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Parts of 'Disappearing America' Are Hanging On


There's a woman here at VOA who loves to travel America's back roads. Every chance she gets, she stops at what she calls mom-and-pop restaurants and orders home fries. That's because home fries -- which are fried potatoes into which onions, green peppers or other ingredients are stirred -- are unique to each restaurant at a time when a McDonald's French fry tastes the same anywhere. And just like their potatoes, these unique roadside restaurants -- with their distinctive neon signs and quirky artwork, such as a giant coffee pot on the roof -- are remnants of a Disappearing America.

That makes this encounter in the southern state of Arkansas remarkable. Drivers on Interstate Highway 40, there, pass a bright-red, neon flying horse -- once the logo for Mobil gasoline -- revolving above a huge metal shed in a farm field. If they're curious enough to pull off for a closer look, they might just run into Vernon Walker, who owns and mounted the vintage sign. Mr. Walker made good money building automobile radiators -- enough that he can now afford to collect, recondition, display in that shed -- and light upon request -- hundreds of nostalgic neon signs. They once advertised products like Kaiser-Fraser automobiles, which haven't been made in 50 years.

But neon is only part of Mr. Walker's treasures. An even bigger jewel is out back: It's a vintage Texaco gasoline station -- complete with its trademark shiny-white porcelain walls and the very oil cans, hydraulic jacks, and advertising signs that were inside in 1960. The station, originally built in neighboring Missouri, had to close after six months when the state seized its land for a highway. Its owner carefully packed every piece into crates and looked for a buyer, who turned out to be Vernon Walker. And thus, at least these pieces of Disappearing America have become a part of America Lovingly Restored.

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