Route 66 Food Truck Park, including 25-foot tall Carl the Chef, put up for sale by retiring businessman

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 6:53 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s a recent addition to Springfield’s Route 66 attractions along St. Louis Street that appeals to both your taste buds and the nostalgia of the Mother Road.

Now it’s up for sale.

Kirk Wheeler is a big Route 66 supporter, recognized with the prestigious John T. Woodruff Award in 2019 for his civic efforts to promote the Mother Road and the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield.

Wheeler owns his own automotive and motorcycle shop along old Route 66 on St. Louis Street and two years ago he wanted to enhance the Route 66 experience in Springfield for travelers by adding the Route 66 Food Truck Park just two doors down from his other businesses.

Wheeler even traveled the entire length of Route 66 to gather ideas for his project which includes indoor-outdoor seating, a bar, live music, memorabilia, and of course food trucks with different types of cuisine to choose from.

But now, the unofficial Route 66 Mayor of St. Louis Street is retiring.

“It’s that time in my life where I’m ready to not have a real job,” Wheeler said.

So the automotive business and food truck parks will be taken over by others, and while Wheeler has successors in mind for his automotive endeavor, he is still looking for a buyer for the Food Truck Park that that has some interesting Route 66 memorabilia in it.

The biggest piece of nostalgia is outside the diner building alongside St. Louis Street.

It’s a 25-foot tall, 800-pound fiberglass man dressed as a chef holding a meat fork and spatula.

His name is “Carl” and Wheeler explained that he’s one of about a dozen “Muffler Men” still left along Route 66.

“They got their name because back in the 1960′s a lot of them were in front of muffler shops holding giant mufflers,” Wheeler said. “During my trip across Route 66, I saw these things and decided we needed one so Carl was made by an artist in Virginia who recreates the Muffler Men giants. Probably the most interesting thing was transporting Carl from Virginia back to Springfield and people would pass you on the interstate staring at the trailer he was mounted on and wondering what the heck was going on.”

Inside the park’s diner, you’ll also find more memorabilia from an old jukebox and a dining booth built into a truck bed to a miniature recreation of a diner and gas station with amazing detail right down to the trash cans.

All the items have their own unique story like an old purple motorized scooter that’s mounted on the wall.

“They’re called a Doodle Bug,” Wheeler said. “And it’s powered by a late 1930′s or early ‘40′s Maytag washing machine motor.”

So you could go somewhere and have clean clothes by the time you arrived?

Probably not. But the scooter’s current home, the Route 66 Food Truck Park, made its debut in early 2020 and had 10 food trucks.

“The timing wasn’t great,” Wheeler pointed out. “The indoor dining and bar were open for just a couple of weeks before we had to shut it down because of the pandemic. It had a negative effect on everybody with fewer people getting out of the house and going out to dine. And the number of people traveling down Route 66 really slowed down.”

“It hasn’t really had the chance to thrive like it can,” added Gary Busker, a local realtor who decided to go into the highly competitive barbecue business and open his own food truck at Wheeler’s site.

“They’ve been putting heat to meat since the dawn of time,” Busker said with a smile. “Everybody does it differently but as long as it tastes good there’s no wrong way to make a barbecue!”

Busker’s Billy Bob’s Barbecue truck is now one of only two left at the park during the winter months when business slows down.

“It has had its ups and downs,” he said. “But I’ve met people from Germany, Australia, and a lot of different places as they come through traveling Route 66.”

And while potential buyers may decide to use the property for something else, Wheeler and Busker are hoping it remains as a culinary tribute to the Mother Road.

“I’d love to find somebody who’s got a passion for Route 66 like I do,” Wheeler said. “Somebody who will run it and grow it.”

“I would love to see it stay a part of Route 66,” Busker agreed. “So many things are changing and I think we need to hold on to more of our history. Being a businessman you have to look at the bottom line but this isn’t about money for me. It’s about passion and if you let go of that you’re losing too much. We need to keep the rich history.”

And by the way, Carl comes as part of the deal.

“Well, you don’t have to keep him but I don’t know who wouldn’t want to,” Wheeler said with a laugh.

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