Bill Shea and Route 66
Oct 18, 2007
|BILL SHEA'S GAS STATION MUSEUM on ROUTE 66
Thursday, October 18
We spent a third night at the fairgrounds and woke to a sunny morning. Our destination today was the Gas Station Museum on Peoria Street
, which turned out to be on the old Route 66 only a few blocks from the fairgrounds.
We parked on a side street and my first impression was of a collection of rusty old junk that we were going to get soaked an exorbitant price to see
. I was wrong on both counts, and I began to change my opinion as soon as I paid two nice men a total of $4.00 for both of us to see the (sometimes rusty) old artifacts they have spent their lives collecting
The men in these pictures are father and son and are both named Bill Shea. They share the name with the owner of Shea Stadium, which is also on Route 66, but know of no other relationship to him. There's a grandson named Bill Shea, and a great grandson too but he was in school. As was his sister Jill (Bean) who wants a gas pump for her birthday.
The next hour and a half was one of those rare human exchanges we are privileged to experience only a few times in a lifetime, and which you have to recognize and appreciate as it's happening because they pass quickly and leave us all too soon.
Bill Shea Sr. is a man of indeterminate age
, but who started his business (a Texaco gas station) on Route 66 within a block of here in 1945 when I was six years old, about the age his great granddaughter is now.
He had returned from the war and was a survivor of D Day and Omaha Beach. He has gone back to France for the anniversaries and reunions, and has a bottle of sand from Omaha beach from his last trip on the 50th Anniversary.
He's a friendly man who wanted to know where we were from and what brought us all the way out here from California. When I told him I was working at a Texaco station in Wilmette, Illinois in 1955 when he still had his station he smiled and understood.
He has been in business on this block continuously since then. He told me with another smile that he plans to work everyday until he's 90 and then cut back to half time. He still has the Fire Chief and Sky Chief gas pumps from his Texaco station
, but in 1956 he switched to Marathon and moved his station to the other end of the block
. He still wears his Marathon uniform to 'work'.
He is idolized by his great grandchildren and when Jill moved to a new school she came home one day and said to her father, "The kids at this school don't know who grandpa is! Don't you think we should tell them!"
Bill Shea Jr.
is a Viet Nam veteran and the grandfather of Bill and Jill, who is now called Bean because when she was younger they called her Jilly. They have restored this Gulf gas pump
for her and on the front it has an embossed metal sign that says 'Happy Birthday Bean". She doesn't know about it yet and they are going to surprise her with it on her birthday this coming weekend. She wants to put it in her bedroom.
There are four generations of Shea's now, still rooted to this Route 66 location. In fact the whole family belongs to the Route 66 Association and little Bill is the youngest member of the Route 66 Hall of Fame.
Bill Jr. gave us the guided tour and explained the history and origins of any of the dizzying collection of artifacts we showed interest in. From old milk bottles in an 'ice box' refrigerator, to a manikin wearing an early Phillips 66 station attendant uniform
, there were so many things to look at and study it was overwhelming.
One item of special interest was a map of the United States with Route 66 running across it,, and all around the map were the postmarks of every town and post office on the entire route
. A man spent several years collecting them and there were reprints made one for every mile of the original route. There is one in the White House, and Bill said prints now sell for over $200 apiece.
What a treasure this funky old place turned out to be
Bill Jr. said that everything they get they try to restore to it's original condition. Of course a lot of the stuff is rusty and in disrepair
, but they are working on the things that have real historical value. It's an interesting combination of Route 66 lore and gas station memorabilia in general
. There is also a lot of family stuff mixed in
, as it should be considering this family has such deep roots in both areas.
A couple visiting from Sweden was also going through the place and they seemed genuinely interested in everything. We took a picture of them together, and they took one of us, standing in front of the Polly pump
. In addition to the historical things there were also a lot of little sayings that illustrated the Bill's philosophy of life. Like, "An entrepreneur should mind his own business." And "A smile increases your face value."
We said our goodbyes to the Shea's
and the Illinois State Fairgrounds
and got on Highway 4 heading south out of Springfield. The landscape was flat farmland for fifty miles, broken by woods and occasionally rivers and ponds. It was mid afternoon when we got to the hill country that told us we were nearing the Mississippi River.