Route 66 News

End of era at Totem Pole Trading Post (UPDATED)

The Totem Pole Trading Post on Route 66 just west of Rolla, Mo., isn’t going to close. But new ownership is taking over Friday afternoon, and the name — which has been there since 1933 — won’t stay, according to the Rolla Daily News.

According to this Rolla Chamber of Commerce release, Jones did not include the business’ name in the sale to the new owner.

Tom Ray, who also owns Memoryville USA car restoration shop, museum and antique store in Rolla, is set to take over the Totem Pole, at 1413 Martin Springs Drive, at 3:30 p.m. Friday from longtime owners Timothy and Alice Jones.

Jones has owned the Totem Pole for 32 years, and worked at the business with his father for 10 years before taking over. Over the years, he has seen a lot and met many interesting people.

“I have seen so many people from all over the world,” Jones said. “This is a stop-off point for so many people on Route 66. They will be disappointed, I know, when they come and we are no longer here. I will miss seeing those people.” […]

The Totem Pole has also been a stop for several celebrities, including country musician Buck Owens, former St. Louis Cardinal Ozzie Smith, singer and Broadway actress Pearl Bailey, country musician Janie Fricke and singer Tony Orlando.

“We should have had a camera over the years to take pictures of the different people who came in,” Jones said.

Jones also remembers when the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team stopped in at the Totem Pole when he was a child. He remembers the players had to duck to avoid hitting their heads on the low ceiling. […]

“We have been in business long enough to see all different types of businesses come and go on Route 66 and I-44,” he said. “Things have changed dramatically since the 60s and 70s, but we still have the same faithful customers who have been stopping by here year after year. We see people from coast to coast. We want to thank them for their patronage throughout the years.”

We learned about some of the Totem Pole’s history while researching the history of John’s Modern Cabins, near the Sugartree Road exit of Interstate 44 about seven miles west of Rolla. The Totem Pole was close to John’s, with a few tourist cabins, a restaurant and a Standard filling station.

The Totem Pole was forced to move twice because of realignments to Route 66 and, later, I-44. That stretch of road was always hazardous to incautious motorists, and highway engineers never quite figured out how to correct it.

We always appreciated Totem Pole Trading Post during our travels because for myriad reasons — clean bathrooms, sugar-cured bacon sold in burlap sacks, an excellent selection of snacks and soda (including Route 66 Root Beer), lots of Route 66 and Ozarks souvenirs, and plenty of antiques, too.

I never quite got brave enough to buy a bottle of genuine corn whiskey, however. 😉

UPDATE 5/24/07:  I talked to the owner over the weekend. Apparently the planned sale of the Totem Pole fell through because the buyer couldn’t come up with the cash. So the Totem Pole will remain in the family indefinitely. And it was still selling pop, snacks and cool souvenirs when I was there.


6 thoughts on “End of era at Totem Pole Trading Post (UPDATED)

  1. RoadDog

    Glad I was able to visit it as the Totem Pole on several occasions. One more reason to visit and drive the road now. You wait, and you’ll miss. Had a nice visit with Dot in Vega in September.

    Hope the new owners keep it the same.

  2. Greg

    It hasn’t sold yet. I stopped in yesterday (April 7) to take photographs and the employees told me there has been a problem with the sale. They said it is up in the air at the moment, after several missed closing dates. Unfortunately, the owner has removed some of his own artifacts in anticipation of the sale (i.e. the “devilfish”).

  3. Christopher Eddleman

    Great! I remember our family trips from Houston up to Missouri when I was a kid to visit my dad’s family. We’d eat at Maid Rite and then get souvenirs at the Totem Pole. I took my girlfriend up there in December 2005 and she loved the place. We plan on coming up there in two weeks with our boys. Glad the sale didn’t go through.

  4. Joe O'Hara

    When we came by The Totom Pole a few years ago, we loved the restaurant and gift shop. We purchased several items, including a black hat which said, “Road Kill Cafe” on it. I still wera it, but I have completely worn it out.
    Do you have any of these in stock? If you do, how can I buy one or two of them?
    One last question, do you have a website or catalog available?
    Thank you,
    Joe O’Hara
    [email protected]

  5. Sal Paradise

    The Pole always made me feel like I was on the road and hitting the western US. Living in Illinois, with a east-west bias to 66, the Pole was evidence that the road was starting its slide into the west. It also was a legit 66 joint, adding to that feeling. The Diamonds had the 66 feel to it but always reminded me of a truck stop vie 66 joint. As well as some others. Like the caverns.

    Route 66 is currently a bit in-vogue and has enjoyed some upticks in tourism, especially with Europeans. Americans have a different relationship with it, and tend to take most of it for granted or in general as a local attraction. The concept of 66 as a regional or national attraction is fairly new to Americans who host the road. But that seems to be changing some.

    However, to be a real Route 66 place of business, the Pole passes all of the tests. It’s both local and national. It says true Route 66 more than a lot of businesses or attractions on the road who claim greater creed to the road than they deserve. Not the Pole.

    I hope it can keep going. It seems, even with its current position as a moderate go-to place, Route 66 is always losing pieces of the original puzzle. They go out of business for whatever reasons, usually when the old, long time owners are unable to sell their place and end up closing it. Sometimes the place may sell and remain open, often failing to keep the doors open for long. The true, open road dependent on 66 traffic places are a rare breed today, Most have to have strong local business to stay open and are augmented by Route 66 customers. The Pole has managed to keep both segments happy.

    A few years back when The Dixie in Illinois cut back and nearly went out of business the people most affected were locals. The Dixie in Tuscola, Illinois closed many years ago (around 2002) and with it a strong local landmark where people met after town events, football games, graduations, funerals, proms or the place you would eat dinner at every Tuesday, or Friday nights, often having the same special menu item for years. Everyone knew each other, and people coming in off the road (I57 or Route 36) were treated like guests. I used to drive 30 miles north from Cole County just to eat, and take the place in.

    When The Dixie closed there (and in Effingham, IL and another place in PA or OH) I’m sure none hit home harder than in Tuscola. The town lost a big part of itself. Now, big box stores and franchise eateries fill the town. Hardly any locally owned places remain. Even the local (for the area) upscale Italian joint down the road closed up years ago. Not much there to make Tuscola special anymore.

    The Pole continues to provide that kind of flavor to the area where it has been for decades. Like in Tuscola, the locals could care less about any Route 66 connection: they just know a good place to shop or eat. Or get gas. As long as places like it remain open the true feel of the Route will remain. Because the route was a collection of small towns showing what they had, and proud to do so, to the folks passing by en route. Let’s hope that kind of place is always there. If not, like in Tuscola, its absence will be impossible to recreate.

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