Road trips

Roadside relics

My trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana finally brought me to Vigo County, where I lived for nine years. Sadly, those were years before my full roadgeek had been awakened, and I was blind to much of what the road offered there.

Of course, since then my eyes have opened. I’ve made a number of road trips, taken thousands of photos, and written quite a bit about it all here in my little corner of the Web. And then last month a reporter at the Terre Haute Tribune-Star found some of my writing as he was researching a story about US 40 and the National Road. He interviewed me for his story, and I was thrilled to have been quoted extensively in his article.

Plenty of 20th-century roadside relics remain along the road in Vigo County. It begins in tiny Seelyville with Kleptz’s Restaurant and its great neon sign.

Kleptz Bar

This derelict motel, the former Ritz Plaza Motor Lodge, stands on the outskirts of Terre Haute. This has been a dump for at least 20 years, stretching back to when I was a student at nearby Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the late 1980s. It was operating as efficiency apartments for students then; I think the sign (far right) was still intact. The building looks abandoned today. (Thanks to Autostitch for making this panorama. Click it to see it larger on Flickr.)

Terre Haute

This billboard is on the opposite corner from the motel. The first time I ever saw it was in 1984, when my parents brought me to visit Rose-Hulman for the first time. The clock was stopped that day, but I’ve always seen it keeping accurate time since.

Terre Haute

On the western edge of the Rose-Hulman campus stands this 1931 gas station building. Its original location was on US 40 in town. I have a dim memory of once noticing a tiny little house and wondering who could possibly live in it; I think it was this gas station. It hadn’t operated in some time and the pumps were gone. What I didn’t know then was that early gas stations were deliberately built to look like little houses because travelers of the day were more comfortable stopping at a place that looked homey. This little building was in danger of being demolished a few years ago when the Indiana National Road Association partnered with Rose-Hulman to move it here and restore it.

Terre Haute

This motel is within spitting distance of Rose-Hulman and was a common place for parents to stay when they visited; maybe it still is. I’ve never been inside, but here’s a postcard view of a room from days gone by.

Terre Haute

During my Terre Haute days, my bike rides frequently amounted to Dairy Queen runs. I didn’t intend them to be that way, but there are so many DQs in Terre Haute that most of my routes passed by one. I’d inevitably ride home sucking down a chocolate malt, undermining the ride’s health benefits. I’ve never seen a Dairy Queen sign of this type except in Terre Haute. I think the DQ on North 13th St looks like this too; if you’re reading this and you’re a Hautean, please leave a comment telling me whether my memory is correct!

Terre Haute

Carney’s Tire is a former Phillips 66 station. The pumps are long gone, but they kept the sign.

Terre Haute

This neon wasn’t broken the last time I drove through here, but I can’t remember what it used to spell out. The top word is certainly Tavern.

Terre Haute

Downtown Terre Haute is a lot more alive today than it was 15 years ago when I moved away. That’s not to say that it’s become a hotspot, but there are more bars and restaurants here now than then. I don’t think this building was anything when I lived here. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember it. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t yet learned to see in those days. At any rate, it was doing good business on this late Saturday afternoon.

Terre Haute

What caught my eye about this building was all the advertising painted on its side.

Terre Haute

Soon I came upon this landmark sign in downtown Terre Haute. Everybody knows the Saratoga.

Terre Haute

I’d only been to the Saratoga once while I lived here, and that was for a company holiday party. I was in my 20s then, and the Saratoga’s regular crowd was a bit older. But now I’m a bit older. The day I came through here was a couple days before my birthday, so I stopped in and treated myself to a nice dinner. I fit right in, and the prime rib was really good!

Terre Haute

ReadMoreAnother Terre Haute institution, not on US 40, is Headstone’s. You might also enjoy reading the story of my first apartment in Terre Haute.

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22 thoughts on “Roadside relics

  1. Jim,
    I love this. My favorite is the Clabber Girl billboard. There’s a Leave it to Beaver episode where Beaver gets stuck on a billboard that’s likes this but with a big bowl of soup (or coffee cup, I forget). Anyway, I thought those types of billboards were extinct!

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    • Ryan, that Clabber Girl billboard seemed to come from another era even 25 years ago when I first saw it! And I know exactly the Leave It to Beaver episode you’re talking about.

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    • I’ve always wondered myself what a “clabber girl” is! Hard telling. The Clabber Girl Web site (clabbergirl.com) is mum on the subject!

      I like neon more than ghost signs, but that link was pretty cool.

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  2. I’m surprised you didn’t include the bar that used to be a gas station I’d guess between East Glenn and Seelyville on the south side. It also houses Sweet Lou’s Pizza now.

    Indeed, the N. 13th St DQ has a similar neon sign, except they are slanted to be seen from the street better. In addition, it has a large neon logo of a checkmark overlaid with a sundae cone. I can get a pic if you’d like.

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    • Sweet Lou’s is still in business?! Wayne Mc. and I used to order from there all the time.

      It’s funny how much stuff I miss. I think a large part of that is because I’m driving and trying to pay attention to the road. There’s a very old abandoned house next to the Great Dane factory that I’ve driven by 100 times but only noticed the last time I was by.

      I’d like to see the N. 13th St. DQ sign sometime, but it’s not critical — would hate for you to make a special trip just to photograph it. I don’t remember the checkmark-cone part of the sign at all, and that’s the DQ I hit most often (because it was almost within walking distance of my place).

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  3. tom liberty says:

    seeking hearse/ambulance junkyard;s for restoration parts,
    Hope your search can help me,
    how do i find you interesting book?
    r tom liberty

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  4. lisa carpenter says:

    The downtown bar that u said was hoppin on a sat. pm was The office bar years ago, it may have been Frogs Bistro whenu were here its now The Copper Bar, also , they carry a pretty good lunch menu ,as well as dinner, abit more upscale.but for anybody .
    Twiggys or sweet lous was also Morgans & they had the best fried chicken ! seems like it was run by 1 old man & 2 old women . As the years passed it was smarter to call ahead cause they werent gettin any faster !Kleptzs is once again one hoppin place

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    • I lived in TH from 1985 to 1994. I don’t recall either the Office or Frog’s Bistro, but maybe I wasn’t paying good attention then! So glad that the copper bar from the Terre Haute House was saved. Too bad the rest of the building couldn’t be.

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  5. Anna says:

    I probably shouldn’t be talking about this. I don’t know if they’re still there. But about 10 years ago, out by RHIT, just off US 40 there’s this little road, you drive back a little ways and there are several abandoned buildings just out there isolated. I think they used to be frat houses for Rose at one time. My friends and I used to go in them and mess around. One of the guys had his leg fall through a staircase and get scratched up. lol. Good times.

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      • Anna says:

        No there is still a frat house back there that’s in use among the old buildings. I didn’t know there was a juvenile center. It could be. This is actually just east of Hunt Rd. The street sign says Scott Street. If you’re coming from the west it’d be a left hand turn and then the road turns sharply to the left again and it runs parallel to 40 for a few hundred yards.

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        • That street is actually an older path of US 40. There was an older bridge there over the Interurban tracks. The current bridge replaced it, probably in the 1930s when US 40 was widened to 4 lanes.

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  6. Steve Miller says:

    WIkipedia to the rescue: “The Clabber Girl name brand comes from the word ‘clabber’, which means clabbered milk (sour milk). In the early 1800s, people mixed clabber with pearl ash, soda, cream of tartar, and a few other ingredients to make what we know today as baking powder.”

    Would the little cottage gas station have been a Pure Oil dealer? If so, the original look would have been white (brick or stucco) walls and a blue tile roof, with a metal “P” mounted on the chimney. It would have been adorned with shutters, and, likely, a window box for flowers. There were floor plans as simple as this buildings to much larger sations with multiple bays, but the look was common to all.

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    • Thanks for the Web fu! And you may be right about this having been a Pure station. I’m no expert, but I do know that each company had its own architectural look for its stations.

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  7. robert eagle says:

    I passed through Terre Haute coming from my base NM in early ’67 when most of US 40 was still in use. I remember stopping for gas in town at a station on the South side of the street which was still US40 and was impressed by the history of it and the aroma of the bay floors blackened by decades of ancient grease and oil. Two older gentlemen were attending it and seemed like they had worked there all their lives. I would like to know more about this station. I don’t remember the brand of gas but this old service station was known to a former resident I spoke to.

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