SHAMROCK, Texas – It’s been called the highway that’s the best, and since 1926 it’s been moving Americans between Chicago and California. One hundred and seventy-eight of those miles are laid down right here in the Lone Star State. Along those magical lanes are several stops including a particular place you can fill up on your luck.
Larry Clonts keeps things flowing at the Tower Station, home to the U-Drop Inn Café. This Texas gem has a full tank of stories to tell.
Built in 1936 just 15 miles from the Oklahoma border, this station served as a beacon for weary travelers along Route 66. Things looked a bit different back then.
“When they opened it up the road out here was still dirt,” Larry said. “Route 66 was still dirt, and they had kerosene pumps out, apparently over the right of way for the highway. So when they paved it they had to move their kerosene pumps back out over here.”
Modern convinces we have now were much different back then, the gas station served one purpose and if you needed a snack, you’d have to stop in the diner.
The station would attract drivers like moths to a flame thanks to the incredible neon light display, but those lights faded out when interstate 40 come through in the 70s.
“When the freeway started and got complete, then town started going down from the lack of people because they quit traveling as an adventure,” Larry said. “It took it to how fast can you get there from point A to point B. How fast can you drive from Oklahoma City to Amarillo or from Amarillo to Albuquerque or what ever.”
The building became a bus station and was eventually abandoned.
“They had to make a decision,” Larry said. “Do we tear it down? Do we try to restart? What do we do?”
A grant from the Texas Department of Transportation got the engines revving on a restoration, and now Tower Station is one of the top stops on Route 66.
Bonnie Mae Lisle Davidson spent many meals in the old U-Drop Inn. Her mother worked in the former café.
“I’m very pleased that they restored the building and just didn’t let it fall down or go to ruin, because it is a historical marker,” Bonnie Mae said. “They have a lot of people coming here to see what it looked like back then.”
Fond memories come and go as fast a s the passing cars on the highway but thanks to a recently discovered picture of Bonnie Mae’s father at the diner, sometimes time stands still.
“It means a lot when you can find pictures of the family and they’re gone,” Bonnie Mae said. “This picture was taken, I believe, in 1957.”
This simple but stunning station is a sight to see, but as the sun sets on the panhandle that’s when the lights show begins.
“The café has roughly 508 linear feet of what’s now LED that’s now replaced the neon,” Larry said. “We had so many problems with the neon and the hail storms that we had to eventually go LED. The only problem that anyone has been able to say is it’s a little brighter than the neon. So it’s a great feel.”
Tower Station and Route 66 are sort of lore, not only in the Lone Star State and not only in the U.S. This stop is something people from all over the world want to experience.
“For a lot of Americans it’s a nostalgia trip,” Larry said. “For the internationals it’s a dream. They’re living a dream. You’d be surprised at how many just want to see the real America. They don’t care about driving the freeway from point A to point B. They want to see the real America, and they want to see the history and be absorbed in that.”
Fung Xu is many miles from his native China but he made the trek to Texas to get a sense of this great American story.
This is a new experience to us, to Chinese people,” Fung said. ““This is history. This give us some impression, it gives us the impression.”
No matter how many miles one travels to see this piece of American history, it will be here beaming it’s bright lights onto the vast stretch of highway that’s part of the legend that is Route 66 in the Lone Star State.
“For our travelers that you’re seeing come and go all the time here, which are by the thousands, it’s a piece of history,” Larry said. “It’s one of the top icons on Route 66.”