Compelled to stop for gas

While navigating a typical bend in the scenic road that snakes along the Rio Grande between Santa Fe and Taos, N.M., something caught my eye. If you've driven this stretch of two-lane Route 68, you know that's not unusual. It's lined with unusual stuff, including breathtaking vistas and more cool old pickup trucks per square foot than anywhere else on earth. But this was really unusual.

I pulled over and slammed on the brakes. Was that really...? I rolled down the window and peered through the cloud of dust I'd kicked up. It appeared to be an ancient burial ground. There, just beyond the dog loudly announcing my arrival, I saw dozens of rusting gas pumps rising from the scrub. Behind them, a gallery of metal signs proclaimed Skelly, Sinclair, Derby, and other dinosaurs of fossil fuel. Childhood memories popped into my head: car trips, teepee-shaped motels, TV commercials with the dancing "men of Texaco."

The owner and curator of The Classical Gas Museum, Johnnie Meier (a computer programmer by day), has been collecting "petroliana" for about 15 years. "The appeal is cultural, artistic, and historical," he says; gas stations were "cultural centers" in small-town America. Admission is free, and he doesn't advertise. "I think it is a cool experience for folks to just round the corner ... and be caught by surprise by the museum." Worked for me.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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