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Journey is destination in Lincoln Highway gasoline pump parade

Monday, August 18, 2003

By Lara Jakes Jordan, The Associated Press

EVERETT, Pa. -- Times are tight at the kitschy Travelers Rest Motel, so Karen Bowman hopes to lure some travel traffic with an old-time gas pump.

The yellow-and-orange "Tole Pump" that's been selected to sit outside her yellow-and-orange A-frame motel is one of 22 antique gas pump replicas that will dot the historic Lincoln Highway later this year. The pump parade is a Pennsylvania push to bring tourists back to the nation's first coast-to-coast highway -- and through lonely parts of the state that have been hard-hit by the economy.

Bowman's business "keeps going down every year," she said recently, showing off gaudy but clean rooms adorned with burnt-orange flowered wallpaper, electric yellow bedspreads and multitiered lamp tables -- "kind of like staying in Grandma's spare room for the night."

"We just don't see the family trips that we used to see -- Mom and Dad with the kids in car," said Bowman, whose late husband's family has owned the property since 1947.

"It just gnaws me."

The roadside pump parade mimics recent exhibits of uniquely decorated animals in major cities -- like cows in Chicago or donkeys and elephants in political Washington -- to attract pedestrian tourists by spicing up street corners. It will open this fall, between Gettysburg and Pittsburgh, as the Lincoln Highway celebrates its 90th anniversary.

The 200-mile swath of road in central and southwest Pennsylvania was designated a historic corridor by state officials in 1995. It winds past cornfields and over mountains, past art deco gas stations and an old restaurant shaped like a coffee pot, bringing motorists back to an era where quaint meets kitsch -- never mind the occasional girly bar.

"Not all museums are in a building, in a town," said Olga Herbert, executive director of the state's Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor foundation, based in Ligonier. "This is about the highways -- we want people out there and traveling on it, so we want to have something for people to do."

The entire highway spans 3,389 miles, from New York to San Francisco, and is the brainchild of Carl Fisher, who also created the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500. Work began in 1913 on the crushed rock road that was named for the nation's 16th president and now is part of U.S. Route 30.

Its construction spurred state and federal governments to plan more long-distance roads in an era when lengthy leisure travel wasn't common, said John L. Butler, author of "First Highways of America: A Pictorial History of American Roads and Highways from 1900-1925."

"People wanted to go, and they needed the highways," said Butler, a professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn. "It was independent transportation, not depending on a time schedule for a train. And Americans have always been an independent lot."

But traffic slowed on the highway when the faster and smoother Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940.

Today, it is largely forgotten but for local travel and the infrequent Winnebago.

The upcoming parade, which will be on display for 10 years, will feature recorded audio exhibits in front of old diners, historic barns and other local landmarks.

The 1940s-era gas pumps, which stand seven feet high and weigh 75 pounds, are all beautifully decorated by Pennsylvania artists.

The pumps were supposed to go up this summer, but a state Transportation Department paperwork holdup has kept them in the garage until later this fall.

But Wilma Shatzer Mickey couldn't wait for the historic foundation to deliver the "Just Peachy" pump, which she plans to set up in front of her roadside fruit market on the outskirts of Chambersburg, Franklin County.

To the west side of the Shatzer's Fruit Market stands a bright red, 12-foot Texaco gas pump that dates back to the late 1920s or early 1930s.

"We had this one in the shed, and I thought it would be a nice thing to have it out here," said Mickey, 67, whose family has owned the stand since 1934. "Everything is an original. It's been quite a conversation piece."

Mickey remembers the summer crowds that used to come through -- but dried up when fast cars sought out the turnpike. But in recent years, she said, some travelers have passed on pushing the speed limit and returned to the picturesque highway.

"On the turnpike there isn't much to see, so we're beginning to get more tourists than we have in the past," Mickey said. "I was expecting less this year because of the economy. But people are coming."

And many of those who come through bring memories of childhood vacations spent in the back seat or the taste of a sandwich that no longer exists.

At Dodie's Drive In Restaurant and Ice Cream in Chambersburg, owner Don Moats fondly talks about elderly customers from all over the nation returning for a "Fish Wopper."

"We don't call it that any more -- it's just a 'fish sandwich,' " said Moats, whose 1940-era restaurant will display the "Diners and Drive-ins" pump. "But I hear it all the time."

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