Metro-East News

Landmarks on a drive back home: A giant plastic Hereford, and billboards that are just a memory

Wally Spiers
Wally Spiers BND

Since we moved to Belleville 29 years ago, we have made the trip back to our ancestral home of Wellsville, Mo., on the average of a couple of times a month.

Our usual route is to take Interstate 64 to Interstate 70 to central Missouri. It takes about two hours, no matter which way we go or how fast we drive. Luckily there is a lot to look at along the way.

We have seen all sorts of changes along the route. Highway 40 has grown, widened, lost all its traffic lights and turned into I-64. I might mention that Illinois 15, on the other hand, has added whatever traffic lights I-64 lost.

We have seen a lot of new businesses spring up all along the road and some disappear as well.

Without all those changes and the multitude of billboards on I-70 in Missouri, a trip on that road would be as bad as crossing Kansas.

But there are lots of landmarks to mark your progress along the route.

My son-in-law says you always know when you are getting close to Wellsville when you see the giant cow. The large plastic Hereford has been in a field just north of the interstate near High Hill, Mo., for many years along with a lighted Ferris wheel.

It is always interesting to drive by the abandoned Warrenton (Mo.) Outlet Mall and count the number of cars in the huge parking lot. There were 11 this week. I always wonder what they are doing there. Since there are no stores open in the mall, I’m guessing commuter parking lot.

Some of the trip consists of remembering landmarks that are long gone. The iconic sign of the Big Boy Restaurant at Wright City is gone, as well as the building itself.

I noticed in the past few weeks that my favorite billboard is gone as well. Just past Warrenton as you headed west, a billboard always said, “If you were flying, you would be in Kirksville (Mo.) by now.” It was courtesy of Cape Air. I never wanted to go to Kirksville. I guess not enough other people did either and maybe that’s why the billboard has been changed.

Of course, some people don’t go for advertising, hence the frequent billboards saying, “Your ad here,” with funny pictures. Those are my favorites.

A set of billboards holds ads for Missouri Military Academy, a boys’ school in Mexico, Mo. That I can understand. Suppose you are driving a long distance and your sons are driving you crazy. The idea of putting them in boarding school might just be the thing that keeps you sane until you get to your destination. That is sensible advertising.

But the thing I miss most along I-70 is the ‘50s Cafe in Wright City. It once had souvenirs of Elvis Presley including an old Cadillac Elvis rode in one time. It was wonderfully cheesy and at one time it also housed the “Elvis is Alive Museum,” which was as bad as it sounds. When the cafe became a church, the large sign outside that had Elvis holding a microphone became Elvis holding a cross.

Near the end of our interstate drive, where we exit at New Florence, Mo., Stone Hill Winery from Hermann, Mo., has a tasting and show room. Right next to it is the Wood Hat whiskey distillery and tasting room.

There is a motel nearby in case you overdo your visit. But for us it just means we are about 20 miles from the farm and the end of the two-hour drive.