My wife and I trekked out to Wright City this weekend for a surprise anniversary party for one of her uncles. It was in a park in Wright City. Wright City is a small town roughly an hour west of St. Louis on I-70. It’s most famous for Big Boy’s, a roadside hole-in-the-wall restaurant that predated the national chain by a couple of decades, and for the defunct Elvis Is Alive Museum, an old laundromat that a Baptist preacher converted into a tribute to the other Elvis (Presley, not Costello), where he spun theories about what Elvis did after faking his death.
I’ve driven through Wright City more times than I can count, since it’s along I-70 in between St. Louis and Kansas City, but up until this weekend, I’ve never stopped there, even for gas.
More on all that in a minute.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiled three local sign collectors this weekend. Bill Christman, Greg Rhomberg, and Jim May go around buying old storefront signage, particularly enamel-painted metal signs with neon lights.
“Most businesses are branded franchises, so you see the same signs over and over, repeating every few miles,” said Tod Swormstedt, who operates a sign museum in Cincinnati. “But the old signs — the hand-carved shoe or the gold-leaf lettering on a window — were iconic and what made each neighborhood unique. People miss that.”
So I guess I’m not the only one who misses that, but it sure seems like we’re a minority.
Tom Gatermann caught me hard at work this past weekend at the National Museum of Transport in St. Louis, inside the cab of a UP Big Boy.
I know the real reason why railroads made the transition to diesel locomotives in the 1950s and scrapped those huge, magnificent-looking steamers. The chairs in the diesel locomotives are much, much more comfortable.