Thursday, June 23, 2011

Incredi-Bill: North Platte, Nebraska's Fort Cody Trading Post

Nothing warms the heart of a bored cross-country roadtrip passenger than a good, old-fashioned politically incorrect tourist trap. Such is the case of the Fort Cody Trading Post, just off Interstate 80 in North Platte, Nebraska. North Platte has a genuine claim to fame, as it was the 1880s home of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Not exactly the stay home and collect stamps-type, he got his nickname for killing 4,280 buffalo in an 8-month period during 1867-68. There are lots of good reasons to stop and stretch your legs here: the "fort" is actually a western museum/wild-west-show-in-miniature/kitschy gift shop all housed in a mock stockade (mockade?) complete with soldier mannequins (one with an arrow tastefully stuck in his butt) and a corral out back that is home to a...drumroll, please...Muffler Man Indian! The western museum displays many authentic items, including chaps, guns, boots, spurs, stuffed animals, and some statues of Bill and various Indians. The piece de resistance, though, is a stuffed two-headed calf. The miniature west show is an accurate, if not tiny, diorama of Buffalo Bill's traveling extravaganza from the 1870s. Ernie and Virginia Palmquist carved the 20,000 figures --snake charmers, knife-throwers, fat ladies, cowpunchers, squaws, you name it -- that come to life every half hour in an animated show, free of charge. The gift shop features a glittering array of items to mark the occasion and remember your friends and loved ones by: iron dinner triangles ("Come an' gitit!"), books of western lore, taste-challenged T-shirts, edible bugs, stuffed jackalopes, candy cigarettes and more John Wayne paraphernalia than you can shake a stick at, Pilgrim. And if that's not enough, out back there's a corral with wagons, a tee pee, a buffalo and, yes, the famed 25-foot lantern-jawed brave, girning at you with Native American Muffler Man pride. Muffler Man aficionados will tell you this is a modified classic MM, not the official Indian classification, just so you know. However you categorize him he's awesome, and how.

So don't pass up the chance to see a real kitschy Americana treat the next time you're passing through central Nebraska. And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Semi-conscious: Some trucks seen along the way

A. Duie Pyle of what, pray tell?

And by "gasser", I'm sure they mean that in a Rat Pack "a real solid gasser, man" sort of way.

I'll take "Trucks That Carry Bread" for $500, Alex.

Cue the Tony Bennett: "Oh the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal..."

Don't be so down on yourself...I'm sure it's lovely in your part of Ohio.

Nobody beats the Sapps...nobody.

My eyes! My eyes! Oh my eyes!

Our Lady of the Snowy Abandoned Dodge.

You just had to try the Bonneville Salt Flats in the wet season, didn't you?

National Pickle Day. Be Kind to Your Accountant Day. Take a Phlebotomist To Lunch Day. I'm out.

I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. No wait, that was Johnny Cash. Never mind.

Keep on Truck Inn.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'll have four burgers, a large sky and a small tee: The A&W Burger Family of Tipton, Iowa

Papa Burger

Mama Burger

Teen Burger (with a rakish rust mustache)

and Baby Burger makes four.

Home, Sweet Home

The good folks at Hunt's campground put the Burger Family out for all I-80 drivers to admire.

On our great cross-country roadtrip last month, we were happily tooling down Interstate 80 in Iowa when a doubletake-inducing sight blurred past us. Did you see that? What was that? I've never seen anything quite like that before! Quick, before it's too late, get off at the next exit and go back! And a U-turn has never been more worth it, for "it" was a complete vintage A&W Burger Family in a campground miniature golf course. In 1963, the A&W Root Beer chain of fast food restaurants introduced four large fiberglass characters to represent their different types of hamburgers: Papa Burger, Mama Burger, Teen Burger and Baby Burger. The figures looked a little like Hanna-Barbera characters of that period and ranged in size from 8.5 feet tall for Papa down to 4 feet for Baby. In 1974, a different mascot was introduced and the restaurants were instructed to cast off their Burger Families like so much flat birch beer. This put them in the hands of eccentric devotees of the public, much like the Muffler Men that dot the landscape. The Iowa clan that we stumbled across have been part of Hunt's Cedar River Campground since the early 1970s. The mini-golf course was a little down-on-its luck looking, but the family beams enthusiastically at all duffers, just the same. Who wouldn't want to play a round or two of novelty links with these fine specimens of roadside statuary ferociously smiling at your every swing? Road scholar extraordinaire Debra Jane Seltzer has a couple of pages about the Burger Family here, and the fun folks at Vintage Roadside have a great entry about what it's like to own a Burger Family here. Fore!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Full-court Pez: The Burlingame, California Museum of Pez Memorabilia

You wouldn't think such as unassuming storefront would house such an awesome collection.

Our Master of Ceremonies Gary Doss tells us about the Germanic origins of Pez.

This is their rarest Pez dispenser: a German model that was a choking hazard. Fun!

They've also got the world's largest Pez dispensing machine: It's Peztacular!

In addition to Pez, there's a classic toy collection including this Easy Bake oven...

...and some vintage Colorforms, in case you ever wondered what Fred and Barney looked like in their underpants.

And just for fun, there are some banned toys including these ferocious-looking lawn darts...

...and an Atomic Energy Lab with real radioactive material.

Pez, the sweet candy bricks known for their lovable cartoon-characters-with-decapitated-heads dispensers, has been around since 1927. Eduard Haas, an Austrian candy man, created Pez and took its name from an abbreviation of "pfeffermenz", the German word for peppermint. The first Pez dispenser appeared around 1950. Pez has a wildly devoted group of followers, probably none more so that Gary and Nancy Doss, founders of the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, located in a strip mall a little south of San Francisco, California. They boast they are the only place in the world where you can see every Pez dispenser ever made – no small feat since over 600 of them have been produced since 1950. From Spongebob to Barney Rubble to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, if Pez made it, the Dosses display it. Betsy Ross and Mozart are in there too, next to Papa Smurf, Wile E. Coyote and Darth Vader. Probably the rarest item in their collection is the Make-A-Face dispenser. It's similar to a Mr. Potato Head, but was considered a choking hazard and was recalled after only six months on the market. Only 10 are in circulation and each can fetch up to $5000. There's also a wealth of other Pez-abilia, including vintage posters, ads, signs, toys and other tie-ins. But the pride and joy here is the 7-foot 10-inch snowman Pez dispenser, recognized by the Guinness Book as the world's largest Pez dispensing machine. We got a wonderful museum tour from the very contagiously enthusiastic Gary. He had a computer business 15 years ago and when the Pez dispensers he displayed around his shop gained more attention than the computers, he went in the Pez business full time (he sells Pez dispensers internationally, in addition to displaying his collection).

And as if that weren't enough, the Dosses also have a classic toy collection including Colorforms, Play Doh, Viewmasters, Erector Sets and other delights from Baby Boomers' childhoods. Even more intriguing is the Banned Toy Museum featuring items pulled off the market for safety reasons or because they were deemed offensive. Here you'll find the Matador Barbie, offensive to animal rights groups; a cap pistol belt buckle, which could accidentally go off causing serious burns; lawn darts (do you really need an explanation why these were recalled?); and the Atomic Energy Laboratory, containing real radioactive material.

So the next time you're in Silicon Valley, remember: All we are saying is give Pez a chance.