Inside, you’re almost guaranteed to meet at least one of the four women. I was lucky enough to meet two of them: Melba Rigg (on the left) and Renee Charles. The other two are Betty and Judy Courtney. What they’ve accomplished at this tiny old service station is nothing short if incredible. In just a couple of years, they took a greasy, neglected old building, and turned it into a sparkling clean restaurant and gift shop.
Renee wasted no time giving me a lesson on the history of the place, explaining how it dated back to the earliest days of Route 66 (built in 1930). She showed me a scrapbook filled with pictures of the place, before they started work. It looked just like the dozens of other gas stations I drove past on this trip.
Then she told me about the station’s most famous resident. He’s parked outside, and thanks to the cartoon eyes in the windshield, he’s easy to recognize. That rusty old truck is the inspiration for Tow Mater, in the Disney/Pixar movie Cars. The women held a naming contest for the original (since, Renee explained, the name Tow Mater was already taken). Their favorite name, submitted by one of Galena’s young residents: Tow Tater.
Also out front, a pair of beautifully restored Kan-O-Tex gas pumps.
The women have big plans for their little corner of Route 66. They would like to buy this old house, across the street from the station, and turn it into a bed & breakfast. In a different lifetime, the old house served as Galena’s brothel.
The women also hope to someday buy and use an old warehouse building, that sits across the street from the gas station. It, too, provided inspiration for the Pixar people, as they traveled Route 66, gathering ideas for their movie.
On the side of the building is a ghost sign. Actually, it’s several different signs, one painted atop the other. When you watch Cars, you’ll see a similar brick wall with a faded painting, proclaiming, “Radiator Springs, A Nice Place.”
Plan on spending a little while at 4 Women on the Route–especially if it’s lunch time. It was still too early for me to eat, so I said goodbye to Melba and Renee, and explored the rest of Galena.
You’ll find more ghost signs as you drive through Galena.
There’s also a nice park, complete with a tank, next door to the Galena Mining and Historical Museum.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.