THE GLENRIO PONTIAC

Larry Travis’s Pontiac Catalina.

Of the many cars along Route 66, probably one of the most photographed and instantly recognizable is the white Pontiac in Glenrio, Texas. Everyone who visits the town takes a photo of it and, while they might congratulate themselves on identifying it as a 1968 Pontiac Catalina, very few will even give a second thought to how it ended up on the forecourt of a derelict gas station.  But there is a reason why the Pontiac is there.

The Texaco station forecourt on which it sits was built by Joseph (Joe) Brownlee in 1950, while the diner to the side – often known as the Little Juarez Diner – was originally called the Brownlee Diner and opened in 1952. Behind the gas station is the Joseph Brownlee house which was first built in 1930 in Amarillo and was then moved to Glenrio when Joe bought land there. It now houses Mrs Ruth Roxann Travis, Joe’s daughter and the one remaining resident of Glenrio; the dogs whose barking welcomes you to Glenrio belong to Roxann.

Roxann grew up in Glenrio, helping her father, along with her six brothers and sisters, at his two gas stations at a time when Route 66 was often nose-to-tail traffic. It all came to a grinding halt when Interstate 40 opened in 1973. Three years before, when she was just 19 and he three years older, Roxann had married Larry Lee Travis, a quiet young man from Darrouzzett. By 1975, however, everything was just about closed in Glenrio and Roxann and Larry now had a family, a little son called Michael Joe. So Larry approached a former employer, Don Morgan, and asked if he could rent the Standard Service Station on the east side of Adrian. Mr Morgan had closed the gas station a few months before and didn’t expect it to reopen. But he knew Larry was a hard worker and, after some persuasion, he agreed to rent the garage to him.

So, each day, Larry got in his white 1968 Pontiac Catalina and drove the 25 miles to Adrian to run the gas station. It wasn’t a job without risks – just the previous year a group of gas, shop and service station owners had banded together as a vigilante force to patrol the streets of Vega and Adrian. They never caught any criminals but nor were there any burglaries and robberies while they were on watch. By the beginning of 1976 the patrols had fizzled out and so there was no-one around but Larry when, after driving the Pontiac to work for the last time on the evening of 7th March, a 23-year-old Texan called Lewis Steven Powell entered the Standard Service Station. No-one knows what happened in those few minutes, whether Larry – proud of his hard work – refused to hand over his takings, but Powell made him kneel down and shot him in the back of the head before robbing the till.

The Pontiac Catalina in front of Joe Brownlee’s old Texaco gas station with, to the left, the Brownlee Diner which became the Little Juarez Diner.

Powell was a high school graduate who had served four years in the Navy and never been arrested, received a speeding ticket or been suspected of any mental disorder. But Larry was the second man he had killed in 36 hours. The police were already hunting the killer of Clyde Franklin Helton near Dallas and just the next day Powell was apprehended after a shoot-out in Colorado. In a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison. Life, in this case, meant just seven years before he was eligible for parole, although there would be a 40-year sentence waiting for him in Colorado as a result of firing at police during his arrest. But again, 40 years was a vague figure. Powell has been a free man for some time, although I am pleased to say that, as of May 2017, he was back in custody due to parole violations.

Despite sitting for 40 years, the Pontiac still looks like the car Larry loved.

Larry never came home again, but his Pontiac Catalina did, and it keeps silent sentinel in Glenrio, perhaps looking after Roxann as much as her dogs and her son, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Please remember, it’s not just another junk car parked for a Route 66 photo opportunity, respect the Private Property signs, it’s not for sale. It’s as much a part of Glenrio as Roxann Travis, and that is where it belongs.

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26 thoughts on “THE GLENRIO PONTIAC

  1. Have been stopping there on Route 66 trips since 1991. Had no idea about the back story and slice of history associated with the White Catalina. Is a sad story, makes you realize you should never take anything in life for granted. And I now have a new reverence for all of Glenrio. Exit 0 – one of my favorite exits.

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  2. Pingback: Glenrio NM: “The Glenrio Pontiac” | ROUTE 66 – 66 days on and off Route 66

  3. This is my Aunt Roxanne and Larry was my uncle. I remember when all this happened and I was just a small child. But the devastation that rocked our family. I went by just this last week to see Aunt San as we all tend to do as family. She’s a special lady and so strong!!

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    • More than likely, once ole Roxanne departs from this world, Glenrio will begin to decay to nothing as nothing will ever happen there again except having the occasional traveler either remembering their experiences or wondering just what happened and why. I-40…progress?

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  4. I lived in Glenrio from 1954 to 1956 and knew Joe Brownlee very well. I worked for Homer Ehresman at the Longhorn 66 Station and went to school in Adrian, Texas. I ate many of great hamburgers in the Juarez Diner, but I don’t remember it being called that. Joe Brownlee’s station was a Texaco and did a lively business because Joe was a good honest man and well liked and respected around the country. Never knew Travis but knew Roxanne and she was a knock out fox in her younger years. I lived in Amarillo when the tragedy with Travis happened.

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    • Thanks for sharing this fascinating backstory from the road. My wife (Shellee Graham) and I just completed a book called “Secret Route 66,” which will be released in October. It contains 90 stories of the “weird, wonderful, and obscure.” The focus of one story in the book is Ella Jones, who lived in Glenrio and was a waitress at the Longhorn in 1956. The inspiration came from a canceled payroll check to her that was found in the old motel. Did you happen know her, Joe?

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  5. Pingback: Four-Links – Route 66 Pontiac, VW fire pit, Canadian | Hemmings Daily

  6. I remember driving through Glenrio in 1966, 1967, 70 and when I got out of the Navy in 1971. Later when we traveled Route 66 in the 80’s , 90’s and 2000’s I always wondered how the Pontiac came to be parked there. I am glad now I know the story, thanks.

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  7. “Forecourt” is not a commonly used term in America. It is derived from tennis. British author? Good article. Respect to the family.

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  8. I think I saw part of this story on a PBS special telling the route 66 story. I feel terrible the car sits without any effort made to preserve it. I bet Larry would like it if someone would install hub caps and close the hood making it fit nicely, you know, make it appear someone just drove it in there yesterday.

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    • I agree with Joe.the car has a Story and hopefully they can salvage it and leave it as a memorial for LARRY, HIS FAMILY AND THE TOWN…Save the station .car,just as it is..It a piece of History..Thanks for the Great Story… Hope all have a Wonderfull 4th of July

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  9. Great story. Driving route 66 is still on my bucket list. So Far I’ve only had a short visit to Seligman.
    Not to be a nitpicker but that second photo with the two buildings in it says the diner is on the right. Not sure how it got identified that way but it sure seems to be on the left.
    In any case I’ll be looking for it when I get on the road.

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  10. Great story I live about 75 miles from the story and had never heard of it.
    Been down I-40 many times past there. Will stop and check it out next time.

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  11. Interesting and yet tragic story. Thank you for sharing it with us. A motorcycle trip on Historic Route 66 is Number One on my bucket list. My 1973 Moto Guzzi Eldorado isn’t quite ready for a road trip as of this writing, and a recent career change is delaying my pursuit of bucket list items, but God willing, the bike will be roadworthy and hopefully so will I in order to be able to fufill the dream; I too would like to pay a visit to this historic region.

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  12. Pingback: Remembering Larry Lee Travis | KoHoSo.us

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