a 1951 International boom truck that served as one of the direct inspirations to Tow Mater, the unforgettable redneck tow truck portrayed by Larry the Cable Guy in the hit summer movie, “Cars.” Residents of Galena hailed the old truck’s rediscovery and sudden stardom with a party at an old Marathon service station at Main Street and Old Route 66 that’s set to be restored.

Nearby resident Dean Walker (top photo), who is one of the templates of Mater’s character, signed autographs. Mater sandwiches were served (it’s tomato, onion and butter or mayo on white bread). A birthday cake commemorating Route 66’s 80th birthday was served. The “Cars” soundtrack boomed from a stereo, and a DVD of the film was shown on a large-screen TV in the station. And since the name Tow Mater is already taken, a local child won a contest to rename the truck the equally redneck name Tow Tater.

The truck will be placed in storage for the winter until the as-yet-unnamed service station is restored and reopens in the spring. However, those who missed Tow Tater this past weekend can check him out during the Galena Christmas parade at 4 p.m. Dec. 2.

But nearly as big of a story is the station. Four women — Melba Rigg, Renee Charles, Betty Courtney and Judy Courtney — aim to make the old service station a Galena tourist attraction. Once the station is restored, it will be converted into a souvenir and antiques store, with farmers’ markets and a children’s play area.

“We keep hearing about how Galena is a ghost town,” Rigg said. “Travelers on Route 66 go through town and keep on going. We aim to put Galena back on the map (for Route 66ers).”

That’s just the beginning of what may be exciting things coming in Galena. I’ve been told that the same group also wants to restore an old Phillip 66 service station across the street and renovate a nearby house into a bed-and-breakfast.