Thursday, July 29, 2010

The 5 and 50 Drive-In, Tipton, Missouri

All roads lead to the 5 and 50—most notably, Highways 5 and 50. And if you look at these two roads, you might indeed realize that the 5 and 50 could very easily be on your itinerary, if you don’t watch it.

Tipton's 5 and 50 Drive-In, named for its position at the intersection of the two highways, is one of those wonderful, unique little businesses you can find in small towns all over the place, but rarely on the interstates, dominated by boring chain restaurants and their mind-numbing sameness.

I said it’s unique, because it is, but it’s also like plenty of other little drive-ins that offer soft-serve ice cream creations, chili dogs, fried snacks, and sodas, sold from behind a sliding window in a little hut with a big sign on top. There are picnic tables, in case you don’t want to eat in your car.

And each of these places is different, and each is beloved by the surrounding community, as well as by tourist regulars, truckers, bikers, who have learned to stop there as they travel from point A to B.

Similar places: Zesto, the Pied Piper, Vargo’s (Norwalk, Ohio), and the sadly defunct Polar Freeze (Mesquite, Nevada).

The last time we were at the 5 and 50, the guy behind the window said that the business had been there for at least fifty years. (I suspect that some of my readers can tell me precisely how far back the 5 and 50 really goes.)

Here is one of the menu boards.

This is the real thing, folks. If you drive up to this restaurant in anything younger than a 1959 Ford Galaxie 500, you will feel like a visitor from the future, a spaceman.

Now I’m going to support my sweeping generalization at the top of this post: All roads lead to the 5 and 50!

Missouri Route 5 traverses the entire state, north to south. It’s the only Missouri state highway to extend all the way across the state, as a matter of fact. Highway 5 extends into three states. Across the border in Iowa, it turns into Iowa Highway 5 and leads clear to Des Moines!

In Missouri, it connects such important places as Marceline (boyhood home of Walt Disney), historic Boonville, the Lake of the Ozarks (Missouri’s own vacationland), Camdenton (home of Bridal Cave), Lebanon (the Aluminum Fishing Boat Capital of the World), and Mansfield (where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived for about sixty years; she wrote “some books” there).

South of Missouri, the highway enters Arkansas, where it becomes Arkansas Highway 5 and leads to the charming Ozark city of Mountain Home (Bluegrass Central—you really have to go there), then down to Calico Rock (perched prettily on the White River), through part of the Ozark National Forest, through Mountain View (which is different from Mountain Home) and Heber Springs, Rosebud, and Romance, clear to the north fringes of the Little Rock metro area.

Des Moines to Little Rock: So it should go without saying that Iowa/Missouri/Arkansas 5 connects with scads of U.S. Highways, as well as some major Interstates (40, 44, 70, and 35).

Okay, then the other line of the “plus sign” centered in Tipton, U.S. 50, stretches more than three thousand miles from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, California; before they replaced its westernmost stretch with new concrete spaghetti, it used to stretch clear to San Francisco. It goes through twelve states—clear across the continent.

And when you consider that Missouri is, ohhh, roughly centered in the lower 48, you can see that, given the extent of the two highways aiming right at Tipton, it wouldn’t take too many turns to get to a road that will intersect Route 5 or Highway 50, and from there, you got it: It’s a straight shot to the 5 and 50.

The 5 and 50 is closer than you think.

5 & 50 Drive-In on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


My friend Pam died this morning.

---------How can we have a world without her?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Trusty Nikon Coolpix 4500: RIP

Hi, folks--today I'm not going to "review" anything; instead, I'm giving you a little status update on how things are going "behind the scenes" here. It's about the camera.

It's kaput. My trusty, easy, point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix 4500 is out of commission. The zoom button doesn't work--you press it down, and nothing happens; it doesn't even spring back into place.

It is an old camera, but a very good one for a "point and shoot"; Sue started letting me use it when she got her nice digital SLR, which by now she's replaced with a newer SLR.

And it was having other problems; the sensor was getting old. I don't know if you noticed, but there were more than a few "dead pixels" creeping in there, and the pictures were having more and more "noise," especially when the lighting was dark. Sue showed me how to compensate somewhat, by bumping the resolution to its highest level.

Oh, but without the zoom, it's almost impossible to get the thing to find its focus, especially when taking closeup pictures. And closeups were one of the biggest strengths of that camera.

Especially for pictures of food!

(A sloppy joe from Kaitlyn's graduation party last summer!)

(Meringue atop one of the kuchens I've made, using Grandma's recipe.)

(Some kind of mushroom fly atop a cluster of honey mushrooms in our yard last summer.)

(When we dig in our gardens, we often discover historic marbles and stuff.)

The swivel feature is more than just a convenience that saved me from having to lie on the ground or get dirt on my chin; sometimes, you really don't want to have your face anywhere near the subject!

(Found on the Lake Erie beach at Huron, Ohio, last summer.)

(July 5, 2009, found on the sidewalk of downtown Jeff City; a cookie--I think.)

At this point, I'm mainly relying on Sue for pictures; she took all of the Jacob's Cave ones in the last post. And we're hunting on eBay to see what kind of replacement I can get inexpensively. Meanwhile--you might have to tolerate a few posts without pictures. Sorry, but that's how it goes, I guess.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jacob’s Cave, Versailles, Missouri

Face it, Missouri’s summers are damn near unbearable, and most of us can’t imagine trying to live here without air conditioning.

When I describe this situation to outsiders, to people who lack a truly cold winter or truly hot summer, I tell them that when you have four full seasons like we do, we have two seasons—spring and fall—that are incredibly pleasant and richly beautiful, where it’s a punishment to stay indoors.

But then, we have two seasons where you would rather remain indoors, because the weather is so uncomfortable: winter and summer. Summer’s a lot like winter—you venture outside because you have to mow the lawn, which is analogous to shoveling snow in the winter. By the time you’re done, you’re so glad to get back inside—sipping cocoa in winter, gulping iced tea in summer.

You might remember this past winter when I recommended visiting Missouri’s caves when the weather is, well, horrible. On those endlessly gray and freezing days, visiting a cave, which is humid and comparatively warm inside, is a treat, and it gets you out of the house. Plus, all that darkness makes the sky seem so much brighter when you emerge.

Most people don’t think of visiting caves in the winter; they think of it as a summertime activity, and that attitude is warranted, too!

In summer, caves offer relief from the smothering heat and humidity. (No wonder show caves were such popular tourist attractions in the days before a/c!) The darkness is also a wonderful, calming respite from the brilliant sunlight (which becomes positively glaring on the most humid days).

So back in January, I reminded you about Bridal Cave, near Camdenton; and soon after that, I gave you some background information about Missouri’s caves. Today, I’m going to tell you about Jacob’s Cave, near Versailles, Missouri. (Yes, folks, that’s pronounced “vur-SAY-ullz”—get it right!)

Jacob’s Cave

Jacob’s Cave is one of Missouri’s historic commercial show caves (a “show cave,” you might recall, is a cave that is run, basically, as a tourist attraction): It opened for tours in 1932. Before that, the cave had been used, for instance, as cold storage for apples (there was a large orchard located in Versailles in those days), and it had been prospected for mineral wealth.

The cave had been discovered by a lead and tiff miner named Jacob Craycraft, who signed his name in pencil inside the cave on August 9, 1875. (Yes, it’s horrible graffiti, but at this point, it’s also historic. His inscription, which is by now coated with a glaze of new cave material, is now part of the cave tour.)

Craycraft did try to mine lead in the cave, but he met with little monetary success. He did, however, begin leading crude, lantern-light cave tours, charging twenty-five cents for admission.

In the 1930s and 1940s, when the Lake of the Ozarks was developed, nearby Gravois Mills became one of the Lake’s popular communities, and Jacob’s Cave was developed more seriously as a show cave; in 1950, it opened for visitors with electric lighting, widened passageways, and level walkways, and it became extremely popular. Remember, Missouri summers are hot, and caves are cool. Jacob’s Cave remains 52 degrees year-round (compare that to tomorrow’s predicted high: 95 degrees, with a heat index of 105).

Jacob’s Cave has the distinction of being the only show cave in the state that’s completely wheelchair accessible. There is a rock and gift shop adjoining the entrance of the cave, and ample parking. Owner Frank Hurley and his family have been running the cave for over forty years.

What Is It Like?

Well, you drive there, you park, you go inside, and you buy your tickets. Since it was a sweltery day when we were there, we arrived in shorts and tee-shirts, and the women who sold us the tickets reminded us of the cool damp environment of the cave, and recommended we wear jackets. Then—amazingly enough—they produced some nylon jackets, big flannel shirts, and other alternatives that we could borrow for the tour. They guessed our sizes pretty accurately, too. What a pleasant touch! And as it turned out, we were grateful for the extra clothing.

Yes, it’s coooooool in there. Ahhhhh. Hallelujah!

Because this is the peak of the season, the cave tour was pretty structured—this time of year, cave operators don’t spend a lot of time lollygagging, and the groups can be fairly large. There were about twelve people in our group, on a rainy Sunday afternoon. If we’d gone in the off-season, we would have monopolized the tour guide more. But that’s okay—this is the time of year cave operators try to make ends meet, and sure enough there was another group of folks waiting to start the next tour by the time we returned.

I have already mentioned that these commercially run show caves are often, sadly, devoid of life; they were opened to the public before people had much awareness of the delicate ecosystems that exist in subterranean chambers, or the damage that can be caused by the oils from people’s hands, or the algal growth because of lights. But while this is sad, it also means that you don’t have to feel too worried about visiting these caves; the damage has been done, and the cave owners today do what they can to prevent further damage.

One example of past damage is the thin layer of green algae that formed on several walls and formations, wherever spotlights had shined on their surfaces. It’s regrettable, and our tour guide explained that the cave’s owner had attempted to try to remove some of this disfiguring material—but he had found that a thin, clear layer of cave rock had already formed on top of it, sealing it in forever. Nowadays, as with other caves you can tour, the guide turns on only the lights for the room you are currently viewing, and switches off each chamber’s lights as you exit.

But the cave isn’t completely sterile, no-sirree. Our tour guide, right at the beginning of the tour, found a little cave salamander to show us, which was a real treat. Apparently there are also nifty black toads, and some bats that occur, but we didn’t see any. Also, larval forms of the cave salamander are apparently also found in the waters of the cave—but though we looked, we weren’t lucky enough to see any. Oh, well; there was plenty more to enjoy.

The cave is continuing to grow, as well; there are numerous places on the concrete pathway where lumps—baby stalagmites—are forming, caused by incessant steady drips from above. And that’s pretty cool to see!

Other interesting things on the tour are some places on the wall where you can see claw scratches by prehistoric cave bears; evidence of previous glaciations; numerous large columns that were fractured and offset by historic earthquakes (three in this cave’s history, the most recent being the New Madrid quake); and more.

An enormous geode is basically a small chamber all in itself; they bill it as the “world’s largest geode,” but I suspect that the “crystal cave” at Heineman’s Winery in Ohio is larger. (They call theirs the “world’s largest geode,” too.)

There are a lot of nice “soda straws” and delicate helectite formations, flowstones, and more. Our tour guide pointed out some places near the ceiling where the former “floor” of a cave passage had been undercut long ago by water, which removed the silt beneath, leaving behind a suspended, flattened, hardened rock shelf connected to the ceiling by its stalactites and stalagmites.

There are some interesting reflections in pools, which create convincing optical illusions of depth, and of nonexistent new chambers—I think those are worth the price of admission alone. (Photographs don’t do it justice, either.)

At the beginning of the tour, you get to see a case full of ice age bones of bison, Mammoth, and so on, that were found in the cave; at the end of the tour is a display of rocks and minerals that you can see under regular lighting as well as fluorescing under a black light—if you’ve never seen anything like that before, you’ll find it an eye-opening experience.

The Retro-Kitsch Factor

The next thing I’m going to tell you may or may not make this cave seem appealing to you: It is touristy in an old-school way. Though they have pulled back a bit from what I’m sure had been a whole lot of fanciful, silly, amusing stuff, there was still enough to remind me of the old days, when cave guides led tours to see a historic “iron spring” (which turned out to have come off an old jalopy) or, in this case, a “bulb garden,” which our guide led us past, but tactfully said nothing about. We took a picture, however:

A bulb garden! Yes, those are flash bulbs of various makes and shapes. (Remember flash bulbs? Goodness.) (They could probably sell these to collectors on eBay!)

So maybe you will sniff and see this as a horrible marring of the cave, and of the experience, but I enjoyed it for what it was—genuine tourist kitsch, the real thing, the kind of whimsy that would have tickled us all back in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies.

Some of the lights illuminating the cave were multicolored; I mean, what the heck; you purists, just relax. It did add to the niftiness. Here is a multicolor light-spinner from a Christmas tree:

And our tour guide incorporated a lot of fanciful ideas into her spiel—especially in describing what particular formations “looked like.” One formation, for instance, looked like a “whale’s tail” from one side, and an “angel’s wing” from the other.

It’s like hunting for recognizable shapes in the random patterns of clouds—anyone can do it. And you have to admit, if there had been kids along on this tour, it would have really drawn them in.

One room, for example, was called the “Cave Garden,” where one can supposedly see shapes of cabbage, beans, and a variety of other common vegetables among the formations. Another spot was called the “Children’s Zoo”; here, one views a representation of Snow White and her seven dwarves (eight humplike stalagmites, one of them large), plus other subjects that would appeal to kids. Another area was called the “Cactus Room”—and yeah, I could kinda see that one—stalagmites can sort of look like columnar cactus. After a while, you do start “seeing things.”

My favorite of these was at a chamber where there were hundreds of delicate soda straws and helectite formations stuck to the ceiling; here, the guide pointed out the odd shapes they had taken and said in rapid-fire: “People see all sorts of things in this room—Dum-dums, turkey legs, popcorn, pickles, corndogs . . .” She must have rattled off about ten things, and the overwhelming quantity (not to mention the food theme) made me laugh. I could definitely make out the little Dum-dums, stuck on the ceiling; they were the right size and everything. I’ll be doggoned.

If I could make one change to the entire experience, I would wish that I didn’t smell cigarette smoke so heavily in the gift shop. Maybe it was just a fluke that particular day, with people standing right outside the door to smoke, but the place kind of reeked. But who wants to spend a lot of time in the gift shop anyway? You can always wait for your tour outside.

Jacob’s Cave: Heartily recommended, provided you are the type to enjoy the occasional remnant of genuine tourist cave kitsch, and not bristle at it. It is an educational tour, it’s a whole lot of fun, and keep in mind: It’s a great thing to do here when the weather is so dang hot.

Here’s the info:

Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for kids age 4–12. Group rates are available.

The cave is handicap-accessible; in fact, wheelchairs, as well as baby strollers, are available for those who need them.

Hours are seasonal: From Memorial Day through Labor Day, they’re open 9–5. During the off-season, the hours are 9–4.

Though I think they are open every day, except for major holidays, I recommend calling ahead to make sure they are open on whatever day you intend to go.

An easy day trip for Central Missourians, this cave is located between the towns of Versailles and Gravois Mills, not far off of Highway 5, on Route TT. There are signs for it, and their website has a map.

Contact info:

Jacob's Cave LLC
Frank J. Hurley, CEO
23114 Highway TT
Versailles, MO 65084

Phone: 573-378-4374

Friday, July 16, 2010

Welcome to DSL!

This post is for Sue's folks, who "finally" (their term) got DSL, so they can now see videos over the Internet!

So for them, I'm sharing a few YouTubes that I think they'll like--well, that everybody should like!

Why? Because Tommy Dorsey is tops!

First, the Tommy Dorsey band with a youthful singer named Frank Sinatra, with Connie Haines and the Pied Pipers!

I'm including this next one because there's an actual "movie" to it--but it's not the original recording of "Marie" that we all love so much--the buttery-smooth Jack Leonard vocal is done by some other cuss, and the famous, ripping-it-to-smithereens Bunny Berigan trumpet solo has been transcribed (in harmony!) for the whole trumpet section. Hmmm . . . Anyway, listening to Tommy's trombone solo, you sure can see where Sinatra learned his phrasing.

So because Bunny Berigan was so sadly omitted from the previous song (actually, I think BB was dead by the time they filmed that Dorsey movie), here's an example of a lovely solo by him. One reviewer said, "Bunny Berigan is obviously playing lead trumpet in the Heaven Band."

And finally, in a slightly different vein, a short film of Cowboy Jack Clement about Newport, Arkansas, and the "Air Conditioner Song." Why? Because it's been flippin' hot here in Missouri, and we loves our air conditionings!

Have a good weekend, everybody, and keep cool!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No Strings Attached

Dear Readers,

Sometimes I feel sorry for you, because wherever you are, I know that despite your glorious mountains and ocean views, lack of chiggers and ticks, and gorgeous, non-humid summertime weather . . . you don't have access to genuine Nannie beans.

Aunt Carole's Nannie beans!

These are heirloom green beans passed down to my Aunt Carole from her mother, who always had an awesome garden. Aunt Carole has an awesome garden, too, and she grows Nannie beans each year. These beautiful bush beans are completely stringless. (I only popped off the tips out of habit.)

Seriously, no strings at all. Tender and perfect.

They're substantial and meaty enough you could cook up a bunch of these, doctored with onions and some ham, with some potatoes, and boom! That's all the dinner you'd need.

It's food fit for a king, and we've gotta eat it.

Carole says she doesn't know where the name came from; her mom told her they were named for some "Aunt Nannie"--but the exact identity of this Aunt Nannie has been lost to time.

. . . You know, recently, someone suggested that I begin listing three things, every night, that I'm grateful for, and that this could be one way to help me to find more joy in life.

Definitely, Nannie beans, and Aunt Carole's willingness to grow them every year, are at the top of tonight's list. Simple stuff, but oh, so important.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dutch Bakery and Bulk Foods, Tipton, Missouri

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this scene, here in the Midwest, where large, centralized (and often overpriced) health-food bulk grocery stores are hard to find, we rely on Mennonite- or Amish-run stores out in the country for bulk ingredients.

Apart from highway signs, these stores don’t do a lot of advertising; most customers just “know” they’re there, by word of mouth.

The Dutch Bakery is on Highway 50 on the west side of Tipton, Missouri. It’s run by a family of Old Order Mennonites, and the store’s been there twenty-three years. (The owner told me that they started selling baked goods and produce at the Sedalia and Jeff City farmers’ markets five years before the store opened, so they’ve actually been in business since about 1982.)

Here’s a picture taken in late 2009, with the leaves gone. Notice anything unusual? How about that! Yes, it’s true—the World’s Largest 8-Ball looms like an alien eyeball over this sincere little grocery store!

See, there’s history: This water tower was painted to look like a huge 8-ball because Fischer Manufacturing, a billiard company, used to be right there by the water tower. When Spalding bought them out in 1968, Fischer was the country’s largest builder of pool tables. Tipton’s quite proud of its landmark!

Anyway, it’s quirky juxtapositions like this—the Mennonite grocery sitting there, keeping a straight face, beneath this giant goofy 8-Ball—that make small towns such a gas.

And if you’re driving along Highway 50, you have no excuse for “missing” the Dutch Bakery—just look for the Giant 8-Ball!

By the way, if you’re reading this and are not sure you’ll feel comfortable venturing into the “different culture” of a Mennonite-run grocery store, get over yourself! Yes, Mennonites are rather soft-spoken; the women wear those little caps; and you’ll probably overhear some musical and unintelligible Pennsylvania- or Swiss-German dialect—but make no mistake: You are welcome here, and they, like all store owners, are glad to sell you their stuff!

At Dutch Market, in addition to a huge variety of bulk foods, pasta, snacks, dried fruits, and baking supplies, they also sell hanging baskets, vegetable starts, and bedding plants in season; wooden lawn furniture; homemade bakery goods; home-canning supplies; meats and cheeses; and fresh local produce.

Part grocery, part produce-stand, and part bakery, this is where I got the cantaloupe the other day that became Ginger Melon Sorbet. I also got some pumpkin-walnut bread and a Swedish tea ring (day-old, discounted—give me a break) and some nice ripe yellow and red tomatoes. (Yes, the good kind!) There were also new potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and plenty more.

And bulk spices! —I had run out of bay leaves. At Dutch Bakery, I bought their smallest plastic sack of bulk bay leaves (I think it’s fresher when they bag it from bulk)—0.13 lb. (which is at least ten times as much as you get in a bottle of Durkee) for 85 cents. The only problem with this? Now I’ve got lots more bay than I know what to do with. What a hardship, huh?

Unlike a lavish, orthorexic-approved Whole Foods supermarket (or “Whole Paycheck,” as some of my friends call it), Dutch Bakery sells some bulk items that can’t be called “health foods.” Many of the dried fruits are stabilized with sulpher dioxide, and they can be tinted with, say, FD&C Yellow #6. (They are plainly marked, so it’s not like they’re hiding it from you.)

And you can buy, in bulk, all kinds of powdered and dehydrated soup and dip mixes—which, compared to homemade soups and sauces from scratch, are at a minimum just sad, and at worst, an abomination. (Unless you're camping or something.) I saw you can also get bags of that fluorescent-neon-orange powder that you add to cooked macaroni to make a bulk-foods equivalent to “Kraft Mac & Cheese.” Again, it’s not exactly “health food.” But then—if you’re wanting to feed your army on the cheap, this is the place for you.

I love it that I can get my healthy bulk grains there. Oat bran muffins, here we come!

The summary: It’s a family-run, small, local business. They’ve got great prices on a bunch of stuff that you want to buy. The produce is top-notch. The drive there is pleasant. And you’ll smile.

Plus, while you’re there, you can take pictures of the World’s Largest 8-Ball!

More Information That You Didn’t Ask for but Ought to Know

There’s a lot more to enjoy in Tipton, Missouri, such as the Vanilla Grill (believed by some to have the best chocolate ice cream ever), and Ghetto Superstar. Tipton is also the hometown of Gene Clark (a founding member of the Byrds), and he’s buried there. So if you’re a fan, you have to make a pilgrimage to the St. Andrew Catholic Cemetery, now, too!

Dutch Bakery Bulk Food Store on Urbanspoon

ADDENDUM, October 8, 2010
In light of the enthusiastic endorsements below, I went and got some of the Dutch Bakery's "Dutch letters." Here's my post on them.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Wheel Inn, Old and New, Sedalia, Missouri



Yes, the Wheel Inn lives on, and these days it’s right across the road from the Missouri State Fair. (You are going to the fair, right? August 12–22—you can’t miss it! Seriously, it is a good time, and in addition to meeting some talkative politicians, you’ll walk away with a bag full of free stuff. You might even get a free flyswatter!)

But the Wheel Inn, ahhh, the Wheel Inn. Venerable, beloved, local landmark that was destroyed when MoDot widened the intersection of Highways 50 and 65, the major arteries that fed the Wheel Inn’s first six decades of existence. Memories.

By September 2007, when the Wheel Inn closed its doors and auctioned off bits and pieces of its original, vintage signage and architecture, it had gotten dang difficult to “wheel in” to the Wheel Inn—at that busy intersection, we usually had to pull in and out of parking lots of adjacent businesses. And the parking lot had gotten tiny; easier with my Civic, but tricky with the truck. Highway expansion; lots of traffic.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more genuinely intact vintage drive-in that was so virtually unchanged since the 1940s. But it’s gone now. (Couldn't they have moved it? Alas.)

We were among the throngs of true devotees who visited the Wheel Inn during its last few weeks in business. Below are some pictures from that time (September 2007), including our last guberburger meal. Awww, dang it. What a cool place.

. . . But change happens. It could easily have been a tornado, you know? Or a fire! (Remember the original Old Heidelberg in Columbia? They had to completely rebuild—and it’s not the same—but that’s the way it goes. We love it still.) And this way, with the Wheel Inn, we all got a chance to say goodbye, and they could sell off mementoes to their biggest fans.

~ ~ But the Wheel Inn Lives! ~ ~

I had heard that there was a “new” Wheel Inn in Sedalia, a little farther south on Highway 65, and right across from the State Fairgrounds. To be honest, I was skeptical, and that was one reason I stayed away so long: “Who are you, and what makes you think you can replicate the Wheel Inn?” It seemed almost blasphemous. Sputter, sputter, sputter!

But even though the vintage architecture was a real treat and we miss it a lot, a business is much more than its building. And yes, the Wheel Inn tradition continues.

I’m pretty sure this is only the third set of owners; the first owners, Lyman Keuper and his wife, bequeathed the Wheel Inn to their daughter and son-in-law, Ruth Ann and Jack Hawkins, who owned the Wheel Inn until the building’s demise in 2007. John Brandkamp, who owned the business, sold the Wheel Inn name, recipes, and reputation to the current owner, Judy Clark, who had worked at the Wheel Inn off and on for forty-seven years.

And so the new Wheel Inn continues with the blessing of the old owners. The rest of the pictures in this post are of the new place.

I do hope they can find a talented artist to paint a new Guber-man on their windows; their current Guber-guys look really, um, computer-generated. Oh well.

They have a lot more seating, plus plenty of parking places! I’m not sure it’s much of a “drive in” anymore, but they have a big U-shaped service counter like the old place, they’ve stuck with the red-and-white color scheme and a retro “look,” and the recipes are all the same. Hallelujah!

There are a few new items on the menu—a fried chicken salad, for instance, and a couple of “big” burgers (the “Wheel Burger” has double cheese, double meat, plus the fixin’s; the “Whimpy Burger” has triple meat and triple cheese, which I think you should avoid, unless you want a triple bypass, too).

And stuff’s gone up. Prices are higher—but then that’s the way things go. It’s still very reasonable, and you can buy food here with the change on the floor under your car seat.

No kiddin’. You can get a grilled cheese sandwich for $2.25 (two slices of cheese!) or an egg sandwich for $2.50. I bet you’ve put more than that into a big-city parking meter. The most expensive thing on the menu is “Chicken BB” for $6.10. I don’t know what that is, and anyway, you probably came here to try something else. Right?

Yes. The pièce de résistance is the famous guberburger, the steakburger with peanut butter on it. Now, this is living.

I know what you’re going to say, but before you decide I’ve lost my mind, I urge you to try one first. They use a thin patty of fresh lean chuck, top it with hot melted peanut butter, and add lettuce, tomato, and salad dressing (Miracle Whip).

The Wheel Inn is where it all began. Here’s how it happened.

Back in 1946, Lyman Keuper, the owner of the Wheel Inn, was approached by a fellow who was impressed by his curly fries (they’re called Soozie-Q Fries, by the way). They are really, really curly, and they’re thin. They’re fun to eat, and they look great.

So this fellow proposed a trade: You tell me how you make Soozie-Q fries, and I’ll give you the secret for making the best burgers ever—irresistibly delicious burgers that will make your business a sure success. . . . And the deal was made.

The guberburger became the Wheel Inn’s specialty, beloved by generations of Missourians headed to the state fair, or Kansas Citians on their way to the Lake, bikers, or any number of other folks passing through on the two highways. And they were all telling their friends, “You’ve gotta try it to believe it. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s really good!

Now—you can get “guberburgers” elsewhere in Sedalia, like Eddie’s Drive In (which we also love), but my waiter the other day assured me that there is a secret ingredient (besides the peanut butter) used in Wheel Inn’s guberburgers that makes them unique, and extra delicious. So go there, my friends, and enjoy the Real Thing.

The moral of this story is, Change happens. But if you’re lucky, the stuff that really matters, like the Original Guberburger, continues on.

(Oh, and make sure you get the Soozie-Q fries with your guberburger!)

Wheel Inn on Urbanspoon