Dealership gets kicks on Route 66: Burggraf Tire makes "America's Main Street" its own

Aug. 1, 2002

Remember Nat King Cole's 1946 hit, "Route 66"? It went something like this: "If you ever plan to motor west/Travel my way, take the highway that's the best/Get your kicks... at Burggraf Tire!"

Okay, so those aren't the original lyrics. But if you drive down Route 66 and pass through Quapaw, Okla. (population: 800), you will come across Burggraf Tire's main retail store. And in that store you'll probably find Burggraf Tire President Joe Karnes, who says the shop's location on the famous highway has been an asset to his dealership.

"Lots of people still drive Route 66" despite the availability of larger, more modern thoroughfares, he says. And naturally, some of them pop flats or need new tires and repairs along the way.

But to Karnes, who started with Burggraf as a tire changer in 1962, running a tire shop on Route 66 is more than just a nuts-and-bolts proposition.

Fifteen years ago, he and then-owner Clarence Burggraf decided to capture a small piece of the romanticism and nostalgia associated with "The Mother Road" by hiring a local artist to paint three murals on the side of their Quapaw store. (Burggraf Tire has another retail outlet in Oklahoma, plus one in Texas and one 25 miles away in Joplin, Mo., a city mentioned by name in the famous song.)

One mural depicts company founder Ed Burggraf's Route 66 service station as it looked in 1936 (see photo). Ed and Clarence started Burggraf Tire in 1951.

The second painting is based on a photo of Quapaw's old railroad depot. And the third is a collage of local history, including images that illustrate Quapaw's start as a mining town.

Passing motorists often stop to have their photos taken in front of the murals, according to Karnes. "Every weekend we see people out there in their vintage cars." Drivers from as far away as Ohio and Illinois have taken snapshots of the store, he says.

Burggraf Tire also helps sponsor local, Route 66-oriented cruise-in events by giving away sets of tires. "There's a Route 66 festival in Joplin each year, too."

At one point, there were several tire dealerships and service garages along Quapaw's small portion of the 2,448-mile-long road, Karnes notes. Burggraf is the only tire shop left there now.

And Karnes has no plans to change that. As long as there's a Route 66 and people to drive on it, there'll probably be a Burggraf Tire shop nearby.