Route 66 has made room for travelers across the U.S. for nearly a century as one of our nations original highways. The Mother Road, as its been dubbed, has been home to thousands of locally owned businesses since its beginning and it’s beautiful to see some of these family-ran establishments still operating today.
My great grandmother and grandfather, Letha and Kermit Lowery, owned and operated a small restaurant and gas station, known as the Garbage Can Cafe and Lowery’s Phillips 66.
The homey little cafe made famous by its small homemade pies is now crumbling and sits empty off of what’s now an I-44 exit ramp 7 miles each side of Marshfield and Conway. In its heyday of operation from 1951-1972, the restaurant sat alongside the four-lane Super 66. The gas pumps and parking lot were removed when 44 was paved in ’72.
As a young child, I would devour, yet savor, anything my grandma Letha poured her love into and placed in front of me. It didn’t make it hard when she was known far and wide for her cooking skills. Just last year, my dad won an eBay auction for a piece of vintage ephemera – a menu from the Garbage Can Cafe.
It’s crazy to think travelers could enjoy a medium t-bone steak for a mere $2.25 or a half chicken, fried, for $1.50. However, I’m sure the gas prices weren’t as steep as they are today either.
It’s hard to imagine what it was like as a patron of a Route 66 business in its prime… and harder to imagine what it must have been like to operate one. I look at folks like my great-grandma Letha or the hundreds of other small Missouri business owners and I’m enamored by their continuous presence in their communities despite the closing of their businesses. I think of how their lives touched so many across the country just by being lived on the Mother Road.
I, for one, love to hear first-hand experiences from this small family-owned diner along four-lane 66. Everyone loves to say their grandma was the best cook ever… it’s a different story when your grandma handcrafted pies that were known nationwide. From as far as Oregon and New Jersey, I’ve had people tell me of their visits to the Garbage Can Cafe. That’s coast-to-coast memories of a sweet little cafe experience in the middle of Missouri.
Though the Garbage Can Cafe no longer stands solid, it still stands. Every once in a while when I’m passing the 107 exit on I-44, I pause to think of my grandmother and the legacy she left along such a well-traveled path. I miss her dearly, but I’m so proud that she made her mark in the Route 66 history books, of all places.
My daddy and I will be speaking at the Webster County Historical Society program on Tuesday, May 23, at 6:00 p.m. if you’d like to hear more about The Garbage Can Cafe. Hope to see you there.