This was the busiest of days.
I went into day 3 knowing I’d been ambitious with my stops, with seven planned stops in the first 140 miles alone. And naturally, these stops weren’t in a line, with the last three requiring me to double back to the south.
The first stop was Afton Station on Route 66 in Afton, OK. Afton station is replica antique gas station and a Packard museum (with some other cars as well). Unfortunately the museum was closed, but I managed to peek in the windows. Check out the fins on that boat.
From Afton I went to the ghost town of Picher, OK. Formerly a mining town of over 20,000, Picher is now a government Superfund site called the most toxic town in America by the EPA. For over a century the town was the site of unrestricted lead and zinc mining, with a number of the mine shafts actually stretching directly below the town itself. Lead and zinc got into the soil and the groundwater, burning the water red. A 90's study of children in the town showed 1/3 of them had the symptoms of lead poisoning. In 2006 a study by the Army Corps of Engineers discovered that 86% of the buildings in town were unstable due to the underground mining and could collapse at any time. The government started a mandatory buyout and evacuation at that point, though a couple families refused to leave. As of 2014 there were still ten people living in the town.
Entering the town the first thing you notice are the mountains of toxic mine tailings, each over 100 feet tall and hundreds of feet long. Most of the buildings are gone, leaving flat overgrown cement pads as the only sign they ever existed. Sometimes a partially intact wall remains from the buildings that had been made of stone or brick. In the town center there’s a collection of vacant brick houses, each one gutted inside, all doors and windows long gone, and “KEEP OUT” sprayed on the outside in giant letters. The main road through town, US Route 69 (nice) was still active, but venturing off onto the town roads put me on cracked, dirty, overgrown pavement that looked like it hadn’t seen a car in months. Near one of the sand piles there were workers loading building remnants in a truck to be carted off and disposed of who knows where. It was a fascinating and eerie stop. I simultaneously wanted to stay and explore and GTFO pronto.
I left Picher and headed north, first stopping at another vintage gas station in Miami, OK, which turned out to be a dud. The pumps had been stolen and the signage was gone. Not worth a stop or a photo. So it was on to my next checkpoint, a behemoth known as Big Brutus. Brutus is the second largest electric shovel ever built and the largest still in existence. Standing at 160 feet tall with a 150 foot boom, this 5,500 ton behemoth could fit 90 cubic yards (roughly 18,200 gallons) in each shovel load. When it was working it would fill three rail cars with each scoop. For a visual idea of scale, the treads alone are 7 feet tall.
Now retired, Brutus has become a museum. You’re allowed to go and walk through the giant shovel, though visitors are no longer allowed to climb the stairs to the top of the boom. Apparently when the insurance company found out about that part of the tour they shut it down pronto.
After Brutus I had a tough decision to make. I had three nearby stops I wanted to hit, Cars on the Route, Volks Avanti Insurance, and (most interesting to me) the recreated town of Red Oak II. But I knew if I backtracked to hit those I would miss a very interesting museum near Kansas City. In the end the museum won out. I burned it to KC.
First stop in Kansas City was the ruins of the old workhouse. Despite looking like a castle this was originally a workhouse prison, built in 1897 by the prisoners themselves. The prison shut down after a few decades and the building was bought and sold and bought and sold until finally being abandoned in the ‘70s. It has since become a colorful haven for graffiti artists.
After the workhouse it was time for lunch and there was only one place I wanted to go, Fritz’s. Fritz’s is a railroad-themed restaurant with a very special party piece. When you’re ready to order a waiter doesn’t come out, instead you take the phone at your booth and ring up the kitchen. They take your order, make it, and your food is delivered via the model trains that run along tracks on the walls. The food was decent but unremarkable, but the presentation was top notch. (If Instagram vid doesn’t load, click here.)
After lunch I had one more quick stop to make before the aforementioned museum. The Roasterie, a drive-through coffee joint, has an actual DC-3 on the roof, made to look like it’s launching into the sky. I couldn’t not stop. Side note, while the plane carries the tail number of NC5931, a little digging reveals that it’s apparently N838M.
Finally on to the museum I mentioned. And it’s a crazy one. The Glore Psychiatric Museum in St Joseph, MO exists in what used to be St Joseph State Hospital. It now displays how mental health issues were viewed and treated over the centuries, with a lot of (at times disturbing) focus on the era of institutionalization in the 20th century and the highly dubious treatment methods that were used. Lobotomies, electrocution, trepanation, temperature-based treatments, bloodletting, all the methods we now look back on in horror and disgust were represented and explained. But the museum devoted itself to the more humane and more modern methods as well. Art therapy, music therapy, work therapy. My favorite of these was in the basement. In the 70s and 80s two salvage cars were donated to the St Joseph State Children’s Hospital. The kids worked not only on repairing the cars, but customizing them into award-winning show cars. With wild, creative modifications like wooden bumpers, unbelievably plush interiors, and vibrant paint schemes these two cars (nicknamed Yellow Rose of Texas and Jukebox Hero) toured the area racking up the trophies. Very cool.
The museum was the end of my exploring for the day. I had to get to my hotel in Ames, IA to set myself up to make it to Houghton by the end of today. This is my last day on the road before the rally action starts, though I do have plans for some local exploring tomorrow morning. Today though is Ames to Minneapolis to Houghton, MI. Just a few stops today as that’s a lot of miles and there isn’t much going on in northern Wisconsin.