Growing up on Route 66

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Feb 142011

Newberger Joe Kavale’s boyhood home was steps away from the famous byway.

When Newberg’s Joe Kavale was growing up in southwest Missouri, he was surrounded by his future. He just didn’t know it.

For starters, there was the highway in front of his parents’ small business.

This wasn’t just any highway. It was Route 66, the “Mother Road,” America’s Main Street, 2,400 miles of concrete stretching through eight states and three time zones, twisting and turning its way from Grant Park in Chicago to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica, Calif.

And even though it was always a two-way road, Route 66 was never about going east, it was always about going west. The Okies of the Great Depression knew this. So did songwriter Bobby Troup, who penned his immortal ode to travel and the American automobile, “Route 66,” while on a trip from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles in 1946.
As for Joe Kavale (pronounced Kuh-vail), he came west in 1988, moving to Newberg in 2007 after a career as a naval aviator. He now works as assistant project manager for Springbrook Properties.

Joe’s parents, Jerry and Beatrice (“Bea”), owned a gas station. Inside, the couple also carried a small inventory of groceries, the entire enterprise a precursor to the modern convenience store.

Behind the station was a small motor court of six cabins. The property was three acres in size, which also included the family home.

As he got older, Joe would sometimes help his mom clean the cabins after the overnighters had departed, without a clue that one day he would be a part of the team hired to assist the Austin family in designing and building the Allison Inn and Spa.

Finally, there was this small gravel road that sat just to the side of the Kavale property. This precursor is downright spooky.

“I used it to walk to an elementary school that was down where the road came to a dead end,” Joe remembered in an interview done earlier this week in a local restaurant. He then delivered the punch line: “Today, it’s known as the ‘Oregon Road.’”Route 66 has become, as travel historian Michael Wallis likes to describe it, a symbol of America before it became generic. It was a time when the person who served you a piece of pie probably baked it, when motels didn’t take reservations, when doctors made house calls. There were no diet drinks or cell phones. Gas station attendants washed your windshield and fixed flats. Waitresses winked at your kids and yelled at the cook. It was America before color TV.

Joe doesn’t remember any of this. He shrugs off any attempts to make the famous highway more than just a road. What he does remember are parents who worked very hard to make enough income to provide for their two children, he and his older sister Pat.

“Dad worked at the station. When it came time to eat, he and mom would trade places. The price of gas varied from 18 (to) 21 cents a gallon. Four of the cabins were single room units, two of the cabins had two rooms each. The smaller ones were $2 a night, the larger ones $3.50. They were without bathrooms. Separate washrooms close by provided his-and-her showers and toilets.”

“Our groceries never did catch on,” he continued. “Too much competition in the nearby towns. Also, some customers would take advantage of us and leave without paying, especially if it was a group so large my father couldn’t keep track of who had paid for what.”

“One time, the store became so crowded he locked the front door until everyone had paid. He eventually did away with the groceries and got a beer license, which, to be honest, saved the business.”
Of Czechoslovakian descent, Jerry and Bea lived in Chicago before World War II. Pat was born there in 1941, Joe in 1946. Serving in the Navy during the war, Jerry returned home to the Windy City to resume his pre-war job as a policeman. It was then he realized he was in the wrong profession.

“Dad didn’t like working for someone else,” Joe explained. “He dreamed of being his own boss. In 1948, he saw an ad in the newspaper that sent him on a 500-mile trip into the heart of rural Missouri.”
   The location was halfway between the towns of Lebanon and Phillipsburg, about 167 Route 66 miles from St. Louis.
   The terms were unique: a family that owned a gas station and small motor court was willing to trade for a home in the Chicago area. To Jerry Joe, this was his dream come true.

“So we moved,” Joe said. “I was 18 months old. My dad renamed the business, ‘Chicago Court.’ The name stayed until the late 1950s, when it became ‘Jerry’s.

“At that time, Interstate 44 replaced U.S. 66 and we were bypassed. Motorists no longer stopped like they used to. I could have stretched out in the middle of the highway at night, looked up at the stars, and not worried about being hit. An embankment nearby, which blocked the view of our store from I-44, made things worse. It was tough on my parents. In 1960 they closed the motor court.” he concludes. “Dad tried everything to stay afloat, the beer license being part of that. In 1973 it was over. He and mom moved to Waynesville, Mo., where my father took a job working at the airport at Fort Leonard Wood.”

“They gave me one of the cabins to use as a chemistry lab,”

By this time Joe had also moved, to Annapolis, Md., and the Naval Academy, where he graduated with the Class of 1968. He then served 20 years as a helicopter pilot.
He married Jan Heynderickx of Mount Angel in 1984 and retired from the Navy in 1988. In 2008, the couple adopted three small girls.
At bedtime, he sometimes tells his daughters “little boy stories,” the adventures of a young lad who once grew up on the shoulders of America’s most famous highway.

Sweet dreams.

By George Edmonston Jr., Newberg Graphic correspondent