In Honor Of…
September 17, 2015
This re-dux post is my way of saying goodbye to Henry McGee–no longer with us–honored to have known him for a little while.
In a previous Route 66 blog I talked about opening my eyes and seeing what was right in front of my nose. That blog was about the Barstow-Dagget Airport. Well, even closer to home is the Newberry Springs Whiting Brothers Gasoline Station. Not only is it in the area, but the owners, Mary and Henry McGee are also friends!
I’ve been slow to talk about Whiting Brothers because I’ve been afraid I couldn’t “do it justice.” My main concern was not finding the right words. I know, I know! I’m a writer, “words” are my medium for goodness’ sakes. But one of the main aspirations/challenges for me as a writer, is to find words that evoke compelling mental pictures—and most importantly—heart touching emotions.
With this old Whiting Brothers, there are vibrations from the past that have often jumped out and grabbed me when I’ve driven by. And to actually explore the property—up close and personal! Sure, I could blab on and on about the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I touched the old pumps; read the faded lettering; peered through the aged windows; felt the awe and respect that comes with knowing how rugged the desert was (still is); remembered how little infrastructure existed then, compared to now; felt the heart tugging sense of loss knowing so much has gone with time…but all that makes for a really long, puffed up, and gushy sentence that requires a bunch of semicolons—or should it be colons? (Editors among us, please let this paragraph slide!)
Instead, here’s the sentence I finally came up with to describe the Whiting Brothers Gasoline Station on Route 66 in Newberry Springs, CA.
It is a really cool place!
There are articles on the Internet with history, station details, and pictures of the entire station. But, like the other places I’ve so far visited, the station only became alive when I talked to Mary and Henry, touched the pumps, squinted to read the faded and almost gone Tony’s Café sign up close, and ran my hand across the building’s railroad-tie and stucco framework. It is very difficult to convey the feelings of how the past became part of my present through those experiences.
Mary graciously shared how she bought this Whiting Brothers property in 1982, which had started its Route 66 life as Tony’s Café — Italian American Dishes. There now remain three gas pumps – two regular, one diesel. Together we read the last gas pumped prices, 33.9¢ for Super, and 36.9¢ for Ethel Supreme! The gas contained lead, there were 11¢ in taxes, and the pumps were made by the Bennet company. I couldn’t help but imagine the last car filling up at this station. Did the attendant and customer realize they were becoming part of Route 66 history? Or was it just another day on the road?
Mary and Henry also told me about interest in the station over the years by movie makers and schools; and with a touch of sadness, Mary also wanted it mentioned that Danny Marks, a good friend, and a person of “desert rat” legendary, was a wonderful steward of the property until his death in 1997.
It was a beautiful morning, a regular pale-blue Mojave sky—a perfect temperature and a perfect time to step back in history. Mary and Henry were very kind and generous hosts; and for my canine loving friends, their dogs were wonderful! So, I have to say again,
It is a really cool place. And, the McGees are really cool people!
Rest is Peace, Henry
 Mary is also one of the final two teachers at Amboy, CA school before it closed.