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“Will That Be Regular or Ethyl: Growing up Along Route 66 in 1950s Missouri,” by DeWayne Landwehr, Archway Publishing, Bloomington, IN, 2019. This 202-page paperback is an autobiography telling the author’s story of growing in St. Clair, MO, on Route 66, now I-44, about 50 miles west of St. Louis. He was born in 1945 and covers the period until he heads to college in 1963.

The story begins with his grandfather who raised Percheron draft horses and [Missouri] mules on a hard scrabble farm. With the arrival of the automobile and trucks he anticipated the decline of his business. He set his four sons up in independent hatchery businesses in four towns: Union, Washington, Fulton, and St. Clair, MO.

We learn about the hatchery business. Eggs were purchased from area farmers and hatched in incubators. The chicks were sexed, packaged and delivered or mailed to customers. Landwehr worked in the hatchery, cared for a Linotype machine for the local newspaper, and later a 24-hour filling station on Route 66.

Attendants at the station were paid a commission for the sale of tires, fan belts, or air filters. They learned to boost sales by offering fill ups and ethyl gas when possible. Some could convince travelers they needed new tires etc sometimes using questionable methods.

The author also describes typical customers. Residents working nearby often stopped before or after work. Tourists arrived most of the rest of the day. Many were headed long distances and were especially vulnerable to new tire sales pitches. Used tires were sold to area residents. Sunday evening brought waves of soldiers returning to Ft. Leonard Wood after a weekend in St. Louis. Later arrivals were likely to be drunk and subject to punishment.

In this area, the Frisco Railroad parallels the highway. Landwehr tells us of many attractions in the area. The history of Meramec Caverns begins when it was a wild cave later made commercial by blasting a wider entrance. Missouri’s many caves in its white limestone bedrock can produce sink holes. One of those consumed a section of the railroad and had to be filled. He also describes climbing Taum Sauk mountain (highest spot in Missouri) and hiking Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park with the Explorer Scouts. (Today he would have mentioned Six Flags, but that arrived later.)

He also describes adventures. The difficulties of keeping livestock alive during droughts or extremely cold weather. Navigating dirt roads. Delivering cold, thick, slow pumping heating oil in the dark. Being baptized. Singing in the choir. Two car wrecks.

The book tells us of some of the hardships World War II caused his parents due to rationing and shortages of building materials. Strangely he mentions nothing of the arrival of their first television, a major event for many in that era. He tells us the local movie theater showed “horse operas” plus a cartoon and a newsreel. We hear nothing of the draft, a concern of every male in his age group. Or of the cold war. Or the Nike missile batteries nearby protecting St. Louis. Or the tensions from construction of the Berlin Wall in the 60s. Some reservists thought they might be called to service as had happened during the Korean conflict.

He and his friends planned to attend Missouri School of Mines, later University of Missouri at Rolla, and now Missouri University of Science and Technology about 50 miles west in Rolla, MO. As it happened he received a scholarship to attend General Motors Institute through a work study program at a GM plant in Anderson, IN. The book ends as his girl friend’s parents are driving him to his job in Anderson. Landwehr still lives in Anderson, IN. We are left wondering but suspect he is a mechanical engineer retired from GM. And perhaps he is about to propose to his girlfriend. He ends with “Regular or ethyl.”

This is a fun read with much information about life in rural Missouri in the 1950s.
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