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‘Cars’ Fans Get Their Rusty Kicks On Route 66

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
June 25, 2011

If you’re planning to take your kids to see Cars 2 this weekend, there’s another trip you might want to consider taking — down Route 66 to the small town of Galena, Kan.

I head down the historic route, traveling from Joplin, Mo., with my 3-year-old son Zeke in tow. I don’t usually take him with me on assignments, but for this story, he’s the expert — we’re going to see Mater.

That’s right, Mater as in Tow Mater, the rusty tow truck who befriends the flashy race car Lightning McQueen in Disney Pixar’s Cars movies. Mater brings a lot of heart to the films — and the occasional joke that goes right over your young kid’s head. After all, he’s voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy.

So, we pull up to an old-timey gas station and diner called Four Women on the Route and out front, there sits the famous car himself. How do we know this is the real Tow Mater?

“‘Cause he’s so rusty!” Zeke says.

We head over to the truck to take pictures. It’s been outfitted with the same big eyes that all the vehicles in the Cars movies have. Melba Rigg, co-owner of Four Women on the Route, comes over to greet us and points out that while we say Tow Mater, she says Tow Tater.

“Disney asked us to rename it because of copyright reasons, which we kind of figured,” she explains. “We held a contest. The little girl in Galena named him Tater, so we call our truck Tow Tater, the inspiration for Tow Mater.”

Having Tow Tater out front has given Melba’s business a boost. She says thousands of people from all over the world visit her little corner of Route 66 every year. I’m not sure I really believe her, but then four bikers pull up during our visit and one of them, Zaykan Youness, is from Morocco.

“We see this character so we stop to visit him,” Youness says.

Melba lures her visitors inside with the offer of a free cup of coffee and a good story to listen to while they stretch their legs.

As it turns out, at least in Galena, the magic of Cars isn’t too far from reality. Just like in the movie, it’s easy to find tall tales, rusty old trucks and some real characters — all you have to do is veer off the interstate, and take a drive down Route 66. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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