An adventure buddy clued me in to Route 66 Cuba Fest this morning. As soon as the words “cemetery trolley” rolled off her tongue I was enthusiastically in. Karen had heard that the free trolley tickets normally went pretty quick. As soon as we arrived at the street festival in Cuba’s historic district we made a beeline to the trolley stop to score ours. We were lucky and nabbed two of the last three for the next trolley. With some time to kill we took a quick walk through the outside vendors and ended up at Uncle Charlie’s Deep Fried Sweets food truck. Uncle Charlie took our orders, deep fried Oreos and deep fryed coffee, and went to work, humming and singing quietly along to classic rock on the radio. I really wanted to be able to add deep fryed coffee to my growing list of favorite things. But, I can’t. The deep fried Oreo, however, was as delicious and sinful as State Fair goers describe.
Soon it was time for the trolley. Even though I did not really know what to expect I was excited. At first I was confused by the presence of a Missouri State Highway Patrolman on board at the front of the trolley. Then I noticed that his accoutrements were different than the day to day uniforms that our troopers wear now. As the trolley prepared for departure the mystery was solved. Our trooper was Jim Mulkey portraying Walter Elwood “Woody” Aytes, who had patrolled Crawford county for more than two decades. As we traveled between destinations “Trooper Woody” gave us his background and told of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s history and how it intertwined with Route 66.
Our first stop was First Presbyterian Church where Ron Smith, as John Fleming lamented that he had been waiting for us for 150 years. That garnered a chuckle from everyone on the trolley. Mr. Fleming garbed in period dress explained that he was born in 1820 in Ireland. He and his wife had eleven children. He also explained that the church had originally been across the railroad tracks when it was built and that it had been moved to its present location. Mr. Fleming reminded us that in addition to 2016 being Route 66’s 90th anniversary that it was also the church’s 150th anniversary.
At our first stop at the United Presbyterian/Kinder Cemetery, Warren Hollorah boarded the trolley as Walter J. “Walt” Daehn, with his firefighting helmet in hand. “Daehn” regaled us with the tale of his life. Walt was born in 1917, the same year as John F. Kennedy. Walt was a World War II veteran- a member of our greatest generation. He waterproofed ambulances to cross the English Channel at Normandy Beach. After his soldiering he settled in Cuba, married Norma Rector, and operated Walt’s Auto Service and Walt’s Lock Service. He served on the Cuba Volunteer Firefighter Fire Department for 47 years- 17 of those as Chief. Walt had a deep love for the community that he called home for so many years.
Next on board was Sue Kespohl Ryle as Sadie Mae Pratt- complete with a half full piece of elegant stemware. Mrs. Pratt entertained us with her adventures as the owner of the Wagon Wheel Restaurant during Route 66’s heyday. Wagon Wheel Restaurant was known for its service and delicious food. One of their most popular menu items was a whole smoked trout- head and all- that was filleted tableside by the waitresses that Pratt had meticulously trained. She recalled the tale of the day the reviewer for Duncan Hines Adventures in Good Eating came to dine. When the gentleman that the staff was positive was the reviewer arrived the kitchen, staff, and Pratt herself fawned over the guest, attending to his every need. During the course of the service Pratt was called to the cash register to assist another diner settling his tab. Turns out this was the Duncan Hines reviewer. All was well though and the Duncan Hines recommendation included that the reviewer was truly treated as a regular customer. Mrs. Pratt concluded her talk with a toast to Route 66.
Doug Lasley as Paul T. Carr greeted us next. Carr was born in 1900 and served his country during World War I. In 1931, during the Great Depression, widowed and a single father, Carr made a handshake deal with Bob Judson that provided him the cash he needed to open Carr Service Station, a Phillips 66 brick service station. In the 1940’s the station converted to a Standard Oil station- still full service with five cent Cokes in a glass bottle- and the customers were still treated like royalty. Carr had a contract with the Greyhound Bus Station across the road to change tires and also had a contract to change the oil for Highway Patrol cars. Carr also sold Pontiac automobiles and sold one each year to Ervin Hendrickson from 1951 to 1964- with no trade ins. Henderickson would sell his previous year model to a member of the community. Carr’s Service Station still stands as The Fourway Restaurant and the building’s chimney still bears a “P”. People over the years have thought that the initial stands for Paul or represents the Pontiac’s that were sold there but it is actually a remnant from the station’s beginnings as a Phillips 66 station. Today the building features a mural that includes our guide, Woody Aytes and his badge number, #85.
Our last guests on board were Genifer Cape and Dennis Brown as Helen Dickens and Cecil Brown. Dickens was dressed in her waitress uniform and tray from her time at the Midway Motel and Restaurant. Brown and Dickens met at the restaurant. Smitten, Brown became a frequent visitor, even arriving alone to get in his “courtin’ time” with the lovely Helen. The couple married and always considered “Love Me Tender” as their song. Dennis Brown, as Cecil Brown, sang a rendition of the tune and as the couple departed Brown invited folks to come visit with him and his Helen- they can be found “just over there”.
As the trolley made its way back to the stop at Recklein Commons across from Holy Cross Church Trooper Aytes filled us in on more MSHP history- including that drivers licenses were not required in Missouri until 1938 and cost twenty-five cents. At the conclusion of the 8th Annual Echoes from the Past tour the proverbial hat was passed as we exited the trolley- all donations to Viva Cuba to preserve Cuba’s murals. We both happily donated.
After perusing the vendors inside Recklein Auditorium we decided to check out the Crawford County Museum. Operated by the local Historical Society, a volunteer docent toured us through the lower level and explained that the building itself was constructed as a school and had served as the police department at one time. The museum did an excellent job of telling the story of the county through photographs (even a rare view of Cuba’s Route 66 underpass tunnel), newspaper clippings, displays and artifacts generously donated by the community. The replica diner room is complete with a photo opportunity. We even stumbled across tributes to Sadie Mae Pratt and Paul T. Carr whom we had “met” on the trolley tour.
We spent about three hours at Route 66 Cuba Fest and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. The cemetery trolley tour absolutely was the highlight. I hope to attend again in the future and I encourage everyone to add this festival to their “to do” list.
If you plan to attend I would arrive for the first day of the festival (Saturday) and tour Cuba’s murals during the day. Plan an afternoon road trip down Route 66 to Devils Elbow in Pulaski County and return to Cuba via Interstate 44 to tacos and margaritas at Riviera Maya Mexican Grill and a cozy, throwback room at Wagon Wheel Motel before returning to the festival Sunday. Cuba Visitors Center can also help you plan your trip and provide other lodging and dining options. Tell ’em Population 91 sent you!
To see more images from Population 91 follow us on Instagram!