One of a number of symbols of bygone days along historic Route 66 in Northern Arizona, today only rickety structures, rubble and graffiti mark the spot where Meteor City used to reign supreme as a must-see stop for fans of the legendary Mother Road.
The Meteor City Trading Post, named in honor of the nearby Meteor or Barringer Crater, is the first of three Route 66-inspired roadside attractions located only a few miles apart along a 30-mile stretch west on Interstate 40 from Winslow to Flagstaff: The ramshackle Meteor City; the ghost town of Two Guns and the ruins of the Twin Arrows, also a trading post that now marks the turnoff for the new Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort.
The days are numbered for these three iconic sites unless they are rescued soon. But, there is good news for one of the locations. Even as dust blows through the carcasses of its buildings and trailers, two new owners have promised to resurrect Meteor City.
Joann Brown, 54, and her husband, Mike Brown, 60, took over ownership of the property in March and are relocating to begin work on a major clean up at the three-acre site.
“We’re trying to get there as fast as we can,” Joann explained, as they drove west in an RV in late April from their home in Jeffersonville, Indiana. “We can take all the help we can get. I’ve talked to all the Route 66 people. The response from everyone has brought us to tears. I just didn’t want it [Meteor City] to go away. I love history. I love the beauty this country has.”
She said the price they paid was “okay, given there is so much that has been vandalized.”
Meteor City was first opened in 1938 and was operated as the Sharber Service Station, under the Texaco brand, by Arizona resident Joe Sharber.
In 1941, an expansion of the property by a new owner, Iowan Jack Newsum, nicknamed “Lonesome Jack,” included the addition of a trading post where visitors could buy gas, groceries and curios. At first, a roadside city limits sign declared, “Meteor City: Population 1,” but when Newsum married in 1946, he updated the sign to read population two.
The Browns, who say they are in a “working retirement,” are escaping “the corporate world” after Mike worked as a chief estimator and Joann has been an office manager in the medical industry for 30 years.
They have been driving by the Meteor City landmark for years. Mike also has a special affinity for Two Guns.
“I love to drive, and we love Route 66, “ Joann explained.
Not everyone understands the couple’s passion for the place.
“Some people ask me, ‘Why would you do that?’ and I say, it’s kind of like a little diamond right there,” she observed. “We want to bring it back to the trading post it was.”
She added that she used to rock hound with her grandparents in Arizona, and they would travel to the Meteor City area to look for rocks.
Mike’s Route 66 memories from childhood are also strong, especially riding in the back seat with his brother in the early 1960s on family excursions west.
“My mom, grandmother and us boys used to drive Route 66 from California to Oklahoma every summer to visit there,” he recalled. “It’s a dream come true to be able to bring Meteor City back to life again – it’s a classic! It’s going to take a lot of work and effort, but it will be worth it in the end.”
A geodesic dome, complete with a bright yellow faux Mohawk, was built in 1979 on the site to house the curio shop that stocked with a variety of items, including moccasins, postcards and Baja shirts. It was later featured as a restaurant in the 1984 movie “Starman,” which was directed by John Carpenter and starred Jeff Bridges.
The first dome burned down in 1990 but was replaced with the current structure.
The trading post closed in 2001 but was later reopened by Richard and Ermila Benton. It was put up for sale again in 2012 with an asking price of $150,000. The doors closed when no buyers came forward and vandals eventually smashed everything in sight including display cases.
Work on the geodesic dome is a priority for the Browns, who have been focusing first on removing mounds of detritus.
“We have been working from sun up to sun down,” Joann said. “The dome is in good shape, except where vandals broke all the doors and windows. We have cleaned up all the trash inside the dome. All debris is being put in a pile; we do not have a container as of yet. We will be working on the dome first. We are working on securing the property as well.”
Two other quirky tourist attractions on the Meteor City property were billed as the “World’s Longest Map of Route 66,” painted by American artist and cartographer Bob Waldmire, and the “World’s Longest Dreamcatcher,” located out near the road.
The exterior wood fence the map was on has fallen down and the tattered dreamcatcher needs major repair. There are also six cement teepees on the property that need work.
The Browns also hope to restore the original Justice of the Peace building located just west of the dome. Infamous as “the wicked witch of Route 66,” Newsum’s wife, Goldie, serving as justice, issued speeding citations to unwary drivers on Route 66.
The couple has started a Facebook presence for the Meteor City Trading Post and folks have been posting supportive words and remembrances, such as this post from Charity Callahan from Phoenix:
“My family lived at Meteor City for two years while my parents managed the store around 1984 to 1986. My brother and I would roam the desert looking for adventures and historic treasure. Our nearest neighbor was three miles away on a ranch on the other side of the freeway. I would play office in the old courthouse behind the store and learned how to drive a stick shift on the frontage roads that take you along the billboard west of the store. It was my first ‘job’ … I would dust the tables full of souvenirs, clean the glass on the display cases and ring up customers. A small bus would take us and the ranchers’ kids to school and back in Winslow each day.”
Meanwhile, a small team of volunteers is helping get the iconic Meteor City back in business.
In addition to Mike Brown, two other Mikes, both friends, arrived in late April to contribute to the exhausting cleanup effort. One of them, Mike Ward, is putting the word out to the Route 66 community to find more volunteers to lend a hand.
The next step is the necessity of getting permits through Coconino County officials, Joann said. They also want to create Meteor City T-shirts to sell to help fund the refurbishment of the landmark.
If all goes well, a new wood fence will soon be up with an even longer map mural of Route 66. FBN
By Betsey Bruner, FBN
A love of history by Joann and Mike Brown is giving the kitschy Meteor City Trading Post a new lease on life.