For close to 10 years I drove past an intriguing garage and junk yard on I-40 in eastern Arizona always wanting to stop. The dilapidated building and trailer with vintage cars, trucks, and buses is located 25 miles east of Holbrook in Apache County. Being an antique car nut, the sight of rusted sheet metal becomes candy to my eyes. I needed a closer look!
On each journey I repeatedly looked for a turnoff yet never found one. The shuttered business is separated from busy interstate traffic via wire fence. On a recent trip to Colorado sufficient time was granted by my wife Joleen to find access. Discovering the entrance went faster than I thought. Exit 303 was the secret key. This exit either takes you to the ghost town of Adamana, or down a stretch of Route 66 few people know about, directly to the old repair facility.
Turning left off Adamana Road onto infamous Route 66 I drove east for 5 miles. ‘The Mother Road’ as Route 66 is often called led me straight to the garage’s locked gate. A sunbaked metal sign showed it to be Rocky’s Old Stage Station. Such an unusual name! Wrecker service and used cars were advertised, along with business license numbers crudely hand-painted on a top section. Before continuing my story let me take you back in time.
“The year was 1956. Dad was in the Air Force and had been notified his next assignment was George A.F.B. in California. Loading up a black 1949 Mercury along with small trailer home, our family departed Vernon, Alabama headed west to Victorville, CA. My brother Jim and I rode in the back seat. I would’ve been 2 at the time so my recollection of events is extremely limited. Dad, mom, and Jim provided me with the following details:
Entering Arizona via Route 66, a blazing July sun made things unbearably hot inside our car. The vehicle had no air conditioner. Being painted a dark color clearly amplified intense sweltering heat. Jim and I quickly became drowsy and unresponsive. Pulling into a gas station on the outskirts of Holbrook, an employee told mom she’d best cool her kids down or they wouldn’t survive the trip.
The man sold my folks a block of ice including tin pan to hold things. Placing this crude cooling device on the floorboard Jim and I made the remainder of our journey hovered over it. That pump attendant probably saved our lives by advising such. For many years now I’ve often wondered if this gas station still exists.”
Rolling up to a locked compound gate I stayed inside my truck long enough to survey all surroundings. The first thing noticed was a NO TRESPASSING sign. I intended to honor it. A couple of classic 1950’s school buses quickly caught my eye. Their once bright yellow paint was now subdued with rusty brown patina. One bus was missing its front fenders, hood, and grille while another was sans differential.
Vintage cars of all make and model dotted the grounds. One appeared to be a 1947 Chevrolet while another was a 1940’s Dodge. I stepped outside the safety of my truck to snap a few photos. That’s when a humongous black rat disappeared into a pile of brush. I jumped back instinctively. Rocky’s Old Stage Station gave me the creeps.
Quickly snapping several more pictures, I started to reenter my vehicle before noticing a small sign on the compound fence. It warned of the area being a Hantavirus Site. I knew immediately what that meant having read of the disease.
To simplify complicated medical terminology: Hantavirus spores originate from rat or mouse droppings. They can be found in common dirt or dust. Breathing such can be fatal to people much like anthrax. I made sure to brush dirt from both shoes before reentering my Dodge.
On the ride back to Exit 303 there was a fellow with a metal detector prospecting around a concrete building foundation. This was about 2 miles west of Rocky’s Old Stage Station. Out of curiosity I stopped to see what was up. The young man’s name was Matt and he was from the UK. Matt was visiting this country to experience specific areas of Route 66. He informed me the spot he currently explored was an old petrol station.
“You don’t say!” was my excited response.
Matt went on to explain that the defunct garage I’d been looking at further down the road had been a Butterfield stagecoach stop in the 1800’s. That explained the unusual name. Matt said it’d been a thriving auto repair and wrecker service for Nyal “Rocky” Rockwell until I-40 was built. For whatever reason, our government in rerouting the highway left limited access for Rocky’s customers which totally annihilated his business. Such was interesting to hear but my mind remained focused on the gas station. Could this have been the place my folks stopped in 1956?
Back home I initiated internet research on the site eventually finding a rare 1946 picture postcard. The establishment had been a Shell station owned by Harry C. Osborn. Shell was dad’s gasoline of choice next to Texaco. My research showed no Texaco stations in the area. It could’ve been the same business where my folks purchased ice. Of course I’ll never be able to prove such.
What I do know is the gas station’s no longer an entity except for crumbling remains. The majority of customers having patronized it are long gone. Much like a melting block of ice, time was a giant eraser before I finally discovered this road less traveled.